Eva Cassidy: Autumn Leaves

A ballad performance such as this one sounds magical, as if the singer is casting a secret spell of enchantment on the audience. But behind Eva Cassidy's magic is her mastery of the microtonal nuances, the nudges between the notes, the hesitations and anticipations in pitch and rhythm, the continuations and disjunctions in her melodic line . . . in short, the attention to small details that make possible the larger-than-life performance on the stage. The end result sounds natural and unaffected, a straight connectivity between the inner spirit and voice, but this very sense of ease is part of the marvelous construction.

If you didn't listen carefully here, you might be tempted to write off the "Cassidy sensation"—which resulted in the sale of eight million CDs following the singer's death at age 33—as a response to the sad story of the singer's abbreviated life rather than as a measure of her artistry. But don't be mistaken, Cassidy was a huge talent, whose obscurity during her lifetime was almost as much a tragedy as her early death. This song has been sung so often that only a visionary of the highest order could bring back a springtime freshness to these yellowing leaves of fall. Yet listen to Cassidy, her voice and guitar lines locking together in a perfect embrace, and you will think this music had just been created anew on the stage of Blues Alley in this now deservedly famous performance.

March 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Keith Jarrett: Autumn Leaves

The Keith Jarrett Standards Trio has recorded frequently, and maintained a high level of inspiration for more than a quarter of a century. But it is hard to top this 1986 live recording in Munich for sheer inspired interaction and unbridled intensity. There is much to admire here: the disjunctive rhythms, the simmering energy, the shifts in mood, and above all the ability for each player to stand tall and assert himself without rupturing the overall union of the three voices. Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette take on "Autumn Leaves" with the zeal of a S.W.A.T. team knocking down your front door. This is assault jazz of the highest order, and if they can do it to "Autumn Leaves" . . . well, I guess they can do it to about anything, huh?

January 27, 2009 · 1 comment


Ahmad Jamal: Autumn Leaves

It takes a special kind of artist to be able to take hackneyed songs and make them his own, but in fact, that’s what Ahmad Jamal does. He takes the chords and the melody—then deconstructs and interjects all his own ideas. I tried to play this arrangement with a bunch of different guys, and it never really came off. Obviously, I didn’t have Israel and Vernel, but part of the problem is that so many bassists and drummers in particular, who claim to be so into the Ahmad Jamal Trio, miss the very subtle elements that make the arrangement work. The fact is, most cats get bored playing arrangements. But Ahmad knew that arrangements were the way to go, at least for his conception, because it kept the audience drawn in to what he was doing.

May 09, 2008 · 1 comment


Wynton Kelly: Autumn Leaves

Wynton Kelly recorded only once with the Jazz Messengers – on an interesting 1957 session billed as The Jazz Messengers + 4 (released as Theory of Art and Second Edition 1957 ). Expanded to a nonet, this unique Messengers lineup featured Kelly and Art Blakey along with Lee Morgan, Sahib Shihab, Johnny Griffin and Cecil Payne, among others. Equally distinctive is this trio performance from the 1961 Birmingham Jazz Festival. After an extended unaccompanied intro, a whisper-soft rhythm section enters, but this is essentially a Kelly solo performance. His shifting between chordal expressions of the melody and his naturally soulful improvised lines make this track an excellent representation of Kelly's wide range of stylistic abilities.

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments


Sarah Vaughan: Autumn Leaves

The way Sarah Vaughan tackles this tune is so lively that one is surprised not to hear the audience cheer and applaud at the end, and to realize it's a studio recording. Produced by Sassy at that, who chose the songs and the musicians. This explains why she feels so at home with her rhythm section and Joe Pass, who alternates solos with her at such breakneck speed you'd bet it was a live performance. In this highly compatible setting, Sassy does something that few have done before: an up-tempo all-scat version of a song whose harmonies are like a scenic railway for the impressive range of her voice. No words, indeed, but a joy of singing that gives these "Autumn Leaves" an air of spring and youth, whose charm is hard to resist.

February 08, 2008 · 0 comments


Bireli Lagrene: Autumn Leaves

Bireli Lagrene was 25 at the time of this recording and already a guitar hero in the fields of fusion and gipsy jazz. Here, he wants to show his ability in another arena, and actually doesn’t let foreign influences interfere with his straight-ahead chops. Still, his choice is definitely high-speed linear virtuosity on the chords of a song whose melody he doesn’t even bother to quote once. Since his partners have no problem following him on this racetrack for quick fingers, the whole thing is rather impressive. But far from the original spirit, unless that autumn breeze was a hurricane.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments


Dave Liebman & Franco D'Andrea: Autumn Leaves

These two know their standards so well that they can choose to approach them from as many angles as they want. After Liebman tiptoes into the melody while D'Andrea comps a delicate, softly bouncing intro, this cat and mouse playing around the familiar chords carries on for more than seven minutes with no letup in inspiration. The soprano soars wildly while the piano builds rock-steady foundations in the low register, then hushes while its companion improvises in a dreamy yet earthy way. Liebman and D'Andrea know a lot about standards—and obviously about empathy and team playing, too.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Matthew Shipp: Autumn Leaves

Matthew Shipp’s trio absolutely deconstructs “Autumn Leaves.” Shipp, who likes to rumble around on the lower end of the piano, makes no bones about his intentions – he is going to make this well-worn standard his own. And he does. If nothing else, “Autumn Leaves” puts the raw power of his trio on full display. Shipp, William Parker and Susie Ibarra obfuscate and otherwise confuse the melody, and yet the result – for all its blocky chords and unyielding, stick-in-your-eye improvisation – is a thing of ugly beauty. Shipp has tried over the years to remake the piano trio in his image, and with “Autumn Leaves” he demonstrates just how dangerous it can be.

October 29, 2007 · 1 comment


Bill Evans: Autumn Leaves (1959 - take two)

Four years after Roger Williams’s vertiginously arpeggiated #1 hit, Bill Evans redid “Autumn Leaves” with vertigo supplied by his sideman. This session marked the recording debut of Evans's startlingly original trio featuring Scott LaFaro, the Earl Scruggs of acoustic bass. The interplay between Evans and LaFaro is astounding, but so is the robustness of Evans's playing. Weighing in at the tail end of 1959, this came just in time to stand as the decade's finest jazz piano trio recording.

Caveat: In 1960, without explanation, Riverside simultaneously released Take 1 (5:54) on the stereo LP and a shorter, superior Take 2 (5:19) on the otherwise identical mono LP, spawning decades of confusion. As recently as 2001, for its newly remastered 20-bit A/D converter with digital K2 interface (whatever that means) CD reissue, Riverside compounded the confusion by listing Take 2's timing as 3:19 instead of 5:19, as if such matters were too trivial to get straight. Lord have mercy!

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments


Cannonball Adderley: Autumn Leaves

Because Somethin’ Else was recorded not long after Cannonball Adderley joined the Miles Davis Sextet, there was speculation that Davis was actually the leader on the session. Indeed, after the introduction to “Autumn Leaves,” which is based on the intro that Davis-favorite Ahmad Jamal often used, it is Davis who carries the haunting melody throughout with his signature Harmon-muted trumpet. Adderley’s contribution is his lengthy improvisation, which in itself is sufficient to recommend the track as an example of the altoist’s seemingly boundless imagination, great sensitivity, and irrepressible sense of swing.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments


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