Sonny Rollins: I Can't Get Started

The only ballad – and one of the shortest tunes – that Rollins played on this historic first live-at-the- Vanguard recording session provides a good opportunity to appreciate Elvin Jones's usually underrated brushwork, and to revel in the way the tenor adapts his powerful, heavy tone to a slow tempo. Or rather adapts it to his way of playing, for Rollins keeps accelerating and slowing down his delivery as he improvises melodic phrases, giving "I Can't Get Started" an unusually dynamic twist. When the final stop chorus arrives, with its quotation of the classic "'Round Midnight" intro, the overall feeling is that the Colossus has reshaped Vernon Duke's standard according to his own taste.

January 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: Yesterdays

Those who don't like brass with strings (and that includes many jazz buffs) should be assuaged: Clifford Brown with Strings is an exception. And "Yesterdays" is the opening piece of this beautiful record that nobody should listen to without a box of tissues within reach. Indeed, the intensity and emotional quality of Brownie's sound and phrasing on this track and on the other ballads he tackles here as sole improviser are sometimes breathtaking. And even the purists will admit that Neal Hefti – himself a trumpeter – did a great job with the small string orchestra that, along with Brown's usual rhythm section, surrounds one of the greatest geniuses of the instrument.

January 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Stella by Starlight

This is typically the kind of piece that people will classify as "West Coast jazz," although it was recorded in New York by a native of Philadelphia. True, Getz's tenor delivery is thoroughly relaxed, and the sound of the quintet is basically cool. But what I find most remarkable in the Getz of the early '50s is the way he can, with apparently no effort, carve a little gem of less than three minutes. Of course some will merely use it as background music. But others will listen again and again, endlessly raving at, for example, the art with which Stan casually inserts a quotation from Bizet's Carmen at the end of his solo.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Opus in Beige

Gene Roland first wrote for Kenton back in 1944, and not only contributed music for almost 30 years, but played trumpet, trombone and mellophonium with the band. Usually Roland's music is upbeat and swinging, but here he is in a more reflective mood, and the result is one of his loveliest pieces. Larsen and Perkins solo.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: The Thrill Is Gone

Married to Kenton for a few years, Ann Richards has her fans and detractors as a singer. Many listeners feel that her best work was with the maestro's band. "The Thrill Is Gone" was recorded during the same sessions that produced one of the band's finest albums, Contemporary Concepts, so the band was in a good place musically and personally. Noto has a short solo, but the focus is on Richards, who does a good job with this difficult song.

January 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stan Kenton: The Opener

Kenton may not have been entirely comfortable with Bill Holman's musical direction, but he bought everything that Bill wrote for the band, and recorded an entire 10" LP featuring Holman's music. "The Opener" is relatively quiet at the beginning, but the musical lines weave in and out, engaging the listeners' ear immediately. Rosolino, Mariano and Noto solo (and Kenton comps nicely behind them, thank you). The beauty of Holman's writing for Kenton is his relaxed swing feel (even though these are almost even eighth notes), with the harmonic and linear advantages of all those horns to use. Kenton must have felt the proceedings were getting out of hand, for he disbanded soon after these recordings, and for his next few recording sessions used only his own arrangements.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Invention for Guitar and Trumpet

Kenton first heard of Willis Holman when Gene Roland played Stan a recording of a 12-tone contrapuntal blues that Bill had written during his years at Westlake College of Music. After Holman joined the band on tenor sax, Kenton asked him to write a piece for Ferguson and Salvador. Holman was never happy with "Invention," but it features virtuoso playing from both participants. Holman became an important contributor to the band over the years, writing many compositions that band members often requested, arrangements for vocalists, and unique takes on standards culminating in an album called Contemporary Concepts that was one of Kenton's all-time best.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: 23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West

