Oscar Peterson Trio: Wheatland

I think this is the next-to-last recording that Ray did with the Oscar Peterson trio, the classic trio with Ed Thigpen. This is one of my favorite recordings, because it’s Ray, Oscar and Ed cooking at a low volume throughout that whole performance. It’s one of these classic, mid-tempo swingers, kind of like they do on “Sometimes I’m Happy,” “Frankie and Johnny,” “FSR,” which are all full-out, head-banging swingers—but “Wheatland” stays low-volume pretty much throughout the whole performance. These guys are cooking on a slow, slow burn. It’s all that real heavy swinging that Ray Brown usually does, but at low volume, which to me makes it swing even harder. When you listen to it, you’re waiting for Ed Thigpen to go to the sticks, which he does at a certain point, but it’s still like TING, TING, TA-TING, TING, and Ray is just kind of creepin’, and you’re just like, “give it to me, give it to me!” They never quite give it to you, but you love that. Because after the track is over, you’re like, “Aw, man, what a big tease.” So that’s one of my favorite tracks, to hear those guys burning at a slow fire. A great concept, to swing really hard at low volume. Very Basieish of them.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Sonny Greenwich: Libra Ascending

In the mid-to-late '60's, Sonny Greenwich played with Charles Lloyd, toured with John Handy, and after a week-long working audition in Toronto in 1969 was invited by Miles Davis to join his band. Due to Sonny's immigration difficulties, that opportunity was never realized, although he got to play with Miles again in Toronto in 1972. From that point to the present, Greenwich has been relatively reclusive, playing – and sporadically recording – in and around Montreal and Toronto in his native Canada, and very rarely making trips elsewhere.

One such trip was to New York in 1987 for a weekday matinee concert at the now-defunct Sweet Basil jazz club, as part of that year's Greenwich Village Jazz Festival. A few hip New Yorkers, including yours truly, took that afternoon off from work to hear the esteemed Canadian guitarist up close and personal. Greenwich has a style influenced by cubist artist Paul Klee, classical composers Ravel and Debussy, and most especially the spiritual modality of John Coltrane. Sonny's "Libra Ascending" is "dedicated to the memory of John Coltrane." The guitarist's gently subdued intro is an unusually brief one for him, as he suddenly surges into a driving extended passage with a ringing, metallic tone, urged on by White's flailing drums. A gratifying release transports Greenwich into his main improvisation, his urgent staccato phrasing gradually building to an almost uncomfortably impassioned peak. Henke's piano solo maintains the leader's forceful momentum, but is overwhelmed by White's unrelenting drum rolls and cymbal crashes. Greenwich is better able to match White's aggressiveness in the duo's rousing exchange of fours. If you ever wondered what Coltrane might have sounded like on guitar, Greenwich could be the answer.

October 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Denis Chang & Fleche D'Or: Donna Lee

It has been suggested that the Hot Club Swing movement led by Django Reinhardt was dealt a death blow with the advent of bebop. But Django himself had enthusiastically embraced the emerging force and was already breaking away from the standard Hot Club la pompe format, recording with more mainstream rhythm sections and even jamming with Dizzy, then on a postwar European tour. Since the legendary Romani guitarist never had the opportunity to share the stage with Bird, one can only speculate what direction jazz guitar would have taken had they met. On this track, Denis Chang offers a hint of what such a summit meeting may have produced.

Having forged his reputation as one of the world's top instructors of the jazz Manouche guitar style, Canadian guitarist Denis Chang has effectively debunked the old saw that "those who can't, teach." Chang obviously can, and his impressive command of the lingua Djanca is in full throttle as he and fellow soloist Ritary Gaguenetti tackle one of the most challenging anthems in bebop. Following tenorman Sean Craig's blistering up-tempo charge, the Selmer-style petite bouche guitars sail smoothly through turbulent bebopian waters. We can only dream of what might have been, but Denis Chang & Flèche D'Or have brought us closer to answering the question, "What Would Django Do?"

