Stan Getz: I Can't Get Started

Stan Getz wasn’t exactly prolix, preferring to let his Selmer MarkVI do the talking for him. But on the occasions when he did speak, he revealed a dry, edgy wit. Paraphrasing a line from Tony Bennett’s signature tune, he tells the audience at the Montmarte Club, “I left my heart in Copenhagen,” eliciting a round of enthusiastic applause. Then he adds, “I said the same thing last night in Stockholm.” The Danes would forgive his teasing as he opened the next number with a languid, sultry intro, the bridge of “I Can’t Get Started,” setting up a hypnotic interpretation of the timeless ballad.

In this flawless performance the trio backs each note of his breathtaking solo with perfect understanding, the changes seemingly suspended in time and space as they transition seamlessly between twos and a relaxed walking swing. Then Getz demonstrates his generosity and respect by turning the rest of the number over to Kenny Barron, who delivers inspired, delicate piano effusions. The interconnectivity between Lewis, Reid and Barron comes close to telepathy, with punctuating bass and drums hanging on nearly every crystalline note, until a rubato ending gently settles the whole affair back on terra firma.

This is a prime example of why jazz should never lose its function as a live art. What you are hearing in this track is the spontaneous creation of a masterpiece by five highly evolved players. Yes, you heard right, five: one sax man, one pianist, one bassist, one drummer- and one living, breathing, appreciative audience. We must never forget the importance of this relationship.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wynton Marsalis: Black Codes

Say what you want about Wynton Marsalis the person but Wynton Marsalis the trumpeter, especially during the 1980s, played with an assurance that I've hardly ever heard from any player since. On his 1985 album Black Codes (From the Underground), Marsalis was still playing with brother Branford and Jeff "Tain" before they left to join Sting's band and the energy level is high as ever on the title track. Opening with sharp hits from the master Kenny Kirkland, the band evokes the sounds of old with great swing. I really like how Tain brings the band back and forth between hip-hop groove and swing. The melody is also interesting on this song, it's very angular and disjointed but also pleasurable on the ear.

Wynton plays a rivoting solo, full of squeaks and wonderful nuance. The most driving part of this band was always the thunderous power of Jeff "Tain" Watts, who could make anyone sound good. This track is a strong testament to the legacy of Wynton's music. Even though he manages to drive a lot of people crazy, I think we should focus on the music and then we might have less to say about him as a person. A great track from one of the most celebrated quintets of the last forty years. Cheers!

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Chris Connor: Let's Face The Music and Dance

What makes the 1986 Classic one of Chris Connor's best albums was probably best summed up by the vocalist herself at the time: "I haven't changed my approach, although my voice has gotten deeper and stronger, and I don't experiment as much." Her smoky, deceptively languid tone is still evident, but her aggressive approach on the very first track, "Let's Face the Music and Dance," is anything but the reserved "cool" of her well-known sides from the '50's, such as "all About Ronnie," "Lush Life," and "Lullaby of Birdland," or even that of the warmly emotional "Laura" or "Blame it on My Youth" on Classic.

Perhaps it's partly due to Richard Rodney Bennett's killer arrangement and the zesty horns of Paquito D'Rivera and Claudio Roditi, but Connor soars on "Let's Face the Music and Dance" as she has rarely done on record, particularly on the repeat chorus, where she thrillingly sings the words "teardrops to shed" by jumping up an octave from the first to the second syllable of "teardrops," and then hitting and holding a resonating low note on "shed." Other highlights of this action-packed merely 2½ minute performance include Connor's opening captivating duet with Rufus Reid's walking bass, the piercing and sizzling miniature solo spots by D'Rivera and Roditi, and the rather jolting written horn motifs inserted here and there, most fervidly at the very end. This is a consummate work of art that draws you back for further tastings.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Eddie Harris & Ellis Marsalis: Deacceleration

This refreshing recording session featuring the Chicago-born Eddie Harris and the New Orleans native Ellis Marsalis took place in 1985. Having worked successfully as a duo in a New Orleans club in the mid-eighties, the two successfully duplicate the alchemy of their live performances in this studio session. The lack of a rhythm section in no way diminishes the effectiveness of this session, relying instead on Marsalis’s creative use of variations of tempo and attack in his accompaniment. On the Harris composition "Deacceleration", the two show an affinity that is palpable, playing off each other’s spontaneous ideas. Building in and out of dramatic tension in this clever composition, Marsalis sets the stage for the incendiary saxophonist, who enters in his squealing high-register attack mode. In the reprise, they build to an impressive peak, then segue into a softened refrain which moves from a lulling, reflective stillness into a poignant, fading cry. Thankfully, this gem gets a second chance for renewed appreciation.

