"The Golden Striker" was a staple of the Modern Jazz Quartet's live repertoire, and this rousing version adds a sheen of perfection to it. On this rendition, it sounds as if the improvisations are meant to remain in check, as, though Milt Jackson generally plays solos that compliment the arrangement, the boundaries are not bent in any significant way. However, this does not take away from the power of the music; Jackson's vibes and John Lewis' intricate piano fills consume the spaces in the upper registers while Connie Kay's trebly percussion chimes in.
Because of this, things do sound quite "golden," as the title implies, and, as Jackson strikes his vibraphone keys with sympathetic pads, the sustain that he and Lewis are able to generate throughout this concert recording helps the composition and this subsequent rendition remain both fluid and luminous. Recordings of the MJQ are usually not as commercial as other competing chart entries from their day from the likes of Dave Brubeck and Cal Tjader, but this particular tune sounds like it could have competed well. It is not as challenging as usual for the group, but the simplicity allows a different side of the MJQ to shine.
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.
Unlike Bobby Timmons' righteous "Moanin'" recorded the previous year by The Jazz Messengers
, Mingus's "Moanin'" is terrifying. Baritonist Adams's deep burps evoke a prehistoric beast who's just devoured some unsuspecting caveman. As a bandleader, presiding over an ensemble that frequently verges on chaos, Mingus is always in control. As a composer, his range is astounding. He could effortlessly segue from bebop to gospel to flamenco, then from scathing protests vilifying all-American heels such as Faubus to happy homages venerating African-American heroes such as Jelly Roll Morton. "Moanin'" is an investigation of danger by a uniquely qualified artist. By any measure, indispensable.
October 26, 2007 · 1 comment
by Herb Snitzer
It’s difficult not to think of that Volkswagen commercial as Charles Mingus reels off that familiar loop of bass notes 50 seconds into “Haitian Fight Song,” because the song does indeed feel like a car bearing down on the open road. But it’s much more than that. Mingus plucks alone, thoughtfully, for more than a minute, telling us this is serious business. At 1:04 a tambourine begins to shake, and at 1:10 Dannie Richmond first hits his cymbal and Jimmy Knepper begins blowing into the trombone. By 1:30 the groove is firmly established, and before the 2-minute mark the studio is erupting in celebratory squeals and bashes. And there’s still 10 minutes left in the song! The tempo slows, the tempo speeds up, the tempo slows again and marches and finds its groove once more. Yeah, it’s got great songwriting and solos, but listen closely: “Haitian Fight Song” is also a complete narrative. One might even call it aural history.
Ornette Coleman’s pianoless quartet stunned the jazz world when they opened at the Five Spot in New York in 1959. Their open and free sound defied harmonic and rhythmic conventions, leaving listeners either bewildered or thrilled, but captivated regardless. Don Cherry sounds like no previous trumpeter. His stuffy tone and questionable technique are compensated by the freshness of his ideas. There is a sense of discovery in all he plays and he continually surprises, leaving the listener hanging on every note—waiting eagerly to see what he will do next. A unique soloist on a groundbreaking album.
Kirk’s tenure with Mingus lasted only a few months, but the relationship was sympathetic and yielded a classic recording in “Ecclusiastics.” The title, strictly speaking, lacks a definition, but it looks like a word that means “priests,” only tweaked, and that’s how the piece sounds—sacred but unhinged. Mingus leads from the piano, his vocals guiding the band through the episodic structure, from contrite confession to affirming exhortation, and finally, ecstatic wail. The climactic passages of Kirk’s triumphant solo feature him playing three horns at once, and his improvisation has a rare inevitability—you memorize it like a pop melody. Impossible to imagine it played any other way.
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