Kyle Asche: Nite Vidual

Mel Rhyne was Wes Montgomery’s regular organ sideman during the guitarist’s Riverside period, and lately he has recorded with top-notch Chicago- and New York-based jazzmen. On his modal original, “Nite Vidual”, Rhyne locks in a groove with drummer George Fludas. Rhyne’s abbreviated solo is brisk, but effective, then his energetic comping on the vamp leads to hard-edged, fluid improvising by Asche, as the guitarist plays an extended solo featuring several Montgomery-influenced ideas.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mike LeDonne: In The Bag

At its regular jam sessions at Smoke Jazz Club in Manhattan, this limitless house band gives the listening audience a touch of vintage groove. On the Nat Adderley tune “In The Bag”, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and guitarist Peter Bernstein take short two-chorus solos, then yield to leader Mike LeDonne for an extended four-chorus solo. He starts with a progressive, twitching tone, and after a series of low-volume funky teasers, shifts into high gear and unleashes a series of blues-drenched licks. LeDonne is obviously very comfortable in this environment, and before the rest of the band enters for the last head statement, he finishes off with a full-range smear up to the top register of the manual.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Barbara Dennerlein: Lost Friends

German organ star Barbara Dennerlein has been a presence on the European jazz scene since her teens. Her many albums show a far-reaching scope. This track is a solo organ excursion, beginning with an extended opening that makes use of tense overtones and pipe organ-like settings. Later, she establishes a strict tempo, stating the melody and accompanying herself with the foot pedals. The tune’s somber theme unfolds with a strict bass motion, and Dennerlein solos while remaining focused on keeping the melody present. About two minutes before the end, she adds another layer of organ pads, adding the fullness of a back-up chorus to her explorative solo musings.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Henry Threadgill: Song Out Of My Trees

While Amina Claudine Myers has been a respected organist for decades (as a member of the AACM and Lester Bowie’s New York Organ Ensemble), she has also been a star on the piano (with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra). Frequently Myers gravitates back to piano, possibly to showcase her outstanding vocals. “Song Out Of My Trees”, although not a recent recording, was chosen to highlight her organ style within the avant-garde context, far removed from bop organists like Jimmy Smith, and closer to the searching style of late-period Larry Young.

Henry Threadgill’s animated alto sax and the searing guitar of Ed Cherry are supported by Myers on a skittering melody line. The Leslie is swirling fast from the introduction, and Myers holds sustained chords in the upper register for a stinging effect, while her relaxed walking bass provides a counter-balance. She plays a solo that leads off with sparse, bluesy statements, and she lets this sentiment settle before taking on heavier, harmonically rich ideas employing rapid-fire keyboard slaps. Her solo mixes in some choice gospel inflections, before Threadgill contributes a bright-toned, vocal-driven alto solo.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tony Monaco: Slow Down Sagg

When organ wizard Tony Monaco plays live with his Toronto Trio, the audience shares in the energy as the musicians on stage let loose. The Jimmy Smith tune used here is a model of simplicity, and Vito Rezza’s funky drums get the jam get going quickly and keep it burning on a wide-open groove. Guitarist Ted Quinlan offers up slices of soulful, hard-swinging blues phrases. Soon Monaco takes a vigorous, no-holds-barred solo, with distortion and some pitch-bending effects close to the end. When the fun is over, a club member’s disoriented gaze might happen on his or her neighbor, only to ask “What just happened? Where am I? Why am I covered in sweat?”

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jonathan Kreisberg: Five Bucks A Bungalow

Although he began his career as a pianist in the post-Corea/Hancock vein, Gary Versace has developed a long list of activities on organ as well. Here Versace is using his thoughtful approach on an up-tempo Kreisberg original. The tune is a new head on the sus-chord blues changes of Ron Carter’s “Eighty-One.” Kreisberg’s nimble solo statements, full of modern linear approaches, are supported by the subdued comping of Versace. What is interesting here is how Versace’s fast bass walk locks in with the driving rhythmic motion of Ferber. Versace heats up around 4:15, with a few fourths that he hammers home before he really starts burning. This is a group of young New Yorkers that know how to stretch, and they sound like they are having fun playing the blues.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jan Garbarek: Milagre dos Peixes

Given a five year lapse since his last ECM leader date, In Praise of Dreams, any Jan Garbarek recording is a significant event on the European jazz scene. But the double-CD Dresden is an especially poised project which comes closest of any of Garbarek's releases to capturing what this artist can do in live performance. Here he is joined by one of those cross-border bands that are increasingly common in Europe these days. In this instance, the Norwegian saxophonist is supported by French drummer Manu Katché, German pianist Rainer Brüninghaus and Brazilian bassist Yuri Daniel. The song of choice is also Brazilian—Milton Nascimento's "Milagre dos Peixes"—but this is really music that travels without baggage or security checks. When pianist Brüninghaus unleashes his solo, there is more blues than bossa in his conception, and Garbarek proved decades ago that he can impose his own musical personality on any piece, whether working alongside Keith Jarrett or the Hilliard Ensemble. This is the longest track on the double-CD release—a thirteen-minute workout—and like the best of Garbarek's work, it comes across more as a ritual performance than the cover version of a song. I have long thought that jazz players could learn from visual artists, who realized decades ago that a distinctive personal style is more important than the demonstration of technique. Certainly Garbarek has no shortage of technique—Stuart Nicholson recently sent me a tape of his work as a teenager which is stunning in its hard bop workout over the changes—but he is also one of the grand stylists of the horn, as this new release will confirm again to the delight of his fans whose five year wait is over.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Rhoda Scott: Danny Boy/ Lift Every Voice And Sing

Rhoda Scott knows how to work the sound of gospel into her jazz songs, but her medley of the traditional “O Danny Boy” and the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is something unique. Scott’s hymn-like introduction builds the melody of the first song with all the rhetoric of a country preacher. Her mastery of the instrument allows her great freedom to mix musical elements. Bridging these two songs might be a stretch, and it is difficult to know what Scott is saying with this one, but her musical mastery lets all the brilliance of her gospel style come out. With a prolonged, orchestral ending, Scott provides plenty of excitement by the close of the track.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jesse Van Ruller: Tear Jam

In contrast to the large doses of “chicken grease” usually found on jazz organ recordings, “Tear Jam” is a plaintive jazz waltz with a warm and introspective beauty. Guitar virtuoso Jesse Van Ruller has a creamy texture to his tone. The music is carefully controlled and very delicate. The gifted organist Sam Yahel occasionally plays outside of the chord changes, but it always sounds like he has a plan to snake his way back inside. His lyrical solo starts with a series of short fragments, and then develops with more searching lines into a far-reaching and expressive treatise. Yahel doesn’t add too much bite here, but his fluid lines cut through easily. Yahel makes great use of the organ’s volume pedal, which makes his chords sway and swell as he guides the band’s groove.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Will Bernard: Magpie

Taken at a fast tempo, “Magpie”’s jittery melody features a break that sets up a pyramid-like line. The whole band lays down a furiously funky groove, but the screaming organ riffs of Medeski sometimes covers up Bernard’s adept guitar solo. This is nonetheless a tight-knit group, and the intensely greasy solo by Medeski is fun to hear. His organ settings seem centered in hard rock, then altered by a phaser effect that adds a jolt to the notes from the middle range. Once the swirling of the Leslie stops, one is still shaking after Medeski’s powered-up jam on this track.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Matt Wilson: Free Range Chicken

A very simple minor pentatonic vamp sets up a major departure with a fun, quirky melody composed by Matt Wilson. Larry Goldings steps out with a funky vamp, reminiscent of his work with Maceo Parker’s band. Terell Stafford’s trumpet (augmented with plunger mute) lends a touch of gut-bucket style, with growls and rips, but also economy. Goldings rocks out during a very experimental solo, and lights a fire under the rest of the rhythm section when he changes his presets during his solo. The chicken here may be clawing and scratching its way out of the coop, hoping to see the light of day.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joey DeFrancesco: I Thought About You

Organ marvel Joey DeFrancesco is best known for carrying on the tradition of bebop, which was set forth by his mentor Jimmy Smith. He has also broadened his discography by showcasing some of the sidemen he has come to know well. One of the highlights of Organic Vibes, an album with Bobby Hutcherson, is this version of “I Thought About You”. As the band takes this straight-forward ballad for a spin, the mood is of a softly lit supper club. Hutcherson’s crisp, glass-like tone allows the sweetness of the standard’s melody to come forward. He really knows the subtlety of his instrument, and DeFrancesco’s support acts as a deferential complement. As DeFrancesco emerges from underneath Hutcherson’s beautifully spare solo, the heat turns up, and the organist uses a percussion setting throughout his solo for more punch on his many fast runs. After the closing notes on the track, a voice (possibly the sweet Hutcherson) proudly proclaims, “If you don’t like that, you don’t like ice cream!”

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dr. Lonnie Smith: Sweet Dreams

The nuances that made much pop music of the ‘80s so much fun to listen to are carefully deconstructed in this voodoo séance treatment by Dr. Lonnie Smith and his band. Smith’s introduction with fluty, music-box-like tinkering followed by watery whole-tone runs sets up the entrance of a bass drum and tambourine beating out a dirge rhythm. Saxophonist Donald Harrison solos impressively with tasteful phrasing. Smith is up next with a solo marked by economical note choices. Even if he doesn’t shred with fast runs here, funkiness is always in good supply. His solo rises in intensity as he moves farther up the upper manual’s range and as he adds grit to his already growling tone. The last solo, by guitarist Balitsaris is full of twangy blues expression. This is a theatrical version of an already dramatic pop hit, and Smith & Co. have made sure to keep their soulfulness at center stage.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fred Simon: Same Difference

To those in the know, one of Chicago's secret pleasures is native pianist/composer Fred Simon. On “Same Difference” the exquisite multi-instrumentalist Paul Mc Candless joins him to create this memorable piece of pastoral cross-genre music. McCandless, of Oregon fame, worked together with Simon previously on Premonition, Mc Candless’s 1992 album, where the two undoubtedly found they had kindred spirits.

Simon’s approach on this ballad is delicate and low-keyed. He avoids playing too much, preferring his composition to speak for itself. The interplay between the soprano saxophone and the piano is almost telepathic creating a glowingly warm conversation. Mc Candless' uplifting solo joyfully elevates the music, releasing it from its predictable path while spiriting it to a higher level. Together these two create a memorable piece of “chamber style” jazz that raises the spirit with warmth and beauty without becoming sentimental.

September 27, 2009 · 0 comments

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Rez Abbasi: Why Me Why Them

“Two theories exist,” Max Roach told drummer Art Taylor. “One is that art is for the sake of art, which is true. The other theory, which is also true, is that the artist is like a secretary. . . . He keeps a record of his time, so to speak." Guitarist Rez Abbasi explicitly steps into the second role here, entitling his CD Things to Come in commemoration of political changes underway while it was being made—in fact, the title track was recorded on President Obama's inauguration day.

Yet what musicians intend and how an audience hears are not always aligned, and this composition itself is likely to strike listeners as a majestic example of pure music, unfettered by the headlines and daily talking points. These musicians, the leaders of the South Asian tinge on the current NY scene, have worked together in many settings, and the result here is a collaboration that moves comfortably through various textures and moods. Despite the popularity of the world music flavor that sometimes surface in these artists' work, you will find little of it here. This track rather exists somewhere on the post-Trane to harmolodic continuum, and at least two train stops beyond Bebopland and Swingville.

The melody statement builds from solo bass to bass-and-guitar and then to trio before reaching its climax in an exciting dialogue which varies the mixture of sax, guitar and rhythm section in its invigorating juxtapositions. Abbasi and Mahanthappa present solos that balance rawness and intricacy, and Iyer effectively counters with a interlude that starts out brooding but gradually intensifies. Throughout it all, bassist Weidenmueller and drummer Weiss adapt smartly to the kaleidoscopic sound colors. This is a fine outing by a stellar band, but with all due respect to Mr. Roach, the last adjective you will think of while listening to this music is "secretarial."

September 27, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Pondel: Mr. Obvious

“Mr. Obvious” is a clever John Pondel composition that utilizes the cool, smoky sound of David Binney’s alto and Pondel’s mellow guitar lines to establish a mood of mystery and intrigue. The tune could easily be used as the soundtrack for a detective series. “Mr. Obvious” enters the room over the syncopated bass of Scott Colley and the light traps of Marivaldo Dos Santos. The duet of Binney and Pondel musically frame the character’s entrance and create a laid back, hip sixties sound to perfection. Binney, a passionate player, uses a decidedly restrained delivery here to capture a fluid, nonchalant attitude. Pondel is equally subdued when soloing, using chords more than single notes, keeping it simple. The music ends in a precise and crisp finale as “Mr. Obvious” makes his exit.

September 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roberta Gambarini: Medley from Cinema Paradiso

Roberta Gambarini hits all the right notes, but I have sometimes felt that she misses the psychological riches of the songs she sings. I give her credit: she always surrounds herself with the finest musicians, and her own musicianship is never in question; yet I have expected more from this prepossessing woman. She is one of the most polished vocalists of our day, but if a polished sheen is not what you are looking for in your music, you might be better off checking out Patricia Barber or Cassandra Wilson, artists who grapple with songs from the inside.

Or at least that was my opinion before I heard this recording. Gambarini impresses on this track, recorded a few days after the 9/11 attacks, an event that left her shaken yet determined to immerse herself in her craft. Did the surrounding circumstances inspire the star singer to dig more deeply into her material? I can't answer that question, but I do know that the two tracks on So in Love that were recorded on September 22, 2001 are standout performances, and have forced me to reevaluate this artist, who shows here that she is capable of greatness. And there isn't a single oop-bop-uh-bam-boom tossed out glibly to spoil the mood. I am still cautious, but for the time being I am joining the fan club.

September 23, 2009 · 0 comments

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Charles Brown: I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good)

Brown was one of the originators of the West Coast lounge or club blues style that was patterned after Nat Cole, but bluesier and certainly sadder and even a bit mournful at times. With his smooth, stretched-out vocal phrasing and hip, refined piano, Brown could really get under your skin. After a string of hits from the mid '40's to the early '50's, rock n' roll put Brown's mellow delivery on the back burner. Thanks to the PBS documentary All That Rhythm and Those Blues, and the encouragement and support of Bonnie Raitt and guitarist Danny Caron, Brown's career finally saw a major revivial in the "90's, resulting in numerous recordings and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation prior to his death in 1999. The best thing about many of his later albums may have been that they put an equal spotlight on his underrated, or certainly underappreciated, skill as a pianist.

For example, Brown recorded eye-opening solo piano versions of "Round Midnight" and "One Mint Julep" on a 1992 release (Blues and Other Love Songs), and this fascinating vocal-piano rendition of "I Got It Bad" on his 1994 These Blues. Brown's brief intro more than hints at a phrase from Bud Powell's "Parisian Thoroughfare." He then plays the theme with a blues-drenched sound and a semi-stride tempo. His attack, voicings, and overall emotional compass during his solo recall Mary Lou Williams as much as anyone. When Brown finally starts to sing, it's apparent that the resigned lyrics fit his sly, downcast vocal expressiveness to a tee. From this point on, his vocalizing alternates with more upbeat piano breaks (similar in mood to his comping), presenting an ingratiating contrast. Brown's purred handling of the words "My gal and me / we gin some / embrace some / and we sin some" is unbeatable, but then so is his eloquent keyboard work. If he'd never sung a note in his life, the classically trained Brown could still have easily succeeded as just a jazz/blues pianist.

September 22, 2009 · 0 comments

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Phillip Johnston: Hofstra's Dilemma

Johnston led the delightfully off-kilter swing/progressive Microscopic Septet from 1980 to 1992, during which time he and founding member John Zorn became two of the darlings of New York's underground music scene in lower Manhattan, for which the Knitting Factory became the key venue. In the '90's Johnston created two new groups, Big Trouble, which unlike the sax-based "Micros" featured trumpets, and the more chamber-like, drummerless Transparent Quartet. On the latter's The Needless Kiss album, Johnston's compositions once again exhibited the depth and breadth of his inspirations, from Captain Beefheart to Nashville, from West Coast Jazz to Chopin, from Raymond Scott to Steve Lacy. However, the only non-studio track, the outstanding "Hofstra's Dilemma," recorded live at the Knitting Factory, is an unusually straight-ahead and unadorned display of these four musicians' exceptional skills.

Johnston plays the boppish, dancing theme with a piercing soprano tone reminiscent of Lacy's, if not somewhat fuller and less dry. The tune's attractive harmonic structure and shifting changes provide Johnston in his solo with many points of impetus that he handles with adroitness and verve. Joe Ruddick is all over the piano in his feature, revealing a formidable technique as he executes rollicking arpeggios and slippery runs and glissandos--think Jaki Byard for its diversity of texture. Mark Josefsberg's vibes improv is played with a metallic Red Norvo sound, and like Ruddick, is appealingly unpredictable. David Hofstra's meaty bass solo is a concise but fully realized concoction. Johnston's reprise renews the listener's appreciation of his abilities as both a player and composer. He probably chose to include this track on the CD--recorded a year earlier than all the others--simply because it's so damn good. (Also check out the "Micros'" version on their Seven Men In Neckties compilation.)

September 22, 2009 · 0 comments

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Oliver Jones: I Love You

Oliver Jones, who turned 75 this month (9-11-09), has always played second fiddle to Oscar Peterson amongst mainstream Canadian jazz pianists, although he's widely admired by his countrymen, winning several Juno Awards and the 1990 Prix de Oscar Peterson, among other honors. Like Peterson, Jones was born in Montreal, and even studied piano with Oscar's sister Daisy, as did Oscar himself. Jones didn't begin focusing on jazz until the early '80's, having been the musical director for the Jamaican pop singer Ken Hamilton from 1962 until 1980. The Northern Summit album is one of his many for Canada's Justin Time label, and the instrumentation on it resembles that of Peterson's trio in the '50's, with Herb Ellis simulating his role with Oscar and Red Mitchell taking the place of Ray Brown.

The rapport between these three musicians on the opening track, "I Love You," is exceptional. Jones bouncily expounds upon the Cole Porter theme with Ellis breezing lightly through the bridge. The pianist's solo is backed at first by a percussively tapping Ellis in the manner of Tal Farlow, as Mitchell churns out deeply resonant bass lines. Jones' richly voiced chords and shimmering runs show little obvious sign of Peterson, his acknowledged greatest influence. Ellis solos with his customary twangy tone and agile bluesy runs, bending notes for added color. The clearly articulated formulations of Mitchell's compelling improv explode from his specially tuned (in fifths) bass, with never an instance of hesitation or murkiness. Jones and Ellis exchange passages and then engage in elaborate contrapuntal weavings, and finally, after completing another thematic reading, a tirelessly inventive and jubilant out chorus.

September 22, 2009 · 0 comments

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Peter Leitch-John Hicks: Duality

Soon after guitarist Peter Leitch left his native Canada and relocated to New York, he began a regular association with the late pianist John Hicks that was preserved on several of Leitch's CDs during the '80's and '90's, including their sole duo outing, Duality. Hicks' powerful attack served him well in his recordings with artists such as Oliver Lake, David Murray, Arthur Blythe, and Pharoah Sanders, but the pianist's more tender and lyrical side is what made him such a complete player and helped ensure the success of this session with Leitch. The guitarist's relatively light tone and deceptively laid-back, sophisticated approach could have easily been steamrolled by a less sensitive partner.

As Leitch explained in the Duality CDs notes, the title track "has two sections, one of which is rather static, harmonically; it's modal. The other section contrasts with harmony that moves around a lot." Right away you notice the beautifully captured sounds of the two instruments, thanks to engineer Rudy Van Gelder. The two-sectioned theme is appealing melodically and in its rhythmic thrust. Leitch solos confidently and with relaxed yet finely detailed lines, as Hicks plays galvanizing chord patterns in support. Van Gelder's positioning of mikes directly on both Leitch's guitar and amp give his electric instrument a radiant acoustic quality. Hicks becomes less restrained in his solo, backed by Leitch's softly strummed adornments. The pianist's forceful phrasing and strong left hand accents are an irresistible combination. The theme's supple replay serves as a final especially satisfying release.

September 22, 2009 · 0 comments

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Francesco Cafiso: King Arthur

Prodigy is a term tossed around loosely in the jazz world these days. But Francesco Cafiso, who was still a teenager when this project was recorded, is no hype-driven creation of the publicists. His talent is announced by his horn, and what he demonstrates with an alto in hand earns him a spot on any short list of great young saxophonists. Yet despite the praise of Wynton Marsalis and others, Cafiso is still a well-kept secret outside of Europe. His Italian label doesn't have much traction in the US, and this new CD isn't in the top 500,000 sellers at Amazon.

That's a sad commentary on the audience and media, rather than a reflection of what the artist has achieved. This performance shows how much Cafiso's jazz vocabulary has expanded, and the youngster who had digested Bird and Cannonball by his mid-teens is now capable of pressing the chords to their limits. There is more than a dose of Ornette in Cafiso's bag these days, and you will hear long stretches on "King Arthur" when the tonal center disappears entirely. The accompanying ensemble is first rate, and adroitly adapts to the changeable musical attitudes of the altoist. This artist is poised for a bright future, but I wonder if the fans can keep up with him. They crowned him as a prodigy, but will they accept him as a revolutionary?

September 22, 2009 · 0 comments

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Yaron Herman: Army Of Me

Simply put, “Army of Me” is Bjork at her best. The lead track off of 1995’s Post, “Army” is brash, catchy, and full of fire and attitude. Plus, it features a distorted and snarling bass ostinato that you’ll never quite get out of your head. So it was only a matter of time before someone tackled this one. And, fortunately, that someone’s version is a fine re-imagining. The young pianist Yaron Herman, from Paris (but born and raised in Israel), featured this tune on his 2007 trio album A Time for Everything, and took it to that fuzzy middle ground between jazz and rock most often occupied by bands like The Bad Plus and Sex Mob. Herman, a tasteful and sprightly player, nearly swings the tune at times, but the intensity and feel of the arrangement is more in line with rock music. He is supported here by the double bassist Matt Brewer and driving drummer Gerald Cleaver. Other cover tunes on A Time for Everything include Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic.”

September 22, 2009 · 0 comments

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Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra: Enjoy

A gaggle of intriguing repertory groups have sprung up in the jazz world in recent years. Marc Ribot’s Spiritual Unity, for one, plays the music of Albert Ayler, and Ideal Bread, led by the baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton, kicks out the jams of Steve Lacy. But most exciting of all (conceptually, at least) is the New York-based Bjorkestra, an 18-piece jazz big band dedicated to the music of Bjork. Formed by the alto saxophonist Travis Sullivan in 2004, the tremendous Bjorkestra has tackled the songs of its Icelandic muse with fire and imagination, and expanded on occasion to include guests like the guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and the tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin. “Enjoy,” from their debut CD, is a driving performance that flirts with drum and bass, and benefits heavily from Joe Abbatantuono’s propulsive drumming, Kevin Schmidt’s sinuous bass trombone solo, and Becca Stevens’ flexible and convincing vocals.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Isobel

From Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey are nothing if not eclectic. For 2005’s Joel Dorn-produced The Sameness of Difference, for instance, the piano trio (today a quartet, with strikingly different personnel) recorded compositions by a wide array of stylists: Mingus, Brubeck, Hendrix, Lennon/McCartney and… Bjork! “Isobel,” a haunting, string-enhanced thriller off of Bjork’s 1995 album Post, tells the tale of a hermit, but JFJO have a much more extroverted story to spin. On this excursion, electric bassist Reed Mathis states the melody (with more than a little help from some otherworldly effects) while the spastic acoustic pianist and stride enthusiast Brian Haas comps underneath, and the sensitive drummer Jason Smart propels the group into stellar regions. The sounds of Jacob Fred are wild, but always thoughtful, and the music of Bjork suits them well: like their Icelandic hero, these musicians are big risk-takers, and always evolving.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Bad Plus: Human Behavior

The Bad Plus’s arrangement of “Human Behavior,” recorded during the same 2005 sessions that yielded the group’s Suspicious Activity?, never found its way onto that album, or any other (it’s available only as a download). Which is a shame, really, because the track is outstanding, especially when you concentrate on bassist Reid Anderson’s playing (check out his all-too-brief solo at 2:16), David King’s comic drum fill at 2:18, Iverson’s striking independence at 3:59, or on the ensemble groove at nearly any point in the song. Truly, if you listen close enough, you can hear three dudes from the American Midwest transform into one small Icelandic woman.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Larry Goldings: Cocoon

It makes perfect sense that the accomplished pianist and keyboardist Larry Goldings would be into Bjork. As a sideman, Goldings has dipped his toes into musical waters far from the jazz shore - he has recorded with rock legend James Taylor, funk heavyweight Maceo Parker and hip hop icons De La Soul - so why would he shy away from the music of Iceland’s greatest avant-garde pop star? “Cocoon,” first heard on Bjork’s Vespertine album in 2001, is a simple and meditative piece, awash in soothing Wurlitzer electric piano at the hands of Goldings. The emotive trumpeter John Sneider handles the melody masterfully, cradling each note before sending it off into the ether. Wilson chimes in from time to time, but this tune is not about the rhythm section: mostly, it’s a tender conversation scored for keyboards and trumpet. About what, you ask? Only Bjork knows.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jeff Tain Watts: 107 Steps

The drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts has a fertile imagination, to say the least. How he transposed Bjork’s slow and sweeping “107 Steps” into a burning, swinging jazz tune is beyond this writer, and a testament to Watts’ skill as an arranger. And yet it’s all there in Bjork’s original recording: that great, syncopated bass line, the melody, the changes… it just took a great mind to hear it. And a great band to play it right. Watts, behind the kit, is an undeniable force, and the tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland is a strong and flowing improviser, simply erupting with ideas. The guitarist David Gilmore, heard elsewhere with Don Byron and Steve Coleman, is no slouch either: phrase after phrase, Gilmore digs in with precision, and striking fluidity.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gretchen Parlato: Come To Me

Vocalist Gretchen Parlato has made quite a splash since she won first place in the Thelonious Monk Institute’s International Jazz Vocals Competition in 2004. In 2005, she released her first album as a leader, a self-titled disc featuring the talents of West African guitarist Lionel Loueke and pianist Aaron Parks, with repertoire ranging from Jobim to Shorter to Bjork. The bouncy “Come to Me,” a dance number from Bjork’s breakout album, Debut, becomes a samba with Parlato at the helm, and Loueke on nylon string guitar. The leader’s buttery vocals and horn-like scatting blend well with her ensemble and, by the time the tune has ended, it’s hard to imagine that “Come to Me” belongs to anyone but Parlato.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Geoff Keezer: Venus As A Boy