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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George Adams-Dannie Richmond: More Sightings

No, this was not a Charles Mingus tribute band. Mingus Dynasty had taken on that responsibility right after Mingus's death in 1979. However, the adventurous spirit of Mingus lived on in this quintet as well, made up as it was of four Mingus alumni—Dannie Richmond (23 years), Jimmy Knepper (6), George Adams (4), and Hugh Lawson (briefly in the mid-'70's). Perhaps not quite as dynamic as the the better-known group Adams co-led with another Mingus sideman, Don Pullen, this Adams-Richmond unit also produced its fair share of provocative music.

Adams' tune "More Sightings" is played in unison by tenor and trombone, a rousing theme that alternates between smooth linear passages and jabbing machine-gun like bursts. The fiery, earthy style of Adams is on full display during his solo, as he varies his attack incessantly and yet always keeps the composition's harmonic structure in sight. Knepper responds with a gruff but nimble exploration of his own. Lawson's lively, boppish solo makes you appreciate once again this largely unheralded and forgotten pianist. Richmond then expertly delineates the components of the theme, bringing it to life percussively with nary a wasted drum stroke. This was an ensemble with a distinctive sound, comprised of players who possessed strikingly individual styles.

July 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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David Murray: I Want to Talk About You

Tenor saxophonist David Murray puts his lush, Ben Webster-ish ballad tone to good use on "I Want to Talk About You," singer/composer Billy Eckstine's re-working of Erroll Garner's "Misty." Accompanied by a top-drawer straight-ahead rhythm section (John Hicks on piano, Ray Drummond on bass, and Ralph Peterson, Jr. on drums), Murray ratchets down his free jazz inclinations in favor of a melodic, relatively conservative approach. That's not to say he's simply running the changes; he makes his share of oddball melodic choices, but they're sensitively rendered and contextually sound. He walks the harmonic tightrope with focused assurance. His improvisation is finely nuanced, its twists and turns constantly surprising. John Hicks lends additional elegance, while Drummond and Peterson goad and submit in just the right proportion. A lovely performance.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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George Adams & Don Pullen Quartet: Dionysus

Three out the four members of the George Adams/Don Pullen Quartet died in middle age: drummer Dannie Richmond in 1988 at age 52, saxophonist Adams in 1992 at 51, and pianist Pullen in 1995 at 53. As a result, the band had a regrettably short life. It was nevertheless one of the greatest jazz groups of the '70s and '80s. To a degree greater than perhaps any other band of its time, the group was able to cohere the various strands of jazz's development in creating a seamlessly modern music—state of the jazz art in all its multifaceted glory.

Drummer Richmond's tune "Dionysus" begins as a relaxed, quasi-latin vamp—almost a ballad. It gives the band ample room to stretch its collective imagination and build to ever-greater levels of intensity. On tenor, Adams carries the repetitive, quietly riff-ish melody; Pullen's increasingly dissonant accompaniment gains momentum on the bridge, and we're given a hint of the maelstrom to follow. Adams solo gets very "out" very quickly, as the rhythm section reacts in kind. Pullen follows, wasting little time on pleasantries. He digs right in—fingers, fists, forearms, and all. Richmond and Brown ground the performance while letting it breathe. The performance heats up and cools off naturally; the musicians are extraordinarily simpatico. That sense of common purpose shared by four gifted and unique musicians results in something special.

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaco Pastorius: Soul Intro/The Chicken

If Jaco Pastorius is ever remembered for one composition, it's probably going to be "The Chicken." This song was originally written by James Brown sideman Pee Wee Ellis, but Jaco officially made it his anthem. This is one of those songs a kid learns as an aspiring musician, not only because it's fun to play but because it is a perfect facilitator for learning funk music.

This tune opens up with the soul introduction, which borrows heavily from the Saturday Night Live sound. Pastorius hired a stellar ensemble for this show, which was recorded live at Mr. Pips in Ft. Lauderdale. Jaco thumps away on this song, playing some of the most influential funk bass lines in the history of bass lines. I know so many people that have learned this bass line note for note that I can't even begin to make a list (I'm also one of those people). It's sad that this live recording came on the heel of Jaco's mental deterioration but it proves that Pastorius was one of the best that ever did it. This is a perfect song, hence the perfect score.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jaco Pastorius: Crisis

On this opening cut from his 1980 album Word of Mouth, Pastorius and company explode with a gigantic burst of musical energy. This is one of the fastest, most consistent bass lines I've ever heard in my life. When Jaco starts, he doesn't stop at all. I don't know how a human being conjures up the dexterity to play what Jaco played but it's almost like his hands have found a way to circular breathe. Herbie Hancock adds some really good harmonic textures, striking the piano with both rage and power. The tenor playing of Brecker and Shorter unfourtunately drown out the flute of Hubert Laws but the flute is probably the least interesting part of this song anyways.

I always say this, but I really wish this particular line-up would have recorded more. The group is so expressive and has no problem playing any style of jazz, whether fusion, straight ahead, or free. Another great song from one of the greatest human beings to have ever touched the electric bass guitar. Salud! Salud!

