Marc Copland & Gary Peacock: Blue in Green

In a more discerning universe, Marc Copland would be far better known. I first encountered his music in the mid-1980s, when an acquaintance sent me an amateur tape of a NY club gig by the pianist. I was deeply impressed then, and expected a grand career from this artist. Copland has not disappointed me—his music-making has repeatedly lived up to the highest expectations—however the jazz audience has surprised me by not embracing his bracing pianism. Copland has recorded extensively, invariably drawing on the finest collaborators, and has proven again and again that his own playing is at the same world class level as his better known associates. Yet, despite his considerable musical achievements, Marc's name recognition, outside of a small, knowledgeable inner circle of musicians and admirers, is modest.

One cannot say the same for his music, which is probing and provocative, more a dissection of compositional structures than the usual tributes at the shrine of the American songbook. Here Copland and Peacock take a very familiar jazz tune, already burned into our collective consciousness in definitive performances by the standard-bearers of the art form, and manage to stretch it into limber, new shapes. The duo adopt such an elongated sense of time, that the pulse is more an occasional reminder of the beat rather than a constant timekeeping. Copland doesn't so much reharmonize the song as impose new chordal structures on top of the old ones, which exist concurrently. His solo structure has plenty of drama, but no false bravado, and some of the strongest effects come through the juxtaposition of silence rather than the assertion of sound. Peacock, for his part, plays with a zen sureness that is centering even as it adds to the deconstructive spirit of the date. The result is that charming exception: a cover version that somehow manages to sound like its own original.

November 04, 2009 · 0 comments


Various Artists: Blue in Green

Can anyone doubt that, had he lived longer, Miles Davis would have been a major player in the Indo-jazz fusion movement that has come to the fore in recent years? Producer Bob Belden here makes sure Davis was part of it anyway. For Miles From India, Belden assembled an impressive cast of Western musicians who'd collaborated with Davis. Many were part of Miles's most historic recordings. Belden then paired them with established and up-&-coming Indian musicians to interpret some of Miles's greatest works. Belden sees Miles's music as a common language. More and more, Indian musicians are becoming fluent in this language.

Dilshad Khan's sarangi hangs over "Blue in Green's" intro like a protective shroud. The sarangi is an ancient Indian stringed instrument mastered by few musicians, Khan clearly being one. Free-floating elements are added by trumpeter Wallace Roney, sounding like Miles himself, guitarist Mike Stern and keyboardist Louiz Banks. Vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, best known in the West as a frequent guest with John McLaughlin's Remember Shakti, acts as the lead melodic instrument, his wordless vocalizations imbuing the piece with a haunting beauty. The tune's midsection provides a venue for some fine jazz explorations from Banks and Stern. They are propelled throughout by the rhythm section of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jimmy Cobb, drummer on the original "Blue In Green" from Kind of Blue. An abrupt change in direction occurs that ushers in Roney and Khan for some spacey and moving interplay. (The sudden shift is reminiscent of what producer Teo Macero had sometimes created in the editing room on Miles's A Tribute to Jack Johnson and other records.) The musicians return en masse to bring the 13-minute excursion to a pleasing end. By communicating across two global hemispheres, this music takes another important step forward in the natural extension of jazz through cultural understanding.

March 02, 2009 · 0 comments


Katia & Marielle Labèque: Blue in Green

Love of Colours is dedicated to Miles Davis. That had to do with more than how much duo-pianists/sisters Katia & Marielle Labèque liked "Blue in Green." After all, former Davis sideman and partner in fusion crime John McLaughlin produced this album. And through the McLaughlin association, Katia came to know Miles himself, who thought enough of her to name not one but two songs after her on You're Under Arrest. The Labèques acknowledge they are not jazz artists. The classical 4-hand duo has performed with symphony orchestras all over the world for three decades. But they also love jazz and believe it deserves classical interpretation, an idea that has been growing in the classical community. There is a school of opinion, in which I am enrolled, that holds jazz will become the classical music of the future.

The Labèques try something on "Blue In Green" that for them was quite different. Both players use a MIDI piano. Katia also plays a synthesizer. She was familiar with that because of her stint in McLaughlin's band The Translators in the early '80s. But certainly keyboards that controlled other sounds and created electronic swaths were not in the arsenal of these grand-piano ladies. The MIDI piano controls a lush, breathy sound. The reverberating MIDI notes, which sound like they have built-in drum brushes, levitate over new piano notes. As each tone decays, it is replaced with the silent texture of sadness. This performance, which is slower than usual for "Blue In Green," is a beautiful and sad rendition. I wonder if Miles had a chance to hear it.