Sure, the nimble pianist and keyboardist Geoffrey Keezer has put in time with jazz legends (Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Ray Brown), the bright lights of today (Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove) and, most notably, the final edition of the Jazz Messengers. But there’s always room for Bjork, and in 2004, the San Diego-based ivory tickler recorded his arrangement of her reggae-tinged “Venus as a Boy” with Matt Clohesy on bass and fellow Christian McBride sideman Terreon Gully on drums. The results are sublime: Gully’s dub groove is airtight, Clohesy is solid and funky, and Keezer rides atop it all with taste, feeling and restraint. One would be hard-pressed to find a wasted note in this recording.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz & Miskiewicz: Hyper-Ballad

Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Michal Miskiewicz are best known as Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s current rhythm section. But on their own, the trio (sometimes operating under the moniker ‘Simple Acoustic Trio’) creates some truly stirring sounds, and in 2004, they stirred up the music of their heroes with their ECM debut. On the album, the group interprets Wayne Shorter’s “Plaza Real,” Stanko’s “Green Sky,” and Bjork’s “Hyper-ballad.” The latter, a powerful exercise in mid-1990s electronica, is given new life by Wasilewski and company. Now truly a ballad, “Hyper-ballad” reveals itself to be sparse and sentimental, where Bjork’s version was heavy, and tense. Wasilewski is a patient player, and knows just what notes not to play. We’ll be hearing more from him, no doubt.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Douglas: Unison

The trumpeter Dave Douglas’s take on “Unison” is no match for Bjork’s sublime and bouncy original recording. Absent from his interpretation are the glitchy beats, and the string, harp and electronica parts that made the composer’s version so unique and other-wordly. That said, Douglas’s stab at the tune is a fine effort in and of itself, earthy and organic where Bjork’s music is highly programmed and produced. The leader’s muted trumpet solo darts in and out of all the right places, with ample support from Chris Potter’s subtle bass clarinet work, and James Genus’s deep and sparse bass playing.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jason Moran: Joga

The pianist Jason Moran is as adventurous with his repertoire as he is with his playing. The bandleader and in-demand sideman (Don Byron, Charles Lloyd, Paul Motian) has recorded everything from pieces by Duke Ellington (“Wig Wise”) and Jaki Byard (“Out Front”) to film music (The Godfather: Part II) and hip-hop (“Planet Rock”). So, somehow, it makes sense that he’d be hip to Bjork. With bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits in tow, Moran, on acoustic piano, delivers a delicate reading of Bjork’s “Joga,” the gorgeous ballad-turned-head-nodder from 1997’s Homogenic. The leader meditates carefully upon the tune’s inner drama until about the five-minute mark, when all things soft and thoughtful take a turn for the funky.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Greg Osby: All Neon Like

It’s easy to see why a jazz musician might want to tackle Bjork’s “All Neon Like”. Consisting of little more than a sinister synth bass line, a simple electronic beat, and Bjork’s haunting voice soaring overhead, “All Neon Like” is pretty wide open—there’s a lot you can do with it. And so it became a mid-tempo burner for the alto saxophonist Greg Osby, an expressive player whose sharp sound and sense of drama owe something to the great tenor and soprano man Wayne Shorter. Backed by the sensitive and grooving rhythm section of pianist Jason Moran, bassist Tarus Mateen, and drummer Eric Harland, Osby meditates long and hard on this one, soloing for just about the entirety of the track. Moran shines with a few good runs towards the end though, taking things “out” for a moment, and keeping listeners on their toes.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mark Levine: Nanã

Mark Levine wrote the book on jazz piano. Literally. (Check it out here, if you're interested.) Despite Levine's high profile as author of a bestselling method book, few outside of the San Francisco area enjoy the opportunity of hearing what this artist can do at the piano. Levine's playing has always been smart without becoming cerebral, respectful of the tradition but not a slave to it. On his latest CD he explores the music of Brazilian composer Moacir Santos, who passed away at 80 three years before the release of this tribute album, and whose career spanned soundtracks, sax-playing, songwriting and schooling artists such as Oscar Castro-Neves, Nara Leao, Carlos Lyra and Roberto Menescal.

This song, originally called “Coisa No. 5,” has been recorded by dozens of later Brazilian artists, from Sergio Mendes to Deodato, but the performance here reaches beyond the traditional sounds of Rio and embraces Afro-Cuban currents as well. The band plays with spirit, and manages to create a rhythmic pulse that is both hot and light—not an easy combination—with Fettig's contribution on flute standing out as especially noteworthy. Levine, for his part, has been showing off his Latin jazz skills at least since his days with Moacir Santos himself and in Cal Tjader's band. In fact, this track reminds me of something the latter bandleader would have wanted to feature with his own ensemble. Even back in the days of Señor Tjader, West Coast Latin jazz bands were proving that they have their own fresh spin on the idiom, and this release is a clear case in point.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bud Shank: Over the Rainbow

The doctors told him no driving, no flying. Even on ground, he required a wheelchair to get around. Yet Bud Shank continued to play and perform at a high level, and had lost none of his passion, his humor, his frankness, whether playing the horn or in his other dealings with the world around him. When I had lunch with him a few months before his death, Shank told me how much he still enjoyed playing the old songs, and talked about the inspiration he could find in the same standards he had worked over for decades. Then he went on to recount his touring schedule, a world-crossing itinerary encompassing Japan, Europe and many parts between. So much for doctor's orders.

Here, in a recording made shortly before his death at age 82 on April 2, 2009, Shank delivers another interpretation of a song almost as old as the altoist himself, and plays it with even more raw intensity than he would have as a young man. As pianist Bill Mays, who also plays at a high level here, has commented: "Bud was always willing to let the music go where it wants and set minimum controls on the players." The process by which Shank moved from the cool to the hot is a fascinating one, and could make a subject for a treatise, but here is the end result: a wondrous in-the-moment approach to the music that sounds more like a clarion call to action than the final musings of a jazz elder statesman. Shank will be missed, but other players will also perforce envy an artist who could go out playing at this level.

September 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Michael Babatunde Olatunji: Akiwowo

You need to find a place for this 1959 session on any list of unlikely success stories from the 20th century music business. Drums of Passion would sell five million copies in the US alone, most of them purchased by listeners who had no previous acquaintance with what we now call "world music." In one fell swoop, the minstrelized-ethnic-music of Les Baxter, Martin Denny and the other purveyors of ersatz exotica was put out to pasture, and the real thing arrived on the scene. And the general public—mirabile dictu!—was able to tell the difference.

 Les Baxter

The story behind the story is just as fascinating. A fellowship from the Rotary Foundation allows Michael Babatunde Olatunji to leave Ajido, a fishing village in Nigeria, and come to Morehouse College, the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1954 he moves to New York, where he starts performing with his drumming-chanting-singing-dancing ensemble. Legendary talent scout John Hammond was so impressed with what he heard that, breaking every rule of the A&R trade, he signs Olatunji to record this music, unadorned and unadulterated, for the largest label in the land.

The late Tom Terrell has insisted, with more than a little plausibility, that Drums of Passion deserves acknowledgment as the most important recording of the last century. Honestly, just fast forward a few years and see the impact. In the 1960s, John Coltrane and a host of other jazz artists begin exploring the potential of a re-Africanization of jazz music. In rock and popular music, the drums take on a new centrality and intensity. A return-to-the-roots attitude begins to permeate blues, folk music and other genres. The musical riches of the Third World increasingly show up, either in their original form or as models for imitation, on the rosters of the entertainment mega-corporations. Drums of Passion stands out as the turning point that legitimized and accelerated these processes.

This opening track, inspired by the call of a well-known conductor in Nigeria and sound of his train, is a powerful statement of this new aesthetic vision. The immediacy and intensity of this music demands the listener's attention, but one also hears a confidence and pride that expands our consciousness beyond purely musical considerations. Yes, you can put this music on as background music (as no doubt many record buyers have done over the years) but the sensibilities is combines and the passions it contains would soon be at the foreground of modern life. One of the defining qualities of African music is its insistence on integrating music-making into the fabric of day-to-day life, and this recording symbolized a similar reorientation in its new setting. That, my friends, is making more than just a hit; it's making history.

September 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Eric Vloeimans Fugimundi: March Of The Carpenter Ants

A handful of attackless electric guitar chords sketch out a simple framework. A piano appears to fill in some of the gaps. A bit of this material is pulled aside to fashion a vamp of sorts. A trumpet begins to spin out phrases that mirror this new structure.

Yes, this is one possible description of “March Of The Carpenter Ants,” though not my preferred angle. Music like this — compositions with circular infrastructure — remind me of the notion attached to sculpture: that the shape already lives in the stone, waiting to be unlocked. This might seem like a slightly pretentious notion but it's directly related to my tendency toward musical synesthesia. That is, the perception of sound often triggers the formation of physical shapes.

When the basic shape is outlined, a mere minute or so into the piece, the trio then goes on to spend the remainder of the time pointing out the details of the final artwork — both to me and each other. The amazing and exhilarating thing is that I see new details during each listen.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Rivello: Beyond The Fall

Not too long ago, I went through a period of rediscovery of 1970's action films. It had been a while so when we got to Clint Eastwood, I was as bowled over by the music of Lalo Schifrin as I was by the exploits of Harry Callahan. Maybe today's film music is put together with more modern technology but much of it can't compete with Schifrin's emotion-laden dynamics.

“Beyond The Fall” reminded me of Schifrin's work because it managed to tell it's own story. Dave Rivello's ultra-dynamic ensemble runs through this composition employing start & stop breaks, quick tempo changes, tension-building solos (especially Matt Pivec on soprano sax), exciting swells, and judicious use of dissonance. I found myself doing something that more commonly occurs with my favorite rock recordings: turning it up waaay too loud.

For lovers of the modern big band sound (in a slightly smaller package), this track is highly recommended.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Barrett Martin: Shapeshifter

The music of Barrett Martin can be tough to pin down. Go ahead and listen to his work with the rock band Screaming Trees. Then check out Tuatara. Sure, it's something of a stylistic leap from the former to the latter, but if viewed as a transition, it illustrates the wide-ranging extent of Martin's interests and hearing: his “big ears.”

Martin's solo recordings have leaned more toward the multi-faceted pallet of Tuatara — music that's cinematic and draws from many sources, often within the confines of a single composition.

“Shapeshifter” indeed proves my point, starting out with a pensive segment lead by two melodic instruments (piano, vibes) telling a reserved story in waltz time. But then the band launches into high energy Latin jazz mode and we're treated to fabulous solos by Dave Carter on trumpet and John Rangel on piano. Martin and bassist Chris Golden really dig in to the groove here. By the tune's end, the mood has gone back to the more reserved and searching, this transition seeming less abrupt and perhaps even more appropriate now that the whole story has been revealed.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet: The Same New Story

Mike Mainieri has been a major force in fusion since the early 1980s when he co-founded Steps Ahead. On this recording with Netherlands-based guitarist Marnix Busstra, Mainieri takes an acoustic, organic approach to the music. The compositions on this CD, mostly by Busstra, offer a variety of styles and interesting instrumentation.

“The Same New Story” has a beguiling and sensitive melody played by Busstra on acoustic guitar, as Mainieri dances elegantly behind him with on vibraphone. Using the sustained bass notes of Eric Van Der Westen and the soft brushwork of Pieter Bast, this floating piece temporarily suspends reality. Busstra’s light and airy fingering is delicate and emotional. Mainieri’s solo hovers over the lazily sauntering rhythm like a balsa wood glider floating on air. Together, these four artists create a mood that allows the listener to momentary escape into a state of calm and tranquility.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steve Lacy: Introspection

The history of the soprano saxophone's role in jazz has followed a path unlike that of any other instrument. Though horns such as the clarinet and trombone fell into widespread disuse during the bebop era, there were always at least a few players on those instruments who tried to adapt to ongoing stylistic changes, whereas on the soprano there was no one with a new approach after Sidney Bechet until Lacy's emergence in the mid 50's.
This track appears on one of Lacy's most highly regarded early albums. “Introspection” has always been one of Monk's least known compositions, though it is a great example of Monk's ability to achieve a perfect balance of rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic interest while providing a framework that both inspires the soloists and keeps them honest.
At the time of this recording, Lacy. Orr and Haynes were all members of Monk's quintet and the instrumentation here is similar to that of the concurrent quartet that Lacy and Roswell Rudd had, whose repertoire consisted entirely of Monk's music. This album expands upon the Lacy-Rudd concept of exploring a great pianist's music minus the piano by including two pieces by Cecil Taylor as well as three by Monk.
Lacy's solo shows his great gift for thematic development as he combines the use of his own spur-of-the-moment motives with motives derived from Monk's melody.
Charles Davis begins his solo in true Monkian fashion by literally stating the melody, and uses it as a springboard for a lyrical, swinging statement that incorporates Charlie Parker's musical language without lapsing into rote bebop, which to this day is still a lot harder than it sounds.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Marian McPartland: When The Saints Go Marching In

As host of the long-running radio series Piano Jazz, Marian McPartland has played innumerable piano duets with some of the finest jazz artists on the scene. The piano duet concept was transferred to McPartland's 1998 CD Just Friends where she performed with Tommy Flanagan, Renee Rosnes, George Shearing, Geri Allen, Dave Brubeck & Gene Harris. The last track on the CD was Marian's alone, and it doubtlessly represented the duet she wished she could play, but could no longer. Subtitled "for Jimmy", her solo version of "When The Saints Go Marching In" is a heartfelt tribute to her late husband, Jimmy McPartland. She starts the performance with a simple single-line reading of "The Blue Bells Of Scotland" (one of Jimmy's favorite songs) then makes a smooth segue into "Saints". The tempo is slow and thoughtful, making us remember the words, forgotten after so many raucous Dixie renditions. Marian was always more advanced in harmony than her husband, but I suspect that Jimmy would have approved of the "pretty chords" that Marian plays here. I suspect that someday in the hereafter they will play together again, but for now, Marian's solo version is a profound tribute to her dear departed husband.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Branford Marsalis: Royal Garden Blues

For the title track of his album Royal Garden Blues, Branford Marsalis demonstrates how to re-invent a classic song. While he could have re-arranged the tune into something barely recognizable, he keeps the song intact and dutifully plays the theme from beginning to end before jumping into his improvisation. Pianist Larry Willis drops out as soon as the theme ends, and Marsalis (with the amazing rhythm team of Ron Carter and Al Foster) launches into a free-bop solo. Without the piano, Marsalis implies all sorts of extended harmony that would have surprised the original composers. Marsalis uses bits of the melody all through his solo and displays incredible control on the straight horn. Willis' single-line solo is much more straight-forward, but still offers stretching of the harmonies. Foster is full of fireworks throughout the performance, while Carter's interactions are quite subtle. The biggest shock is when the tune comes back at the end: the improvisations have been so adventurous that if the theme had been edited out on each end and the recording given an original title, jazz fans and critics would have argued endlessly about the harmonic source of the piece.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ann Hampton Callaway: Come Rain Or Come Shine

Unlike many vocal albums, Ann Hampton Callaway's Easy Living was recorded live in the studio, with Callaway and the instrumentalists all performing together in the same room, rather than laying down individual tracks in isolation booths. The result is one of Callaway's finest recordings, with superb performances from all parties. She approaches "Come Rain Or Come Shine" as a song of seduction, but rather than taking it in a slow torch tempo, she finds an absolutely perfect medium tempo that maintains a light rhythmic feel against the intense lyric. She purrs through the melody at an intimate volume, raising the level only to emphasize particular words. Urged on by the alto saxophone of Nelson Rangell, she raises the intensity bit by bit so that Rangell's solo becomes a natural outgrowth of the theme statement. Rangell is best known for his smooth jazz recordings, and his vibrato seems out of place in this straight-ahead context, but his melodic ideas work just fine in the setting. Benny Green provides a funky piano solo before Callaway returns for a full-voiced and soulful melodic variation, and she and Rangell wail together before the sudden coda.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Benny Carter: Angel Eyes

Back in 1954, Benny Carter was on the same label as another altoist you might have heard of: Charlie Parker. If Carter himself had ever heard Mr. Parker, he does a good job of disguising the fact on his recordings from the period. On this evocative rendition of "Angel Eyes," Carter's warm, big alto tone presents a stark contrast with Bird's biting sound, and his solo conception is not linked to any progressive ideology. In fact, the strong point of this track is Carter's interpretation of Matt Dennis's original melody. He extracts every last bit of loneliness and melancholy from this oft-played song, and after he has finished stating it no extended improvisation is really necessary. And, yes, Oscar Peterson is hidden away in the dark recesses of this track, but he plays so few notes you might think Norman Granz had imposed a quota.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herb Ellis: Tin Roof Blues

In October 1957, as the final tour of Jazz At The Philharmonic was winding down, Norman Granz brought many of the JATP musicians into his Los Angeles studios for a flurry of studio recordings. The Stan Getz/Oscar Peterson summit comes from this period, as does Ella Fitzgerald's "Like Someone In Love" (with Getz as major soloist), Ben Webster's "Soulville" and Herb Ellis' "Nothing But The Blues", a wonderful collection of original and classic settings of the blues. As the blues were (and are) the great common ground of all jazz musicians, the front line of swing master Roy Eldridge and cool icon Stan Getz was a very effective team and the piano-less rhythm section of Ellis, Ray Brown and Stan Levey fit together seamlessly. "Tin Roof Blues" was the oldest of the songs recorded for the album, and Ellis' melody statements consist of only the song's second strain. Ray Brown plays a scintillating vamp to open the track and after one chorus of melody, Eldridge (in cup mute), Getz and Ellis plays single-chorus solos that seem complete despite their brevity. Eldridge's solo starts simply and grows more complex as it goes, Getz elegantly works over an old blues riff, and Ellis plays a straight-forward primarily single-string solo with perfectly balanced phrase lengths. This tune was probably considered a quick throw-away that would go down in one take, but the musicians involved were such masters they could create a little gem like this with very little planning.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Modern Jazz Quartet: Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise

This song stayed in the repertoire of The Modern Jazz Quartet for many years—they would play it again at their so-called "last concert" recording almost twenty years after this rendition. Although the composition follows a standard AABA form, the quartet evokes the flavor of the minor blues in this lightly swinging version from 1955. The opening is handled with the kind of chamber music restraint we have come to expect from this band, but the tempo accelerates and the conception gets looser during Jackson's solo. But Lewis brings down the intensity level with a smartly-crafted improvisation which is one of his finest. The character of this tune has changed over the years—it started life as a tango and has evolved into a hotter blowing number with a modal flavor. But the Modern Jazz Quartet balances the two extremes, playing off hot against cool and showing off the chemistry between the two lead soloists. And don't miss the counterpoint in the closing melody restatement, which is handled very effectively.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: Tin Roof Blues

In his spoken introduction to "Tin Roof Blues", Louis Armstrong tells the crowd at Los Angeles' Crescendo Club that the song was made famous by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (correct), a group that was organized in Chicago (technically correct, but all of the main horn players were from New Orleans), and that they were before Louis' time "believe it or not". The last point is definitely correct as the NORK recorded "Tin Roof Blues" a month before Louis made his first records with King Oliver. In revisiting this jazz classic, Armstrong gave his fellow All-Stars a chance for some relaxed blowing on an old favorite. The All-Stars version follows the NORK's in its arrangement, with solos by trombone and clarinet between theme statements, and if there are a few attempts at "entertainment", it must be remembered that the All-Stars aimed for a wider audience than just jazz fans. There's nothing terribly gimmicky about anything that's played here, but one suspects (especially from hearing the verbal encouragements by the other band members) that these solos were probably worked out in advance and played the same at every show. The slow-drag feeling established by Barrett Deems and the growling trombone of Tyree Glenn did not create as elegant of a performance as the original NORK recording, but taken on its own, it is a fine version of a Dixie standard.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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New Orleans Rhythm Kings: Tin Roof Blues

"Tin Roof Blues" was one of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings' greatest successes, and it's easy to hear why: this may be one of the most elegant records in early jazz. Here, in the weeks before Louis Armstrong made his first recordings, a group of white jazz musicians recording in the middle of Indiana proved that they had already learned the maxim that "less is more". They also showed that playing from the soul could make up for any technical limitations, which must have been a fairly revolutionary concept in those days. Only the early classic blues singers were recording by this time, and I suspect that the NORK listened to and learned well from many of those early sides. "Tin Roof" also shows us that the horn men had a simple, but effective solo concept (something else that wasn't common in early 1923). After the delicate and mournful opening theme, Brunies and Ropollo play solos that aren't virtuosic displays, but effective and complete statements. Brunies' rhythm is quite loose and Ropollo gets a lot of mileage out of simple bent notes. Mares' fine lead playing brings up the intensity just enough to create a definite but subdued ending.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Michael Olatuja (featuring Alicia Alatuja): Walk With Me

What a coincidence: this afternoon I had relocated my laptop to the three-season porch to take advantage of the quickly fading autumn sunshine. The first CD I popped into the stereo was Mahalia Jackson's Gospels, Spirituals & Hymns. Wow, what a voice. Though I did not grow up in this tradition (and I don't think my attending the Polish mass just to hear the pipe organ counts), I've spent enough time listening to various roots musics to know when something is “the real thing.”

Later in the evening, I pull the top entry off my review pile: bassist Michael Olatuja. Amazing. His modern take on the old gospel classic “Walk With Me,” featuring his wife Alicia Olatuja on vocals, has some common ground with Jackson – the subtle incorporation of many musical elements. Where Jackson brought in blues and jazz, Olatuja has funk, soul, and jazz: all in service to the tune. The more modern parts of the composition feature Olatuja's groove-laced bass work as well as Alicia's soulful vocals. But just when you think all is contemporary, the band drops into a nice & swingin' vamp that would not be out of place on a Vince Guaraldi record. Great stuff.

Something tells me I've got to try to work on that porch again tomorrow.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gregg Gelb: Funk It!

I don't know if your dad ever told you this but you have to be very careful with the funk. It can put permanent (and embarrassing!) stains on your clothes, bumping up your chance of making terrible first impressions in social situations.

Even worse: it can get you mistaken for a smooth jazz musician. Just think, one wrong move and you're sandwiched in between Kenny G and Boney James. Ouch.

As luck would have it, Gregg Gelb knows how to handle the funk. He's got a drummer slinging with that loose-but-tight feel, a sympathetic piano player who can amp up the funk with snazzy unison lines as well as wide-ranging solos, and a bassist who can swing like crazy. This is one fun little tune. The soulful vibe might induce spontaneous body part wavin', but I predict no other social disturbances.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Never No Lament

I wonder how Duke Ellington reacted when he was asked to turn his instrumental "Never No Lament" into the pop song "Don't Get Around Much Anymore". While the opening phrase was catchy enough, his recording was not set up like a pop-song-in-waiting. There was a main section and a bridge, all right, but the bridge only appeared twice amongst 9 appearances of the A section. And the bridge, as it is was originally written, had a snappy motive of a descending minor second that did not translate to the vocal version.

Ellington loved to play formal games during this period, and it's fascinating to listen to the 1940-42 Victor sides just to hear how Duke changed the standard patterns. The recording starts with the trumpets playing the melody over the saxes' retorts. In the next eight, Ellington plays a variation with Lawrence Brown filling in the gaps. So, 2 eight-bar A sections, so it's time for B, right? Not for Ellington. He goes right back to the top of the form, giving two more A sections to Johnny Hodges before heading to the bridge. (This is risky, because the B section of most songs are in a different key, and the modulation prevents listener fatigue. If you've ever heard Jim Croce's song "I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song" and wondered what was odd about it--other than the grammatically incorrect title--it's that the song doesn't have a bridge, so it goes on and on in the same key ad infinitum). Ellington's ensemble plays the bridge and Hodges plays another A section. As Cootie Williams takes over, the song starts to behave like a normal pop song with Lawrence Brown taking the bridge after 2 A sections. The trumpets play the final A, but that's not the end of the record. Ellington closes the side by going back almost to the beginning of the arrangement, combining his piano variation from the second eight with the sax retorts from the first eight, thus tying up the recording with a elegant variation.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington (featuring Al Hibbler): Don't Get Around Much Anymore

As most Ellington fans know, "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" was the pop song version of Duke's 1940 instrumental "Never No Lament". What is lesser known is that there are quite a few differences between the two versions.The song was in the standard AABA form, but the instrumental didn't adhere to that form, with as many as 4 A sections in a row before the bridge. The bridge of the song maintains only the first phrase of the instrumental bridge (which is a little surprising since the song's bridge seems like such a natural creation). In keeping with the title, the 1940 recording of "Never No Lament" is jaunty and laid-back; the definitive 1947 vocal version of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" is aggressive and menacing. Johnny Hodges' wailing saxophone and Ray Nance's growling trumpet lead the way for Al Hibbler's stunning vocal. In Hibbler's voice, we can hear all kinds of emotions at the same time: frustration at his inability to enjoy a night out and loneliness for his lost love. Hibbler's emotionally direct vocal style made him a big hit on the R&B scene, but jazz fans loved him for his fine rhythmic approach. After Hibbler, Hodges and Harry Carney exchange thoughts for a half-chorus with Nance jumping in for the bridge. Hodges comes back for a few bars, but Hibbler returns for the exuberant coda, "Do-on't Gey Hay Round Much Hen-ty Mo-ah".

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Carmen McRae: Bye Bye Blackbird

While the album's concept is a little hokey, Birds Of A Feather remains one of Carmen McRae's finest albums. Paired with Ralph Burns, who leads a splendid group featuring Marky Markowitz on trumpet and Ben Webster on tenor (listed as "A Tenorman" due to contract restrictions), Carmen sings songs about a dozen of our feathered friends. For many years, the original LP was a rara avis itself, as copies were hard to find, and the ones that could be bought were badly worn. A limited edition CD reissue came out a few years back; it's now out of print, but the entire album is still available for download.

