Lars Gullin: First Walk

This was the first of the "folk-inspired" compositions that Lars Gullin wrote, and notably where he says his major breakthrough as a writer occurred. His goal, oddly enough, was to write a tone poem depicting a child's first steps. When you listen to this innocent tune, you might notice Gullin tacks on and removes measures within the unfamiliar formal scheme, to great effect. Outside of Sweden, numerous critics took notice of Gullin's unique compositional voice, and he earned praise from Downbeat in 1954 as the Best New Artist on baritone saxophone. On "First Walk," however, the composer is heard anchoring the horns on bass clarinet.

March 13, 2009 · 0 comments


James Carter: Odyssey

James Carter doesn't create unconventional mash-ups of different styles just to be hip; he's adept at making these mélanges coherent. Take, for instance, the sleek blues of "Odyssey."

Henry Butler's brawny organ, bass pedals and all, steers the music closer to Rod Argent than to Jimmy Smith, while the odd lineup of bass clarinet, alto sax and muted trumpet hints at prewar jazz. At first, Carter and altoist Cassius Richmond play the thematic line together, and trumpeter Dwight Adams plays around it. Before long, the slick groove is interrupted by a breakdown moment where the song briefly falls apart into total freedom before quickly reforming again. After Butler solos, the horn players do so all at once, sounding like both Dixieland and avant-garde played over blues chords.

It may all seem strange, but "Odyssey" exudes cool, confident swagger, even when chaos lurks around the corner.

February 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Eric Dolphy (featuring Booker Little): Bee Vamp

Booker Little's "Bee Vamp" is an exercise in chordal suspension containing a back-and-forth between two short chord progressions. Little swings hard, sometimes with melancholy, but always technically astonishing and advanced in his harmonic conception. With his own solo, Eric Dolphy is practically rewriting the playbook on the bass clarinet, using its bawdy tone to walk the line between tonal and atonal. Waldron's piano being a little off-tune on the high notes has the unintended effect of adding to the overall slight dissonance of the song. Blackwell performs a vital function in holding together the rhythm through the 2-part line, and his traditional press roll adapts amazingly well to the highly modern style played on this date.

This song showcased the skills of a quintet traditionally structured while straining to break out of tradition. Had Little not tragically died a mere three months later, we might have seen the great promise made by this performance fulfilled. As it stands, "Bee Vamp" is a marvelous testament to the "new thing" going on in jazz at that time.

December 19, 2008 · 0 comments


David Murray & Mal Waldron: Soul Eyes

"Soul Eyes" is Mal Waldron's most famous composition, recorded by John Coltrane on Interplay for 2 Trumpets and 2 Tenors from 1957, and given a quasi-definitive interpretation by the same artist on the 1962 Coltrane LP. Here, a year before his death on December 2, 2002, Waldron collaborates with David Murray on a rich and wide-ranging exploration of "Soul Eyes," which is featured as the concluding track on the 2008 Justin Time duet release Silence. Over the course of 14 minutes, Murray and Waldron create a wondrous ebb-and-flow, moving from restrained lyricism to four-to-the-bar swing to pointillistic introspection before concluding with wide, sweeping bass clarinet lines over Waldron's aggressive pedal-point comping. A fitting memorial to a much missed artist.

July 24, 2008 · 0 comments


Gianluigi Trovesi: Now I Can

Gianluigi Trovesi is not only a great saxophone and clarinet player and one of the main historical figures of Italian Jazz in the last 40 years, he is also a consummate composer and arranger, and a fine humorist. This track bears witness to all the above in its dramatic construction (with a melodic theme hidden in the middle of a riff-based structure), its instrumentation (with the percussion and toys playing a high-pitched humoristic punctuation to the ensembles and solos by low-register instruments), the way it all swings in an infectious slow dancing manner, and finally the hilarious intrusion of Pino Minafra, grumbling some indescribable babble which might be the closest you can get to Southern Italian rap. Trovesi has had several midsize ensembles since '92 with rock, folk and baroque influences to them, but this one best shows the joyous side of his music. Some musicologist may trace this trend back to the old Italian musical tradition of scherzo, which literally means "joke" – a tradition that today's non-Italian musicians often seem unaware of.

July 23, 2008 · 0 comments


John Coltrane: Impressions

While I was on tour with McCoy Tyner in April 2008, I found this in a record shop in Basel, Switzerland. I’d never seen it before. This version of “Impressions” starts the concert. It’s at a slower tempo, almost like the tempo at which they played “So What” with Miles. It’s an amazing, short version of this tune with no solo by McCoy. I love the way they play the theme together and the way Eric answers and plays in the spaces of the melody. Coltrane plays around nine beautiful choruses, then Eric comes in and plays nine or ten choruses himself—some of the most beautiful Eric Dolphy with Coltrane on record. After Dolphy, Coltrane comes back in, and plays another two or three choruses before they take the theme out. You can feel that Coltrane was inspired just by having Dolphy on the scene. He hands it over to him in a way where he’s saying, “Okay, man, what have you got to say?” Then when Dolphy ends his chorus, Coltrane has to come in and play again because it’s at this beautiful place in the whole structure of the piece.