February 28, 2009 · 0 comments


Pat Martino: Blue in Green

Pat Martino fans rejoiced when this CD arrived in 1994. After his long recovery from a brain aneurysm and other personal setbacks, the guitarist was finally back to the brilliant form he had exhibited in the '60s and '70s. In fact, if you compare his versions of "Catch" and "Blue in Green" from Interchange with those on the widely acclaimed Live at Yoshi's six years later in 2000, it would be fair to say that Martino has been again at the top of his game since the mid-'90s, and that Interchange was his coming-out party.

"Blue in Green" captures Martino's lyrical and soulful sides, with an unhurried lucidity and discernment. Martino plays the calming, circular theme with a dampened yet penetrating tone, elongating notes for dramatic emphasis and leaving open space to effectively frame the gradually increasing ardor of his heartfelt and surging extended runs. Ridl's comping is both purposeful and unobtrusive, and the pianist's neatly constructed solo reveals a particularly strong and creative left hand. Martino's reprise draws on bent notes and darkly throbbing chords far more than did his opening treatment, as he closes out a lovely interpretation of the ballad Miles Davis first introduced on Kind of Blue.

January 29, 2009 · 0 comments


Gary Burton & Stéphane Grappelli: Blue in Green

One of the greatest joys of jazz is unexpected collaboration. In no other genre do artists of varied ages, cultures and musical backgrounds meet to play as often. To be honest, not all of these get- togethers end with successful music. But in almost every case, these attempts are to be admired for the effort. Luckily, when legendary Gypsy jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli met with one of jazz's greatest vibists, Gary Burton, things worked out just fine. Grappelli is ostensibly a guest star on this recording, which features a variation of the classic Gary Burton Quartet.

Conventional wisdom would say that an interpretation of "Blue in Green" would be more suited to the modern jazz that Burton was known for. And indeed Burton plays the introduction and the first solo over Swallow's slow, throbbing bass with a comforting ease. His confidence is even more impressive when you realize that this Gary Burton was only 29 years old. Meanwhile, his iconic melodic foil Stéphane Grappelli was 64. How would Grappelli approach the tune? Would he give it a bit of European swing? No. A bit of the Gypsy? Well, maybe a little. But what he mostly delivers is a thought-provoking and touching display of what jazz interpretation is all about. The collaborative process requires players to fully understand the music and the varying dynamics in play. Musicians of this quality can perform any type of music because they respect it. And they can perform it effectively together because they listen to and respect each other.

July 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Too Blue Lou and the Groove: Blue in Green

According to the April 19, 2033 newspaper article located inside the CD case, this album represented the first instance of a new form of music that would become known as Hip Bop. Soon-to-be-famous music writer Gregory George Aston calls it a "unique blend of groove-oriented improvisations, scat vocals and rap, played over heavy beats and a traditional walking bass." He goes on to claim that this music would help spawn a whole new jazz dance movement. Indeed, as I write these words, my young daughter is dancing to the music unprovoked.

I am not particularly a fan of hip hop or rap. It seems the best music from those genres is made only when infectious music samples or popular hit song melodies are used in the mix. That mix occurs in the opposite way on The Birth of Hip Bop. The beats of rap, hip hop, scat singing and rap vocals are heard here. But they are still mainly seasoning. The main ingredient is some very fine jazz playing with interesting compositions and arrangements.

I prefer the album's pure instrumentals. The best of the bunch is an absolutely inspired take on "Blue in Green." Too Blue Lou and the Groove have turned this classic ballad into a true progressive jazz anthem. As far as I know, "Blue In Green" has never been approached from this aggressive angle. We usually want to hear how beautiful the piece is played, rather than thinking of the tune as a great power showcase. This performance has propulsive rhythmic force and melodic imagination. Though the whole band is in the groove, saxophonist Huff is especially impressive. This is a performance worthy of hitting the repeat button.

Since 2033 is still a few decades off, Too Blue Lou and the Groove have plenty of time to prove the words in that newspaper article are true. I am not so sure, though, that there will be newspapers in 2033.