"Bye Bye, Blackbird"'s popularity was boosted by Miles Davis' 1955 recording, and here Carmen, Marky and Ben all get a chance to solo on its changes. Burns gets a rich sound mixing the french horns with Marky's trumpet and Ben's tenor before Carmen comes in with the melody, mixing sassiness and wistfulness. Marky plays in a Harmon mute which emphasizes his exquisite lines, and then Ben saunters in with a lazy statement played way behind the beat and with a little growl at the end. Carmen comes in scatting, but then goes back to the words for a brilliant variation on the melody. She takes great chances with the rhythm, and when she gets to the last line, she quotes what Miles played at the same spot in his recording. Carmen scats over the band vamp as the track fades out.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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James Brown: It’s A Man’s, Man's, Man’s World

Not many people know that Ray Brown was actually a very good electric bass player. He adapted to the smaller instrument much quicker and, frankly, I think, much better than anyone else coming from the golden era of jazz. You can tell from the way he’s playing on "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World" that there’s a certain comfort level with his technique, there’s a comfort level in concept—because he’s not playing “jazzy” basslines. He’s playing real R&B-soul-style bass. He’s playing like James Jamerson almost. For that reason, I was always surprised that Ray never played more electric bass. I would always ask him, “Ray, how come you don’t play electric bass no more?” He said, “Nah, I never liked it.” I said, “That’s hard to believe considering how good you sounded on it.” Ray was right in the pocket. Very fun to hear him play with James Brown on electric. Guys who didn’t like electric bass, you can tell---it sounds like they don't like it. A lot of other bass players who were kind of forced to play the electric bass because that’s where the commercial scene was going at that time didn’t adjust very well. Ron Carter, Al McKibbon... Bob Cranshaw adjusted very well, but Cranshaw took more of a workmanlike approach to the electric bass. He wasn’t flashy or virtuoso. But Ray is showing off a little bit on this track. So it's a very good example of Ray Brown’s unfortunately obscure electric bass playing.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Oscar Peterson Trio: Wheatland

I think this is the next-to-last recording that Ray did with the Oscar Peterson trio, the classic trio with Ed Thigpen. This is one of my favorite recordings, because it’s Ray, Oscar and Ed cooking at a low volume throughout that whole performance. It’s one of these classic, mid-tempo swingers, kind of like they do on “Sometimes I’m Happy,” “Frankie and Johnny,” “FSR,” which are all full-out, head-banging swingers—but “Wheatland” stays low-volume pretty much throughout the whole performance. These guys are cooking on a slow, slow burn. It’s all that real heavy swinging that Ray Brown usually does, but at low volume, which to me makes it swing even harder. When you listen to it, you’re waiting for Ed Thigpen to go to the sticks, which he does at a certain point, but it’s still like TING, TING, TA-TING, TING, and Ray is just kind of creepin’, and you’re just like, “give it to me, give it to me!” They never quite give it to you, but you love that. Because after the track is over, you’re like, “Aw, man, what a big tease.” So that’s one of my favorite tracks, to hear those guys burning at a slow fire. A great concept, to swing really hard at low volume. Very Basieish of them.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Oscar Peterson: Sometimes I'm Happy

“Sometimes I’m Happy” is one of the few tracks that I know on many Oscar Peterson records where the trio actually just stretches out. There’s really not much of an arrangement...well, only a slight arrangement (Oscar Peterson plays Lester Young’s famous solo as an intro, but then for the rest of the way they’re just blowing. The track is 11½ minutes, and it’s just Oscar, Ray Brown, and Ed Thigpen blowing the whole way. To me, not only is it a great Ray Brown track, but but also because the Oscar Peterson Trio is always known for their surgical execution of all of these difficult soli passages, and their almost gymnastic-like technique on all of their instruments, and trhis is one of the few tracks I can think of where everybody is not doing that. It’s almost like a Bradley’s gig. They’re just in the pocket, having a good time, and Ray Brown stretches out and takes a very, very long solo which is very melodic. I've always loved listening to this track just for the fact they’re all stretching out, having a good time, and not particularly playing a difficult arrangement as they were accustomed to doing in that trio.

Someone once asked Oscar Peterson what was the difference with Ray Brown before and after the drummer. He said that he found that Ray’s notes got longer once Ed Thigpen joined the trio. But when I listen to Ray before Ed Thigpen, when it was just Herb Ellis on guitar, to me his notes were still much more elongated than his peers. When you listen to a lot of bass players from the mid and late ‘50s, the notes were very short. Everybody used gut strings at that time. Everybody had pretty high action, where you get that real percussive sound on the bass. But to me Ray always had a nice balance between that percussive sound and a very ringing, melodic sound. I’ve always felt he had that in the trio, even before the drums. His time was always impeccable---you could set your pacemaker to him in the trio before Ed joined. Of course, his time feel was much more exposed without the drums, which I think is a great study, particularly for bass players learning how to strengthen their time. Ray was the master of that.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Quincy Jones: Killer Joe

According to an interview I saw with Quincy maybe 6 or 7 years ago, “Killer Joe” was the last straight-ahead tune that actually made the BillboardTop 100 Singles Chart in 1969. Quincy also said that this particular arrangement was specifically written with Ray Brown’s walking style in mind. As you can hear on the original recording, it’s just bass in your face the whole way through. It really is a lesson in everything that I think encompasses the golden standard in modern bass playing—how you can get the most harmonic, linear creativity from just two chords. It just goes back and forth from C-VII to B-flat-VII, and Ray Brown is milking these two chords to death. It’s swinging real hard. His sound... Well, actually (and I tread lightly when I say this), I was never a big fan of the bass sound on Rudy Van Gelder’s recordings once he started using the DI, once he started using the pickup on acoustic basses, which he started doing it around that time, ‘69-‘70. Somehow, Ron Carter was probably the only bass player who was able to get a decent sound from the DI in Rudy’s studio. But save for what I feel was sort of a muffled sound... You listen to Ray Brown on any other recording, then listen to him on Walking in Space. It almost sounds like there’s a towel over the bass, so you can’t really hear the clarity. But if you can get past that and just hear all of the magnificent notes and the force with which Ray Brown is driving the band, to me that’s a huge reason why that probably was the last straight-ahead jazz tune in the Billboard Top 100. You can’t help but dance when you listen to that. In a Downbeat piece a few months ago, I mentioned how the acoustic bass has this all-encompassing, encircling quality, like a big arm just surrounding the band. Ray really does that on “Killer Joe.” Definitely one of my favorites.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington-Ray Brown: Pitter, Panther, Patter

I almost purposely decided to leave This One’s For Blanton off the list, because the whole album is so completely perfect. But I would have to pick “Pitter, Panther, Patter,” because that is the track that almost defines the Ellington-Blanton duets, and to hear Ray Brown interpret it note-for-note, you really did get a clear picture of, had Jimmy Blanton lived and he and Ellington were to do that stuff again, it probably would have had that same sound, that same kind of feel. Jimmy Blanton, of course, was Ray Brown’s number-one main man, and it shows blatantly on this recording. I also think that is a case study, maybe, just maybe, on the most perfect acoustic bass sound ever produced in the recording studio. Considering that was in late 1972, during the era when they said jazz died and there was nothing hip going on, it just so happens that one of the greatest bass sounds ever produced in the studio was done. Every single note that Ray Brown produces out of that instrument rings like a bell, from the low E all the way up to the top of the bass. You can tell it was just miked. There was no pickup, just a really perfect-perfect sound. You could almost hear the affection and the humility Ray has playing with Ellington, this joy of, “Wow, I’m playing Jimmy Blanton’s original part.” It really does sound like Jimmy Blanton in a time capsule.

From Blanton, Ray got the way he constructed his basslines, the power in his basslines. When you listen to Blanton on “In a Mellow Tone,” “Ko-Ko,” things like that, the way he’s putting his notes was very linear, much more forward-thinking, I believe, than any other bass players of that era—even Milt Hinton, God rest his soul. Jimmy Blanton was definitely from another planet. He set the pace for modern bass playing. But the thing that Ray Brown always admired most about Blanton, I know for certain, was his sound. He said when he was a kid delivering papers in Pittsburgh, there was this big jukebox in the neighborhood, and “Jack The Bear” was playing out of this jukebox, and the thing he remembered most was the bass. He said the bass was just rocking! He was like, “Man, who is that bass player?" Of course, he found out it was Jimmy Blanton and decided to learn every note that he ever played on those Ellington records. So year, Blanton was the genesis.

Ray also made a lot of records with Count Basie on Pablo in the ‘70s. Well, actually he made records with Basie in the ‘60s that weren’t credited. The famous record with Sammy Davis, Jr. and the Basie band has Ray Brown. But Ray heard Walter Page early on, when he was 11, at Pittsburgh’s William Penn Ballroom, when Basie was coming east, and he soaked up all of that Blanton language and the Walter Page language. Walter Page was much more of a...you talk about a piledriving bass player! Didn’t have a lot of technique, didn’t have much melody in his basslines, but I mean, it’s like running a truck through the wall, he was so strong. He and Papa Jo Jones... Even Ellington said in Music is My Mistress, “if I had that rhythm section with my horn section, it would be all over”—something to that effect. So Ray Brown was very much able to prove that notion that you can’t really create anything new until you have absorbed all that has come before you.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ray Brown: Bass Solo Medley: Full Moon and Empty Arms/The Very Thought Of You/The Work Song

On The Very Tall Band, which is a quartet with Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson, and Karriem Riggins, Ray Brown does a medley does a medley on this record with “Full Moon and Empty Arms,” “The Very Thought of You” and “Work Song.” To me, it’s a case study in how the bass can execute at the highest level of melody. Ray Brown was always known almost as a boorish type of bass player, a pile-driving bulldozer of a bass player. But when Ray Brown played a ballad, just playing the melody and soloing, playing it free, no time, it was crystalline and beautiful. You can imagine transcribing that to a piano and having Oscar Peterson put something to it, and it would sound absolutely gorgeous. I think it’s pretty marvelous.

It was interesting to hear Ray talk about tone production. When you talk about the other major bass players, the most influential bass players of his generation, Oscar Pettiford and Charles Mingus... Ray, of course, loved Oscar Pettiford, and he admittedly stole a lot of his ideas, stole a lot of his concept. But Ray said that one thing he always wanted to do differently than Oscar Pettiford was make his notes longer. He always felt that bass notes were too short. They came out as much more of a thud than a ring. A lot of bass players pulled their strings out instead of down. but Ray would pull them down, so almost his finger was hitting the finger board as he was pulling the string, which freed the string to vibrate up and down instead of side-to-side. That gave it that crisp, percussive sound. He always kept the strings at a comfortable height that was never too low, never too high, which gave him just the right amount of tension so he could get a nice chunk of flesh into the string, without (a) killing the bass or (b) killing his fingers. So I think he always had the perfect setup and he had the perfect concept to be able to make his notes ring, still keep that big sound, and not overplay. When I saw him play in person and discovered that’s what he was doing, it was a revelation. I had been used to either the low-action, high-speed guys, or guys my age who were raising their strings way-way up high off the fingerboard, trying to go for that old-school, 1940s or early ‘50s bass sound. Guys were getting gut strings, and they were just yanking the crap out of their basses. I was doing that for a little while, but then I saw Ray Brown and went, “Ahh! So that’s how it’s done. What am I doing?” I think Ray Brown was both a musical and a scientific master in learning how to get that perfect sound out of the instrument. Unfortunately, I never sat down and asked him directly about whether that was a conscious... I mean, “did you know that you were plucking this way instead of that way?” It just seemed so natural, I have a feeling that’s what he got to through trial-and-error.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wes Montgomery & Wynton Kelly: Impressions

There's much to be said about the work of pianist Wynton Kelly. Yeah, everyone knows he played on Kind of Blue, but his contributions to hard bop and post bop during the late 1950s and 1960s make him one of the most active pianists, aside from Bobby Timmons, in jazz. And we all know the story of Wes Montgomery, the comeback kid. It's no surprise that this duo would pick John Coltrane's "Impressions" to glide over when they played the Half Note in New York City in 1965. Joined by bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb, the quartet set the D and Eb dorian changes of "Impressions" on fire. En fuego!! As the guy from ESPN used to say.

Montgomery's solo is chalked full of superior melodic expression. This was the first song I ever heard from him back in the late 1990s and upon listening again I know why I fell in love with his playing. He epitomizes power and assurance with his note selections. On the other hand, Kelly is no slouch either. He's kind of like the Vice President, you know he's there waiting and when it's his turn to take the drivers seat, he'll get the job done. His interaction with Montgomery during his solo shows just how close these two musical minds were. During several moments of Montgomery's solo, he and Kelly accent right on time with each other. This was by far one of Montgomery's tour de force songs.

This song is the very definition of what we know as swing. My advice to you? Pay the $0.99 for this download if you don't already have it in your collection or better yet, go buy the entire album. You can find this version of "Impressions" on most Verve compilation Montgomery discs.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Superbass: It Ain't Necessarily So

Certainly, playing with Ray and John Clayton in Superbass was one of the highlights of my entire career. Getting to actually play WITH Ray Brown and know what it feels like to have Ray Brown walking behind you, was pretty overwhelming. Ray was so driving and so forceful, I just remember thinking, “How in the world am I supposed to solo? How am I supposed to get over on top of that as a bass player?” Ray would just look at you and say, “come on, you’d better sink or swim, because I’m not going to quiet down.” So you had to just get on up there and blow.

He wrote an arrangement of a Porgy and Bess medley---“Summertime,” “I Loves You, Porgy,” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” This arrangement of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” is one of the funkiest, most down-home, most chicken-grease, rib-bone arrangements you could ever imagine. It definitely will get your foot tapping. It’s a real gritty, funky arrangement. It’s right up my alley.

Ray always demystified everything. John and I would constantly look at him and go, “Wow, that’s Ray Brown; let’s respect him; he has the final say-so with everything, and however the arrangements go, we’ll let him dictate that.” Ray would always look at us and say, “Look, man, please cut the shit. Yes, I know I’m old, but you guys are as much responsible for keeping the sound of this trio going as I am. I don’t want to be the center of this trio ALL the time.” So Ray gave us very much equal responsibility to create the sound of that trio. We all seemed to have our own natural thing that we did well. John, of course, with his classical background and his Basie background, usually when he would bring an arrangement it would be something kind of Basie-ish, or Ray would feature him on a sort of European type of thing where he could use his bow. They used to do this arrangement of “My Funny Valentine.” When it came time for me to get featured, Ray’s phrase was, “Ok, now the party gets started.” So Ray always left the crowd-pleasing stuff for us.

He asked me to bring an arrangement. He said, “Christian, I know you know all those old funk tunes. Why don’t you arrange an old funk song for the bass trio?” So I brought in “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.” we did it on this Super Bass, Part 2 recording. But I think the one on that date that particularly features Ray the best was “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” That was the track where, dare I say, I got to walk on top of HIM a little bit, and he’s just on top of everybody, just soloing like nuts. It was a real crowd pleaser.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ray Brown Trio: Lady Be Good

When I was just getting really serious about the music, and going out and buying records with the allowance my mother would give me every week, I remember going to the store specifically saying, “I’ve got to buy a Ray Brown record.” Don’t know why I didn’t buy an Oscar Peterson record. But instead, I went right to the Ray Brown section, I’m kind of thumbing through the records, and I saw Soular Energy, I saw Don’t Forget the Blues, I saw Something For Lester, and I saw The Red Hot Ray Brown Trio. I just liked the cover. It was red, had this yellow writing, and it said “red-hot,” so I thought, “Well, it must be swinging.” So I picked up that one. So that has a REAL soft spot in my heart because it was my first Ray Brown recording. Not the best record to listen to if you really want to get a good dose of Ray Brown, because he’s not really playing very much on it. It’s Gene Harris’ record almost, Mickey Roker is playing drums, and Ray and Mickey are swinging real hard. But "Lady Be Good" is the one track where you get that classic Ray Brown intro... There’s a little inside joke with people in the Ray Brown family. He had this one intro that he put on almost every song he ever arranged. If he couldn’t think of an intro, he would play this. He would slap his E-string real hard, he’d play a low G on the E-string, and it was BOHM-BOHM, MMM, MMM-HMM, MMM-HMM, MMM-HMM, MMM...BOHM-BOHM. DE-MMM, MMM-HMM... He plays that intro on about 50 different arrangements he has, and that might have been one of the first times he used that intro. All of us in the Ray Brown family, John Clayton, Benny Green, Diana Krall, Geoff Keezer, Geoff Hutchinson, Kareem Riggins, Russell Malone...we all hear that intro, and we just die laughing.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Milt Jackson-Ray Brown: Frankie and Johnnie

“Frankie and Johnnie” is just a great jam. Milt Jackson and Ray Brown were inseparable cronies. They were very much like Fred and Barney, Cramden and Norton. Ray was definitely Ralph Cramden or Fred Flintstone. Definitely the leader of the two. I think their kinship really comes across well all through that particular recording. Once again, Ray is in his element, just playing the straight 12-bar blues, having a good time, swinging real hard. Dick Berk is playing drums on this record. This is an early recording session for Monty Alexander on piano, and Teddy Edwards is on tenor. They’ve got their teeth sunk right into the groove, Ray is propelling the band, and they stretch out on the blues for about 10 minutes and have a really good time. You can hear Ray talking to the guys throughout the track. “Yeah, Jackson!” when Milt’s taking a solo. You can hear Ray yelling down to Monty, “Play the left hand.” It’s a really cool, fun track.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ray Brown-Milt Jackson: Lined With A Groove

This recording is with Oliver Nelson’s big band—Grady Tate is playing drums, Clark Terry is playing flugelhorn, Milt Jackson, Ray Brown, Hank Jones. It’s great to hear Ray Brown in this setting, because if I’m not mistaken, it was one of the first recordings---if not the first recording---that he made either as he was in the process of leaving Oscar Peterson’s Trio or had just left Oscar Peterson’s trio. He was starting to really focus on his development as a bandleader—or so he thought. That’s when he moved to L.A. and started becoming a studio ace on the West Coast. But it’s great to hear him play his tunes, and to hear the band sort of under his direction... Even though Oliver Nelson was the arranger-conductor on the date, somehow you got the notion that Ray Brown was running things! It’s also interesting to listen to Ray Brown during this period, because in the early to mid ‘60s you never really heard him play with too many other drummers other than Ed Thigpen. Now, you did hear him on a couple of sessions with Sinatra and people like that. But these were structured sections where he didn’t get much chance to stretch out. Now, this was one of the first times that Ray played with Grady Tate. It’s great to hear him hook up with somebody else, and you can hear that the hookup maybe wasn’t as instant as it was with Ed Thigpen. You can hear that there are some discrepancies in where the tempo might lay. But somehow, that blur in the tempo actually works. For some reason, I always liked hearing that. Ray always pushed. He was always ahead of the beat, just on the border of speeding up, and you can hear that Grady Tate is kind of in the pocket. You can feel this real hip tension, kind of like Ray going, “come on Grady...UNNH...” It’s fun to listen to.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wes Montgomery: Full House

I can't think of many jazz tunes in 3/4 that groove as hard as Wes Montgomery's "Full House." Recorded live in California, this date boasts a powerful line-up, with tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin adding some nice spice to the mix. Montgomery regularly recorded with the rhythm section of Kelly, Chambers and Cobb and as usual, the captured sound is some of the best straight ahead jazz to come out of the 1960s. Montgomery's solo is lively, full of octaves and steady movement. When Griffin takes his solo, he combines upper register notes with rapid mid-register runs, enticing the listener for more. Griffin was a top notch soloist, hands down.

Wynton Kelly swings and brings everything home with his blues filled piano lines. He also variates his rhythms just enough to get the listener interested in every note he is going to play. He also adds some chordal strikes during his solo, not something he usually did with Montgomery. This is a solid example of the swing factor. Montgomery and company get straight As on this one! Check out the nice little Bossa nova turn around at the end.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Smith: Just Friends

I once heard Brian Wilson explain that the single most important factor in recording a hit song was to make sure it was around three minutes in duration. People's attention span, it seems, can't handle anything much longer—well, at least not after a long day of catching waves down by the pier. Maybe nobody ever told Jimmy Smith. With track such as “Back at the Chicken Shack,” "The Duel" and “The Champ,” he routinely pushed beyond the eight-minute mark, and "The Sermon" is quite a homily, lasting for more than twenty minutes. On "Just Friends" he continues his crusade for the long jazz track, stretching out for a quarter of an hour of medium-tempo grooving. Yet, pace the Beach Boy, you are unlikely to find this music ennui-inducing. Smith's solo is fascinating, less funky than usual, relying rather on very raw singe-note lines. It almost sounds like a piano solo translated to the organ—something of an anomaly for this artist. But Coleman (on alto) and Morgan are also in top form. Also check out Smith's comping, which ranges from church organ celebrations to jagged thrusts into the middle of the horn player's hindquarters. Just friends? Maybe after the session.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wes Montgomery: Con Alma

The 1960s were an interesting time for the godfather of modern jazz guitar. After signing with Verve Records, Wes Montgomery went on a kick where he recorded heavily with orchestral backgrounds. Even though I love this Dizzy Gillespie song, it's still kind of strange to hear it with all of the string textures but I still enjoy it. While some of Montgomery's other recordings utilized a big band, "Con Alma" receives the Hollywood treatment, with mixed results, depending on your ears. I like it but others might find the strings to be overkill.

While the symphonic nature of this track is questionable to some, the rawness of Montgomery's solo isn't really up for debate. Wes moves back and forth with the grace of a heavyweight fighter as he runs circles around the harmonic modulations. The rhythm section is very laid back on this track and the sound of the band is further augmented by the hand percussion, which gives the song just enough spice to still feel like a genuine cover of a Latin song. This is by no means the best cover that Wes Montgomery ever performed but within this arrangement he does a good job in bringing out the original ideas of the composition.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joe Henry: Civilians

Bill Frisell has always been an in-demand session player, from his early ECM days to his extended stints with John Zorn and Paul Motian. Over the past decade, this reputation has not only increased but, just as Frisell’s own music, it has crossed over genre lines – where Frisell has lent his song-centric talents to countless singer-songwriters, just a few of which include: Lucinda Williams (West), Paul Simon (Surprise), Loudon Wainwright III (Here Come the Choppers), Elvis Costello (Deep Dead Blue), Vic Chestnut (Ghetto Bells), and Joe Henry’s 2004 release for the Anti label, Civilians.

[While Frisell is the star of the show here, a brief sidebar is owed to Joe Henry, one of the great unsung singer-songwriters of the past two decades who’s a jazz fan and owner of this impressive list of musicians who have contributed to his last handful of solo albums: Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman (live in studio!), Marc Ribot, Brad Mehldau, Brian Blade, Don Byron, and Jason Moran. Nowadays, Henry is busy as a producer, evidenced by two new recordings that have been reviewed on jazz.com: Allen Toussaint’s The Bright Mississippi and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot’s A Stranger Here. All great music to be explored.]

Of the abovementioned jazz-crossover guest spots offered by Henry, his smartest and most successful was inviting Bill Frisell to perform on all of his Civilians record. Alongside longtime Frisell collaborator Greg Leisz (guitar, pedal steel, mandolin), Frisell provides a master class in complementing a singer in a pop setting – leaving plenty of space but poking in to connect lyrical phrases at all of the perfect times. With another musician at the helm, this entire album could have taken the turn toward cluttered, but not with Frisell involved. On “Civilians,” Frisell (panned mid-left) creates a fun, twisted, dissonant little melody to match the chugging New Orleans-meets-Tom Waits groove. Note how he fuses this instrumental theme with Henry’s vocal to achieve unity from beginning to end.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Goodnight Irene

The players in Bill Frisell’s longest standing current trio doubles as the rhythm section for the Sex Mob - bassist Tony Scherr, a fine guitarist and singer/songwriter in his own right, and drummer Kenny Wollesen, a veteran of the groups of John Zorn and Tom Waits, among countless others. The group allows (… or forces) Frisell to step into the spotlight and “play out” a bit more than in most of his other musical projects, which is a real treat considering the group’s massive repertoire and extraordinary rapport. On his website, Frisell summarized his feelings about the group: “My trio with Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen is probably the most flexible, spontaneous group I play with. […] I have the luxury of playing just about anything that comes into my head at any moment. This could be music from any of my albums, standard songs, folk songs, or whatever.” The no-frills guitar solo on “Goodnight Irene,” played in a mid-tempo 6/8, recorded live at the Village Vanguard in 2005, displays Frisell’s unconditional loyalty to melody – building in intensity but never abandoning the original storyline.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: We Are Everywhere

Frisell borrowed an approach from himself for his 2001 foray into world music, The Intercontinentals. As he successfully accomplished with 1998’s Nashville, the guitarist surrounded himself with both his regular partners and leading players from outside genres – only to throw all common rules to the curb and encourage his players to collectively improvise their way through each composition. The musical gamble worked again, this time with guests from Brazil, Macedonia and Mali. “We Are Everywhere” is one of the longer selections on this record, giving the listener a heightened sense of the time spent developing a group rapport with both each other and the song’s structure. The first few minutes are spent presenting themes and developing mood over Sidiki Camara’s hand drums and a droning bass line. As the musicians start taking it upon themselves to push the improvisation forward, each musician must realize that they are all thinking similarly, because the tune develops in a beautifully unprompted yet cooperative manner - as if it had been played hundreds of times before.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Gimme A Holler

It’s ironic that Nashville, Bill Frisell’s farthest wander from recognizable jazz at this point in his career, recorded in 1995-1996 with some of bluegrass music’s finest players, was his first to earn him a Downbeat Critic’s Poll winner for Best Jazz Album of the Year and Best Guitarist of the Year in 1998. I suppose it’s one bold move complementing another – jazz’s principal magazine urging Frisell to continue focusing on simultaneous boundary obliteration and stylistic formation.

Frisell’s greatest achievement with Nashville may be that fans of country and jazz alike can both logically claim possession of the music heard throughout. This music, upon first listen, sounds like bluegrass, and with Jerry Douglass of Union Station fame trading licks with Frisell, it’s hard to argue that country music isn’t being played here. Yet Frisell’s own liner notes suggests another angle to view this music:

“Usually with my quartet, I write out my compositions. We start by reading the charts and then take a tune into different directions as we get familiar with playing it together. But I didn't present the music that way to the guys in Nashville. It was more of a challenge for me. I played the tunes and they all just reacted. It was exciting to see how quickly they learned the pieces.”

Executing a role reversal for the ages, Frisell rather ingeniously offered that somewhat of a jazz approach be taken to bluegrass music by infusing a collectively improvised, create-your-own-role atmosphere to a style where the dominating mindset is to know your role and stick to it. Hearing “Gimme a Holler” with this in mind completely changes the listening experience – it may sound like country, but the listening, the chance-taking, and the unpredicted moments of cohesion from quick interactions brings to mind the finest moments of pure jazz spontaneity.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Tales From The Far Side

A fan favorite and widespread critical success, Frisell’s foray into orchestral arrangements of his back catalog were first introduced on Quartet, featuring the strings of Frisell’s guitar and Kang’s violin and the brass of Miles’ cornet and Fowlkes’ trombone. You can tell how much fun Frisell had arranging these tunes, most of which were conceived as soundtracks to films, including this CD-opening homage to his good friend Gary Larson’s famous line of cartoons. An up-tempo, sweeping waltz in which the strings create a bed for the long-toned, two-horned melody, “Tales from the Far Side” retains and explores the sinister yet comical mood of Larson’s work. Bigger and bolder than most other Frisell arrangements, Quartet is a fun listen that, upon its release, the New York Times claimed, “just may be his masterpiece.”