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: 4 a.m.

The 1980s proved to be a very interesting time for Jaco Pastorius. Although it proved to be the last decade of his short life, he still managed to record and made memorable appearances on other musicians' albums. Herbie Hancock's "4 a.m." is a gem featured on his 1980s album Mr. Hands. Hancock and Pastorius lock in like they've been playing for years, well I guess they had technically, but it would have been nice to hear more of this group. The song opens up with a little vamp, introduction section before Hancock introduces the melody on the synthesizer. This song has some nice harmonic variations as well. Pastorius and Harvey Mason also lock in well with each other. There's a nice B section on the song where Jaco plays his chorus-driven bass lightly and with a lot of feeling before Hancock takes it to the laundry mat with his solo. Mr. Hands, goes certain places musically that have me scratching my head but "4 a.m." is the exception. A+.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Walter Davis, Jr.:Criss Cross

Walter Davis, Jr. had an imposing, physically intense presence about him, not to mention a schooled, totally absorbing bop-based piano style. Few could interpret Bud Powell or Thelonious Monk tunes better than he. He played and recorded with Charlie Parker in the early '50's, befriended both Powell and Monk, and had various stints in the bands of Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey. However, Davis's promising 1959 debut album as leader for Blue Note did not lead to many others under his own name before his death in 1990 at age 57. Davis's tribute CD to Monk, In Walked Thelonious, was recorded in 1987 but was released shortly after his death. It remains one of the crowning achievements of his career.

The pianist claimed that he was visited by Monk's spirit, which offered him advice and encouragement during the process of preparing for and then recording the 14 Monk compositions he played at these sessions. When pianist Dwike Mitchell heard the resulting tapes, he commented, "What's on this tape is not Walter, it's Monk playing through Walter's hands." Be that as it may, Davis created concise, to-the-point versions of these Monk selections, including the trickiest ones like "Criss Cross." He begins "Criss Cross" by bluntly introducing the unorthodox, finger-busting melody. Davis uncannily captures Monk's semi-dissonant sound and whimsical undercurrent, but his tone, dazzling runs, and thumping left-hand accentuations all take on a definite Powell quintessence in his brief solo. By the time Davis is reiterating the theme, one realizes that while Monk and Powell are unmistakably present during this 2½-minute miniature, no one but Davis could quite capture those two pianists' styles so well in one piece and still bring so much of his own soul and personality to the mix.

June 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Denny Zeitlin: Broadway Blues

Denny Zeitlin has long had an affinity for the music of Ornette Coleman, and he is one of several pianists (others including Paul Bley, Walter Norris, Keith Jarrett, Joachim Kuhn, and Geri Allen) who have best assimilated Coleman’s musical language. He has recorded several Coleman works, including “Lonely Woman,” “Bird Food,” and “Turnaround”.

Zeitlin and bassist David Friesen (b. 1942) collaborated productively for over a decade, and this blistering version of Coleman’s “Broadway Blues” shows the duo at their best. The piece is a blues in intent rather than conventional twelve-bar form (in Coleman’s typically idiosyncratic fashion). Zeitlin and Friesen take the theme apart and explore it from a variety of angles— in effect, deconstructing Coleman’s deconstruction.

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Denny Zeitlin and Charlie Haden: Ellen David

If Denny Zeitlin and Charlie Haden had played at Bradley’s, the well-remembered Greenwich Village haven for piano/bass duos, this is how they would have sounded. As is, this album memorably documents a reunion of Zeitlin and Haden for a week at San Francisco’s likewise well-remembered Keystone Korner.

“Ellen David” is Haden’s simple sixteen-bar ballad (with a coda at the end), a sort of latter-day “My Ideal”. The duo’s performance is appropriately spare, but it’s so well grounded that every beat has meaning. As the late bassist Red Mitchell aptly put it, “Simple isn’t easy.”

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: Seven

A profoundly beautiful composition by Carla Bley, brought to life patiently and selflessly by Paul Bley, John Surman, Bill Frisell, and Paul Motian. Listening to this feels a bit like entering a slow-motion dreamworld where the laws of physical reality (such as gravity) are flexible and open to creative reinterpretation. Sublime. It reminds me of a quote by Charles Mingus: "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity."

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Paul Bley: Line Down

An intensely dramatic piece from the quartet of Paul Bley, John Surman, Bill Frisell, and Paul Motian. The individual solos here are of great, of course, but what really has me in awe is the unbelievably synergistic group dynamic. Listen to the comping by Bley and Frisell during Surman's solos, as well as to the way that Motian's drumming propels and connects everything. There are also a number of times when no one person is soloing, and everyone is working together collectively to build tension instead. The ending is especially haunting; I get chills every single time I hear it.

June 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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