Bud Powell: Un Poco Loco

On “Un Poco Loco,” Max played one of the greatest beats ever on a jazz recording, in the same category as the beat Vernell Fournier plays on “Poinciana,” or the beat that Art Blakey plays on “Pensativa.” Max told me that in the studio, he was playing some variations on Caribbean-Afro Cuban rhythms, and Bud said, “You’re supposed to be Max Roach. Can’t you come up with anything slicker than that?” So Max went home and shedded it out, and he came back with this phenomenal beat. Months later he ran into Bud in the street after not seeing him for a while, and Bud said, “Man, you fucked up my record!” I didn’t understand it. I was wondering what about what Max did destroyed it for Bud Powell, because it’s one of my favorites.

A lot of people have studied the “Un Poco Loco” beat, because it’s in phrases of 5 over the 4, which was way ahead of the curve at the time. Also, that he’s using that cowbell; the sound he’s getting out of the cowbell. It’s obvious that he spent some time dealing with those rhythms. Max had been spending time in Haiti, where he went to study with a guy named Tiroro, who had told him that he was greatest drummer in the world. The guy would tell him, “Come here, meet me right here on this corner at 2 o’clock,” Max would get there at 2, and the guy wouldn’t come until 7—he’d leave him waiting! But he said that the guy gave him invaluable information.

Max did a lot of teaching, but he treated his one-on-one drum instruction like oral tradition. He studied from books, and I’ve studied from books, but that’s only a small component of it. Books will give you the facility to execute the stuff that you hear and feel already, but it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the creativity. This is a perfect example. Max distilled all this stuff and immediately hooked it up into an original beat—you’d never heard anything like it before. It’s the beginning of all those phrases based on rhythmic permutations of five over the four—a step into the future in 1951. A lot of people are playing those types of rhythmic permutations now, almost sixty years later. It sounds like he pulled it together the night before, because it’s right on the edge of almost sounding fucked-up. Then when he comes in, what he plays isn’t clean, the way it was clean with Clifford Brown and that band. It’s right on the edge of almost second-take quality. I’m talking about everybody. It sounds like it’s not quite settled and comfortable. But I think that quality is what makes it a great recording, and the fact that he was able to superimpose that feeling and beat at that particular time and have it work, keep it happening for almost five minutes. Amazing.

January 28, 2010 · 0 comments


Charlie Parker: Donna Lee

I could have accessed so many pieces from this era, but I really like “Donna Lee.” It’s a great band, a revolutionary band, with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Bud Powell and Max, each a legend in the creation of jazz music. And it’s a great piece of music. It’s an abbreviated song—Charlie Parker takes two choruses, Miles and Bud split one, and then they take it out. I like the fact that everyone was able to say so much within that period of time.

The horns were so much out in front on recordings from this time, it’s almost difficult to hear what everybody else was doing! But still, you can hear so well on this tune how Max could propel a soloist—the way he builds through the course of the song, the way he accompanies the melody and then the soloist. He always pays attention to dynamics; when the piano solo comes, Max takes it down. But during Bird’s solos, he’s never playing anything corny, like when an accompanist uses exclusively the same rhythmic language as the soloist to converse. They’re congruent with each other, but they aren’t necessarily using the same language. It’s almost like they’re parallel and connected at the same time. So they’re cross-sectioning, but they’re also parallel—Max is egging Bird on and answering his phrases, like they’re speaking different languages but talking about the same thing. I find that fascinating.

Max was such a risk-taker. He had to have received a lot of criticism for playing that way, because nobody else was playing like that in 1947. He was playing with the people who were at the edge of creativity, and he himself was pushing it forward. Where he was placing his phrases was completely unconventional as far as the rhythmic language of the day. As I listen, I keep wondering, “where is the impetus for you to do that?”

On “Donna Lee,” even when the melody is being played, Max is playing a kind of counter-melody against it. Arthur Taylor used to talk about “Confirmation,” how there are hits in the course of tunes like that, that are the tune. That’s how Max is playing that in “Donna Lee.” He’s playing off of the melody, playing in the holes of that melody, almost like he’s creating an alternate melody, an accompanying rhythmic melody.

October 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Charlie Parker: Blues for Alice

"Blues for Alice" is a classic old-school jazz jam that showcases Charlie Parker's innovative sax style within a context that he singlehandedly pioneered. He blows his heart out for you, reveling in some imaginative musical statements along the way, and is followed ably by his collaborators. The track is upbeat and swingin', as the immediately identifiable tenor Parker sound cuts through the mix and squawks out of the box with force.

