Bill Evans: Lullaby for Helene

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

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

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Soiree

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

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

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: One and One

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

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

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: Absolutions

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

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: Up From the Skies

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

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: Zee Zee

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

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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David Eyges: The Captain

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

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

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Archie Shepp: Hipnosis

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

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

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Modern Jazz Quartet: The Cylinder

The Modern Jazz Quartet's "The Cylinder" is constructed around a single chord, and the form does not change until Milt Jackson has exhausted his full canon of effervescent sounding vibraphone riffs. As he solos, the other musicians keep things low key, matching him note for note and pulse for pulse with terrific timing. As Jackson swings, the music comes alive even though it is controlled fiercely by the others.

Halfway through, Milt steps aside and gives pianist John Lewis some breathing room to improvise over a brand new chord sequence that changes up the main key. Jackson adds some dissonance in the background, which is quite deviant from the general use of the vibraphone in modern jazz music.

So, to summarize, the first half is a rather normal swinging jam led by Milt Jackson's good vibes, and the second half features some improvisation anchored by pianist John Lewis while the chords are modulated upwards so that somewhat unrelatied variations to the main theme are added to the multi-part chord sequence. The ensemble playing is solid, and it is certain that the musicians are intrinsically feeding each other with ideas that all seem to deviate far from the established norm.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joni Mitchell: The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines

I never really understood how good Mitchell was at singing jazz numbers, but she really shines on this song. Her vocal phrasing sounds like she's been seeing jazz exclusively, for years. Jaco Pastorius steals the show for me though on this blues song written by Charles Mingus. Mingus originally wanted to work with Mitchell after hearing her album Don Juan's Reckless Daughter and I think that it speaks volumes that a legend like Mingus chose to work with Mitchell. Wayne Shorter's soprano playing on this track is some of his finest. This song is steadily driven by Jaco and Erskine who lay down a great rhythm track for Mitchell.

This song represents another fine collaboration between Jaco and Joni and further testifies to his prowess as a bassist and her power as a vocalist. I give this song a super ten thumbs up!

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Weather Report: River People

This is the Weather Report album that was famously dismissed by Down Beat magazine and given a one star rating. I really find it hard to believe that the critics simply couldn't get past their own egos and really listen to the music on this album (even if it was a little bit more danceable). Written by Jaco, this song has one of the more funky bass lines on the whole album and he also plays drums and timpani on the song. Pastorius was originally a drummer but switched to the bass because of a sporting accident. He sounds complete as a drummer and the track doesn't miss a beat between his bass playing and drumming. My favorite thing about this track is the hand claps. I think they are very indicative of the influence of disco and electronic music on fusion.

No Weather Report song would be complete without the dynamic duo of Zawinul and Shorter. Shorter screeches on the horn while Zawinul plays the melody and some nice pad textures. Zawinul in essence rounds out the song with his synthesizer work here. All in all, another solid track form one of jazz music's strongest groups.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: Omaha Celebration

This was always one of my favorite songs from this album. I remember the first time I heard it and I couldn't help but wonder with astonishment how Metheny played the way he did at the age of 22. The music to this song is very fitting to the title of the song. The interaction between the group on this album solidifies why this is one of the purest trio jazz albums recorded during the post 1960s. Pastorius is very subdued on this song but he also sounds mature beyond his age, playing simple but effective bass movements that clearly establish and maintain the pocket.

In a little over 4 minutes, Metheny, Pastorius, and Moses, play enough great music that I want to pack my bags and see what Nebraska is all about. I highly recommend this track for anyone that wants to dig deeper than the title track on this album.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: Missouri Uncompromised

On this high swinging number from Pat Metheny's landmark debut, Bright Size Life, he finds himself in immaculate company with Pastorius on bass and Bob Moses on drums. Pastorius anchors this song with a drive and determination that very few bass players during this time could have done. Metheny displays his strong melodic virtuosity on this song, running up and down the neck of the guitar at break neck speed. Bob Moses also holds it down, playing a contagious swing pattern and adds some nice accents underneath the solo action. Another great track from a stellar, unforgettable album. Pastorius and company are in their prime on this one!

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaco Pastorius: Come On, Come Over

This is the only song off of Jaco Pastorius to feature vocals and like all of the other guest spots on the album, the bassist hired more legendary musicians to fill the spots. R&B duo Sam and Dave sing the vocal on this tune. Although this is not the most dense of songs, it marks one of the first times that Pastorius used an extended brass and reed section, which he would later employ with the Word of Mouth band. His horn section is also chalked full of some of the best players to ever have played jazz music.

Pastorius had a strong affinity for funk music and that influence is highly audible on this song. Herbie Hancock really brings the entire groove together with this wah-wah clavinet chord pattern. I really like the arrangements for the horn section and I think that Sam and Dave would have benefited nicely from an entire album with this band. Another classic song from a classic album!

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaco Pastorius: Opus Pocus

Jaco Pastorius composed a hypnotic groove for this song, complete with steel drums, an instrument which he also played some. Othello Molineaux, who performed with Pastorius on numerous occasions, starts this song off with some help from Leroy Williams who also plays steel drum. Wayne Shorter enters next with a soprano sax line that sounds just as funky and deranged as the bass line. But the best part of the song ensues as Pastorius busts into a head nodding bass line and Shorter follows suit with one of my favorite solos he's ever recorded. He effortlessly cascades up and down the register of the instrument with perfect intonation and control.

The song ends with a nice little section where the steel drums play a syncopated figure underneath Shorter's improvisations, which are further enhanced by Jaco's bass thumps and harmonic shape movements up and down the neck of the bass. This is one of the funkiest songs my ears have ever heard and I would beg anyone to disagree with me.

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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