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Paul Motian Trio: Misterioso

During the first week of 2009, Motian, Frisell, and Lovano just completed their annual two-week run at the Village Vanguard. It's amazing to think that this group, originally documented in 1984 on their debut record, It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago [ECM], has existed for twenty-five years -- until, that is, you listen to their frighteningly high level of musical mind-reading. Bass-less and certainly not bound to a steady, consistent ride-beat from Motian, these three musicians explore the intersection of melody, harmony and rhythm as freely and beautifully as any jazz trio ever has.

Their stunning ballad readings and renditions of Paul Motian’s underrated compositions can yield another dozens-sized list of worthy tracks here, but I’ve never seen the group without hearing an extended rendition of a Monk tune, and “Misterioso” seems to be the favorite choice. This live take from the middle of this group’s recorded history is about as “straight-ahead” as the group gets – Motian is steadily swinging more here than he usually chooses to with this group. Seemingly excited by this prospect, Lovano and Frisell really turn it on, both taking extended solos that burn from start to finish. Frisell is a man possessed throughout his duet with Motian here, and amidst the onslaught of notes and sound effects, the playful Monk vocabulary that he incorporates suits his style perfectly, and reveals one of his chief influences.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Strange Meeting

Bill Frisell’s pair of recordings from 1992, a wide-ranging collection of covers entitled Have a Little Faith and this set of original compositions, This Land, present a conscious departure away from the ECM sound that dominated Frisell’s early years and a step towards a more organic, traditionally assembled acoustic group. There’s a unavoidable emphasis on unearthing the riches of Americana on these two recordings, whether spanning the American songbook on Have a Little Faith (he covers Aaron Copland, Stephen Foster, Madonna, Sonny Rollins, Bob Dylan and John Hiatt, among others), or the compositional focus, American West artwork, and album title itself on This Land. Frisell was never bound by the strictness of a single genre, but with these two outings, he seems to dive headfirst into accepting the role of an Americana experimenter, inextricably linking jazz with country, rock, folk, and blues styles and already accomplishing what most struggle with when combining genres – forming a cohesive, identifiable personal style.

“Strange Meeting” is a dark, loping groove in C-minor that can be studied theoretically for its compositional value yet be immediately accessible to non-musicians for its immediate ease and clarity as a mood statement – an important dichotomy that hints at the growing crossover popularity of Frisell’s music. Note the tension-inducing space left by the drums, the syncopated bass-line that lands on beat one on the “B” section, and the patience required by all players to establish texture through horn layering before Frisell begins to improvise.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steely Dan: Peg

"Peg" is a rare instance in Steely Dan's discography where the music takes precedence over the lyrics. While the storyline chronicles the life of a Hollywood hopeful, the peppy funk tune is given the royal treatment by a stellar cast of musicians including Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, Chuck Rainey, and backing vocalist Michael McDonald, a frequent contributor to Becker and Fagen recordings.

According to Rainey's interview during VH1's "The Making of Aja," Becker and Fagen were against adding slap bass to the tune but left it in after Rainey added it behind their backs. Good call on Rainey's part, because it helps the music thrive in an engaging and friendly sort of way and, with guitarist Jay Graydon placing the icing on the cake with a solo which, while technical, adds even deeper melodic twists, the track still captivates after thousands of listens.

Whether or not the subject matter is about long-forgotten actress Peg Entwistle, who committed suicide by throwing herself from the Hollywood sign's "H," is uncertain-after all, there are several actresses named "Peg" listed in the Internet Movie Database. However, you will most likely get into the groove of the recording before you consider the lyrics, which is a refreshing and welcome change in a catalog of music largely sequestered in psychoanalysis.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steely Dan: Josie

From the wildly successful Aja CD, "Josie" is constructed around light jazz flourishes, a horn section that keeps the group's syncopation tight as a headlock, and an infectious, celebratory energy where the cheerfully positive vibe is transparent.

Some of the band's best songs lack any real explanation of why their singer feels the way he does. "Josie" follows a pattern similar to tunes such as "Rikki, Don't Lose That Number" and "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" by avoiding an explanation of what is truly happening in the lives of the characters. While, in lead singer Donald Fagen's eyes, it is "good" that she is returning to the neighborhood because she, for some reason, is its "pride," he contradicts this by stating that it is "bad" that she has returned in her current form because, before, she was, "the best friend we never had."

Lots of emotion is voiced by the narrator when it is stated that hats, hooters, and motor scooters are going to appear during a beach party that occurs upon her arrival. Thus, the lack of further description of who Josie is still makes this a puzzle worth solving in the 21st Century and beyond.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steely Dan: Gaslighting Abbie

Two Against Nature won Steely Dan a 2001 Grammy award for Album of the Year, and the recording stands out for its bouncy, upbeat nature rather than for the drab, dark undertones that colored Gaucho, its studio predecessor.

"Gaslighting Abbie" maintains Becker and Fagen's standard of twisting their bop-influenced grooves together with tales of characters whose true natures unfold as they dive into the cruder side of life. A husband attempts to drive his wife crazy with his lover's help, and, alongside joyous sounding plateaus, Fagen describes the techniques that will erase his summertime pain ("Flame is the game/the game we call Gaslighting Abbie/It's a luscious invention for three"). The trio's "game" involves spiking herbal tea with "deludin," and, from there, blood, fresh cable, and fifteen watt bulbs are incorporated into the psychological torture.

As Fagen sings of these activities, concluding, "a tweak or two and she's out of here," you have to wonder whether or not you would feel comfortable sitting alone with him in the same room. In many ways, this track could be the most explicit Steely Dan recording, as far as its subject matter is concerned. However, that does not keep it from being one of their most effective.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steely Dan: Kid Charlemagne

Larry Carlton's fierce solo on "Kid Charlemagne" is widely viewed as one of the most important guitar recordings in history. Its status has been cemented by the tune's inclusion in the "Rock Band World Tour" video game, but, without Donald Fagen's dire reflections of 1960s San Francisco acid culture, the tune would not exist. Seemingly in reference to Ken Kesey's novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, the protagonist is a chemist on the lam. Unfortunately for him, his fame has exceeded expectations, and, if he is caught, prison time is assured because of the nature of the crime-mainly, manufacturing and selling drugs.

The character referenced in the song's title is someone who exists on the fringes of the then-current 70s world which had longed for the conservatism that future president Ronald Reagan embodied. His generation, according to the narrator, has no use for a person such as an LSD manufacturer whose time in the drug scene was obviously limited in the scene of alternative lifestyles by the sheer weight of his notoriety. "You are obsolete/look at all the white men on the street," he is warned, and he is later deemed an outlaw in the eyes of the law.

At the end, when the character loosely based on the enigmatic Owsley Stanley is arrested after his car runs out of gas, a police officer tells him that even he knows of his reputation amongst the prisoners in the jail ("The people down the hall know who you are") and you get the feeling that he should have taken the officer's advice to minimize the amount of illegal items that he carries on the city streets. This is a story without unexpected twists that never ends well.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steely Dan: Babylon Sisters

"Babylon Sisters" is a great reggae influenced tune which utilizes one of Steely Dan's most intricate chord charts. The tale is immediately followed by "Hey Nineteen" on the Dan's 1980 album Gaucho, so you will notice a pattern in the themes that, while plaintively referenced in the lyrics, play out much more quizzically.

Chronicling the plight of characters who have crossed the "point of no return," this particular narrator seems to possess some sort of fetish for women "so fine, so young." Of course, this leaves us wondering a) why are these pleasures "cheap" yet "not free," and why are they being linked to Tijuana when it does not sound as though the rendezvous is happening outside of L.A. ("Here come those Santa Ana winds again"), b) even though it is obvious that the character should not play with the "fire" his desire for "cotton candy" objectifies, why are the characters heading out of town for a "one-night stand" when they could simply stay in their own hometown, and c) why does the speaker characterize himself as not what he "used to be," even though his exploits seem to find him in peak form?

Well, the "Babylon Sisters" can "shake it" all they wish, but that does not resolve any of those unanswered questions. However, if all else fails, focus on the searing horn section, which punches the air with its unison riffs, the slow dirge that definitely plays as a musical oxymoron to the story, and, once again, the challenging chart, which probably features the most chord changes in their entire catalog. All of these elements drown out the vocals, which are mixed so low that it is tough to hear them. However, if you listen closely, they are clear-even if the muse's motives are not.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steely Dan: Do it Again

A #6 single and Steely Dan's highest chart entry, "Do It Again" acts as a blueprint for what would follow in their discography. The track fuses latin jazz flourishes and a light samba feel that provides the catalyst for some awesome sitar-guitar soloing by Denny Dias.

The scene is set "at the border" where the main character is "gunning" for a perceived thief of his "water." Whether or not the "water" is H2O is debatable, but what is known is that, after he is dragged by his feet into a place where "mourners" sing, his fate sees sealed. The streets are less safe for him than prison, but, back on the outside to "do it again" (whatever "it" is), he encounters even more problems living a life of normalcy. If the "it" in the title refers to reliving, this man has obviously failed; his character is so flawed that, as a liar by nature, he finds himself "back in Vegas" after claiming that he is not a gambling man.

What a shame, because Fagen describes someone who has certainly been given more than one chance at life and has spoiled them all by refusing to alter his behavior. Exactly why he cannot cope with reality is never put to task, if he was willing to "swear and kick and beg" while pleading for freedom, why didn't he change his abhorrent behavior in the first place? The judge was smart in letting him go-as a lifelong criminal, he would have been right at home behind bars, that's for sure.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steely Dan: Reelin' in the Years

"Reelin' in the Years" is one of Steely Dan's most beloved songs. The antagonist portrayed within has seemingly ruined Donald Fagen's life, and he questions every stage of the person's existence, from their teenage years to their lack of success in college to infidelity that confirms that the object of his affection was neither knowledgeable nor sensitive to his needs.

Implying that his lover has stolen both his money and tears and has left him emotionally bankrupt, Fagen's negativity leads him to croon, "You wouldn't even know a diamond if you held it in your hand," and, in his self-examination, he determines that he would never commit to the individual. Without denial, he reflects upon the past and, while he cannot forget it ("The trip we made to Hollywood is etched upon my mind"), his wish is to put it away forever, claiming that the person's "everlasting sermon" is fading fast.

To the writers of this track, those who lack education who claim to be geniuses are the real problem in the world. Backed by Elliot Randall's crunchy, distorted lead guitar, this song is the place to start when discovering the music of Steely Dan.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steely Dan: Pretzel Logic

The hidden meaning of Steely Dan's "Pretzel Logic" will remain uncovered without asking Walter Becker and/or Donald Fagen for a direct explanation. I, however, hear a tale that longs for the simplicity of the Golden Age of Hollywood as it reluctantly accepts the entertainment industry's current condition. "Those days are gone forever," Fagen sings as he laments stepping "up to the platform" and being scrutinized for his shoes. This may be a statement on the platform shoes that celebrities wore during the 1970s; their cartoonish implications lead an obviously popular performer to retort that he "seen them on the TV-the movie show."

That his word choice is "seen" and not the proper form of "saw" is crucial to any sort of comprehension of the setting, because the very first lyrics implore that the same person would, "love to travel the Southland in a traveling minstrel show." It is unknown what kind of entertainment the person is providing, but it is certain that the person speaking either was born and raised in the southern part of the USA or knows that his roots lie there, even if he no longer benefits from the South's perceived simplicity of lifestyle.

Musically, the track is built around a rather simplistic (for this group, anyway) blues pattern. The instrumentation is spare and the vocals are abundantly multi-tracked. A horn section simmers in the background and, although it is not one of the prominent sonic aspects, its inclusion fills up the entire sound spectrum. Even with the thought provoking lyrics, without the brass, the tune would have sounded somewhat less full-and that would have subtracted from its power.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steely Dan: Rikki Don't Lose That Number

Some Steely Dan fans have speculated as to whether or not Donald Fagen's composition "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" was written about a college acquaintance named Rikki Ducornet. While this link has never been verified, it is tough to confirm, because the wistful narrative never addresses any sort of actual event and, even though it urges the person to call when they "feel better," no true feelings by any of the characters are ever displayed.

The distance is rare for Steely Dan; usually, Becker and Fagen's characters are engaged in more or less obvious lifestyles, but as for those less obvious, at least there usually is some sort of gathering that occurs even if that gathering is mental. Perhaps Fagen was lusting over someone whose heart was unavailable here, but you'd never know it with lyrics such as, "I have a friend in town, he's heard your name/We can go driving out on slow hand row."

The light samba feel, the free-flowing guitar solo by Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, and the overall musical cohesion forces listeners to relate emotionally to the track, and, in that way, the recording is one of the Dan's most successful on CD. Just where is "slow hand row" anyway?

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steely Dan: Bodhisattva

"Bodhisattva" is an excellent track dealing with a somewhat obscure topic in a Western world that, according to Steely dan frontman Donald Fagen a few years later, welcomes its citizens with "sausage and beer."

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a bodhisattva is, "a being that compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others and is worshiped as a deity in Mahayana Buddhism." However, you have to question the beliefs of the narrator here, who surely needs proof that Buddhism works to even begin to believe in it. Sarcastically, vocalist Donald Fagen instructs whomever acts as his "shakabuku" (or initiator) to take him "by the hand" and lead him to verifiable proof of the religion's powers. Amidst few lyrics, the only references that the track makes to anything at all includes mentions of Japan and china, but this "china" is not the country but an allusion to the porcelain that is manufactured in that nation. Hence, in stating that he would like to see "the sparkle of your china," the lyricist states that he basically could never believe in what he considers the "porcelain god" of organized religion. In the final verse, a note about cults and religious fanatics surfaces in the words "I'm going to sell my house in town"-a commentary which could mean that Fagen had checked out the scene and could not relate to those who sacrifice everything for religion's sake.

Exactly why the main character is so skeptical is the question; certainly, he had been led to explore the tenets of the practice, but, upon meeting those ideologies, a complete rejection seems in order. While the guitar duel between Denny Dias and Jeff Baxter creates a jazz firestorm within, it aligns with lyrics that reflect upon the piety by which the participants in Buddhism believe. The person who was termed a "Razor Boy" and one of Hollywood's "Show Biz Kids" on the very same album, though, may not be quite ready for such a major change in his life to occur.

However, on Countdown to Ecstasy, it does eventually occur; the CD's final track, "King of the World," finds the speaker assailing "assassins, cons, and rapers," which shows that, while the world peace offered by the Buddha may not have been up his alley, at least he has learned to embrace some form of morality by the end.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steely Dan: Hey Nineteen

While the narrator in Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen" may not be a true "Gaucho" in the South American sense, he gets his kicks from Cuervo Gold, Colombian cannabis, and a younger woman-seemingly receiving his enjoyment from sources that are definitely "south of the border" both figuratively and literally. While the pleasures he reflects upon are fleeting, the basis for his admiration is purely physical in that the two can share pleasures of an illicit (rather than intelligent) nature; she is so out of touch with pop culture reality that she has no idea who Aretha Franklin is. Her worldly vision is interesting in that, even though Ms. Franklin is best known as the "Queen of Soul" because of her vast array of rhythm and blues recordings from the 1960s, she was still a current artist and a viable record seller in 1980.

In that year, "Hey Nineteen" hit #10 on the Billboard singles chart and #68 on the "black music" chart, which proves that the woman referenced in "Hey Nineteen" is even more clueless than the "average" pop music buyer in an era when "average" generally meant disco. In fact, Donald Fagen's reference to Franklin seems to set the entire tone of the recording, as a soul chorus cascades over vague disco/R&B beats that could easily pass for pop. Riding a traditional rhythm alongside a variety of chord variations, this tale of an intergenerational love affair seems even more relevant thirty years on into an era where such trysts are more common than they were at the time of recording.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Steely Dan: Black Friday

Here's what Donald Fagen had to say about Steely Dan's Katy Lied album: "Each song is seen from a different view point. Some I imagine have an idealistic tone to them, while others are someone who is obviously suicidal. Obviously the narrator...is really in the deep stages of severe depression. And of course, I probably was when I was performing them." Such is the case with the CD's lead track, "Black Friday."

The recording features two members of Toto in keyboardist David Paich and drummer Jeff Porcaro, whose blues shuffle lurches while the main character contemplates digging a hole and crawling inside because of the impending doom of the upcoming day. Slaughter is on the way and he has already made preparations for his exit, potentially going so far as to alter his identity in order to escape the possible consequences. Ready for life on the run, he plans to "collect everything" he is owed and "let the world pass by," and, pleading for the Lord not to let disaster find him, he wants an archbishop to sanctify him but has even left himself an exit in that case ("If he don't come arcross, I'm gonna let it roll").

This dynamic singalong broke the top forty in the United States and the chart placement confirms that Becker and Fagen were able to allay intergenerational superstitions (such as those symbolized by Friday the 13th) onto wax, linking all listeners together in a sociological (and, ultimately, musical) way.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Hard Plains Drifter

John Zorn has called on Bill Frisell to fill the guitar seat in many of his groups for upwards of 25 years now – beginning with Frisell’s contribution to Zorn’s The Big Gundown in 1984-85. Through the years, Frisell was a member of Zorn’s thrash-metal-jazz-and-everything-else group Naked City, performed on many of Zorn’s Filmworks releases, and contributed solo acoustic guitar readings of Zorn’s world-music compositions on Masada Guitars.

This thirteen-plus minute whirlwind track is one of their most collaborative efforts. Penned by Frisell and produced and arranged by Zorn, the Bill Frisell Band moves through every imaginable genre here, playing heavy metal for a few bars, moving to a country groove, then swinging behind a guitar solo before moving on to a brand new set of stylistic vignettes. For a real treat, check out the chart for the entire tune in Frisell’s Songbook – you’ll find that there are 38 sections to this tune that are all briefly notated with musical lines/chord changes and all-capitalized stylistic commands (for example: 28. FREE QUARTET / 29. SOLO / 30. MEMPHIS GROOVE / 31. REGGAE / 32. NEW ORLEANS / 33. THRASH… GO CRAZY). It’s surely the most challenging and unique track in the Frisell discography – and a tour-de-force documentation of the thriving relationship of two of jazz’s renegade composers/performers.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Throughout

Bill Frisell embarked on a freelancing career in the late 1970s that found him performing in Boston, New York, and Belgium, the last of which he moved to briefly in 1978. While gigging throughout Europe, Frisell met ECM founder/producer Manfred Eicher, who, impressed by the young guitarist, invited him to become an unofficial “house guitarist” for the label in the late 1970s, appearing on such releases as Eberhard Weber’s Fluid Rustle and Later That Evening, Arild Andersen’s A Molde Concert, Paul Motian’s Psalm, and Jan Garbarek’s Paths, Prints. With these experiences in hand, Eicher invited Frisell to record as a leader for the ECM label in August of 1982, which resulted in the guitarist’s debut recording, In Line.

A lot can be learned of Frisell’s method and style from these initial recordings. To begin with, with the exception of bassist Arild Andersen’s accompaniment on five of the nine tracks, In Line is a solo performance, or, more accurately, multiple layers of Frisell’s guitar. On the bass-less “Throughout,” the guitarist sets a high precedent for his career-long concentration on mood and texture, achieved here with his combination of minimalist acoustic and electric guitars, the use of volume, delay and chorus pedals and his dichotomous presentation of the sheer beauty and simplicity of a folk-song melody and the presence of mysteriously dissonant intervals and tone clusters.

Even when playing along with himself, there’s a palpable playfulness and sense of spontaneity here – the joy of sailing into uncharted waters with the tapes rolling – that’s also a dependable feature of the Frisell experience.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Bye Bye Blackbird

Miles Davis' classic version of "Bye Bye, Blackbird" has long been considered one of the essential modern jazz recordings. However, the reasons why this particular recording became much more popular than similar recordings from Miles' discography are not so clear. One reason for "Blackbird"'s popularity was that it was recorded on his new label, Columbia, rather than on his old one, Prestige. Columbia had excellent distribution and the records were available for sale and commonly heard on the radio. And then there was the LP programming: At the start of Side 1 was the stunning title track "Round About Midnight" and at the start of Side 2 was "Blackbird", a jaunty yet sad setting of a old standard. Contrary to the myth, "Blackbird" was hardly a forgotten song: Tom Lord's "Jazz Discography" shows a steady recording history of the song up until Miles recorded it. The song was still familiar and loved by the older members of Miles' audience, and even if the song was new to you, it was easy to glean the wistful quality of the song through the Quintet's interpretation. Another key part of "Blackbird"'s popularity has to be in the solos themselves. Every solo on this track is eminently singable. Even Coltrane's runs can be sung with a little practice! For young musicians learning how to improvise, these solos were a gateway into modern jazz. And for the hipsters of the period, it was an easy way to show just how hip they were (or thought they were...) There are many wonderful little moments in this recording that make it special, but my favorite is near the end as Miles plays the final chorus. When he reaches the make my bed and light the light/ I'll be home late tonight lines, Red Garland plays the melody a third above Miles. It's a simple little gesture, maybe a little corny, but whenever I hear it, I can't help but smile.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Solitude

Ellington Indigos is one of my favorite Ellington albums. Recorded right after Such Sweet Thunder, it was designed to show the "dance band" side of the Ellington orchestra. But it is so much more: In arranging a program of standards mixing his songs with those of other composers, Ellington created wonderful new settings that were richly-colored and easily accessible. When it was recorded in 1957, stereo recording was still new (in fact, Indigos may have been the first stereo Ellington album). Like other albums of this period, there were occasional problems with the portable stereo recorders which necessitated using different takes on the mono and stereo versions of the LP. One track, "The Sky Fell Down" never appeared on the stereo LP, and in 2 other cases, not only were the solos different between the mono and stereo, but the orchestrations changed, too! After 50+ years with various tracks turning up here and there, the Jazzbeat CD above includes all of the music recorded for this album. It's about time.

While Ellington wrote several concertos for his musicians, he seldom wrote features for himself. "Solitude" is a wonderful exception to the rule. Ellington starts alone at the piano with a gentle, out-of-tempo rumination on the theme. After awhile, he adds a simple, slow stride pattern, but soon breaks away from the straight time for more rubato thoughts. He uses single note lines to convey loneliness, and as the solo continues, we wonder if the whole track will be an extended piano solo. Then with a strong entrance on the theme, he brings in the rhythm section. The saxes pick up the melody with Ellington offering sharply voiced chords in contrast. The brass comes in on the bridge and the arrangement continues to build even as Ellington moves away from his melody. The band kicks in hard as the arrangement reaches its climax. Then suddenly, Ellington breaks into a flashy arpeggio that runs up and down the keyboard, and there is a solo piano cadenza that brings the volume and mood back to its quiet beginnings. Ellington caught a lot of heat from the critics when he crossed into the sacred classical music area, but this recording shows the pianist in a seldom-seen context. Far from being pretentious, it is simply a beautifully-realized rendition of a classic song. I loved it when I first heard it 30 years ago, and I still love it today.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jelly Roll Morton: High Society

Although Jelly Roll Morton is the leader of this recording, it is a rare instance where the pianist/composer is not the center of attention. We barely hear a note from his piano and the arrangement sounds nothing like the Red Hot Pepper charts of the previous decade. Indeed, on this version of "High Society" it sounds as if half the band is improvising their parts (or playing from memory). The sound is like a New Orleans street parade, but in this recording, both Sidney Bechet and Albert Nicholas play the famous clarinet obbligato. Bechet goes first, playing the serpentine line on soprano sax. He has some issues with breath control and the phrasing is quite choppy. NIcholas (who probably played this obbligato more than Bechet) sails in on clarinet, and he plays flawlessly until he realizes that he's showing up Bechet. Then the nerves hit and he fumbles one of the lines. Other than the double clarinet obbligato and a minor strain used to change keys, the rendition is quite faithful to the original march.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: High Society

Louis Armstrong's 1933 big band recording of "High Society" is not only vastly different from his recording with King Oliver 11 years earlier, but different from just about any other version. The arrangement by Carl Russell includes complete strains that I've never heard in any other recording of the song. Louis offers a verbal introduction and promises a re-creation of a New Orleans street parade. Lawson starts a parade drum pattern on his snare and Louis plays the "horns up" motive, but when the band comes in, the modern chords don't sound anything like a New Orleans street band. The saxes fumble through a difficult passage and Louis covers them up with an upward slide, and then Keg Johnson offers the familiar first strain on trombone, with the band swinging the background riffs. Louis takes over from Keg to conclude the strain, but the next minute or so of the arrangement consists of original big band riff choruses that were never part of "High Society". When we finally arrive at the trio, Randolph or Whitlock plays the theme while the saxes have a go at the famous clarinet obbligato. The minor "dog-fight" interlude from the original march leads into a variation on the trio that provides a backdrop for Armstrong's high-register trumpet fireworks. While the arrangement is an interesting attempt to transform a New Orleans band standard into a solo vehicle, the effort isn't entirely successful, and it certainly falls short of the expectations we had from the introduction.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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King Oliver: High Society

"High Society" is one of many traditional jazz standards with confusing parentage. It was originally a march, written in 1901 by Porter Steele. The piccolo obbligato first turns up in a Robert Recker score later in 1901, and sometime after that, A.J. Piron transposed it for clarinet. Clarence Williams got involved somewhere along the line, possibly writing lyrics for the song. Apparently, there is another set of lyrics by Walter Melrose (and just who sings these lyrics anyway?) And if things weren't confused enough, when King Oliver recorded it, he claimed it was composed by his current band! So, the Oliver version always carries "King Oliver's Jazz Band" as the credit, but the same piece as recorded by other players can have any combination of the above composers listed. It's a good thing that the song is in public domain!

Oliver's acoustic recording features the full ensemble in the opening and closing choruses. Johnny Dodds is very prominent, with the clueless and out-of-tune trombonist Honore Dutrey standing a few feet back from the recording horn.Oliver's in the back of the room with Louis (and as Louis said years later, the problem with the Oliver recordings is that the lead didn't predominate). Lil Hardin's piano and Bud Scott's banjo are lost in the mix and Baby Dodds can only be heard sporadically with the occasional cymbal crash. When the trio comes along, Armstrong and Johnny Dodds take over and the other horns lay out, offering a fine respite from the dense band sound. Armstrong gets in a little improvisation over the trio theme and in the final chorus, Dodds plays a creditable rendition of the Picou obbligato.