The sound of the cut is stereotypical of the limitations engineers encountered while recording bands long ago, but the rough edges and slightly imbalanced presentation (Parker is obviously standing closer to his microphone than the others are standing in relation to theirs) do not stop the music from gliding atop the sounds of tonal elation. The chord changes are atypical of what is commonly known as "blues," in that the form is extended beyond the genre's regularly expected form. Also, the tone of the recording is much more positive than is normal for such a genre as "blues." However, transforming the aural character of pre-established musical forms into something uncharacteristically offbeat was one of the things that Parker did best, and, here, no exceptions to the rule are made.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments


Charlie Parker: Laird Baird

Charlie Parker's "Laird Baird" contains quite a few awesome solo passages by the jazz legend even though the music is less visual than is normal for a player whose reputation rests upon his pushing of musical boundaries. The tune is played at mid-tempo, and, while slower tunes usually require some form of intensity to validate them, this one lacks it.

Almost sounding like a rehearsal take, the tune follows a predictable pattern: solo piano improvisation starts it, followed by open, swing-time hi-hats and a round of ensemble solos. Since Charlie Parker is obviously not the sole focus of this recording (given the equality of space that each player is allowed), no one is left out as each band member takes a turn at showcasing. An indistinct Parker riff bookends the solos, and listeners are left without a sense of why the saxman was regarded as a creative genius.

Of course, Bird's catalog contains a wide variety of sounds, recording approaches, and performance techniques, but, as far as this track is concerned, it sounds like the group knocked this off in under ten minutes. Unfortunately, you will not consider this track amongst the top hundred in the Charlie Parker canon.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments


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


Al Haig: All God's Chillun Got Rhythm

Haig was one of the earliest significant bop pianists, playing with Bird and Dizzy in 1945 and even participated in the first Birth of the Cool nonet recording in 1949. A 1974 LP reissue that included "All God's Chillun" and other tracks from the 1954 trio session was titled Jazz Will-O'-The-Wisp, which might describe Haig's career--on the periphery, and lacking in the overall recognition he so truly deserved. Perhaps this was due to his having a playing style so different from that of the preeminent bop pianist, Bud Powell. Powell was fiery and flashy, whereas Haig was feathery and coolly flowing. If you didn't fully concentrate on the beauty, content, and impeccable execution of Haig's playing, he could easily pass you by.

If you compare Haig's 1954 "All God's Chillun" with the Sonny Stitt/Bud Powell version from December 1949, it's quite apparent that Haig possesses a much controlled and restrained passion, while Powell is living purely on the edge. Haig's rhythmically appealing intro leads to a rather choppy rendition of the melody, but his improvisation floats smoothly on air, with fairly intricate runs that seem to be very easily created. He's as relaxed as Powell is high-strung. Bud's lower octave left-hand jabs are replaced by Haig's far less noticeable left-hand chords in the middle of the keyboard. Crow's forceful bass lines and Abrams' high-spirited drumming seal the deal on this definitive example of Haig at his polished best.

June 02, 2009 · 0 comments


Dewey Redman: Dewey Square

Joshua's dad flaunts his bebop chops, with just a hint of the harmonic and rhythmic freedom that once served him well as a member of Ornette Coleman's band. Redman is joined by bassist Mark Helias, who even at this relatively early point in his career was a fine player. He has an exemplary sound and sense of swing. Equally resourceful is pianist Charles Eubanks. His playing is steeped in—but not necessarily chained to—the straight-ahead. Redman's cohort from the Coleman band (as well as the cooperative Old and New Dreams) Ed Blackwell fills the drum role with swinging panache. As for Redman, he's incapable of resorting to cliché, even over such a set of ho-hum changes as this. His sound is big and lissome; he swings hard and draws upon his profound imagination to invigorate the idiom. Not the greatest Redman, but a worthy sampling of his more conservative side.

May 28, 2009 · 0 comments


Charlie Parker: Au Privave/Dance of the Infidels

Charlie Parker plays some interesting stuff on this extended blues jam (could this be the only extant recording of Bird quoting the "Woody Woodpecker" theme?). Much of the best comes during the trading-of-fours he plays with the Paul Gonsalves-influenced tenor saxophonist Don Wilkerson, whose energetic and slightly eccentric style seems to pique Parker's competitive nature. Drummer Larance Marable swings the band hard, and the little-known pianist Amos Trice acquits himself well in fairly generic bebop fashion. Bassist Dave Bryant disappears in the considerable tape noise, for the most part. Indeed, the overall recording quality is frankly terrible. It takes patience to sift through, but it's worth it, to an extent. This is Charlie Parker, after all. On the other hand, there's nothing extraordinary about the music by Bird's exalted standards. Casual listeners, beware. Ultimately, this performance is likely to appeal primarily to committed ornithologists.

