Ted Heath: Father Knickerbopper

The Ted Heath band's exploration of the modern jazz repertoire ended at about this time, when Heath realized that most audiences didn't like this music, preferring pop songs and novelties. It is to Heath's credit that he never stopped playing jazz-oriented, sometimes challenging music (particularly at the band's Palladium Sunday concerts), but he needed to keep the group working as a dance band and music hall attraction to pay the bills. Reg Owen was probably asked to adapt the stock arrangement of Tiny Kahn's tune (originally written for Chubby Jackson), and this is a more than respectable performance, particularly since bop hadn't been mastered by many British musicians at the time. Horrox, Shand, MacKenzie, Whittle and Hughes (sounding like he'd been listening to Miles Davis) take the solos.

March 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Carl Orr: Deep Down

Normally, English guitarist Carl Orr would be heard playing distortion-laden fusion lines possibly through various devices. Over the years, his progressive playing has been front and center in many exciting ventures. Not the least of these has been on several records and tours with drummer Billy Cobham. But on 2006's Deep Down, Orr decided to reach inside himself to explore some worlds in which distortion was not even an afterthought. Focusing his attention on the basic organ-based jazz trio, Orr featured a purer guitar sound that worked the basic blues and bossa novas. He added musicians as needed.

This track, a dedication to Orr's wife, is a relaxed bossa nova with a pleasing theme. Orr says he was trying to mimic Burt Bacharach's writing style. In any case, Orr's guitar tone is pristine and free from any affectations. His sensitive single-note runs are beautiful. The band maintains a subtle blues vibe with Whittaker in particular adding body to the piece. Orr's dexterous solo is a bit risky considering its context. But this fusion star makes it all work, both on the surface and deep down.

February 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris McGregor: MRA

In the early '70s, Chris McGregor and the members of his Blue Notes – who had fled the apartheid regime of their native South Africa, where a racially mixed band was unwelcome – had settled in London. That’s where the pianist recruited some of the best local musicians to bring his sextet to the size of a big band. This track is not only typical of the African side of the Brotherhood of Breath, it’s also a great arrangement where each section enters after another in turn, and comes back again to build a gorgeous tapestry of melodic and rhythmic layers. So much so that nobody ever has the idea to even take the slightest solo. Collective work at its best!

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Taylor: Tramonto

Unlike many other pianists, John Taylor doesn’t rely on a regular trio, and the magical atmosphere he creates on this first recording with Johnson and Baron is all the more impressive because one knows these three musicians don’t play much together. Of course the British pianist and the American rhythm team are all top-level musicians, but an all-star group is rarely a guarantee of good music. And when one deals with a composition employing a lot of space and no real solos, like this one, the ability to listen to each other, to pay attention to small sonic details and to internalize the swing at a slow tempo are key elements. In such cases, empathy is often more important that sheer virtuosity, and here both are obviously present.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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George Shearing: So Rare

“So Rare” marks the start of George Shearing’s U.S. recording career. Prior to 1947, the blind pianist wasn’t known in the U.S., despite his huge popularity in Britain. His records hadn’t been released here yet. But during a four-month stay in New York starting in November 1946, Shearing spent a good deal of time on 52nd Street with jazz impresario Leonard Feather. Shearing was quite taken by the playing of Bud Powell, who by late 1946 had already started adding lush lock chords to his bop lines (listen to Powell’s Roost recordings of January 1947). When Shearing and Feather ran into Savoy’s A&R man Teddy Reig in January 1947, Feather positioned the English pianist as a Powell disciple. Reig agreed to record Shearing on February 3, adding bop sidemen Gene Ramey and Cozy Cole to hedge his bet. When “So Rare” was released soon afterward, its chunky bop feel had a huge impact on popular taste and jazz pianists, including Oscar Peterson. Pianist Johnny Guarnieri even borrowed Shearing’s descending bop line at the tail end of “So Rare” to close out his trio arrangement for Frank Sinatra’s “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye,” recorded for Columbia in October 1947.

January 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ian Shaw: Danny Boy

You may have heard "Danny Boy," but you haven't really heard "Danny Boy" until you've heard Ian Shaw perform it. "The pipes, the pipes are calling," he sings, but the pipes you will be marveling at will be Shaw's vocal pipes with their strength and great range and emotional authority. His falsetto rivals that of the great Milton Nascimento, and he has all the little cadences and bends and throwaway phrases that impart a sense of drama to a jazz vocal performance. Adrian York's deft reharmonization adds to the sweep of this highly recommended track.