June 19, 2008 · 0 comments


Oscar Peterson: Wheatland

When you listen to Oscar Peterson's eight brilliant compositions that comprise his Canadiana Suite, you may wonder why he wasn't a more prolific composer. It was no doubt his love of Canada that inspired him here, just as his father's career as a railway porter who traveled the length of that vast country guided the Suite's structure, crossing from East to West, vividly depicting unique locales and regions.

"Wheatland" is Peterson's view of Canada's breadbasket, and his finely crafted melody over a waltz rhythm presents a clear image of the majesty of giant wheat fields blowing in the wind, as viewed through the window of a passing train. As Peterson solos, with that perfect touch and his distinctive flowing lines, not a note wasted, one marvels at this trio's special rapport, with Brown's simple yet totally fitting bassline, and Thigpen's distinguished brushwork supporting the pianist with great sensitivity. Brown's long, lyrical solo is almost a separate composition in itself, structured so logically and alone worthy of repeated listens.

This was Peterson's second great trio, formed when Thigpen replaced Herb Ellis in 1959, and with Canadiana Suite they produced a masterpiece.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments


Ryan Drolet: Spy Song

There is plenty of fine jazz music being played in Canada. Canadian jazz-fusion guitarist Ryan Drolet's Trippin' Wet is excellent testimony to that fact. Drolet has an inventive mind and a dexterous set of hands that can produce Joe-Pass-meets-Larry-Coryell runs one moment and conjure up weird sound effects the next. Drolet's chord playing is also quite original and, together with the rolling bass of Brad Ferguson, augments the quasi-funk superstructure of this fine band.

"Spy Song," which opens the CD, sounds as if Drolet has temporarily morphed into The Edge of U2 fame. His guitar plays a simple yet intoxicating riff. For a time, the rest of the band takes on the U2 persona as well. It seems vocalist Bono will make his grand entrance at any time. But it never happens. Instead, a gutbucket drum 'n' bass excursion takes over. The midsection then becomes an unabashed groove fest. Drolet uses every special effect technique in his bag. He picks below the guitar nut. He slides the pick up and down the length of the strings, paying special attention to the higher registers. His string tricks are ambient and melodic simultaneously. After an extended and fascinating middle section full of antics from all the players, the opening riffs return with full gusto. It is all great fun. Merci.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments


The Quintet: A Night in Tunisia

In theory, when you join a bunch of all-star musicians into a band you are going to get some great music. In practice, however, more times than one would expect, these gatherings of legends don't quite work. First, you have to deal with the extra-large egos that most legends have. The founding fathers on hand for this 1953 bebop reunion were certainly no exception. The spotlight has only so much room in it. Second, even assuming all are well behaved, the rehearsal time needed to bring the best cohesion into an all-star unit may not be available. This is true even of players who have performed together often in the past. These factors, and others, must be considered when listening to recordings of this nature. So, yes, this performance of "A Night in Tunisia" was not as tight as it could have been. There are open spaces and some relaxed turns that at times almost threaten to take the bop away. But jazz itself was changing. These players were not immune to that reality, and I think it shows a bit in this rendition. So add that to the equation as well. But still you find yourself listening intently as each artist displays his individual brilliance. This is history, man! These cats would be good in any era or in any genre. Even if Dizzy and Bird et al. were just going through the motions (which I am not suggesting applies in this case), they would still be great. They had it together even if they weren't that together.

February 20, 2008 · 0 comments


Rob McConnell: Things Ain't What They Used to Be

Despite its name -- the Boss Brass -- Rob McConnell’s Canadian big band does indeed include full saxophone and rhythm sections. And McConnell’s fresh-sounding arrangement of Mercer Ellington’s medium-tempo blues “Things Ain't What They Used To Be” gives all the horns an opportunity to shine collectively on a long unison ensemble passage adroitly written in the style of a bebop improvisation.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments


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