June 30, 2008 · 0 comments


Toots Thielemans: Blue N' Green/All Blues

In some ways the great Toots Thielemans has been overlooked by the jazz world. That can happen when your main ax is a harmonica. Harmonicas and accordions are forever to be outsiders – never let into the club in which overwhelming virtuosity on an instrument is highly admired by legions of aficionados. It doesn't help that Toots is also a guitarist, a superlative whistler or that he had a hit tune with "Bluesette." These seem not to have added enough to his bona fides. There is a big difference between being called "the greatest jazz harmonica player" instead of "one of the greatest jazz musicians." Thielemans is both and jazz people in the know, know it.

For all intents and purposes, "Blue in Green" (listed here as "Blue N' Green") serves as a prelude for Thielemans's take on another Miles Davis classic, "All Blues." The medley begins first with pianist Fred Hersch and Thielemans taking wonderful solos extolling the thoughtful melodic virtues of "Blue in Green." Their measured but expressive endeavors serve as a melancholy introduction to "All Blues." The band goes up-tempo as Johnson and Baron propel the piece. Hersch and Thielemans once again take turns playing over the rapid changes. After several minutes of high energy, the two slow the number down with some touching counterpoint and a loving restatement of the theme. Thielemans's harmonica is as expressive as any mainstream instrument could ever hope to be.

Being a jazz harmonica virtuoso and a jazz whistler has some advantages. You don't have too much competition. You get some nice movie soundtrack jobs (Midnight Cowboy among others). A TV commercial can come your way here and there (Old Spice). And you can become known as perhaps the greatest jazz harmonica player/whistler ever. That will have to do for now.

June 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Miles Davis: Blue in Green

(Editor's note: Bill Evans was the ideal addition to the Davis group for the modal concentration of Kind of Blue. Having personally studied with George Russell and therefore familiar with his Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, he and Miles collaborated on some of the most celebrated jazz ever recorded. E.N.)

This album is on everyone’s desert island list. I spoke with Jimmy Cobb recently, and he said that the thing that most struck him about Kind of Blue as of late is that he’s “the only one left.” "Blue in Green" set a new standard for poetry and patience in music.

March 27, 2008 · 1 comment


Jonas Hellborg: Blue in Green

Early in his career, many fans compared Jonas Hellborg to bass superstar Jaco Pastorius. Musically, this was silly. They were both very great but different players. Hellborg was much more into chord playing than Jaco. This set Hellborg apart from about 99.9% of other electric bassists at the time. He also employed a unique string-slapping technique, though he overused it from time to time, which would soon become a standard sound in the bass lexicon. Jaco didn't slap.

The comparison to Jaco would be an apt, however, if fans were talking about the expected fame Jonas would soon acquire. But Jonas has made decisions that would not allow that popular recognition to take hold. He has said on more than one occasion that he does not care about fame or an historic career. He is interested only in playing music he wants to play. Over the years, he has certainly stayed true to that philosophy by releasing mostly noncommercial music on his own labels and eschewing the moniker of "Bass God."

Elegant Punk is a perfect example of Hellborg's immersing himself into the music rather than image. At the time of this solo recording, he was becoming well known for his wild fusion excursions. He would have sold many more records had he continued that type of sound on Elegant Punk. Instead, with one or two notable exceptions, he focused on the beauty of the bass guitar and demonstrated why it can be used for so much more than just bottom-end timekeeping.

His version of "Blue in Green" is a tasteful example of bass as rhythm, accompaniment, and melodic lead. It is full of subtle chords and evocative soloing. In a nutshell, he approaches the bass as if it were a guitar. That requires some serious thinking and even more serious finger-stretching to reach and play those impossible chords.

March 22, 2008 · 0 comments


John McLaughlin: Blue in Green

Miles wrote it! No, Bill Evans wrote it! For some, the argument goes on and on. (Evans credits Miles on his album, so I will go with that.) At any rate, McLaughlin has had two passes at this piece over the years. His solo acoustic interpretation on My Goal's Beyond is marked as a favorite by many. But the superior version is to be found on Live at Royal Festival Hall. McLaughlin, using a new acoustic guitar with midi effects, not only twists the tune around crooked, he challenges the concept of the space-time continuum while he's at it.

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments


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