While these old recordings can be hard to listen to, the Archeophone double-CD above offers the best transfers to date. By necessity, the MP3 linked above is not from the Archeophone, but the French Classics reissue. Go to http://www.archeophone.com/product_info.php?cPath=33_34&products_id=85 to hear samples of these superior transfers.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Lonesome

Between the release of his debut recording, In Line, and the date of this session (early ’87), Bill Frisell busily recorded with Chet Baker, Bob Moses, Tim Berne, Paul Motian, Marc Johnson, John Zorn, Paul Bley, and released his first full-band record, an ECM outing entitled Rambler that features Kenny Wheeler and Paul Motian. However, Frisell truly embarked on establishing a career as a leader with this first steady group, comprising the diversely creative lineup of cellist Hank Roberts, electric bassist Kermit Driscoll, and drummer Joey Baron. Upon first listen, one can immediately tell that Frisell had found his early musical foils here. Both the serious technical talents and collective senses of humor of his “Band” mates enhance his compositional and improvisational nuances.

“Lonesome” is an enduring Frisell composition consisting of two six-bar “A” sections, an eight-bar “B” section, and a concluding, slightly-expanded eight-bar “A” section. Frisell’s sweet folk melody, played on acoustic guitar, is peppered with metallic percussion (amidst a country-rock brushes groove) from Baron, modestly vital support from Driscoll, and some attractively discordant trills from Roberts. Frisell’s brief improvisation features some time spent exploring mood and texture, as well as a few stand-alone bop lines that remind us, amidst the multitude of sonic goings-on, that the man can play. This tune has been performed by many of Frisell’s various group throughout the years, yet few retain the charm of this original version.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gerry Gibbs & Ravi Coltrane: Impressions

If you are wondering how Gerry Gibbs and Ravi Coltrane came together on Gibbs' 1996 debut album, The Thrasher, it just happens that Gerry's father, vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, introduced John Coltrane to his wife-to-be Alice McLeod. Their son, Ravi, and Gerry became close friends and Ravi was a member of the drummer's working quartet at the time of this recording, after having spent three years with the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine earlier in the '90's. As can be heard here on Gibbs' fresh arrangement of John Coltrane's "Impressions," even early on in his career Ravi sounded very little like his father, who died when he was only two.

Uri Caine's sprightly piano intro sets the stage for Coltrane's playing of Gibbs' totally reworked--both harmonically and rhythmically--version of the "Impressions" theme, with violinist Mark Feldman joining the saxophonist on the replay. This is followed by a swaying montuno from Caine and vibist Joe Locke and a prickly vamp by Feldman (pizzicato) and Locke, just prior to Coltrane's tenor solo. Suspended time sections serve as launching pads for Ravi's convoluted, logically conceived, and unyieldingly inventive phrasings and runs. Caine's improv is buoyantly zestful and rhythmically diverse. Gibbs' well-executed, aggressively delivered drum solo is bolstered by the same vamp and montuno heard previously. The concluding well-written parts for the sextet as a whole seal the deal on one the most provocative and unique treatments of "Impressions" ever recorded.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ike Quebec: Blue and Sentimental

One aspect of Ike Quebec's playing that was conveyed so eloquently on his "comeback" Blue Note albums of the early '60's was his expressive "boudoir tenor" ballad treatments, an instrumental equivalent, if you will, of the style of singing that Billy Eckstine utilized in the '40's to keep the girls swooning in the aisles. Guitarist Tiny Grimes had ably assisted Quebec on his first round of Blue Note recordings in the '40's; now, in 1961, Quebec was matched with the up-and-coming Grant Green for his own Blue and Sentimental date and on Green's Born to Be Blue. If not for Quebec's untimely death from lung cancer in 1963 at the age of 44, surely Blue Note (for which Quebec also did influential A&R work) would have continued to pair his tenor with Green's guitar.

The title track, "Blue and Sentimental," is a definitive example of Quebec's sexy ballad creations. Quebec's velvety, fluttering evocation of the theme is tenderly apt. In his solo you can clearly discern Quebec's two self-admitted major influences, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, but to his credit they've been successfully assimilated into a personally assured approach all his own. Green's following solo is actually longer than the leader's, and is played with a noticeably lighter tone than would be heard from him in the years to come. His always melodic, blues-inflected, and concise phrases hold one's interest despite threatening to veer into repetition, as his subtle, surprising, and clever variations unfailingly prevent that from happening. Quebec reenters with the famous Count Basie vamp from Hershel Evans' original 1938 feature, before bearing down on the melody in mellifluous fashion once again, right down to a sensuously caressing coda.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sonny Stitt: Blues for Pres, Sweets, Ben and All the Other Funky Ones

Sonny Stitt was in prime form during his 1959 recording session with the Oscar Peterson Trio, perhaps partly because of the planned nature of the set, as opposed to a totally spur-of-the-moment selection of overplayed tunes. Sonny pays tribute to Charlie Parker with "Au Privave" and "Scrapple from the Apple," to Count Basie, Ben Webster, and Lester Young with "Moten Swing," and sums up his salute to "the fine funky ones: Bird, Pres, Sweets, Ben, Louis, Basie and those," with the original composition spotlighted here. This was the last time Stitt would record with Peterson, and the two monster technicians subdue their egos and work in highly effective accord, anchored by the responsive, classic rhythm team of Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen.

Stitt's on tenor for this track, but while it allows him some distance from his ever-present Parker influence on alto, he still sounds very little like Young or Webster. Instead, saxmen like Gene Ammons, Wardell Gray and Paul Gonsalves come to mind as Stitt plays the Kansas City Swing / jump blues theme and navigates his relatively old-school, riffing solo, with his usual intricate bop vocabulary kept mostly under wraps. Peterson in his solo utilizes a lissome touch of the George Shearing variety, as well as sparse Basie-derived patterns, in order to retain the reverent approach initiated by Stitt. Brown and Thigpen in turn drive the action, the flawless drummer having only recently joined Peterson, with whom he'd remain for the next seven years. All this is heard with crystal clarity thanks to the superb remastering of Kevin Reeves.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Billy Pierce: Star Eyes

It was producer/pianist James Williams' idea to put saxophonist Billy Pierce into the studio with just pianist Hank Jones and drummer Roy Haynes, shades of Lester Young with Nat Cole and Buddy Rich or Benny Carter with Art Tatum and Louis Bellson. Fortunately, Pierce had spent three years with Art Blakey (alongside other "young lions" such as Wynton Marsalis and Bobby Watson), and was in the midst of a seven-year long stint with Tony Williams' quintet, so the challenging trio format and the stature of his bandmates was not nearly as intimidating as one might expect for the young saxophonist. Blakey for one had called Pierce "my best tenor player since Wayne Shorter." Alas, Pierce would gradually turn his focus to teaching jazz at the Berklee College of Music (where Mark Turner and Miguel Zenon have been among his students), but his impressive Equilateral session will forever be a key reminder of his ability as a player.

Of course, Jones and Haynes knew "Star Eyes" intimately, having both performed it with Charlie Parker back in the day, but Pierce more than holds his own on this rewarding version. Jones plays the familiar intro before Pierce warmly intones the theme, augmented by the pianist's undulating chords and Haynes' sleek snare drum accents. Jones solos first in his distinctively florid yet at the same time tasteful style, his lines constantly darting and shifting perspective, but seeming to always coalesce in their thematic faithfulness. Pierce's improvisation is brash and almost blustering in spots, his woody tone adding heft to his fleet-fingered runs and swirling circular phrases. Jones' intricate comping and Haynes' urgent but unobtrusive polyrhythms are memorable examples of their individual artistry. Along with Pierce, in the end this engaged trio has shown its respect for the bebop vernacular while also preferring to take the road less traveled.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Cannonball Adderley: Limehouse Blues

A friend of mine summed up The Cannonball Adderley Quintet In Chicago as "the Miles Davis band without Miles". True enough, but it's more than Miles' physical absence that makes this album special: it is a Cannonball Adderley album from the get-go, and most of the music included here would not have fit into the sound of Miles' band as it approached the intense modal moods of Kind Of Blue, which was recorded in the two months following this date. That is certainly the case with "Limehouse Blues", which opened the Adderley record. All thoughts of Miles disappear with the opening rush of Wynton Kelly's introduction. Played at a whirlwind tempo, the band races through the tune before Cannonball bursts in with a note-gobbling solo. His joy is infectious and he rips through sixteenth-note runs with great abandon. Coltrane was also brilliant as fast tempi ("Giant Steps" was only 3 months away) and he kept the searching element of his sound by breaking up his runs with searing held notes. Kelly provides a fleet single-line solo, but the tempo gives him a little trouble near the end of his chorus. The horns play a quick set of exchanges with Jimmy Cobb followed by a chorus of exchanges by the horns alone. After the reprise of the theme, there is an effectively arranged coda that maintains the excitement while offering a satisfying conclusion.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Quintette du Hot Club de France: Limehouse Blues

The Quintet of the Hot Club of France played a lot of songs about places they had never visited ("Chicago", "Charleston", etc.), but "Limehouse Blues" was about London and presumably all of the members had been there and knew that neighborhood. The Quintet recorded "Limehouse" twice in just under 8 months (both versions appear on the above CD) and the differences between them are quite astonishing. The first version was made for Decca in October 1935 and it moves along at a staid medium tempo and the solos are well-played but not too exciting. Something must have happened in the 8 months before the Quintet recorded the song again for HMV, for this time the tempo is considerably faster and the feeling is much rougher. Django's guitar murmurs a few dissenting thoughts during the relatively calm first chorus, but as the solos approach, Django and Stephane seem to momentarily fight over who will get the first solo. Stephane plays the solo while Django pushes the intensity with the guitars. To my ears, Stephane seems hemmed in by the simple chord sequence and his phrases, while of varied length, seem to all sound the same. Django has no such problem with the chords and he fires off a brilliant solo, using octaves and chorded passages to set off his ideas. As the solo progresses, his technique seems less polished as his octaves have a rough edge to them. In the ensemble chorus that follows, Django fills with reckless abandon. When Stephane takes back the solo spotlight, he's found his inspiration again, and in the course of his solo, he presages the descending ensemble part recorded by the Benny Goodman Quartet on "Avalon" in the following year. Was Benny listening to the Hot Club records in his off-hours?

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Limehouse Blues

"Limehouse Blues" is not a blues, but it was inspired by the London neighborhood. When Duke Ellington recorded the song in 1931, the song was ten years old and Ellington was just two years away from his first trip to London. The introduction, with an odd clip-clop rhythm from Sonny Greer, sounds more like the Old West than the East End. Ellington must have liked the relaxed loping feel of this song, for he keeps the two-beat going throughout the arrangement. Ellington's setting is a feature for his three saxophonists, but all of the solo segments are in 8-bar pieces. After the theme chorus, a trumpet variation alternates with Johnny Hodges' alto sax. Hodges' early style is in full bloom here, but he (like Harry Carney later on) has problems trying to swing against the two-beat rhythm. Bigard is up next with a wild clarinet tremolo and complete rhythmic security. Carney decorates the melody and briefly tries his own kind of tremolo. Bigard starts his next eight with the same tremolo as if to show Carney how it's meant to be played, and Carney takes the hint and goes back to paraphrasing the tune. The brass have an easier time swinging the phrases in the final ensemble chorus, and Hodges and Bigard each get brief solo spots between the brass figures. At the end, Ellington makes a minor mis-step in bringing back his odd introduction, but not even the trumpet fills by Cootie Williams can make that music make sense.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Alex Terrier: Tompkins Square

Alex Terrier can play all the saxophones, but his soprano is one of the more poetic and naturally sounding expressions heard out of that horn in a long while. “Tompkins Square” makes a good demonstration for this unique talent of his. Against the backdrop of a pondering but lightly swinging melody, Terrier’s sax sings with the articulation and cadence of a mockingbird, using the instrument as an extension of purely human expression. Terrier’s soliloquy is interrupted for a while by Brenneisen’s spacious, intelligent and bop-minded guitar. Terrier returns with a series of smoothly connected phrases that are personal and original.

On “Tompkins Square,” one understands the notion that jazz is not about scales, notes and structures; it’s about making a joyful sound.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sidney Bechet/Muggsy Spanier Big Four: That's A Plenty

The pairing of Sidney Bechet and Muggsy Spanier was the brainchild of Steve Smith, the president of the Hot Record Society. HRS was a conglomeration of record store, record label and publisher, and the original 124 sides they recorded are now treasured collector's items. By the time their co-led band recorded in 1940, Bechet had, like Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter, returned to the States after an extended stay in Europe. Spanier, meanwhile, had recorded a series of 16 sides with his "Ragtime Band", which despite the name, was quite progressive in its mix of Dixie and swing styles. In a way, the Bechet/Spanier group was a refinement of the Ragtime Band. By leaving out the piano and drums, which seemed to be the clunkiest parts of the Ragtime Band's rhythm section, the group had a streamlined rhythm team of guitar and bass, superbly manned by Carmen Mastren and Wellman Braud. While bassist Braud was from New Orleans, he was well-trained in swing during his tenure with Duke Ellington. Mastren was a superb guitarist who had worked with Spanier before as well as with Tommy Dorsey. The Big Four (as the Bechet/Spanier group was billed) recorded 8 sides in two sessions, and only "China Boy" and "That's A Plenty" could really be considered Dixie standards. On "That's A-Plenty", we hear a fascinating mix of current and old styles with Bechet and Spanier playing traditional Dixie horn roles over the smooth swing style of the rhythm section. Bechet starts off the side on clarinet and takes the first solo with Spanier offering simple counterpoint. Bechet is clearly inspired by the burning tempo and I suspect he would have played longer if not cut off by Spanier and restricted by the length of the recording (and this is on a 4-minute 12-inch 78!). After the interlude, Spanier quickly pops a mute on his horn and blows a fierce chorus. While we're wondering how Spanier managed to set that mute so quickly, Bechet does a quick change of his own and suddenly he's playing soprano sax in the background! Braud walks one before Bechet takes over. While his trademark vibrato is the same on both horns, his rhythmic feel is quite different with a choppy arpeggiated style on clarinet, and a broader, long-lined approach on soprano. As the side comes to a close, Spanier becomes more aggressive and the solo turns into a duet with both hornmen playing contrasting but driving lines.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Deluge

When Wayne Shorter combined forces with John Coltrane's rhythm section for his 1964 album JuJu, the results were nothing short of ear opening. It's interesting to note the influence that Coltrane had on Shorter. I'm not so sure I buy into the notion that 'Trane influenced Shorter that much as a composer but I think you can definitely hear it in his playing. I think underneath it all, Coltrane had a deep respect for Shorter's playing and that might be why he recommended him to Miles Davis when he left in 1960 (Davis went with Sonny Stitt instead).

The most striking element about this rhythm section is how McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones sound behind Shorter. It's unfortunate but bassist Reggie Workman's levels are extremely low in the mix. I think it's a safe bet that no matter what saxophonist this rhythm section backed up, it would highly improve the sound and quality of that particular player.

On "Deluge" Tyner and Shorter open the song with an introduction before Tyner is joined by the rest of the rhythm section on the chord hits. Shorter's solo evolves nicely here as well, full of nuance and personality. McCoy Tyner also provides his typical sounds, with fragmented harmonic movements underneath the melody and a lush but full usage of the piano during comping. Overall, a great album from probably one of the best post bop albums of the 1960s.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mika Pohjola: Blues Chacarera

In our constantly evolving musical syntax the phrase “global jazz” is showing up with increasing frequency. Usually the term’s connotation is simply geographic, as in “jazz from around the globe;” but, with the help of artists like Mika Pohjola, it is evolving to have a deeper cultural significance. The young Finnish pianist and composer is one of those artists who would make the universal language of jazz the lingua franca of this bold new age. His Northern Sunrise offers a smorgasbord of subliminal connectivity that reaches across and a bit under the surface of the planet.

On “Blues Chacarera,” Pohjola takes us down Argentine way, with a lively blues waltz enhanced by the bomba, a traditional folk drum made from a hollow tree and covered in goatskin. After serving up an enticing head in measures of alternate time, the solo sections straighten out, cooking in 6/8 while Pohjola engages in an intricate ivory ballet, dancing effortlessly through the changes. Guitarist Ben Monder follows with a solid chorus.

Harmonically, this outing is not exactly groundbreaking; neither is the overall concept, offering jazz as a musical Rosetta Stone in the attempt to forge a new “homogenous state of the arts.” But, for those jaded 21st century ears still receptive to a bit of foreign intrigue, this just may be your ticket.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mark Whitfield: Some Other Time

In the vast lexicon of jazz there are a few gems that improve with age and shine more brilliantly with each new interpretation. Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” is one of those treasures. Penned for the musical film On the Town, it became a signature piece for Bill Evans, who incorporated the same harmonic complexity and spatial elements he had employed throughout Kind of Blue. Mark Whitfield’s interpretation shows the same reverence for the original and, like fine vintage claret, has improved with the passage of time.

Three factors are involved in elevating this cut to the level of classic performance: Dale Oehler’s rich orchestration, Diana Krall’s understated vocals and, of course, Whitfield’s delectable guitar work. Krall’s phrasing is a bit reminiscent of an earlier interpretation by the late Swedish singer Monica Zetterlund, with the Bill Evans trio. She allows the melody and lyrics to take center stage, without unnecessary affectation. Whitfield’s warm, bubbly solo lines offer the right touch of blues without overcrowding or lapsing into the realm of cliché. And his attack — it’s almost as if his plectrum is making love to the strings.

When this album was released in 1997, there were some purists who considered it a bit too polished and commercial. One critic (who will remain unnamed) wrote that Whitfield was “as cloying as Earl Klugh or George Benson.” Oh, really? There are scores of jazz guitar hopefuls out here who can only wish that they were as “cloying.”

Critics be damned — this is intimate ear candy for a cold, blustery night, to be savored along with a glass of that vintage claret, the lights turned down low and a blaze in the fireplace. As for the naysayers, the day we’re unable to simply sit back and enjoy a well-crafted, solid interpretation such as this without feeling guilty, jazz will have lost more than just its broad audience — it will have lost its soul.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Go

"Go" is another song off of Wayne Shorter's Schizophrenia that contains multiple ensemble movements that help build the character of the piece as each section progresses. Opening with a disjointed sounding melody by the brass section, the song quickly moves into a section where Hancock plays a two measure chord vamp as Shorter states the melody. Although this song has been revisited and explored in great depth by the Wayne Shorter Quartet with Brian Blade, John Patitucci and Danilo Perez, I still enjoy the original more because of the density of the brass section. Both versions are good, but the newest interpretation lacks the energy compared to the original.

On the original there's a feeling that you feel when you listen to the album in its entirety. There's a mood that was captured on that March 10th night in 1967. Overall, "Go" is another good example of the shining, compositional brilliance of Wayne Shorter. A man, when the final history books are written, will probably go down alongside Duke Ellington and others as one of the most prolific, accessible and underrated composers in the history of this thing we call jazz music.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Pamela Luss: Nice And Easy

The lovely Pamela Luss has teamed with the iconic Houston Person to offer a mixed bag of favorites from the Great American Songbook, along with some not-so-great tunes from the pop-rock bins. “Nice and Easy” is firmly lodged in the former column and there’s no denying the appeal of Luss’ pristine, sweet, and velvety timbre.

It’s a daunting task to tackle a classic that has been recorded by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Natalie Cole, and Michael Buble and still bring something fresh to the table — and that’s the rub. On this outing the arrangement is tasteful, the playing is assured and workmanlike, the mix is balanced and Pamela Luss has a rare, hypnotic quality in her voice. But there’s little in the delivery to suggest the playful mood of Marilyn Bergman’s composition or cynical seductiveness of Alan Bergman’s lyrics. One begins to wonder: why is she holding back?

Listening to this cut, it’s hard to escape the impression that you’ve just wandered into a bar at closing time, to find the wait staff in the process of stacking chairs on the tables while the band chugs through its last number. That’s a pity, because this tune is one of the great old charmers and it deserves a bit more fresh air, especially from the sidemen. Houston Person seems to be the only player who is not phoning it in — his solo comes from the gut and his embellishments to the vocal head add depth without intruding. A bit more fire from the rhythm section and a little more sass from Miss Luss would have elevated this track way above the ordinary. Adding that extra, intangible something is never easy, but it would have been nice.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter: Kryptonite

I'm generally amazed at the amount of work Wayne Shorter has released in his fifty year career. His album output during the 1960s, though not the most of any jazz musician, arguably had more impact than most other musician's material. In 1967, Shorter assembled an all-star cast of musicians for his Blue Note recording Schizophrenia . Unlike previous efforts, this one didn't feature a trumpet player, instead Shorter brought on alto saxophonist James Spaulding and trombonist Curtis Fuller. The result? An album that featured not only unison melodies between the brass sections but also intricate counterpoints between them and Hancock.

This is the only song off of Schizophrenia that Mr. Shorter didn't compose but this piece by James Spaulding lives up to its title. Spaulding plays flute on this modal piece in Eb and he also has the first solo. His solo is solid, with Hancock comping sparingly if not all during most of his solo. I think James Spaulding was an extremely underrated soloist. His tone on both alto and on flute are rich and full. As always, Shorter plays a cool solo, complete with note bends, slurs and intricate phrasing. Shorter's solo is nice but I think Spaulding and Hancock are the winners on this track. Hancock dazzles over the drum and bass work of Chambers and Carter, with blistering fast melodic lines and dark interval choices.

Schizophrenia , is a key album in the discography of Wayne Shorter and although it's not held as in high regard as Speak No Evil or JuJu, it ranks up there with them just as equally in my opinion.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Benny Goodman: That's A Plenty

Benny Goodman was 19 years old when he recorded his dazzling solo version of "That's A Plenty". He was far from a newcomer to the recording studio, with a dozen-and-a-half documented trips since the winter of 1926. This recording was one of two clarinet solos recorded in June 1928, and while Goodman made several recordings in the interim, it would be over a year before he recorded under his own name again. Goodman's purposely-shrill high register and the busy rhythm of Mel Stitzel and Bob Conselman bring to mind the "hoochie-coochie" craze of the time. The rhythm seems to impede Goodman's swing and one gets the feeling that Goodman is just dying to burst out of this arrangement and just swing. Even at his young age, Goodman's astounding clarinet technique is evident as he solos effortlessly in every section of his instrument. The edges were still a little rough, but in 1928, Benny Goodman was already a force to be reckoned with.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Emily Remler: Waltz for My Grandfather

On this moving piece, which Remler wrote for her grandfather, she is joined by a great rhythm section that is anchored heavily by the beautiful bass playing of Don Thompson. Remler herself shows maturity well beyond her years (25 at the time of this recording), playing harmonic structures that are very fitting, given the nature and the title of the song. I'm particularly impressed by how expressive Remler is without saying too much or overdoing it. It's obvious that she could play but she shows that a soloist could be inviting without resorting to over the top melodic or harmonic explorations. There are certain runs Remler executes on this song that remind me of Pat Metheny and I have a feeling she secretly had an affinity for his playing.

Don Thompson plays a great bass solo towards the end of the solo section before the band comes back to the head and he augments the harmonic movements of Remler during the A section with well placed notes from the upper register of the bass. Another great song from one of the giants of 1980s jazz music.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington (featuring Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton): It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing

This rendition of "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" from the band's 1944 Carnegie Hall concert, is an updated version of the original 1932 recording. Despite the differences--Ray Nance taking the vocal chorus out front, the high-energy tenor solo from Al Sears and subsequent shout chorus-- the plunger mute work of trombonist Tricky Sam Nanton is what makes this track soar. His signature sound is the "ya ya" effect, but here he shows his musical growth beyond that plunger trick. He alternates between high-pitched, closed-plunger riffs and "ya ya" phrases as if having a musical conversation with himself. He also demonstrates a prodigious command of his upper register, which he uses for melodic contrast. Few musicians have been able to achieve the range of timbre in a single solo that Nanton does here. Sears starts his solo with a sense of understatement that provides excellent contrast before building it up into the climactic final shout section.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Emily Remler: Blues for Herb

Emily Remler's playing was one of a kind. Although she sounded like guitarists of the past, she was lucky enough to bring her own voice to an instrument that was historically dominated by men. On her last album before her untimely death due to heart failure, Remler wrote a lasting tribute to one of her idols, Herb Ellis, who was instrumental in getting her on the bill at the Concord Jazz Festival, which also helped her secure a record deal with Concord Records. Joined by bop master Hank Jones, who appears on several of her earlier releases, Remler constructs very nice melodic ideas on this song, utilizing the full range of her instrument. Hank Jones follows Remler's solo with his own blend of technical wizardry and Buster Williams holds everything down with solid bass work throughout the entire piece.

All in all, this is a very fitting tribute for Ellis but it's ironic though that Remler would be the one who departed this earth before her time was up. I highly recommend this release to any guitar fans out there who might not be familiar with the work of this late, great musician.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jimmie Lunceford (featuring Trummy Young): Margie

Although he is best-known for his work with Louis Armstrong in the 1950s and 1960s, trombonist Trummy Young made his name with Jimmie Lunceford in the 1930s. “Margie”was his most prominent feature as well as one of the band's biggest hits. Young both sings and plays on this swinging arrangement by Sy Oliver. Young's singing style is breathy and joking, his high-pitched tenor a perfect match for the light, jaunty feel of the piece. However, what really stands out is his trombone work. Young plays with unrivaled control of his instrument, staying mostly in the upper register, where he produces a smooth, bright tone. His breaks feature large leaps in pitch, which are very difficult to execute. To top it off, he ends the tune on a high F#, near the absolute top of the instrument's range. The overall effect is one of infectious, danceable swing as well as musical virtuosity. Young was a perfect fit with the Lunceford band and his exposure there helped him launch a long and successful career in jazz.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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New Orleans Rhythm Kings: That's A Plenty

There is some confusion on the authorship of the song "That's A-Plenty". ASCAP lists the composers as above, but they also list a 1914 song written by Lew Pollack (who, we can assume, was not the same person as the drummer Ben Pollack, as Ben was only 11 years old in 1914). Tom Lord lists a 1914 recording of the song by something called "Prince's Band/Orchestra". Since I don't have a copy of that recording handy, I can only guess that it is not the same song as the traditional jazz classic heard in the present recording by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. Certainly, the NORK version was the first well-known version of the song. Recorded acoustically for the technologically-challenged Gennett label, the balance favors Leon Ropollo's clarinet, with Paul Mares doing his best to assert the lead with his cornet. George Brunies' trombone isn't too far back, but Mel Stitzel's piano and Ben Pollack's drums are mushed together in the background. Most of the recording is taken up with renditions of the theme, but Mares gets a solo spot about two-thirds of the way through. His rhythmic feel and tone are rather pugnacious, but the solo has exquisite form and contour (especially in light of its recording date--a month before Louis Armstrong's recording debut). The band emphasizes the backbeat throughout and even if their manner is obvious and forced, they knew the general direction that the music would take in later years.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaki Byard: Dolphy #1

This is taken from the Last at Lennie's live recording. This is also a blues, but I think Jaki's solo is magnificent. He's shouting directions to the band. But the angularity and touch of his playing is rarely as expressive as this. This is totally new stuff, even by today's standards. Many of his ideas truly go against the grain of standard jazz practice, in the same way Monk did, and as Cecil Taylor still does. But what is never in question with Jaki is just how comfortable at the piano he is. This is something I know each musician hopes to attain. This recording documents one of his best groups.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Charles Mingus Sextet: Fables of Faubus

When Jaki played with Charles Mingus’ group in 1964, Mingus gave him a long, unaccompanied solo on “Fables of Faubus,”, and Jaki liked to interpolate James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (The Negro National Anthem) within it. Anyway, what is profound about Jaki's rendition of “Lift Evry Voice” here is that he was performing the song in the mid-sixties in Europe. Protest music. Jaki made a big deal about segregation, and for good reason. Once segregation was abolished, he was so happy that he could sit anywhere he pleased. We talked about this during our lessons. It was clear that Jaki was politically motivated to make statements through his music. My band, as do many other bands, performs that song as a statement of the future. It’s still needed—as was widely publicized recently, Professor Henry Louis Gates, the African-American Harvard professor, one of the most distinguished scholars in the United States, was arrested for "breaking into his own home.”

