Pepper Adams: Valse Celtique

After the beautiful solo piano intro, the entrance of the rest of the band sounds a bit like a pack of bulls charging into an arena. Well, hasn't Pepper Adams been nicknamed "the Knife" because of his way of soloing? That's what he does here, with vigor and stamina, and except for the mild Flanagan, his colleagues all sound more like fiery Celts than like waltz buffs. But who's afraid of a bit of roughness at the hands of such high-class improvisers?

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan: Catch As Catch Can

It takes cheek to show up in New England on the Fourth of July sporting a red blazer. Yet as shown by Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Bert Stern's documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, Gerry Mulligan had cheek aplenty. Less than two hours' ride from Lexington and Concord, the red-coated redhead charged in leading his pianoless quartet, a formation he'd commanded for most of the 1950s. Significantly, though, this edition was so raw that Farmer, Crow and Bailey had by then engaged in but a single rehearsal with the lanky baritonist. To make matters worse, Mulligan's musical material was as ill-chosen as his uniform color. Disdaining the sound advice of 1957's teen hit "Rock and Roll Music," Mulligan tries to play his tricky, up-tempo original "As Catch Can" too darn fast—Chuck Berry's only kick, after all, against modern jazz. Raggedness predictably ensues. Indeed, a short drum break following Farmer's leadoff solo so boggles the beat that the band sputters like an engine about to stall. Mulligan quickly takes charge, wresting the engine back on track through the sheer willpower of his playing. It's an impressive rescue, but doesn't absolve the redcoat general of under-drilling his green troops. To hear how "As Catch Can" was meant to be executed, check out the same group's spit-&-polish studio performance recorded five months later.

April 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan & Paul Desmond: Battle Hymn of the Republican

Who else but frustrated Democrat Paul Desmond could come up with a title as witty as this? Besides being Dave Brubeck's longtime sideman, the altoist who strove to sound "like a dry martini" was known for such quips as: "I have won several prizes as the world's slowest alto player, as well as a special award in 1961 for quietness." This collaboration with Gerry Mulligan had long been desired by both men, and the result was well worth the wait. The track is really just straight improvisation on "Tea for Two" changes, but the co-leaders' remarkable rapport elevates it to a higher level. Desmond takes the lead initially with Mulligan providing inventive counterpoint, which then evolves into short, cogent exchanges before Mulligan solos, Benjamin's throbbing bass egging him on. Mulligan primarily takes mini-motifs and expands them with subtle alterations. Desmond solos next with a more biting attack than usual – definitely neither dry, slow nor quiet – his lyrical development containing more extended and intricate lines than Mulligan's. Near the end of Desmond's solo, Mulligan complements Benjamin's basslines with additional effective counterpoint. After Benjamin's deft solo, the two horns engage in an absorbing dual improvisation, their creative phrases intertwining in delightful harmony.

Apparently we owe it to sand that Desmond, the English major, became a musician instead of a writer. As he explained it, "I could only write at the beach, and I kept getting sand in my typewriter." Literature's loss was jazz's gain.

April 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nick Brignola: Tears Inside

The late Nick Brignola was an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, but it was on his main instrument – the baritone sax – that he most impressed. Possessing a striking solidity and clarity of tone from the top to bottom of the big horn, along with exceptional improvisational skills in almost any context, Brignola is among the baritone sax greats. On one of his best CDs, made up mostly of standards, the early Ornette Coleman blues "Tears Inside" stands out. The original version had Percy Heath and Shelly Manne rather conventionally locked in rhythm-wise. If only Ornette had Holland and DeJohnette (or, of course, Haden and Higgins) to interact with, as Brignola does here. Brignola plays the classic line with just Holland's simpatico bass support, the baritone's resounding tone, especially in the lower register, grabbing the listener. As Nick begins his wailing, prancing solo, DeJohnette joins in with rhythmically diverse commentary, and finally Barron's piano enters as Brignola continues his unflagging creation. After Barron's gliding solo, sax and piano effectively take the theme out together.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk & Gerry Mulligan: 'Round Midnight

Producer Orrin Keepnews always did a brilliant job of putting his star musicians into interesting settings that tended to display new facets of their talent. As a result, the Monk recordings on Riverside represent a far more vital body of work than the later releases the pianist made when he switched to a major label. But matching Monk with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan was an especially daring move. The folks at eHarmony would never approve. Who would think that the "High Priest of Bop" (as Monk was sometimes known at the time) and the fair-haired boy of the cool school (who made his reputation by getting rid of the piano in his band) could connect on the same wavelength? But judging by the results, Monk and Mulligan get along like carrots and peas. The opening is mostly cool school restraint, but the intensity ratchets up over the course of the song, and by the time we get to the final melody restatement, Monk is at his most dissonant. Mulligan seems to thrive on this battlefield, where the comping chords come flying like shrapnel. A peculiar moment in the discographies of both musicians, but a great date by any measure.