May 27, 2009 · 0 comments


Charlie Parker: Cool Blues

Without invoking the laws of physics, let's just stipulate that there are a finite number of Charlie Parker recordings. Yet, more than a half-century after Bird's death, new releases still trickle in every so often. Unfortunately, if this murkily recorded blues jam is any evidence, it looks like the bottom of the barrel is nigh to being scraped. The 12-and-a-half-minute performance is taken from a 74-minute CD produced from tapes recorded at a party held by the notoriously eccentric Turkish-American visual artist, the late Jirayr Zorthian. The sound quality is among the worst of the many poorly recorded Parker live takes this writer has heard. Besides the oppressive tape noise and some background hubbub, about all that can be distinguished are the sax soloists and Larance Marable's drums. Of course, every Parker recording is of interest, but this is less interesting than most. Parker is in decent form, but he scarcely plays a phrase that can't be heard to better effect elsewhere in his recorded oeuvre. The presence of a young Frank Morgan on alto seems to rouse Parker a bit, but overall this track is ephemera, likely to appeal only to the most rabid collector of Bird's recordings.

May 27, 2009 · 0 comments


Sharel Cassity: Cherokee

I didn't know they offered classes in hot and heavy swing at Juilliard. Shows you how much things have changed since the days when Miles Davis battled with William Vacchiano (who later commented that Miles was merely "a decent student"). Conservatory graduate Sharel Cassity plays with the kind of fire that normally comes from the school of hard knocks where no degrees are given. She certainly burns up this oft-played modern jazz anthem, and shows her mastery of the bop vocabulary. Even more than the licks, her devil-may-care attitude stands out here. And I especially like her tone, which is sweeter than one typically find with alto speed demons. In truth, her conception of the horn is definitely pre-Trane—which you might consider as blasphemy or find refreshing, depending on your allegiances. But if you believe that musical excellence can be achieved without copious borrowings from the Slonimsky Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, Cassity is an artist you will want to hear.

May 24, 2009 · 1 comment


Ron Affif: Bohemia After Dark

Ron Affif's father, Charlie, was once the 8th ranked middleweight boxer in the world, and was also a friend of Miles Davis. "He threw his best shots from round one, and he's in me," said Affif of his late father. Ron's aggressive attack and hard-edged tone on "Bohemia After Dark" are evidence of that. Here's a guitarist who can hit you with the musical equivalents of toying jabs, left crosses, roundhouse rights, devastating uppercuts, and various effective combinations.

Amazingly, this smoking version of "Bohemia After Dark" was not only a first take, but also the first time Affif, Essiet, or Watts had ever played the tricky Oscar Pettiford composition (named for the Café Bohemia, where Pettiford was once musical director). Essiet establishes the insinuating beat, while Affif plays the theme with a stabbing, percussive mindset, which also applies to his subsequent solo. Affif's phrasing exhibits glimmers of other guitarists such as Joe Pass, George Benson, Pat Martino, and Kenny Burrell, all assimilated into his bluesy, concentrated articulation, rhythmic complexity, overall creativity, and admirable lack of repetition. Essiet's solo is an ecstatic extension of the driving, layered African-influenced bass lines he employs backing Affif, especially notable on the tune's unorthodox bridge. Affif's zestful trades with Watts take on an exotic flavor, and to some extent recall the combination of guitarist Gabor Szabo and drummer Chico Hamilton. This is one of the better, and certainly one of the freshest versions of "Bohemia After Dark." Which begs the question: why hasn't Affif been given an opportunity to record since 1999?

May 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Clifford Brown: Donna Lee

When Clifford Brown revisited Ellis Tollin's Philadelphia instrument shop, Music City, for another Monday night jam session on June 25, 1956, it seemed that the sky was the limit for the brilliant 25-years-young trumpet star. In just four short years he had taken the jazz world by a storm. But after his final number that evening, "Donna Lee," he left by car to travel to Chicago for the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet's next gig, only to die in an accident en route, along with Richie and Nancy Powell.

But was this "Donna Lee," and two other tracks, really from June 25, 1956, as Bruce Lundvall and Dan Morgenstern's liner notes for the original 1973 LP release proclaimed? Or was Nick Catalano's 2001 biography correct in asserting that this particular jam session actually took place a year earlier, on May 31, 1955? Catalano (and researcher/trumpeter Al Hood) pointed to participating saxophonist Billy Root, who was apparently on the road instead with Stan Kenton in late June of 1956, and who believed the recordings came from the May 1955 session. However, jazz historian Phil Schaap, for one, stands by the 1956 date, as did Ellis Tollin himself.. After all, Brownie is heard complaining at the conclusion of "Donna Lee" about how hot it is—and Philadelphia hit a cool 71? on 5-31-55, as opposed to a more sultry 86? on 6-25-56.