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaki Byard: To Bob Vatel of Paris

This version of “To Bob Vatel Of Paris,” from Empirical, is a favorite piece in my repertoire. I'm not sure who Bob Vatel is, but this is a lovely one on which to hear the unadulterated contemporary stride master. Jaki said his father sat him by the radio one day and said, “I want you to play like this guy.” "This guy" was Teddy Wilson. Jaki is big on history, and it's always evident in his sound. I love how his hands seem to roll through the phrases. Another piano student of Jaki’s, Eric Lewis, really has taken Jaki's techniques to new places. Jaki always talked about ways to make a song interesting, and one of the ways to do this was to modulate the piece. Jaki does this here before segueing into “Blues for Jennie,” a very slow blues. Then he returns to Bob Vatel briefly. The main thing I remember about Jaki and his music was that he always brought his joy to it. He wouldn't play it if he didn't enjoy it. And if he didn't enjoy it, he would let you know verbally.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Eric Dolphy: Bird's Mother

“Far Cry” is from a special record, Far Cry, by Eric Dolphy and Booker Little. The first time I played this tune, I was in high school. I remember listening to Jaki's comping on the melody and realizing that there were so many ways to accompany someone. Jaki's solo moves so effortlessly and rumbles through the changes with more shocks of sound than actual phrases. I remember him saying that he and Eric Dolphy liked to talk in large intervals, like 22nds and 18ths, rather than 4ths and 3rds. They really had a special chemistry, and this is special music. Also, for a hip-hop head, a rapper, Del The Funky Homosapien, sampled a phrase in the bowed bass solo by Ron Carter.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaki Byard: Willow Weep For Me

This solo piano version somewhat references the Art Tatum version. When Jaki hits his solo, it's so well paced and beautiful, it makes me want to go to the piano. He has a way of giving me everything I want to hear in a song when he's at the piano. I love the ending of this with the tremolo in the left hand; it's as if a ghost is still playing the bass line. This is a great way for one to approach solo piano. It's difficult, but it's a form that I am blessed to say that I learned directly from Jaki.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaki Byard: Blues au Gratin

I have my students listen to this track. The humor in Jaki's music is always apparent, but he was not above putting a joke in his music. I remember seeing he and Greg Osby play a duet concert at the Brooklyn Museum, and as Jaki was taking a solo, an airplane flew overhead. He stopped, and stared at the airplane until it was out of sight and out of earshot. then he continued. He had the most wonderful laugh. Anyway, he really deconstructs this blues. I totally come out of his style of presentation. He lets his left hand really fly freely, before jumping into some heavy stride, before launching into a “Yankee Doodle Dandy” quote. The bit at the end sounds like Sam Rivers playing piano. He and Sam lived together for a while in Boston, and you can hear the similarity in their contrapuntal approach to the piano.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaki Byard: Twelve

Pianist/composer Jaki Byard was so rambunctiously creative, it's no surprise he caught the ear of Charles Mingus, with whom he played off and on during the 1960s. Recorded in 1965 at a place called Lennie's on the Turnpike outside Boston, "Twelve" opens a transcendent album. A knotty, medium-up, asymmetrical 12-bar non-blues to begin, the tune kicks into a cooking, Mingus-like 6/8 blues underneath Farrell's inside/out tenor solo, before morphing into a straight-ahead 4/4 blues. Farrell is his usual extraordinary self—a tenor saxophonist blessed with monster chops and an even more profound imagination, whose unflagging energy levitates the bandstand. Byard follows with a discursive, yet fiercely swinging piano solo, following the form and harmonic contour with the loose assurance of someone who knows his destination well and is determined to enjoy the ride. The piano sounds like a slightly out-of-tune upright, yet somehow the instrument's homeliness fits Byard's guileless, joyful style. Bassist Tucker is a bit far back in the mix, but his percussive, swinging presence is felt. Dawson plays as if he's thinking Byard's thoughts, so closely does he follow and complement the pianist's whims. A confab of underappreciated jazzers if ever there was one, this was a tremendous band.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaki Byard: Twelve

“Twelve” appears on the great live recording, Live at Lennie's on the Turnpike. Joe Farrell is amazing in this group. Here’s Jaki with his true rhythm section, especially with Alan Dawson on drums. This is a power track; they really muscle through this three-part blues. What Jaki plays during his solo is quintessential Jaki, full of enthusiasm, rhythm, virtuosity, etc. I love the large leaps he makes in his lines, jumping intervals as a frog jumps lily-pads. I love the yelling he does on this track.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Rahsaan Roland Kirk: From Bechet, Byas, and Fats

Jaki supplies strong comping throughout this record, Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s fantastic Rip, Rig and Panic. On this track, I think the most astonishing thing is the ending. The tempo begins to slow, and Jaki continues playing his stride piano phrases, altering it with the tempo. As if the record was slowing down, Jaki slowed down, and it feels like a time warp.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaki Byard: Garnerin' A Bit

This is Jaki giving tribute to one of his favorite pianists, Errol Garner. His other favorite was Earl Hines, as they have two amazing records together, as well as some great Youtube clips online. Anyway, back to “Garnerin”: Jaki uses that laid-back feel of Errol's on this track, even down to the quick, sparse block chords during the first chorus of his solo. It's so laid back. He even has the four-on-the-floor in the left hand, a trademark of Garner's. It's so authentic, and so genuine. And after that opening tribute chorus, Jaki gets back to what he does, big phrases and strong ideas that are here and there, but never where they "should" be. It's extremely "soulful ."

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaki Byard: Giant Steps

I love this arrangement of “Giant Steps.” The pace is nice and easy. The thing to listen to is how Jaki animates his phrases with very quick crescendos and decrescendos. Also his ease with jumping into some very big block chords. Then in the last 30 seconds of the performance, he goes into double time, and his fingers are just flying through the melody. It's ridiculous. He taught me an arrangement of “Giant Steps” that is in 3/4, and extremely difficult, equivalent to a Brahms piano exercise.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaki Byard: European Episode

This piece appears on Out Front also, but this version is a killer solo performance on Blues for Smoke, Jaki’s first record date. It’s an excerpt from a lengthy piece by Jaki that goes through a lot of piano history. I know I've adopted that all-encompassing aspect of his playing. Jaki was comfortable in many styles, and was totally committed to all of them. Anyway, this piece is very quick and the listener gets to hear Jaki’s phenomenal agility. His hands weren't large, but he was able to play sounds that pianists with big hands cannot even attempt to grasp.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaki Byard: Out Front

Out Front is one of my favorite Jaki Byard albums, though it doesn't really get to his wilder side. I love hearing him play with Bob Cranshaw and Walter Perkins on this track—they lay down some serious music. Jaki has a certain way of playing his bebop knowledge—he’s able to turn the phrases to make them feel just a bit off. That’s to say, he switches the phrase to the other side of the beat with such ease, and then switches it back. Also, I remember him telling me that he wrote this piece with Herbie Nichols' touch in mind. I thought that was such a great way to start a composition, with "touch" in mind.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Marcus Strickland: Portrait of Tracy

When Jaco Pastorius first uncovered “Portrait Of Tracy” within his stunning 1976 debut album, he was able to bring out the pure beauty of the melody unaccompanied on electric bass. It wasn’t just because Pastorius was such a astounding player, he was a gifted composer, too. Strickland understood that when he chose to cover this song; the very attribute of the song not needing much accompaniment to sound pretty made it a logical choice for an album where he’s backed only by a bass and drums.

For this rendition, Williams and Marcus’ twin brother E.J. quickly settle into a groove, but once Marcus states the theme just once, the three hit the reset button and play the more pensive chord progression of the song. The leader walks the line between improvising and carrying the melody by stating the melody first and delving into interesting variations of it when the theme is visited again. Williams is concurrently engineering a cagey bassline, strong enough to allow the drummer to fill out the sound with cymbal overhangs and snappy snare work.

All told, the Strickland doesn’t stray much from Jaco’s graceful composition, but honors it instead with a tight, incisive trio performance.

September 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joe Martin: Semente

You must be a pretty good acoustic bass player if you stand out without even having to solo, and even more so when your backing band consists of cats like these. But these cats are superb team players, too, and do much to bring out the potential of Martin’s Brazilian-inspired tune. Gilmore summons up a busy samba beat, but Martin is blending in with him so well, it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s really keeping time. Meanwhile, Mehldau comps with keen perceptiveness, finding every crevice in the sound and filling them in with well placed chords. Potter lays down the main motif that just glides over the intricate weaves of rhythms and harmony below, and sometimes jumping right into the pocket.

“Semente” is a perky, crisp ensemble tune made even better by a great, ensemble-minded group of musicians.

September 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joel Frahm & Bruce Katz: Rock Steady

Aretha Franklin’s upbeat shake-your-ass funk excursion from 1971 is transformed into a slow and steady shuffle by Frahm and Katz. Frahm himself is transformed, stylistically speaking, into Fathead Newman for this tribute to the Queen of Soul. He doesn’t so much play the lines as he sings them in much the same inflections that Franklin used with her voice. Combined with Katz’ soul-soothing electric piano, this song with a trombone added would feel right at home on a Crusaders album, circa The Second Crusade. As if the tinkering wasn’t enough, the bridge is completely rewritten, to a more heavier four-chord progression. Vitarello adds the finishing touch with guitar voicings falling somewhere between Larry Carlton and John Scofield.

If the tempo was only sped up a little bit, this could entice people to get up and dance. As it stands, “Rock Steady” is a fine head-nodder.

September 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Abercrombie: I've Been Overlooked Before

John Abercrombie has long been a distinctive guitarist, but he utilizes a distinctive approach to his compositions as well. Many of his songs appear to be more like clusters of connected chords, not conventional progressions. In that regard, many of Abercrombie’s creations, such as “I’ve Overlooked Before,” follow closely the original modal concepts first widely introduced in Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue, especially “Flamenco Sketches.” As Davis did for that consummate exercise in modality, Abercrombie creates a mood for “Overlooked” more than he does a melody. Each musician contributes to the mood in specific ways: Feldman’s violin provides the harmonic chords, Morgan’s bass bleats out notes that signal the direction of the song and Baron’s drum produce shadings and texture (and vaguely, the beat).

Abercrombie is liberated to fill in the colors, which he does with imagination and grace. It’s a peaceful and floating piece, and it could be easy to overlook the shapes being developed by the four musicians, but a close listen underneath the surface reveals the perspicacity that comes from Abercrombie’s highly nuanced artistry.

September 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Anne Drummond: Curumim

“Curumim” is a bouncy, incisive Brazilian flavored tune that’s perfect for a flute/piano duet such as this one performed by Drummond and Mueller. Mueller is quite a busy fellow on this performance, engaging in snaky unison lines with Drummond, playing harmony, holding down a bass line and keeping time. Drummond’s flute flutters around the piano, stating the melody, playfully jousting with Mueller and inserting mini-solos so seamlessly that her constant role changes go mostly unnoticed. Frequent returns to the memorable theme punctuate brief breaks between the conversational interludes, and so much is packed into a song that runs only a little more than three minutes.

Mariano’s composition is a strong one, but “Curumim” is greatly bolstered by the rapport between these two players.

September 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Benjamim Taubkin: Baianinho

Sérgio Reze’s Latin festive, second-line pulse provides the bedrock for this Latin-flavored tune that conjures up New Orleans as much as it does Rio de Janeiro. “Baianinho” is keyed by an eminently hummable Nascimento-led percussive theme that’s played near the beginning and again at the end. In between, the composition opens up wide, allowing both the trumpet and Taubkin’s piano go down paths of casual exploration. Props also go to the engineering effort of a live-in-the-studio recording that picks up the nuances of the percussion, horn and piano, enabling each player to find his own voice without having to rise above the other voices.

Ultimately, though, “Baianinho” succeeds in its balance of moods: that of being both a jubilant and a breezy song.

September 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Emily Remler: Strollin'

On this laid back Horace Silver piece, Emily Remler and company bring back the swing like it's 1959 all over again. Remler has such a nice, refined sound on this track. Her solo consists of some nice textures and she flips her rhythm up nicely as well, deviating between eighth note rhythms and at other times blistering fast sixteenth note rhythms. Although I would have like to heard Hank Jones play a longer solo, he still plays some tasteful lines. Like we would expect anything different from him!

All in all, "Strollin'" is a good example of Remler's ability to play straight ahead and the song works well in regards to her playing style. Although she would only be on this earth for a short time, I'm glad that she was able to give the jazz world enough of a taste of her music to leave a long, lasting impression. Very few musicians have come out of the gate running like she did and this song is a shining example to her musical spirit. R.I.P.

September 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Emily Remler: The Firefly

On her debut album for Concord Records, Emily Remler came out of nowhere to claim her rightful spot as one of the brightest young guitarists in jazz music. Accompanied by legendary pianist Hank Jones, this quartet burns over the title track of this album. It's hard to believe that Remler hadn't played a lick of jazz until she was sixteen years old but you wouldn't know that by listening to this album. It's obvious that she was well versed in the style of Wes Montgomery but Remler brings a different flavor to this. She's not just some carbon copy. There's a strong sense of assurance in her playing that you don't hear in today's young players.

What makes this song work is the vulnerability that comes across at times in the playing of Remler. She's right at home with Hank Jones and the two of them complement each other wonderfully and with grand precision. This debut is definitely one that opened my ears when I first heard it. It's a stunning testament to a guitarist that rightfully deserved her place among the legends of jazz guitar and she earned every note she ever played on that Gibson ES-330.

September 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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David Gibson: This End Up

Trombonist David Gibson, a graduate of the Eastman School, supplemented his musical education with on-the-job training, including a six-year stint with a sextet at the New York City club “Smoke”. On “This End’s Up” we hear Gibson’s controlled, precise tone on this Jared Gold-penned composition. The music is derivative of a time past and competently played. Gibson is a talented player, but I would have preferred a gutsier edge to his playing than what he shows here. Accompanied by the swinging, soulful organist Jared Gold, whose Hammond sound is reminiscent of Jimmy Smith , Gibson’s trombone has a deliberate, soulful feel that is promising but restrained. Tolentino’s alto is crisp and bright and provides an uplifting sense of flight. Gold manipulates the sound of his B3 and plays with great abandon. Davis and Gold together keep the rhythm steady as the melody fades away.

September 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Adams: Guide to Strange Places

John Adams's most perfectly realized music is often his most inhuman. In Nixon in China, he is better at evoking the President's jet The Spirit of 76—brilliantly realized by the composer—than the Trickster-in-Chief himself. In the Doctor Atomic Symphony (which shares the CD with Guide to Strange Places), the topic may be scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, but listeners may feel they are following a musical portrait of the nuclear particles rather than the controversial nuclear physicist. Watch the electron resolve into its tonic key proton! Hearing Adams, I am often reminded of José Ortega y Gasset's 1925 prediction that, in the modern era, creative minds would aim to dehumanize art, or the even earlier forecast of T.E. Hulme that the day would arrive when engineering drawings would belong in the Louvre. No, only a big glass and metal pyramid has shown up there so far. But Adams is part of the same ethos that brought it to the doorstep.

Yet Guide to Strange Places, composed in 2001, is something else altogether, a psychological exploration that taps into deeper currents than one usually finds in the minimalist playbook. Adams took inspiration for his title from a French guidebook that he stumbled across at a farmhouse during a vacation in Provence. However, the "strange places" he eventually came to probe in this piece seem to be situated between the Id and Ego rather than Avignon and Cannes. The rhythmic vitality comes from a conception that ostensibly balances the old moto perpetuo and the modern groove, but it is countered by moments of quasi-stasis that still retain a surprising amount of emotional bite. This is the composer at his most mature, and demonstrating an uncanny skill in channeling his personality through a symphony orchestra. The result may be a guide to strange places, but they are also the same ones that we inhabit everyday.

September 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sophie Tucker: Some of These Days

Sometimes the edgy and risqué performers are the ones that seem the most dated to a later generation. What was daring a hundred years ago, when Sophie Tucker started singing this song, will hardly raise an eyebrow now. Yet Sophie Tucker won't quietly fade away into history. Listen to almost any one of her recordings, and you know that this lady was destined to stand out from the crowd, and always will. Every later larger-than-life female vocalist—Barbara Streisand, Ethel Merman, Tina Turner, Madonna and others to come—is standing, to some degree, on her capacious shoulders, and are part of a Tucker tradition, whether they know it or not.

"Some of These Days" was her biggest hit, but she almost missed it. One day in Chicago, Tucker's maid took her to task: "See here, young lady," the servant said, "since when are you so important that you can't hear a song by a colored writer? Here's this boy Shelton Brooks hanging around, waiting, like a dog with his tongue hanging out, for you to hear his song." Tucker listened, and liked what she heard—as did audiences who kept demanding this song from her for the next half century. Even on the earliest recording, made for Edison in 1911, Tucker's personality comes out loud and clear, with a voice that somehow manages to be both intimately conversational yet also shouted out to the back row. But this rendition is jazzier and features a more relaxed accompaniment. Tucker's voice is in fine form, both on the big notes and the little quivering cries, and her vibrato is especially impressive. Around the same time, Tucker recorded this song with Ted Shapiro as well. But this is the version to check out, and the one that turned Tucker's signature song, already well known, into a hit again.

September 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Willie Nelson: Blue Skies

So many famous artists have performed this song—Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong Count Basie, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Al Jolson, Art Tatum, and Bing Crosby, among others—yet a quick check of the Amazon charts shows that one version out-sells the rest. I can't imagine many people at Columbia got excited when Willie Nelson decided to record an album of old pop tunes, all but one composed before World War II. Yet the execs clearly celebrated the results: a triple platinum album that spent more than two years on the charts.

There are no frills here. Strings are kept in the background, and if they were mixed in any softer you wouldn't even notice them. When the guitar takes a solo, it simply states Irving Berlin's melody. There's nothing to hold your interest . . . except one big thing. Yes, it's hard to pay attention to anything here except Nelson's raw and compelling voice. I have heard critics tell me that there is no such thing as authenticity in music, and that recordings and performances are all deeply coded cultural constructs, a process in which authenticity can play no part. But I can only surmise that they never heard this particular record, or they wouldn't be saying that. This is the real deal, sung by a veteran of many gigs who puts his heart and soul into the words and melody. A more calculated album would never have had the impact of this one, and Mr. Nelson's success is proportional to his indifference to those same deeply coded constructs.

Shortly after the guitar solo, we get a key change and, toward the end, the tempo is cut in half, which is usually a bad move when recording a pop tune, but by then Nelson has the audience at his beck and call, and wherever he takes them—to F# or the moons of Jupiter—they will come along willingly. Even smug jazz artists, who think they have a special relationship with these old songs, one that outsiders can never match, might learn a thing or two from listening to this milestone performance by the man from Fort Worth.

September 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Benny Goodman Quartet: I Got Rhythm

If you just heard the record, you might think this performance was taped surreptitiously at some back room jam session. But, yes, this is Carnegie Hall, and a transgressive moment when swing music—unapologetic and racially integrated—was allowed on to its venerable stage. Goodman was so unfamiliar with the setting that, when asked how long he wanted for an intermission, he replied 'I dunno. How much does Toscanini get?"

But if these four musicians are intimidated by the house Andrew Carnegie built, they don't show it here. The tempo, a blistering 320 beats per minute, is fast even by the standards of the Swing Era. This is one of Krupa's finest moments, and he clearly relishes the "go for broke" attitude of the moment. Bebop didn't exist when this concert took place, but you can tell how performances of this sort—loose, fast, aggressive—made its arrival inevitable. There is only a tiny distance between Teddy Wilson's solo here and what Bud Powell would be doing a few years later. Goodman, for his part, also seems to need only a nudge here to become a bopper; if he would only add a bit more chromaticism and float more over the ground beat, he would be ready to shake things up at Minton's Playhouse, which would be opening its doors in a few days.

The marvel is that a performance that starts out with such fire can actually build to something bigger. But the last ninety seconds here get about as bacchanalian as anything you will have ever heard at Carnegie Hall. And judging by the roar of the crowd—so loud that, finally, you know this isn't some backroom jam—they realize they've just heard something special.

September 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Benny Goodman: Blue Skies

The star of this performance is Fletcher Henderson's chart. The intro starts with an Ellingtonian growl that morphs into a fanfare. From the opening A theme statement, Henderson coyly plays with Irving Berlin's melody, adding syncopation and fills that could serve as a classroom model for "jazzing" a melody. Before long he is constructing a fresh variations, new ways of looking at those blue skies. The section work is excellent, and the rhythm section wisely underplays to let the horns stand out all the more. All in all, it's a great moment in swing, and one that deserved its moment on the stage of Carnegie Hall.

September 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: Love is Here to Stay

Because of the prominent inclusion of this song in the Oscar-winning biopic on Holiday, it has become closely associated with her. But Lady Day did not sing it at a recording session until shortly before her death. By then this upbeat tribute to eternal romance was strikingly out of synch with both her private life and public persona. Yet Holiday delivers a moving and believable performance of the Gershwin standard. Hear how her phrasing accentuates the meaning of the lyric—she elongates the 'going a long, long way' while the 'crumble' and 'tumble' get the more abbreviated treatment. This singer will always be associated with saxophonist Lester Young, but her Verve pairings with Ben Webster are also deserving of high praise. Webster takes the opening melody statement on this track, and by the time Holiday enters, the mood is already established and there to stay. No, Holiday didn't often sing this song, but she puts her claim on it here, and i don't see another vocalist wresting it away from her.

September 11, 2009 · 0 comments

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Erik Friedlander: Spinning Plates

Whether accompanying John Zorn, Laurie Anderson or Fred Hersch, Erik Friedlander has exhibited a complex knowledge of the cello that has placed him at the vanguard of both improvisational jazz and contemporary classical music. Named after the incident that prompted Oscar Pettiford to begin playing the cello, Friedlander’s 2008 release Broken Arm Trio continues his progressive vision for the cello in the 2000s. A fine example of his vision is the album’s opening track “Spinning Plates.”

Friedlander combines a swinging melody and an unyielding rhythm section to secure his musical statement. During his solo from :33-1:30, Friedlander keeps the energy going with lengthy arpeggios and lively themes. Sarin’s sometimes spasmodic performance keeps Friedlander’s solo fresh with Dunn going back and forth from rhythmic to melodic roles whenever he sees fit. Friedlander punctuates his melodies with wonderfully executed double-stops at 1:40 which spice up the arrangement and allow Dunn to improvise. The double-stops are a welcome accompanying device as opposed to a walking bassline or a more traditional chordal playing. A true testimony to the achievement of a modern cello giant.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fred Lonberg-Holm: And You Smile

Fred Lonberg-Holm straddles the line between jazz and experimental music. After studying with Anthony Braxton and Morton Feldman, Lonberg-Holm began to establish himself in the New York avant-garde music scene. After his move to Chicago in the late 1990s, Lonberg-Holm increased his visibility with performances with Peter Brotzmann’s Tentet and Ken Vandermark. With his 2007 effort Terminal Valentine, Lonberg-Holm offers ten compositions that display a wide range of styles. One of the album’s highlights is “And You Smile”.

Beginning with a gorgeous arco passage, Londberg-Holm starts with a legato phrase before transitioning into a disjointed sounding melodic figure. What is most interesting about his sound is how easily he can change his expressions throughout the piece, at times sounding like a classical cellist and at other times resembling a free jazz saxophonist. The dynamic between the three musicians is quite palpable, with the solid rhythmic design of Roebke and Rosaly further augmenting Lonberg-Holm’s sophisticated performance. An essential addition to the current state of improvisational cello.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Heath Brothers: Nostalgia

Percy Heath is a musical titan whose work has graced countless albums. Percy replaced Ray Brown in the Modern Jazz Quartet and performed with the MJQ for the better part of twenty years before teaming up with his equally noteworthy brothers Jimmy and Albert. On the 1997 release As We Were Saying…, Percy demonstrates his cello virtuosity on the Fats Navarro bop classic “Nostalgia.”

The song begins with Mark Elf and Albert Heath performing with a light, breezy feel while Percy performs the melody with slight decorations and inflections. Percy’s solo is noteworthy for the way he phrases his ideas, carefully picking notes in order to suffice the chord change at hand as well as to complete his melodic concept. For the last chorus, Jimmy performs the melody with Percy responding to his performance by playing four-note phrases to contrast the melody. For the last A section, both Jimmy and Percy play the melody together in unison ending the song a strong note. A fine song from an under-appreciated ensemble.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Little Brother Bobby

Hank Roberts’ sound incorporates the diverse styles of jazz, classical, rock and folk. As a student at the Berklee School of Music, Hank was able to hone and sharpen his performance expertise, creating an original improvisational style. Upon relocating to New York City in the 1980s, he began an association with Bill Frisell, which continues today.. Roberts made his debut with Frisell on the guitarist’s album Lookout for Hope, which featured the song “Little Brother Bobby,” a tour de force that showcases his contributions to contemporary jazz cello.

