Carmen McRae: Bye Bye Blackbird

While the album's concept is a little hokey, Birds Of A Feather remains one of Carmen McRae's finest albums. Paired with Ralph Burns, who leads a splendid group featuring Marky Markowitz on trumpet and Ben Webster on tenor (listed as "A Tenorman" due to contract restrictions), Carmen sings songs about a dozen of our feathered friends. For many years, the original LP was a rara avis itself, as copies were hard to find, and the ones that could be bought were badly worn. A limited edition CD reissue came out a few years back; it's now out of print, but the entire album is still available for download.

"Bye Bye, Blackbird"'s popularity was boosted by Miles Davis' 1955 recording, and here Carmen, Marky and Ben all get a chance to solo on its changes. Burns gets a rich sound mixing the french horns with Marky's trumpet and Ben's tenor before Carmen comes in with the melody, mixing sassiness and wistfulness. Marky plays in a Harmon mute which emphasizes his exquisite lines, and then Ben saunters in with a lazy statement played way behind the beat and with a little growl at the end. Carmen comes in scatting, but then goes back to the words for a brilliant variation on the melody. She takes great chances with the rhythm, and when she gets to the last line, she quotes what Miles played at the same spot in his recording. Carmen scats over the band vamp as the track fades out.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Bye Bye Blackbird

Miles Davis' classic version of "Bye Bye, Blackbird" has long been considered one of the essential modern jazz recordings. However, the reasons why this particular recording became much more popular than similar recordings from Miles' discography are not so clear. One reason for "Blackbird"'s popularity was that it was recorded on his new label, Columbia, rather than on his old one, Prestige. Columbia had excellent distribution and the records were available for sale and commonly heard on the radio. And then there was the LP programming: At the start of Side 1 was the stunning title track "Round About Midnight" and at the start of Side 2 was "Blackbird", a jaunty yet sad setting of a old standard. Contrary to the myth, "Blackbird" was hardly a forgotten song: Tom Lord's "Jazz Discography" shows a steady recording history of the song up until Miles recorded it. The song was still familiar and loved by the older members of Miles' audience, and even if the song was new to you, it was easy to glean the wistful quality of the song through the Quintet's interpretation. Another key part of "Blackbird"'s popularity has to be in the solos themselves. Every solo on this track is eminently singable. Even Coltrane's runs can be sung with a little practice! For young musicians learning how to improvise, these solos were a gateway into modern jazz. And for the hipsters of the period, it was an easy way to show just how hip they were (or thought they were...) There are many wonderful little moments in this recording that make it special, but my favorite is near the end as Miles plays the final chorus. When he reaches the make my bed and light the light/ I'll be home late tonight lines, Red Garland plays the melody a third above Miles. It's a simple little gesture, maybe a little corny, but whenever I hear it, I can't help but smile.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Enrico Rava: Bye Bye Blackbird

Few tunes in the jazz repertoire are more indelibly associated with a single artist than "Bye Bye Blackbird" is with Miles Davis. (Yeah, I know, an obscure tenor player named Coltrane played it once in a while, too.) Trumpeters Rava and Fresu approach the standard with Davis's characteristic lyricism and chromatic skittishness. Pianist Stefano Bollani channels such Miles pianists as Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans in his comping. Bassist Enzo Pietropaoli swings hard on the backside of the beat; his solo has more than an echo of (Paul) Chambers. The superb drummer Roberto Gatto occasionally imbues the performance with a bit of post-boppish rhythmic freedom. When playing this tune, no trumpeter can ever escape the shadow of Miles—especially two so indebted to him stylistically—but that's rather the point of this performance, one supposes. In any case, for all his gifts as an "out" player, Rava never disappoints as a straight-ahead trumpeter. This is a typically fine example of his work "in the tradition."

September 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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