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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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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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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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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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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Stan Getz & Dizzy Gillespie: Lover Come Back to Me

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

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

August 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: Fine And Mellow

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

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

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lester Young & Oscar Peterson: Stardust

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

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Slim Gaillard: Babalu (orooney)

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

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

August 06, 2009 · 1 comment

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

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

August 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sarah Vaughan: Shulie-A-Bop

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

August 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roy Eldridge & Dizzy Gillespie: Pretty-Eyed Baby

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

August 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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