The title denotes the coordinates for Cuba, and Russo would later say that this was one of his better pieces. George Roberts would suggest to Nelson Riddle that a variant of the percussive bass trombone line be used as a transition in the arrangement of "I've Got You Under My Skin" for Frank Sinatra. Also interesting is Russo's use of 7/4 time after Konitz's solo, and how it flawlessly switches back to 4/4 without calling attention to itself. Rosolino also solos in this track. A short trumpet solo for Candoli was cut, although Russo later restored it for his own Chicago Jazz Ensemble—then cut it again in later performances.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: Young Blood

Mulligan and Stan Kenton was an odd mix that didn't work out. Mulligan's music was light years away from Kenton's dynamic musical approach. (Kenton was always concerned that this type of music would make his band sound like Woody Herman's.) But the musicians loved Mulligan's charts and frequently requested his pieces during the last set of a gig. Candoli, Kamuca, Konitz and Childers have great solos, and the band really swings out. From his tenor sax chair, Bill Holman was listening carefully to Mulligan's linear writing and harmonic approach, and would write important pieces for Kenton soon after. Despite their differences, Kenton still played Mulligan's music as late as 1959.

January 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stan Kenton: Easy Go

During his "Innovations" period, Kenton would drop the strings between tours and play dance gigs to recoup the money he'd lost. He also continued to record singles, which he and Capitol Records hoped would sell so that he'd get airplay. "Easy Go" is another riff-based tune which got the dancers up on the floor and gave Rogers and Fitzpatrick a chance to blow.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Anita O'Day: Body and Soul

Although this version is dedicated to Coleman Hawkins, who made "Body and Soul" into one of the ultimate tenor-sax solo vehicles for decades, it is far from the spirit of Bean's historic 1939 rendering. Anita O'Day has way too much personality to be a copycat. With arranger Russell Garcia's help, she reshapes this standard with her vocal virtuosity. After singing the two "A" parts of the song and half of its famous bridge at a slow tempo, alone with the piano, she lets the orchestra in for a joyride of crazy phrasing, where she shows above-human ease with notes and words, before ending with a couple of bars of nonchalant, loose scat singing. It may have little to do with the dramatic content of the lyrics, but it's so classy that we aren't about to quibble over relevance.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sidney Bechet & Martial Solal: All The Things You Are

It must have seemed strange, in the late stages of a "war" between jazz traditionalists and supporters of the bop revolution, to pair a New Orleans-born veteran and an up-and-coming young virtuoso who was soon to become one of Europe's leading modern pianists. Plus a rhythm team that Martial Solal more than Sidney Bechet was familiar with, and which six months later would also support Miles Davis on the famed soundtrack of Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1958; released in the USA as Elevator to the Gallows). But Bechet was such an icon in his adopted homeland of France that he could afford to do anything and was revered by every musician. Here he basically stays very close to the melody, with his huge sound and plentiful vibrato, and lets Solal toy around with the harmonies in a playful, witty way that the pianist even uses when he comps behind his unwavering elder. Not much of an encounter, indeed, but still a very interesting example of musical co-tenancy.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lee Konitz & Jimmy Giuffre: Palo Alto

A flowing though rather abstract melody penned by Lee Konitz, wrapped in the smooth yet swinging arrangement of his partner Jimmy Giuffre, this spells cool jazz at its best. Konitz's sinewy alto blows its way through his solo with supreme, relaxed creativity while the airy sound of the four other reeds weaves a supple tapestry of refined countermelodies around it. The rhythm section, led by Bill Evans, is a model of fluidity and elegance, and the whole thing casts the discreet and intense glow of a gem in its velvet setting. This collective effort by Konitz, Giuffre and their colleagues is definitely one of the major achievements of the so-called "cool school."

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Au Bar du Petit Bac

As director Louis Malle projected scenes from Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1958), his film policier (released stateside as Elevator to the Gallows) about the perfect crime, foiled by imperfect luck, Miles Davis and four Parisian jazzmen sat in a darkened studio, watching Louis's loops and improvising per Miles's deliberately sketchy instructions. Most film scores take weeks to prepare and days to record. This took four hours. Trusted to work his own way, Miles repaid Malle's respect tenfold with a sparseness that accentuates the film's starkness. Most crime jazz blows you away with a bang, but Miles's hit-man silencer is equally deadly.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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