December 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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James Carter: 'Round Midnight

On his CD The Real Quietstorm, James Carter plays baritone sax . . . and tenor sax, alto sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet and bass flute. And plays them well. Of course, such versatility is rarely rewarded in the jazz world. Rahsaan Roland Kirk is hardly ever mentioned these days when jazz aficionados talk about great flautists or great tenor saxophonists -- and his constant switching back and forth among a dozen or so horns no doubt contributes to fans' difficulty in pigeonholing him. The same might be said of Benny Carter, who may have been the greatest alto sax soloist of his generation, but would also be found gigging on trumpet or piano or trombone or writing big band charts. Now we have another Carter whose multifaceted talent resists easy generalization. This baritone sax interpretation of "'Round Midnight" rivals in quality the version that Gerry Mulligan made in his celebrated session with Monk, but its style is far different. The baritone is the linebacker among jazz horns, and Carter brings out all of its muscular attributes. And I love his sound on the instrument. Imagine what he could do if he just focused on bari? Fat chance!

December 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan: A Ballad

As chief arranger and co-principal soloist, Gerry Mulligan helped deliver Miles Davis's obstetric triumph Birth of the Cool (1949-50). Three years later and on the opposite coast, Mulligan added a second trumpet and baritone sax to the 1950 BOTC octet lineup for an ad hoc "Tentette" that proved nearly as influential as the earlier band. Gerry contributes a lovely solo to this track, but its appeal is his gorgeous arrangement, answering Gil Evans's miraculous "Moon Dreams" chart for BOTC. "A Ballad" is deficient only in its title—rather like naming your newborn "A Baby." Otherwise it's three minutes of perfection.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dr. Lonnie Smith: Scream

This live date is one of the more exciting soul-jazz records in the Blue Note catalog. Underappreciated organist Lonnie Smith leads the charge through this extended 18-bar jam, during which all soloists dive headfirst into the blues. Not only will listeners find an array of catchy blues licks, but some fine melodically inspired playing as well. Cuber’s slick and soulful choruses are the highlight, as he displays deft control of his big baritone. Dukes and Jones keep the energy high, layering polyrhythms that allow the groove to remain loose and elastic. Beware—this funk is contagious, but catching it will be worth it.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Serge Chaloff: The Goof and I

A study in tragedy, Serge Chaloff’s life was cut short just as a promising career was taking off. A tremendously gifted baritonist who was championed by Stan Kenton and George Wein, Chaloff struggled to kick a heroin habit that held him back for several years. Blue Serge was only the second session Chaloff led before being knocked down by an inoperable tumor. His version of Al Cohn’s “The Goof and I” vividly illustrates Chaloff’s technical brilliance, easily on a par with Gerry Mulligan for creativity and facility. The all-star rhythm section ably backs the baritonist through some fairly heinous bebop twists.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lars Gullin: Danny's Dream

Gullin is notably the first Swedish jazz musician to compose with an authentically Nordic accent. During the year his quintessential composition “Danny’s Dream” was recorded, the Down Beat Critic’s Poll voted him Best New Star on his instrument. As the first foreigner to get this recognition, he showed fans that there was more to foreign jazz than Django Reinhardt. Some critics later grumbled that Gullin’s work was “goatherd’s jazz,” but musicians like Stan Getz and Lee Konitz, among others, acknowledged him as a uniquely gifted artist.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan: Festive Minor

Received wisdom has long held that Gerry Mulligan's 1958-1959 quartet with Art Farmer was superior to his original pianoless quartet with Chet Baker because Farmer was a better trumpeter than Baker. Certainly Art's assurance on 1959's "Festive Minor" puts to shame Chet's fumbling on Gerry's 1957 "Festive Minor." What this overlooks, however, is Mulligan's maturation as a baritonist. Never a threat to musclemen such as Harry Carney and Pepper Adams, by the late '50s this lanky redhead was no longer a 98-pound weakling who got sand kicked in his face at the beach. Now Gerry did his own quiet kicking.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan: Blueport


          Gerry Mulligan
     photo by Herb Snitzer

This track boasts a rare solo by Willie Dennis, a rugged individualist during a period when J.J. Johnson dominated jazz trombone. But "Blueport" is most memorable for a droll, up-tempo exchange in which maestro Mulligan and trumpeter Terry trade quotes from songs bearing U.S. place names. Displaying wits as quick as their instrumental techniques, Gerry and Terry visit "Chicago," then get the "St. Louis Blues"; venture "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" but go back home again to "Indiana"; and kick their heels from "42nd Street" to "Broadway." Need evidence that jazzmen are both smart and funny? Mark this Exhibit A.

October 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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