Whatever the case, listening to Brown's magnificent playing on "Donna Lee" is an exhilarating experience, but also a painful one, with the knowledge that the trumpeter, depending on which date is correct, had either mere hours or just a year left to live. What's most noticed in Brown's playing of the theme and especially in his solo is his great facility and rich, lustrous sound, and also his typical fondness for the middle register. He thinks on his feet, and comes across unrushed even at the surging up-tempo that the rhythm section handily maintains here. Brown's extended lines are uncliched, tireless, and thematically focused, as he inventively explores the harmonies of Parker's tune. Dockery contributes a fluent piano solo notable for its intriguing left hand accentuations. Tollin's energetic support behind both Brown and Dockery's solos show him to be a more than adequate drummer in the bop genre. Brown's second improv contains even more compelling phrasing, as he smoothly intersperses—amidst his runs—both crisply-hit high notes and lower octave tones played with a broad vibrato.

May 19, 2009 · 5 comments


Albert Ayler: On Green Dolphin Street

A refutation to the common misconception that Albert Ayler had no foundation in the fundamentals of modern jazz performance, "On Green Dolphin Street" has the tenor saxophonist playing a standard tune with a bland, generic bebop rhythm section. That he does so in an idiosyncratic yet not totally off-the-wall manner shows that his eventual rejection of traditional mores was done with ample knowledge about what he was rejecting. Ayler's approach to playing this tune is something like Eric Dolphy's. He runs roughshod over the changes at times. Other times, he treats them with careful—and even gentle—consideration. He plays impossibly fast, with a huge, occasionally guttural tone. Concurrent with this, Ayler was experimenting with the hymnic, free-associative style that he later made famous; this shows us another, perhaps equally compelling direction his mature music might've taken.

May 18, 2009 · 0 comments


Art Pepper: Cherokee

One of the great challenges for the early bebop players was to maintain the same level of creativity at every conceivable tempo, from the fastest to the slowest. The great players (then as now) did this, while lesser players tended to stockpile phrases and patterns and polish them to a glossy sheen, substituting glibness for intrepidity. Count Art Pepper in the former group. Among the classic bebop saxophonists, Pepper is on a par with Parker, Rollins, and Coltrane in terms of going out on a limb. There's nothing remotely glib about his super-fast presentation of "Cherokee;" it's an exercise in constant risk-taking and inspiration. Joined by a nonpareil rhythm session (George Cables, piano; George Mraz, bass; Elvin Jones, drums), Pepper shreds on two horns—first alto, then following Cables' solo, tenor—interpreting the old bebop touchstone with an unvarnished intensity and spontaneous invention that few could match. A few finely-turned phrases turn up more than once, yet interspersed are episodes of remarkable unpredictability. Cables and Mraz are smooth and professional, as if determined to throw Pepper's vehemence in stark relief. Even the mercurial Jones pulls back, keeping time brilliantly if conventionally, allowing the volatile Pepper all the emotional room he needs.

May 18, 2009 · 0 comments


Warne Marsh: Moose the Mooche

The prevailing notion that Marsh was merely a cool-toned, cerebral saxophonist began to change to some extent in the '70s when he joined Supersax, a group that played unison transcriptions of Charlie Parker tunes and solos. Although Marsh didn't play any individual solos on the Supersax albums, he reportedly played heated up-tempo ones during the group's live gigs—perhaps similar to what you hear on this version of "Moose the Mooche" from 1982.

Marsh's all-star rhythm section would probably not have met the approval of his teacher and everlasting influence, Lennie Tristano, who disdained interactive bassists and drummers, but, boy, does it ever cook! The infinitely versatile Hank Jones—playing with Marsh for the first time—is as sympathetic and uplifting as he would be many years later with Joe Lovano. Mraz and Lewis also sound inspired, as does Marsh himself. Marsh and Jones perform the bop theme of "Moose the Mooche" in rapid harmony before the leader rushes into a densely packed, vertically constructed solo delivered with an expressive tone somehow possessing characteristics akin to both Charlie Parker and Lester Young. What his solo might lack in melodic and rhythmic development is more than made up for by the brash originality of his ideas. Jones succeeds Marsh with a fresh and unflagging improvisation of his own. Mraz and Lewis then get to make equally effective and dynamic statements as well. Prior to moving back into Bird's theme, Marsh and Jones engage in a dazzling polyphonic dialogue that makes it quite apparent that they are greatly enjoying this opportunity to play with one another, and are taking full advantage of it.

May 07, 2009 · 1 comment


Previous Page | Next Page