The song exhibits Frisell’s reverb-soaked tone, which works brilliantly with Roberts’ smooth melodic resonance. Roberts displays a lyrical performance style that contains equal parts avant-garde, classical and traditional folk methods. The overall quality of his tone remains the same throughout the subtle shifts in tempo and character. Though Baron sometimes supplies discordant rhythmic patterns, the interaction between Frisell and Roberts is what makes the song flourish and thrive, with Hank performing with a more legato technique when Frisell is displaying a more staccato sound. The subsequent rhythmic counterpoint enhances the overall excitement of the piece and is a testament to the talents of Hank Roberts.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Holland: Life Cycle-Resolution

By the early 1980s, bassist Dave Holland had already cut his teeth with a who’s who of jazz superstars including Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Stan Getz. In the late 1960s, Holland began to play the cello while working with the group Circle. In 1982, he released the album Life Cycle, his first album of unaccompanied cello compositions. As the last section of a five-part suite, “Resolution” is a brilliant example of the capabilities of the modern unaccompanied cello.

Holland begins the piece with an exciting arco passage that calls to mind the compositions of an early influence, Béla Bartók. The arco phrase comes to a sudden halt at 1:05 where Dave switches to pizzicato without losing any intensity. The pizzicato passage easily segues into a bluesy section beginning at 2:39 where Holland fully evokes the textures of the blues with the simple addition of minor thirds. The song captures more emotions than entire albums can, with the cello being the instrument to accomplish such a feat.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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David Eyges: Crossroads

Alongside Abdul Wadud, David Eyges refined the presence of the cello in smaller ensembles. Originally trained at the Manhattan School of Music, Eyges heard blues musicians such as John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters after leaving college and as a result, he developed an earthy, blues-based style. The title composition from his 1981 album Crossroads is a perfect example of Eyges’ unique style.

Eyges begins the song by performing a motif with strong emphasis on beats one and three giving the entire song a rock-like feel. Eyges displays a great rhythmic interplay with the ensemble, displaying more of a solid accompaniment role than Murray. The relationship between Eyges and Lancaster is of special importance with the two men developing a call and response pattern early on, resulting in an exciting push and pull element throughout. Murray also contributes to the push and pull effect, switching between an even pulse on the ride cymbal to a swing feel. This change in feel interrupts the atmosphere at times, resulting in ebbs and flow with the rhythm throughout the song. These interruptions keep Eyges and Lancaster on their toes, allowing them to experiment with different phrasings and ornamentations.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Julius Hemphill: Body

As one of the few jazz musicians to play only the cello (as opposed to doubling on bass) Abdul Wadud is equally versed in both classical and jazz styles. Wadud’s resume includes stints with everyone from the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra to Arthur Blythe. His work reached a particular peak of experimentation on the song “Body” from Julius Hemphill’s 1980 album Flat-Out Jump Suite. Wadud firmly grasps the funky feel of the song by performing with a raw bluesy touch. Wadud’s wide and distinct sound stands out when he plays in unison with Hemphill and Dara. The song goes through several tempos and textures, with Wadud adding slight ornamentations during each change. When the song moves into a swing feel, Abdul goes back and forth between a walking bass line and chordal accompaniment. Though his is the only stringed instrument in the ensemble, his performance is the heart of the song and an excellent addition to contemporary jazz cello style.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sam Jones: Visitation

With the application of the cello into the jazz ensemble, many used the instrument to explore new melodic terrain. Sam Jones took it in a different direction by playing walking bass lines on the cello. Sam’s technique of using the cello as an accompanying instrument can be best represented by the title song from his album “Visitation”.

Jones and Berg play the melody in unison with their tones blending seamlessly into one cohesive sound. Jones displays a straightforward, yet intricate touch during his solo from :37-1:53 by taking small ideas from the melody and incorporating them into his solo. Equally impressive are Jones’ accompanying skills, which he modifies depending upon which member is soloing. For Berg, he tends to stick to the root of the chord and for Hino he performs higher on the neck in order to match the timbre of the trumpet. At times, Jones’ slides sound more like a fretless electric bass than a cello. A great song by a great band, “Visitation” is highly recommended for its use of the cello in modern jazz accompaniment.

September 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Eric Dolphy: Out There

For his second album for Prestige, Eric Dolphy added Ron Carter to his group. The instrumentation of the group was similar to the Chico Hamilton quintet, of which Dolphy had been a member. Carter was originally a cellist, but switched to bass as a teenager. His cello technique was still strong, as witnessed by his performance on the Dolphy album’s title tune.

Dolphy and Carter begin the song by performing the melody in unison. Carter’s bowing style gives his sound a primal quality, which complements Dolphy’s acidic tone. Carter holds the last note of the melody as he begins his solo, and he manipulates that note for nearly half a minute with a variety of classical bowing techniques. Dolphy provides an ear-stretching alto solo before Duvivier’s exploratory solo. “Out There” remains an essential recording1 in the catalog of Dolphy and modern jazz cello repertory.

September 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ray Brown: Ain't Misbehavin'

Ray Brown's 1960 album Jazz Cello was one of the first albums in mainstream jazz to be devoted entirely to the cello. Featuring a full horn and rhythm section, Brown treated the cello as a fully realized melodic instrument. On the standard “Ain’t Misbehavin,” he proved that the cello could be featured in a big band setting. After a brief introduction from the ensemble, Brown plays the melody pizzicato, and embellishes the melody with slight ornamentation. With Russ Garcia's delicate orchestration, the cello cuts through the large instrumentation. Brown plays a soulful solo leaving plenty of space for the band figures. A delightful track from a late lamented jazz master.

September 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Oscar Pettiford: All The Things You Are

Oscar Pettiford came into prominence during the 1940s through his associations with Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington. While working with Woody Herman in 1949, Pettiford suffered a broken arm and found it difficult to play the bass. For rehabilitation purposes, he learned to play the cello and after his recuperation, he played it occasionally on gigs. A shining achievement of his cello technique is his 1959 version of “All The Things You Are.”

Pettiford plays the introduction arco, then Koller enters with the melody. Throughout the first chorus of the song, Pettiford develops a call and response pattern with Koller. During his solo from 1:59-2:52, Pettiford incorporates several techniques including even eighth-note patterns, note bends and slides. Zoller enhances the performance by choosing notes that further develop the contour of Pettiford’s solo. “All The Things You Are” serves as a great addition to the history of the cello in jazz and to Pettiford’s late discography.

September 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Harry Babasin: These Foolish Things

Throughout the 1940s, Harry Babasin performed with several luminaries of the jazz community including Charlie Barnet, Benny Goodman and Laurindo Almeida. During a break from filming the movie A Song Is Born, Babasin picked up a cello that happened to be on set and enjoyed the timbral quality of the instrument. In order to accommodate himself to the instrument, he tuned the cello in fourths instead of the traditional fifths.

Babasin became the first jazz bassist to double on the cello, recording his first solo on December 3, 1947 with the Dodo Marmarosa Trio. In 1953, Babasin recorded an album with fellow bassist/cellist Oscar Pettiford, further building the profile of the cello in jazz. And in 1957, he showcased his expertise on the instrument with his feature on the song “These Foolish Things.”

After a four bar introduction, Babasin performs a series of brief phrases before building into a longer passage. Babasin employs rhythmic devices on the cello that contrasts with the ballad feel of the song, resulting in a fascinating rhythmic counterpoint. Beginning with his solo at 2:09, he blazes through the changes where he implements straight sixteenth-note phrasing and unexpected double stops then segues into a beautiful coda. A highly recommended track from an early practitioner of the cello in jazz.

September 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Kobie Watkins: Spastic

Drummer Kobie Watkins is the leader of the date, but he smartly features Chicago saxophonist Jarrard Harris on the opening track. Taking the lead-off solo on his own composition, Harris delivers one of those fierce in-the-moment improvisations that you sometimes hear in the heat of a jam session, but only rarely on a studio date. The changes are just the old twelve-bar-blues, and there are no fancy frills or substitute chords to spice up the proceedings. But Harris plays nine choruses full of high drama, each one better than its predecessor. James Austin follows gamely, and delivers some choice licks of his own, but Jarrard has won this round on all scoring cards. But do give credit to drummer Watkins too. He plays with ardor from the opening melody statement onward, and his energy level sets the tone for a standout track.

September 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Robert Glasper: No Worries

On his high-profile new CD Double Booked, Robert Glasper draws on jazz and hip-hop elements. But what should we infer from the fact that he keeps them segregated on separate tracks? In the past, jazz artists created a fusion of different genres, but here is it really a juxtaposition. How would fans have responded if Miles had mixed songs from Bitches Brew with extracts from Live at the Plugged Nickel on a single LP? Yet Glasper's results here are intriguing, if inevitably disjunctive.

This track falls into the jazz camp, and is a high energy outing by Glasper's acoustic trio, with nary a sample or scratch anywhere to be found. There is much to admire here. The trio plays with coherence and flexibility, and I especially like how Chris Dave adjusts his dynamics to the development of the performance. Glasper has a strong, clean touch on the instrument, and his right hand lines are well-conceived. But his left hand comping relies too much, for my tastes, on an oft-repeated suspended sound—a hip combination of notes that the pianist uses over and over. Didn't McCoy Tyner show us long ago that you could play a whole song on a single chord, yet impart variety and texture by employing dozens of different voicings? But this track has plenty of drive to compensate, and Glasper's solo effectively builds to a climax before easing down again into its appealing melody. I'll give it high marks, especially for the pacing, but I wonder what the hip-hop crowd will think of it.

September 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Benny Reid: Sleeping Beauty

Like most of the tracks on Escaping Shadows , “Sleeping Beauty” bears the unmistakable mark of mid-period Pat Metheny Group, and the repeating note tapped out in what sounds like Morse code is a near-dead ringer for the 22/8 handclaps that introduces “The First Circle.” Other PMG earmarks are present, like Grohowski’s light but active cymbal work (a Paul Wertico distinction), the melodic wordless vocals that tracks Reid’s sax, the smooth flow from one section to another, with distinct peaks and valleys. Even Vergara’s carefully considered piano solo in the middle is vintage Lyle Mays. It’s got pretty harmonics and Reid knows it, prudently soloing well within the confines of it.

Benny Reid has the iconic guitarist flowing through his creative juices. Pat Metheny is not a bad guy to pattern ones music after, and not an easy one to emulate, either, so there’s no vice in doing that. Even though he plays an entirely different instrument, Reid’s got Metheny down Pat.

September 08, 2009 · 0 comments

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Johnny Griffin: Blues For Harvey

At the time of this 1973 recording, expatriates Johnny Griffin (Paris) and Kenny Drew (Copenhagen) had been living in Europe since the early '60's, while Ed Thigpen had only just relocated to Copenhagen a year earlier. Mads Vinding was the "house bassist" at the esteemed Jazzhus Montmartre, where this very tight quartet convened for a lively July 4th weekend. A great photo on the original LP dust jacket depicts Griffin, in a dashiki, bell bottoms, and sandals, waving his saxophone case while standing alongside a rather disheveled, liquor bottle-toting Harvey Sand, Johnny's "favorite Danish bartender." Both are apparently feeling no pain, nor will you after listening to the album's title track, "Blues for Harvey."

The emphatic, staccato riff-blues theme is spare but ample enough fodder for Griffin's dazzling extended solo, which is propelled by Vinding's surging bass line and Thigpen's variously accented shuffle rhythm. Griffin offers up droll Sonny Rollins-like phrases, hard-edged exclamations, free-boppish distorted intonations, unadorned bluesy riffs, ascending squeals, guttural honks, and more, all executed with his trademark sharp and precise articulation. Drew's succeeding solo possesses a kind of Wynton Kellyesque low-keyed swagger and burn, his prancing runs interspersed with vibrant chords. Griffin returns in full flight, showing once again how much meat can be carved out of a simple blues line. His tenor then begins compelling trades with Thigpen, who has been such a driving force thus far, until the drummer takes centerstage on his own and proves just how dynamic and inventive he can be free of the type of relatively restricted role he had for years as part of the Oscar Peterson trio.

September 08, 2009 · 0 comments

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Junior Mance: Happy Time

Julian C. Mance, Jr., better known as Junior Mance, was the pianist in Cannonball Adderley's first quintet in 1956-57 before Cannon joined Miles Davis. By the time Adderley formed his second quintet in 1959, the saxophonist had established his reputation and would now have much greater success as a leader, but Mance--by then touring with Dizzy Gillespie--was no longer in the picture. One can say that Mance's bluesy style was the progenitor for both Bobby Timmons and Joe Zawinul in Adderley's groups. A long-time jazz educator focusing on the blues, and the author of How to Play Blues Piano, the still active Mance --like his contemporaries Ray Bryant and Gene Harris--has always had a naturally soulful grasp of the idiom. Mance's 1962 Happy Time album is an excellent example of his often underappreciated scope as a pianist, from the suave and caressing treatment of "Jitterbug Waltz" to the boisterous back-to-the-chicken-shack funk of the title tune.

The intoxicating, feel-good theme of "Happy Time" is expounded upon in Mance's jubilant solo. Between his active left hand and the tight accord of Ron Carter and Mickey Roker--particularly the drummer's persistent cymbal beat--an irresistible momentum is maintained for the full six minutes of the track. Mance's blues-inflected tone adds extra vitality to his adroit phrasing and repeated patterns, as he builds ever so quickly from peak to peak. You might notice a run or two here from Mance that will also appear intact in the playing of soul-jazz pianist Les McCann. Mance's closing call-and-response riffs and arpeggios precede the reprise, after which a hard-driving out chorus--driven by his seductive left-hand ostinato--serves as a final hallelujah and amen.

September 08, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ian Shaw: Alone Again, Naturally

Yes, that "Alone Again, Naturally," namely the one that Gilbert O'Sullivan, its singer and composer, made into a Top 40 hit in 1972. With syrupy string backing, and his unwavering, monotonous, and nearly cheerful delivery, who would have thought that O'Sullivan was singing about contemplating suicide after being jilted and also trying to cope with his parents' deaths? Irishman O'Sullivan claimed the lyrics were not of an autobiographical nature, and yet Welshman Ian Shaw--who was just 10 years old in 1972--is able to transform them into a convincingly personal testament three decades later. Since Shaw sings everything with an emotional commitment and understanding, his riveting performance of this unlikely tune should come as no surprise.

Shaw's own refined piano accompaniment only serves to enhance his interpretation. He is intimately conversational, free-flowing in his phrasing, and rhythmically unfettered. His pliant, restrained voice is moving, nuanced, and sophisticated,. nuanced, the difference if you will, between a jazz as opposed to pop approach--note his fleeting and tasteful scat-piano unison aside, for example. The clincher is his reading of the concluding words: "And when she passed away / I cried and cried all day / Alone again...alone again / Alone again, naturally." Shaw's two delicate chords cap a track that is unashamedly heartfelt and down-to-earth. It's a mystery why this fine, infinitely versatile vocalist doesn't get to record more often.

September 08, 2009 · 0 comments

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Michael Wolff-Kenny Rankin: Round Midnight

Kenny Rankin, who died this past June at the age of 69, was generally thought of as a pop or soft-rock singer, but he always had a way with standards as well. His 1994 album, Professional Dreamer, proved without a doubt his ability to interpret standards in the manner of a jazz singer. Rankin made a guest appearance on pianist Michael Wolff's 1997 release Portraiture, The Blue Period, singing "Round Midnight." The common denominator for the collaboration seems to be Roy McCurdy, who was the drummer when Wolff played with Cannonball Adderley in the mid-70's and who also performed on Rankin's Professional Dreamer. The bassist on this track, John B. Williams, was in the band that Wolff led in the '80's for "The Arsenio Hall Show," and has been his regular bassist ever since.

Wolff plays the familiar theme unaccompanied prior to Rankin's entrance. The pianist's original voicings show off his keen harmonic sense, and his chord choices, grace notes, and clarion touch make his exploration sound fresh and personal. Rankin's high, supple voice sings the lyrics with a freedom of phrasing and rhythm that is unpredictable but appropriate, and successfully realized. Only when Wolff and Rankin have firmly established their delicately insightful interaction do Williams and McCurdy join in to complement and enhance the duo's artistry. Rankin's pure tonality, varied inflections, interval leaps, and overall questing mindset make this indisputably a jazz vocal rendition. The singer never scats, but he's constantly improvising in ways either subtle or blatant. The surprise ending leaves you hanging, but wanting to hear more.

September 08, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dafnis Prieto: Si O Si

Cuban-born Dafnis Prieto has established himself with fellow musicians and a growing audience as a high-energy percussive and compositional force. Ever since he settled in New York in 1999, his jagged, complex approach to the drums- a combination of Afro-Cuban folk rhythms and the poly-rhythmic punctuations of modern jazz drumming- has been a staple of the New York City jazz scene. His compositions are inexhaustibly creative utilizing a barrage of timbres, crashes, clangs and rolls and an abundance of syncopation. The energy generated from so much kinetics can elevate your heartbeat.

On the title song "Si o Si" ("Yes or Yes"), Prieto’s particular kind of choppy, stop/start motion is featured. At the intro, he lays down a repeating drum line accompanied only by bassist Flores As the scant melody line unfolds on Valera’s piano, it becomes apparent that in addition to maintaining the complex, rhythmic beat, Prieto’s drum patterns have cleverly mimicked the melody line all along. Peter Apfelbaum smoothes out the sharp edges when his sonorous tenor is heard solo and in concert with Valera’s piano.

When Valera is given room to solo, he intuitively reaches out in a more lyrical direction, a nice respite from the song’s frenetic core. But not for long: Prieto’s fusillade of sounds prods Valera until he lets loose returning you to the cardiac excitement this music generates. Ultimately Prieto closes this composition by slowing the tempo down gradually in a surprisingly restrained refrain presumably so you can catch your breath before he starts it all again.

September 08, 2009 · 0 comments

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Woody Herman (with Stan Getz): Early Autumn

When asked about this solo years later, Getz noted that he didn't own copies of his old recordings, then added: "I don't remember what I played on it. . . . My music is something that's done and forgotten about." Yet this was the performance that created the first buzz of fame that would establish Getz as a name attraction in the jazz world. And if Getz didn't recall what he played on the date, many musicians and fans committed his phrases to memory. Ralph Burns's chart is a perfect vehicle for the tenorist, and the sax section is luminous even before Getz steps forward. But his solo is a perfectly poised statement, and an important milestone in the development of the cool jazz idiom.

Is Getz a Lester Young disciple? Certainly. A Lester clone? Not by a mile. No matter what you might have heard elsewhere, there is nothing in Prez's body of work quite like this performance. You could teach a classroom of six-year-olds how to distinguish between the two artists, and they would never make a mistake on a blindfold test. Even at 21 years of age, Getz had staked out his territory, and he would never relinquish it. It's not just his tone, a delectable concoction that never gets heavier than a Julia Chid meringue, but even more the freedom of his phrasing, which always makes clear that Getz is playing what he hears in his head, not what he worked on in the practice room, and in his case he hears deep and wondrous possibilities, some of which he shares with his audience. No surprise, then, that when Metronome published the results of its 1949 poll, the young Getz was atop the tenor sax rankings. And despite his assessment of a solo that was "done and forgotten," this one has no shortage of admirers more than sixty years after it was recorded. Mark my words: fans will still be listening sixty years hence.

September 07, 2009 · 0 comments

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Diane Schuur (with Stan Getz): A Time for Love

Stan Getz prided himself on his skill as a talent scout—a role spurred both by his genuine interest in new sounds and stylists as well as his need to compensate for his personal indifference to composing, which forced him to seek out others who could provide him with fresh material for his interpretation. Over the decades, he helped advance the careers of Horace Silver, Chick Corea, Astrud Gilberto, João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gary Burton and others, and they in turn inspired him to some of the defining moments in his oeuvre. Late in life, he continued to look for emerging talent, and was especially excited by Diane Schuur, a vocalist whom he first heard at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1979 when she sat in with Dizzy and Stan and received a standing ovation from the audience. In the following months, Getz found opportunities for Schuur to perform with his band, and in 1982 brought the vocalist with him to the White House—an event which led to Schuur's signing with the GRP label, and her subsequent Grammy awards.

Getz joins Schuur on this track from her Timeless album, and his every contribution is perfectly matched to the emotional temper of the song, from his plaintive solo introduction to his moving solo to his austere coda. "Ballads intrigue me," Getz once told a journalist. "I let the mood do what it wants. I never intend to do anything, it just comes as the piece dictates." His obbligato accompaniment behind Schuur's vocal inspires comparisons with Getz's role model Lester Young, whose sax lines underscoring Billie Holiday's classic recordings are the gold standard by which all other such musical partnerships are measured. The singer, for her part, is more controlled than usual, and mostly avoids the shrillness that sometimes mars her work, except for a unfortunate lapse at the 4:11 mark. The arrangement is sweet without becoming saccharine, and the accompaniment is handled thoughtfully. But Getz is so creative, from start to finish, that he become de facto leader of the date.

September 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dafnis Prieto: Si o Si

Cuban-born Dafnis Prieto has now called New York his home for a decade, but he has more than established himself. Rather, he has emerged as one of the leading drummers of his generation, and his presence on any session assures a flexible and spirited rhythmic pulse. I especially admire his ability to play with intensity, yet avoid over-playing—a balancing act that many drummers never master. On this track, recorded live at Jazz Standard, he adapts constantly to the flow of the music, changing dynamics on a dime, or even engaging in an unconventional start-and-stop dialogue with piano or sax. Peter Apfelbaum, for his part, is also one of the most consistently creative artists on the scene, and is a true multi-instrumental threat who can move from horns to piano to drums with a frightening ease. His sax work here is exceptional, but less for its solo concept but more for its ways of interacting with the rest of the combo. The result here is a fascinating meeting point between jazz that thinks and jazz that feels. Si o Si!

September 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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King Cole Trio: One O'Clock Jump

Nat King Cole must have been quite a Basie fan. The King Cole Trio had quite a few Basie tunes in its repertoire, and in its set of transcriptions for Capitol, there are versions of "Lester Leaps In", "Rock-A-Bye Basie", "Swingin' The Blues" and "One O'Clock Jump", The latter piece may be the best illustration of how Basie's style melded into bop. Cole was a proto-bopper at best, but his harmonic language was allied with the new music, and here, as Cole performs his best Basie imitation, we hear the spareness of Basie with richer chords than Basie would have played. Oscar Moore's guitar solo shows his roots to Charlie Christian, and Johnny Miller follows the example of Walter Page in walking a chorus under the light touch of his pianist/leader. There is an interesting mix of material in the closing riffs. The first chorus is an original line, supposedly designed by the trio but based on a line from the band arrangement, the second and third choruses are from the original band arrangement and the last is a boppish variation that moves the piece into a new harmonic direction. Basie was aware of the harmonic evolution that was occuring in the music at this time, but I wonder if ever heard this side, and if so, what he thought of it.

September 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Benny Goodman: One O'Clock Jump

While his inter-personal skills left much to be desired, Benny Goodman cared about his band and was always interested in making his musicians sound good. When it came to programming the 1938 Carnegie Hall jazz concert, he must have realized that he and the band would be nervous, so Goodman programmed the opening set to get everyone comfortable as they got used to their new surroundings. First up was "Don't Be That Way", a song that swings well in almost any tempo, then a familiar Fletcher Henderson arrangement on "Sometimes I'm Happy", which the band had probably played every night of its existence. If that wasn't enough to calm everyone onstage down, there was a big band blues, namely "One O'Clock Jump". Picking this piece was a no-brainer: it was the theme song of the Count Basie Band, which was gaining popularity by the week, and Basie himself was at Carnegie that night to play in the jam session. Further, "One O'Clock Jump" was a good framework for a big band blues--the riffs were engaging and the key change from F to D-flat was a reliable way to raise the energy in the band. Jess Stacy's opening solo is an obvious homage to Basie, but Stacy wisely knew Basie's roots, and there is more stride in Stacy's tribute than Basie might have played himself. Babe Russin was no Herschel Evans or Lester Young, but he had listened to both tenormen and his solo has the tone of Evans and the light rhythm of Young. Vernon Brown plays a swaggering trombone solo followed by Goodman. The clarinetist gets the most solo room, but he makes great use of it, especially when he gets the rhythm section to bring the volume down behind him. Pulling off a simple but spontaneous musical gesture like that can change the course of a concert and inspire the musicians. It also showed any non-believers in Carnegie that jazz was not always loud and brash. After Goodman, Stacy gets another spot before Harry James steps up for a short but warm-toned solo. Krupa boosts the band up as they play through the final band riffs.

September 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Count Basie & His Orchestra: Exactly Like You

“Exactly Like You” has been a jam session staple for years, but when Count Basie recorded it on his second Decca session, it was still fairly new territory. Despite recordings by Louis Armstrong, the Casa Loma Orchestra and the Benny Goodman Trio, the song had failed to catch on with jazz musicians. However in 1937, the floodgates opened as several jazz groups recorded versions of the song. Basie’s was the first version made that year, and its joyful nature made it a classic. The arrangement is probably by Fletcher Henderson or Don Redman, but Basie’s band was not filled with talented readers and some of the section work is rather sloppy. But one didn’t listen to Basie for skillfully played arrangements; Basie’s was a soloist’s band, and many of the band’s stars play excellent solos on this track. After the band introduction, Basie plays the melody for a few bars before moving into a solo featuring his minimalist stride style. On the bridge, Jack Washington gets his first recorded baritone sax solo and we can hear that he could play as lightly as Lester Young, even on the bigger horn. The band plays the written parts for the next chorus and leads into Jimmy Rushing’s vocal chorus, and just as Washington had learned from Young, Rushing had learned from the band’s new female vocalist, Billie Holiday. This may the most Billie-esque chorus Rushing ever recorded. Like Billie, Rushing flattens out much of the melody to a single note, and then he rides that note in a great display of rhythmic vitality. Buck Clayton offers a running commentary along with the saxes, and by the time the chorus ends, the band is swinging mightily. And that’s when Lester Young enters with a dancing half-chorus that just adds to the excitement. Lester’s sound was still quite novel at this time—his first recording was made only 5 months earlier—but it is the placement of the notes rather than the notes themselves that make it such a catalyst for increasing the band’s swing. And while Bobby Moore’s brief trumpet solo is well-played, it sounds like he struggles to maintain the energy that Lester created. Nonetheless, there's plenty of energy left for the band to play a spirited coda.