Coltrane came up in an era where you played in bands with other saxophone players a lot, and he recorded with a lot of different saxophone players. Some of it was documented—there was a great record with Johnny Griffin and Hank Mobley; he recorded with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims and Hank Mobley as a quartet; did a record on alto with Paul Quinichette, Pepper Adams, and Gene Ammons; and of course the sextet with Miles and Cannonball and the quintet with Cannonball—but I’m sure through the years he was in tons of bands, and many jam sessions and situations where you shape the music together spontaneously right at the moment with other saxophone players. Later, his collaborations with Pharaoh Sanders, Archie Shepp, and others really stand out as some really beautiful collaborative group explorations. Throughout his career, I think he enjoyed, as I do, feeding off other people, especially if they have a strong personality and ideas and have their own statement. So it was great to hear him with Dolphy and have Eric’s voice, not only on alto, but bass clarinet and flute.

June 25, 2008 · 0 comments


James Carter: Bro. Dolphy

Some artists try to maintain a single mood or attitude for an entire CD . . . or perhaps even an entire career. Not James Carter, who plays every instrument in the Horn Hall of Fame -- with total confidence and command, I should add -- and is equally eclectic in his choice of songs. His current release PresentTense finds him resurrecting tunes associated with Dodo Marmarosa, Stanley Turrentine and Django Reinhardt, to cite just three examples. But on this track Carter features his own composition, dedicated to Eric Dolphy, a piece which serves as an effective vehicle for Carter's admirable bass clarinet work. The song opens with a fast obstacle course over rapidly shifting changes, and the bandleader hurdles over the chords in gold medal fashion. But Carter, true to form, abruptly nixes the mood less than one minute into the track. We now are treated to a glowing Mingus-ish ballad that lingers for a while. We even have time to pour a drink, kick back and soak up the soulfulness. The whole band plays effectively here, but Carter's lengthy solo is the highlight of the track. However, don't enjoy his bass clarinet work too much, because that instrument soon goes back into its case, and we are off to the next horn exhibit in the Hall of Fame.

May 28, 2008 · 0 comments


Eric Dolphy: On Green Dolphin Street

With an almost tongue-in-cheek approach, the often dissonant Eric Dolphy lends his versatile talents to this unique and perhaps most endearing version of a 1947 classic song. Here he demonstrates his bass clarinet virtuosity. In the opening lines we hear an almost oom-pah bellow from the lowest register of this woody instrument. Dolphy, Byard, Tucker and Haynes set the background beat for the melody, which is played in brilliantly muted counterpoint by Freddie Hubbard. Dolphy then reiterates the melody on his unusual horn's upper register. The effect is startling. One almost feels this is a different instrument, such is the range of diverse sounds Dolphy summons from the depths of its core. After demonstrating his remarkable facility with a plethora of notes on a swinging solo, Dolphy yields to Hubbard, who plays a particularly nice muted, higher register trumpet solo with distinct bite, especially effective in contrast to Dolphy's cavernous sound. Following Tucker's short bass solo backed by the ever-so-discreet Haynes, the oom-pah bellow of Dolphy's bass clarinet returns before he again switches its sound to a stirring honking finale. Byard gently tinkles the ivories to close out this classic.

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Louis Sclavis: Duguesclin

Du Guesclin was a French knight from the Middle Ages, and the title of the tune must be related to the idea Sclavis has of him, since the melody vaguely alludes to medieval songs. But it will take almost half of the track before it is heard, since the bass clarinet first plays a long, partly oriental intro on a repetitive beat by the bass and drums. A typical way to build a heavy tension, then released during an upbeat ad-lib part, where keyboards and reeds interact in a rather abstract manner before the melody is restated. This was more or less Sclavis's hit tune at the end of the '80s, and it may sound a bit outdated now. But still, it shows the budding compositional skills of one of the most highly regarded European musicians.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments


Red Norvo: Dance of the Octopus

This strange piece of music sounds like . . . hmm, how about a dancing octopus? In a clever piece of program music, Norvo evokes an underwater mood with his lopsided melody, unusual instrumentation and startling arrangement. This masterpiece of cool jazz pushes beyond the typical confines of American popular music, circa 1933, and displays its avant-garde credentials proudly in every measure. The tenuous harmonies are reminiscent of "In a Mist," a version of which Norvo recorded at this same session, and "Dance of the Octopus" reminds us of what Bix Beiderbecke might have been doing had he lived longer. This is no mere novelty number, but true jazz chamber music of the highest order -- and proof that the cool aesthetic pioneered by Beiderbecke and Trumbauer in the 1920s still had adherents during the FDR years.

December 08, 2007 · 0 comments


John Coltrane: India

Coltrane began researching various world music sources around the time of his first leader dates, and culling certain melodies for his own exploration. His own philosophical ties brought him closely in touch with a rich musical heritage from the East. Inside the basement club set in Greenwich Village, the band journeys through sun-parched lands to an even more sacred place within themselves. The soprano sax-bass clarinet duet creates sensual pictures of a humid and dusty Indian landscape. The ascetic Coltrane moans and squeals his raw and blissfully un-manicured phrases with his characteristic depth.

November 11, 2007 · 0 comments


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