December 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Claire Martin: Slow Time

I am struck by how many talented jazz singers are coming from the UK these days. Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua are perhaps the best known, but we also need to give kudos to Ian Shaw (who contributed this composition and arrangement) and Claire Martin, who handles the microphone on this rendition. Martin is still uncertain whether she wants to stay in the museum of jazz standards or tackle more contemporary material. Let me put in a vote for the latter path. This song captures a beguiling late-night atmosphere, the kind of tune you want to hear on the radio for the last stretch of the long drive home. With the right producer and surrounded by world-class musicians, Martin could make a much bigger splash.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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George Shearing: In a Chinese Garden

Like Albert W. Ketčlbey's 1925 "In a Chinese Temple Garden," one of the staples of British light music, "In a Chinese Garden" invokes clichés; but it also shimmers with Debussy-esque delicacy, transporting us to a tranquil landscape in which the fluttering of bamboo shoots, water gently dripping into a jade green pond, and fragrance of jasmine are palpable. A lovely, contemplative and unjustly neglected travelogue from a cornerstone cool jazz group that committed the cardinal sin of popularity. To critics, the more widely loved an artist, the less worthy of respect. To prove them wrong, sneak into this "Chinese Garden."

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Arjen’s Bag

The regular bass player in this short lived quartet had been Dave Holland, who a few months earlier responded to the call to join Miles Davis. Odgers is an able deputy, but it’s the luminous interplay between Surman, McLaughlin and Oxley that make this album so memorable with its arresting melodies that effortlessly segue one into another – despite unusual time signatures (13/8, for example) – and its time-no-changes approach to improvisation. Surman takes a leading role and is majestic, while Johnny Mac’s (as he was then known on the UK scene) phenomenal articulation, sense of time and space combine to create superior jazz, regardless of postcode.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Karyobin, Part 1

Collective improvisation takes many forms, from the brazen “energy music” of a Peter Brotzmann to Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz double quartet. On the quieter side of things lies England's groundbreaking Spontaneous Music Ensemble. On “Karyobin,” the focus is on the musician's ear, resulting in an extremely high level of interplay. Phrases are offered up in quick succession, each a response to the last. A ride-cymbal pattern evokes a chromatic response from the trumpet, which is then extended by the sax...and the guitar. The breathtaking changes of direction give shape to what initially appear as abstractions. Brilliant stuff.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mike Gibbs: And On the Third Day

When “Sweet Rain” became the title track of a Stan Getz album, everyone wanted to know who composed it. It was Mike Gibbs, and this, his debut album marked him out as a major talent. “And On the Third Day” is the album’s highspot, with its wonderful legato phrasing, lazy rhythmic feel and superb solos from Pyne, Surman and a “final melee” where Skidmore and Osborne join Surman. No big band had sounded like this, thanks to a combination of masterful orchestration and sensitive interpretation. Gibbs would go on to great things, but like a novelist with a celebrated debut, would not top this maiden voyage. But then, neither would anyone else.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Mike Westbrook: Hooray!

This album led trumpeter and author Ian Carr to say that Westbrook had “emancipated British jazz from American slavery” in his book Music Outside: Contemporary Jazz in Britain (1973). What he meant was British jazz had found its own voice – identity again. This potent antiwar protest is about national pride, pomp, patriotism, death, destruction and the ruined lives in war’s aftermath. “Hooray!” conveys the self-righteous patriotism of a country preparing for war. Over three decades before “freedom fries” came onto the menu, Marching Song still has powerful relevance today. Somehow we just don’t learn.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Michael Garrick: Troppo

Despite being overshadowed by the Beatles, the Stones et al., the 1960s and early 1970s were a golden period for British jazz. As Garrick has written, “What began to surface and receive attention were those doing something fresh and home-grown.” Identity of course. Norma Winstone’s incredible virtuosity is here put to instrumental ends alongside Lowther’s elegant lyricism, all framed by Garrick’s highly imaginative writing. Deleted after selling just a couple of hundred copies in 1974, Troppo had been described as “a lost masterpiece” until its reissue on CD in 2004.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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