September 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ruby Braff & Ellis Larkins: Exactly Like You

Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins were great duet partners, bringing out the best qualities in each other. Braff could always spin gorgeous melodies from the lower range of his cornet, and Larkins could always create beautiful harmonic backgrounds, but together, there was spontaneity and humor that added to the interplay. “Exactly Like You” was recorded for their 1972 LP The Grand Reunion but not released until the album was reissued on CD a quarter-century later. Larkins plays the introduction and first chorus solo. For the most part, he plays the melody in parallel thirds in his right hand while walking in parallel tenths with his left. Larkins doesn’t keep this pattern throughout the chorus, as he freely breaks it to comment on the melody and to add variety. When Braff enters, Larkins seems transformed and he plays an animated accompaniment with delightful walking bass lines and bright splashes of chordal color. Braff’s solo starts off with poignant lines, but as he listens and responds to Larkins’ commentary, he adds stunning runs and gets sassier as the solo continues. Larkins takes an 8-bar solo on the bridge with a pithy remark in his right hand and classic stride in the left. In the next 8 bars, it sounds like Larkins wants to lead Braff into a more serious mood, but neither seems ready to give up the lighter mood entirely. As the performance winds down, the last comments of each player seems to reflect the playful mood evoked earlier.

September 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Art Tatum: Blue Skies

Art Tatum’s solo sides for Capitol were recorded on three dates in July-September 1949. Except for a few old favorites like “Sweet Lorraine”, the tunes he recorded were new to his repertoire. Surprisingly, “Blue Skies” was one of the pieces he had never recorded before, and save for a 20-second live snippet on a Storyville CD, his only other recording was part of the marathon solo sessions recorded for Norman Granz. On the Granz recording, Tatum creates a wonderful re-harmonization of the song, but he is plagued with fingering problems throughout. The Capitol version is breezy and confident, but not as daring. While Berlin’s lyric is as carefree as one can imagine, his melody is in minor. Tatum brings out the minor tonality in his slightly menacing introduction, but lightens the mood as soon as he starts playing the melody. In the first 24 bars, he presents the melody interspersed with minor filigrees and subtle reharmonizations. But in the final 8 bars of the first chorus, the melody is obscured amidst Tatum’s dazzling runs. Tatum wants to keep his listeners with him, so in the next 2 choruses, he refers back to the melody in the first 2 A sections, moves away from it in the bridge and barely touches it in the final A. Throughout the performance, Tatum keeps everything in balance, with lighter textures in the first A of each chorus, long runs in the second A, call-and-response set figures in the bridges and more aggressive improvising in the final A. In the final half-chorus, the bridge he offers a fine variation on the tune, and the final eight includes a quote from the children’s song “In & Out The Window”, which also appeared in the Granz recording. Not an undiscovered masterpiece, but a lovely reading of a great American standard.

September 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gato Barbieri: El Sertao

It's a shame that Barbieri, after rediscovering his South American musical roots in the '70's after flirting with the jazz avant-garde the decade earlier, never got to hook up with his fellow Argentinian Astor Piazzolla. The modern concepts and powerful lyricism of both artists might have produced a fruitful collaboration, but when Bernardo Bertolucci chose Barbieri instead of Piazzolla to compose and play the music for his 1973 film Last Tango in Paris (Piazzolla reportedly wanted too high a fee), a verbal feud ensued between Gato and Astor. Be that as it may, the Last Tango soundtrack made Barbieri an international star (at least for a while), enabling him to expose many more listeners to his bracing potion of jazz and Latin melodies, rhythms, harmonies, and textures.

Barbieri's 1973 release, Under Fire, focused on Brazil, and the title of the piece "El Sertao" referred to the dry, poverty-stricken northwestern part of that country. Stanley Clarke's resounding bass ostinato, Lonnie Liston Smith's trills, and John Abercrombie's insistent chords are the first sounds heard, in addition to Airto Moreira's zestful rhythmic colorations. Barbieri plays the multi-faceted thematic material with a hard-edged, virile tone, but is able to convey elements of warmth and tenderness as well. Despite an intense, nearly screeching attack at times, on the whole his phrasing maintains an alluringly melodic consistency of expression. Smith's Fender Rhodes interlude is sparse but tonally poignant. Abercrombie's strummed pattern leads to Barbieri's climactic crescendo and decrescendo. This track is an example of Barbieri stripped of all the turbulent and distancing free jazz affectations he had exhibited but a few years earlier. He had found himself at last.

September 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifton Anderson: Z

Clifton Anderson has been standing on a stage or bandstand next to his uncle Sonny Rollins since 1983. Such is the typical audience's insatiable desire to hear the great Rollins play as much as humanly possible, Anderson, like any Rollins sideman, has to feel that he's "vamping 'til ready" when taking a solo of his own. However, those who manage to give Anderson their undivided attention know that he has developed into one of the better mainstream trombonists in jazz. Decade is regrettably only Anderson's second CD as a leader, coming about that many years from the first (Landmarks), and on it he impresses both as a player and composer.

Kenny Garrett made a guest appearance on Landmarks and does so again on the well-arranged track "Z." The easy-striding, catchy theme is played by Anderson and Garrett's alto in pure and silky intertwining harmony. Anderson's solo shows his ever-present J.J. Johnson influence, and the suspended time sections accentuate his rich tone. He mixes impeccable legato phrasing with rapid, fluidly articulated single-note runs. Garrett's technically adept and intricate boppish lines are the highlight of his all-too-brief improv. Stephen Scott's piano feature is kicked into high gear by drummer Steve Jordan's aggressive encouragement. Just when it appears that the two horns are in the process of closing out the piece, they step aside for Christian McBride's nimble and soulfully expressive bass solo, an unexpected treat that precedes the for real infectious reprise.

September 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Michael Bellar: Fred Jones, Pt. 2

Described as an "alt-jazz electro-acoustic group," Michael Bellar & the AS-IS Ensemble explores jazz, rock, funk, and world musics in formulations both charged and mellow. Keyboardist-leader Bellar also currently plays with singer/songwriter Amos Lee, and apparently has a liking for the kind of ingratiating ballads penned by Lee and others such as Ben Folds and Bjork, which is also evident in his own compositions "Sublime" and "Yoga for Prison Girls" on his group's new CD, Turned On Turned Up.

The trio's instrumental version of Folds' striking "Fred Jones Pt. 2," which first appeared on that artist's 2001 Rockin' the Suburbs release, manages to bring out all of that tune's unforced sentimentality and feelings of regret, frustration, and even bitterness. Folds' moving lyrics tell of a man leaving a job after 25 years, either fired or forced to retire. "There was no party, there were no songs / 'Cause today's just a day like the day that he started / No one is left here that knows his first name." Bellar's translucent, unaffected approach is refreshing, as he simply allows the inherent beauty of the piece to shine through. Rob Jost's solid-as-bedrock bass blends smoothly with Bellar's Fender Rhodes, and Brad Wentworth's tasteful drumming is unobtrusively forceful when required. Bellar's appealing chime-like sound is mesmerizing in itself, and his layered, overlapping lines during the climactic crescendo are stirring. He winds down to a degree at the very end before effectively introducing some contrasting reverb just prior to the last few wistful notes. Whether or not you are familiar with Folds' original take, it would be hard not to appreciate what Bellar, Jost, and Wentworth have accomplished on this track.

September 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ray Brown-Monty Alexander-Sam Most: Too Late Now

There's plenty of Ray Brown and Monty Alexander to be heard on numerous CDs, but most of flutist Sam Most's work is hard to come by. Most was both a pioneer and innovator on the instrument in the '50's, a bop flutist who may have been the first to utilize a humming or singing technique. Charles Mingus once told Most, "You're the world's greatest jazz flute player." He was an admitted early inspiration to many other jazz flutists, including Herbie Mann, James Moody, Yusef Lateef, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Hubert Laws, and Joe Farrell. Mann, in the liner notes to Most's 1976 Mostly Flute album (on which Sam also played clarinet), was quoted as saying, "The order of jazz flutists is Wayman Carver with the Chick Webb band, Harry Klee with Phil Moore, and Sam Most. Then the rest of us followed." Although Jerome Richardson actually recorded flute solos with Lionel Hampton in 1949 and 1950, and fellow multi-instrumentalists Frank Wess, Bud Shank, and Buddy Collette were among those to emerge on flute soon after Most several years later, none (except Mann) became as dedicated to it as did Sam. Most largely disappeared into the studios and pit bands in the '60's after touring with Buddy Rich, and was coming off a wonderful series of "comeback" albums for the Xanadu label that began in 1976 when he joined Brown and Alexander for this 1982 session.

Alexander's tender intro to "Too Late Now" is followed by Brown's expertly bowed rendering of the melody, with the pianist providing highly sympathetic support and Most lithely handling the bridge. Alexander's extravagant solo is full of sleek arpeggios and other flourishes, but exudes a great deal of warmth as well. Most's concise improvisation grabs the listener's attention from its very first notes (as does Alexander's superb comping), playing his flawlessly executed runs and tricky, creative phrasing with an appealingly breathy tone. His overall command cannot be questioned, and reveals all you need to know about the reason for his high status amongst all jazz flutists. Search out the rare Xanadu releases, if you can, for further confirmation.

September 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stuff Smith and Dizzy Gillespie: Rio Pakistan

The track "Rio Pakistan" first appeared on the 1957 album Dizzy Gillespie-Stuff Smith, and reappeared on the 1994 CD compilation that collected the three Stuff Smith sessions for Verve that enabled Norman Granz to revive the career of the by then largely forgotten--yet major--jazz violinist, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this summer (Aug. 14, 2009). Dizzy's "Rio Pakistan" was inspired by his band's State Department tour of the Middle East in 1956. As he related in his autobiography To Be or Not to Bop, "I learned a lot over there. I learned some scales and made some recordings with Stuff Smith using some of those scales in it that came out of Pakistan. ...The notes I used are from the scale, but I made up the lick from the scale. It's called a raga."

Add a samba beat, and "Rio Pakistan" makes for an unusual 11-minute aural experience, especially for 1957. Stuff plays the tantalizing theme with Dizzy's intricate embellishments and then the two reverse roles on the replay, both obviously comfortable with the non-Western melodic line. Smith's solo proves his adaptability, as he surges forward exuberantly and confidently with riffs, bluesy slurred sighs, and other tonal inflections that craftily adhere to the piece's essence. Dizzy's solo follows and benefits from Stuff's pizzzicato urgings. The trumpeter was in peak form circa 1957 (his summit meeting with Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt also came that year), and his brash, serpentine lines here are exhilarating. Wynton Kelly then eats up the "changes" in a soulfully eloquent improv, during which his provocative locked-hand constructs artfully capture the "raga" feel as well as anything played on the track. Stuff and Dizzy unhurriedly offer up the theme a final time to wind down this rather unique performance.

September 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Hampton Hawes: I Love You

If your concept of mid-50s California jazz is of unrelenting cool, take a good listen to Hampton Hawes’ album For Real for proof to the contrary. All four of the musicians heard here were part of a small but vibrant group of California hard-boppers, and on Cole Porter’s “I Love You” they offer a blindingly fast but musically coherent demonstration of state-of-the art improvising. Harold Land had plenty of experience in playing way up-tempo during his tenure with the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet, and he and Frank Butler had occasional opportunities for quick tempi in their new gig together in the Curtis Counce Group. LaFaro was new on the LA scene, but worked with Victor Feldman, Stan Getz and another Brown/Roach alumnus, Sonny Rollins, all of whom excelled at quick-speed features. From the introduction, Hawes shows that he’s no slouch at fast tempos, even when it involves a complex piano figure. In their solos, both Land and Hawes demonstrate that one of the secrets to surviving a breakneck tempo is to think of long phrases that will fit over several bars of chord changes (the faster the tempo, the longer the phrases). At this speed (liner essayist Leonard Feather clocked it at 22 seconds per chorus), it’s easy to play 8 bars or longer without taking a breath. This allows Land especially to create long flowing lines that could never be played in one breath at a slower tempo. Hawes didn’t need to breathe between phrases, of course, but his solo also includes several long phrases that extend over the 8-bar sections. LaFaro's single chorus is simply a walk through the changes, but Land and Butler are stunning in their set of exchanges. And speaking of Butler, I’m quite amazed at how he keeps the rhythmic groove solid without clicking his hi-hat on beats 2 and 4 throughout. Close listening shows that he keeps that essential heartbeat going for long sections of the recording, but the time stays solid even when he drops the hi-hat from his arsenal of sound.

September 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Art Farmer: I Love You

Art Farmer was perhaps the tastiest player in modern jazz. His exquisite note choices were accentuated by his use of mutes, which seemed to make his lines stand out. In the light of the often loud and discordant sounds of free jazz and fusion, he considered himself a traditionalist. But within the framework of modern jazz, Farmer was capable of great flexibility, subtly leading his listeners down paths they might not have expected. For example, the opening chorus of Cole Porter’s “I Love You” from the album Modern Art sounds like a trip into Miles Davis country, with Art playing a standard in a mute over a two-beat rhythm. All such fears evaporate at the opening of the second chorus as Bill Evans takes the spotlight. By this time, Evans was coming into his own and we can hear much of what became his style trademarks in this solo: the light touch, the nearly-inaudible comping and the careful sculpting of each line. Most of the solo is in single lines with parallel thirds, octaves and chords used sparingly but always to great effect. Benny Golson plays a note-gobbling solo that shows his roots in Lucky Thompson, while showing what John Coltrane learned from Golson. Farner, still in the cup mute, plays a flowing melodic solo, filled with long lines and, like Evans’ solo, featuring plenty of effective sequencing. It’s a little surprising when Golson returns for another 16 bars, but it turns out to be the beginning of a long set of exchanges which start at half-choruses and work their way down to 4-bar thoughts. Because of their different but complimentary solo styles, the two hornmen were fine collaborators and they continued to work together (most notably as co-leaders of the Jazztet) until Farmer’s passing in 1999.

September 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Benny Goodman Sextet (with Charlie Christian): The Sheik Of Araby

This performance by the Benny Goodman Sextet was originally issued as “The Sheik”, as the original melody of “The Sheik Of Araby” is barely referenced by anyone in the group, but the chord sequence is clearly that of the old standard. Nick Fatool starts the proceedings with a tom-tom introduction, there is an original line played by clarinet, guitar and vibes, and then Goodman and Hampton engage in a fascinating duet where each plays the key notes of the original song, but never enough to be an actual reading of the tune. Hampton takes the next solo, and it starts with a phrase out of the key. However, he uses the old trick of repeating the phrase, as if to say “I meant to do that”. He keeps toying with notes outside of the key, but he never completely convinces us that he means it. There’s no doubt about Charlie Christian’s harmonic sense, though, and his brilliant, self-assured solo makes everything before sound hopelessly old-fashioned. Johnny Guarnieri provides a sparkling solo that reflects Count Basie and Basie’s root style of stride. The performance ends of a chorus of 4-bar exchanges between the four soloists, with each player listening intently and commenting on the phrases played by the preceding soloist.

September 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fats Waller: The Sheik Of Araby

Fats Waller led a big band for a short period in the late 30s. Like Ray Charles would do years later, he built the band around his existing small group. Usually, Waller’s arrangements were run-of-the-mill, but “The Sheik Of Araby” was a noteworthy exception. It begins with just Waller and Jones (Wallace might be playing too, but it’s hard to tell from the recording) and the mood is like an after-hours club in Harlem. Then, in an effortless segue, trombonist John Haughton solos on the melody with the saxes providing backup. Waller’s vocal starts out straight, but when he gets to “into your tent, I’ll creep”, he just can’t resist making fun of the song and the rest of the vocal chorus is a burlesque. Herman Autrey is the next soloist, but good luck if you want to focus on the trumpet, as Fats comments throughout, including a series of jokes about riding camels. As Fats exhorts the band on, the full brass section finally appears for the last chorus. Had Waller hired a staff of top-shelf arrangers, his band might have been one of the top draws in the nation. Of course, he did just fine with only his Rhythm.

September 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: It Could Happen To You

In 1956, with a new recording contract from Columbia (and several recordings already in the can for them), Miles Davis negotiated a deal with Prestige Records to wrap up his current contract: Miles and his quintet would record two marathon sessions consisting of the band’s current repertoire. The music would be recorded as a nightclub set, with little space between tunes, and no retakes unless absolutely necessary. The four resulting albums Cookin’, Relaxin', Workin' and Steamin’ were released over the next four years. Prestige got the albums they wanted, and Miles’ Columbia discography alternated classic small group dates with orchestral collaborations arranged and conducted by Gil Evans.

“It Could Happen To You” was released on Relaxin’ and the mood of the song certainly fits the album title. This is one of several standards in Miles’ book and the treatment is basically the same as on “Bye Bye, Blackbird” recorded for Columbia in the previous year. Miles takes the opening chorus in harmon mute over a bouncy two-beat from the rhythm section. John Coltrane enters next with a slashing “sheets of sound” tenor solo over a wide-open rhythm section in straight 4/4. Red Garland lightens the mood with his delicate piano stylings and Miles comes back to take it out. What makes this recording unique is what happens in each of these episodes: Miles’ solo includes several odd-length phrases which only make sense when they’re all put together, Trane balances his normally rough-hewn style with long and tender melodic phrases, and Garland finds the middle ground between Miles and Trane with a tasty mixture of short and long phrases. And how well the band communicates the spirit of the light-hearted warnings of the unheard lyrics! This was the best jazz group of its day and even a minor toss-off recording by them stands up very well 50-odd years later.

September 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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James Carter (with Heaven on Earth): Diminishing

What does it mean when a group of crack jazz musicians gets together to make a thinly-disguised rock record? Is it a crass sell-out, or a stimulating attempt to reinvigorate their art with a dose of contemporary sounds? And why did they pick a mostly forgotten old Django Reinhardt tune for their honking and braying? Is this a tongue-in-cheek attempt at humor? Or does this performance have some hidden connection to jazz Manouche that I am missing?

So many questions. . . But I just chalk this up to James Carter being James Carter. Like Rahsaan Roland Kirk (whom Carter reminds me of in so many ways), this star horn player is a musical chameleon who is so capable of adapting to every situation that one can only sit back and marvel at so many different sonic personalities co-existing inside a single soloist. Of course Carter would grab an old Django song, since he always is pulling out some dusty chart from long ago. And of course he would play in some fresh, unconventional way, because. . . well, because he always does just that. Then again, I never thought he would play rock sax, but I am not surprised he does it so well. He purges all the Swing Era and bebop licks from his vocabulary and works instead with a dizzying array of sound textures. Here and there one can find bits of funk and post-Ayler speaking-in-reeds, but nothing persists for long in his raucously rambling Rambo of a solo.

Even if Carter had considered a more traditional approach to the tune, the creative commotion coming from the rhythm section would not have allowed it. I am not sure I would have ever thought of putting this S.W.A.T. team of rhythm—Christian McBride (on electric bass), John Medeski (on Hammond B-3), Adam Rogers and Joey Baron—together with Mr. Carter, and even if I had, I don't think I would have expected this kind of rocker sensibility. But the chemistry is frightening, and even if the track doesn't quite live up to the band's claim of "heaven on earth," these players do a helluva job.

September 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Johnny Smith: Some Of These Days

Starting with an introduction over a pedal point, Johnny Smith’s take-no-prisoners version of “Some Of These Days” is an excellent primer to the guitarist’s work. Smith could say a lot in a short time, and although this performance is here and gone in two-and-a-half minutes, it sounds complete and satisfying. Smith stays close to the melody for most of the opening chorus and then launches into a fleet-fingered solo comprised mostly of single lines. His opening phrases are simple 4-bar ideas, but starting in the second eight his phrases expand and motives from early in the phrase are developed later in the same thought. Pancoast takes over for a quick Peterson-esque chorus, and then Smith returns with the melody, this time played in chords, but not in parallel block chords. Indeed, the independent movement of the inner voices in chorded passages was one of the hallmarks of Smith’s style. It is also one of the many reasons why he is still considered a guitar giant more than a decade after he set the instrument down for the last time. The Mosaic set above has brought Smith’s playing to the attention of the jazz public, but for guitar players, Smith was always a master.

September 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: Some Of These Days

With his classic big band recording of "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," the basic formula for Louis Armstrong's arrangements was set: melodic interpretation on trumpet, solo break by a member of the band, vocal solo, another solo break, then big final trumpet chorus. Now, there's nothing wrong with a working formula, especially—as in Louis' case—when you're the first person to do it. His version of the evergreen "Some Of These Days" was made fairly early in the series and in this case, the formula was turned inside out. It sounds like the band is reading a stock arrangement which means that there's more for them to do than just accompany Louis. Still, Louis gets all of the solo space he normally had, just in a different order. After the saxophone intro, he sings first, and since the song was fairly well-known, he takes a lot of liberties with it. In fact, it almost sounds like he's singing in the wrong key for the first half of his chorus, but he's just singing an adventuresome variation of the melody. After a clumsy break by Jimmy Strong, Louis plays his first trumpet solo. In contrast to the vocal, he's fairly conservative, using a set of symmetrical phrases and closing with a hoochie-coochie riff that was part of the arrangement. The saxes have a variation and the playing is about as clean as any of Louis' backing groups of this period. Louis' final solo is a dazzling display which covers the entire range of the horn and peaks with a sustained high D-flat. Louis didn't favor his low register much, and on the non-vocal take also included on the above CD, we can hear why: in the same spot, Louis moves to the lower register and he gets covered up by the saxes. Within a few years, recording techniques would improve and there would be less of these balance issues. What is surprising is that the non-vocal version was issued (mostly outside of the US) even with the balance problem. While not the equal of the vocal version, the instrumental take is worth a listen.

September 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: C Jam Blues

Duke Ellington wrote “C Jam Blues” as a simple way to showcase his musicians. Its first appearance was in a “soundie”, a short film made for a video jukebox. In it, Duke walks into a café, sits down and starts playing. Gradually, more and more Ellingtonians show up (naturally with their horns in hand) and join in on the jam session. By 1959, when the present version was made for the LP Blues In Orbit, the tune had been in Ellington’s band book for 18 years. Yet, this version still manages to include a few surprises. Duke starts off the proceedings as usual, followed by the band playing the head in unison. Ray Nance steps up to the microphone with his violin, and something must have surprised the band members, because you can hear them laughing in the background. Nance makes effective use of double-stops both at the beginning and the end of his solo. When the break comes up (traditionally used to introduce the next soloist), Nance keeps playing! He takes up a figure from Ravel’s “Bolero” and Hodges joins in. Oddly, neither Nance nor Hodges plays the next solo. Instead, Britt Woodman plays on open trombone, and he is followed by Paul Gonsalves on tenor (Woodman’s and Gonsalves’ solo turns were cut for all releases except the expanded CD reissue above). Booty Wood was a specialist on plunger-muted trombone and his jocular solo is backed up by the saxes playing a fairly standard background riff. But what is Jimmy Hamilton playing back there? Just a set of octaves with the top note trilled, but those octaves are on D, which is the ninth of the chord, and they certainly sound strange in this setting! Hamilton drops the octaves in Wood’s second chorus, and then the clarinetist takes the final solo, soaring over the band in the final bars.

September 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Stefon Harris and Blackout: Gone

Arguably the most memorable rendition of this tune derived from the classic Gershwin Porgy & Bess opera is Miles Davis’, replete with Gil Evans’ majestic arrangement. That said, Stefon Harris does a noteworthy job “urbanizing” the song while completely retaining the song’s orchestral splendor. He accomplishes this by building a small army of wind instruments that are predominantly higher register instruments. For the lower end of the tonal spectrum, Harris has his own Blackout backing band to handle that, and also to lay down a polyrhythmic pulse straight out of Washington D.C.’s go-go funk scene. Cary’s Rhodes and clavinet provides the final layer of textures, that of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. Gershwin’s dramatic, fitful chart blurts from the flutes and clarinets, while Harris’ street-wise unit chugs along in the pocket. The clash of the two seemingly opposing forces in music creates the desired sparks, due to Harris’ deft arrangement that didn’t allow for one style to dominate the other.

Miles’ own version is a groove-oriented adaptation of “Gone, Gone, Gone.” Harris is merely doing the same thing, only he’s using a more modern groove.

September 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Oscar Peterson: C Jam Blues

In a sense, Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues” is the jazz equivalent of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Both pieces are based on a pair of pitches, but the miracle is how much music is created from those two pitches. Oscar Peterson’s version of “C Jam Blues” is from his LP Night Train, and like the title track of that album, Peterson makes an arrangement for his trio rather than just blowing through a few choruses of blues and going on the next tune. The arrangement is rather modest, since Peterson solos through the entire track save for an 8-bar intro by Ray Brown. Peterson incorporates Ellington’s original 4-bar breaks at the start of his first four choruses (which is actually two more than we really needed—the effect gets a little tiresome). After a couple of choruses of straight playing, he incorporates a shout chorus figure which is quickly picked up by Thigpen. Peterson takes two more solo choruses then goes back to the tune, played first in block chords and then in single notes.

September 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dan Moretti: Cajun The Squirrel

With only a two-note riff and a two-man rhythm section to work with, there’s no place for Dan Moretti to hide behind. Not that Dan Moretti has anything that needs suppressing, however. Bolstered by the sturdy low tones of Ballou and the brawny, bombed-filled drumming of Richards, Moretti squeezes the soul out of his notes, but never suffocates them. Ballou might have gotten by with a standup, but his amped-up bass is just what was needed to match the punch of the drums. He walks the middle section of the song with authority as the tenor is dropping phrases in lockstep with Richards’ accented beats.

On “Cajun The Squirrel,” this trio fills up the sonic space nicely, with vigor and tempered expressiveness.

September 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Konitz & Marshall Brown: Struttin' With Some Barbecue

On a single day in September 1967, Lee Konitz recorded an entire LP of duets with some of his favorite musicians. Some of his partners had recorded with him before (Jim Hall, Dick Katz, Elvin Jones), but most were new, including Marshall Brown, a pioneering jazz educator best known for leading the Newport Jazz Festival’s Youth Band. Brown’s meager discography was almost entirely devoted to traditional jazz, so it is no surprise that the Konitz/Brown duet is on a Louis Armstrong classic, “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”. While there is no rhythm section present, Brown makes up for its absence by playing a jaunty bass line under Konitz’ acidic alto solo. Brown gets the spotlight in the second chorus although Konitz just leaves more space in his playing instead of attempting to play a bass part. Then, through the use of overdubbing, Konitz on baritone sax and Brown on euphonium play a stop-time background to an alto sax/valve trombone reading of Louis Armstrong’s classic solo from the original recording of 40 years earlier. The arrangement is simply delightful, but Konitz’ over-riding seriousness makes this much less fun than it ought to have been.

September 01, 2009 · 0 comments

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