Stan Getz & Gerry Mulligan: Scrapple From The Apple

Recently reissued in a spanking fresh, restored digital recording, the inevitable summit meeting between the formidable tenor and bari sax masters has never sounded better. With a crack rhythm section hand-picked by Getz and Mulligan’s bold suggestion that they trade horns for some of the tunes, these Capitol sessions produced moments of brilliance. Though “Scrapple” didn’t make the original release due to time constraints, it was clearly one of those moments.

Happily, on Charlie Parker’s up-tempo bebop anthem Getz and Mulligan are back on their principal instruments in a lively, flowing dialogue in which they seem to complete each other’s musical sentences, two leading proponents of the West Coast cool movement speaking fluent bopish with the intensity of a 52ndbn Street cutting contest on a Saturday night.

July 13, 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


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


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


Ornette Coleman: Klactoveesedstene

Recorded during a club gig several months after the sessions for his first commercial recording as a leader (Something Else! on Contemporary Records), this track is a fascinating historical document of Coleman's experiments in stretching the parameters of conventional bebop-based jazz performance. It proves that in the case of Ornette, the origins of so-called free jazz represented more of an evolution than a revolution.

The group is the classic Coleman Quartet plus pianist Paul Bley, and here they explore a Charlie Parker line based on "Perdido" changes. They faithfully include Parker's original intro and tag, and though the horns play a wrong note in the second bar of the A sections, they play it with conviction and repeat it each time. Ornette's solo here should put to rest for good the accusations that he (a) discarded chord changes completely, and (b) couldn't play changes anyway. A striking feature of his solo is how much of Bird's language he used and how well he understood it. It reminds me of the parallel experience of noticing how much verbatim Lester Young was contained in Parker's early work.

Since this was obviously a bootleg recording done on less than ideal equipment, the sound leaves something to be desired, especially as it affects the piano, obviously not a vintage Steinway to begin with. Bley contributes an energetic solo that includes some angular a cappella passages, but it would have been interesting to hear his comping more clearly, as he has always been a player who can exert an enormous amount of harmonic and rhythmic influence over any group he plays in.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments


Paul Bley & Sonny Greenwich: Steeplechase

Paul Bley and Sonny Greenwich finally achieved their goal of recording together, during the week that each played separate concerts at the 1994 Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. "I felt like we were brothers; there was a kinship," said Bley, adding, "We're the same generation and both Canadians." Although Bley has long been associated with the avant-garde, and Greenwich is looked upon as primarily a modal player influenced greatly by John Coltrane, their playing on the riveting Outside In duet CD is surprisingly catholic, thus pronouncing or affirming (depending on your point of view) the breadth and depth of knowledge, and assured facility, each artist possesses over many diverse jazz idioms.

Bley played with Charlie Parker on a Canadian TV show in 1952, so it's instructive to hear how he and Greenwich, a guitarist rarely heard playing bebop, approach Bird's "Steeplechase." Bley plays the melody conventionally as Greenwich joins him at the bridge. Sonny solos first (miked acoustically it seems on this track), his melodic creativity mesmerizing, as is Bley's aggressive comping. Bley then takes the lead, soon introducing somewhat reflective rubato lines propelled by urgent left-hand figures. Short and inventive exchanged passages ensue, with Bley at one point cleverly adapting a motif similar to Monk's "Misterioso." A long free-form joint conversation blooms, replete with asides, rejoinders and mutually compatible flights of fancy. Bley treats the theme differently the second time around, toying with the rhythm, unexpectedly crashing out certain notes. Two individualists at the peak of their powers, and highly recommended.

January 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Gil Evans: Bird Feathers

Gil Evans has long had the well-earned reputation as jazz's supreme orchestral colorist. There was, however, a lot more happening in his music than innovative tone colors and impressionistic harmonies. Maybe there is some deeply encoded Kabalistic mystery in the name itself, but it seems as though Gil and Bill Evans share the unique distinction of their music being largely misunderstood by disciples and detractors alike in the same ways and for the same reasons. (This is starting to sound like it belongs in a separate blog, but please bear with me.)

Both Evanses are imitated or dismissed based on listeners' impressions of the surface elements of their music combined with widespread lack of insight into the total package. Regardless of Gil's brilliant orchestral colors or Bill's gorgeous harmonies, the reason they were both great jazz musicians is that they were masters of rhythm. The Evans/LaFaro/Motian trio's greatest innovations were in the areas of rhythmic freedom and interplay. Gil Evans's best-known recorded work involved providing frameworks for soloists, most notably Miles Davis, and the fact is that the hippest voicings and most distinctive tone colors are useless in supporting a jazz solo if the writing lacks rhythmic cohesion and fails to give the soloist some breathing room. Yet to this day many admirers of both men pay "tribute" by producing music that is all about surface beauty and negligent toward rhythmic concerns. (Ah, I feel much better now.)

Oh yeah! The track! "Bird Feathers" is a blues with harmonic substitutions similar to other Parker lines like "Sippin' at Bell's" or "Chi Chi". The arrangement has a feeling of loose spontaneity combined with a unified overall plan, which is an aspect of rhythm on a larger scale. It begins with the melody played with brushes on the snare drum, then by flute and muted trumpet in bare unison and then with a harmonic background. There are fine solos by Adderley, Rehak, Coles and Chambers, with backgrounds and ensemble interludes that sound like they were derived from Parker solos, giving the arrangement a great sense of overall cohesiveness. The trombone section deserves kudos for the fine execution of some tricky soli passages. Blakey's solo choruses are followed by some 4-bar exchanges with the full band. Cannon reenters over a beautifully scored ensemble passage, after which the opening choruses of the theme appear in reverse order, providing an overall arch-like form to the performance.

January 06, 2009 · 0 comments


Bob Dorough: Yardbird Suite / Charles Yardbird Parker was his Name

After spending six formative months performing in Paris, Bob Dorough returned to New York in 1955 just weeks before the death of his idol and friend Charlie Parker. Inspired by the vocalese of Annie Ross, King Pleasure, and Eddie Jefferson, Dorough wrote lyrics for Parker's classic "Yardbird Suite" and recorded this knowing tribute, which has remained prominent in his wide repertoire to this day.

Dorough enthusiastically vocalizes the well-known theme, and also sings breezy lyrics to Bird's solo, a sort of encapsulated telling of the ups and downs of the great bop innovator, both a summation and a shout out to the uninitiated. Imagine a multi-noted phrase like "His improvisation was miraculous" set to a boppish rhythmic pattern. Trumpeter Fitzgerald then offers a searching solo, followed in order by Hitchcock's intricate vibes, Dorough in a percussive piano style similar to Eddie Costa's, and Takas's bass, absorbingly expressive as usual.

November 12, 2008 · 0 comments


Lee Konitz: Billie's Bounce

Lee Konitz had the reputation of being the stylistic alternative to Charlie Parker during the 1940s and '50s. A slightly younger contemporary of Bird, Konitz was one of the few saxophonists of his day to remain comparatively unaffected by Parker's influence. For that reason, it's interesting to hear Konitz interpret one of Parker's best-known blues lines. This 1957 performance has Konitz moving away from his relatively note-y improvisations on the early Lennie Tristano sides. His style is not nearly as lean and melodic as it would become, but it's getting there.

Trumpeter Don Ferrara's solo is superb. A bright-toned, soulful, Gillespie-influenced player, he blows a tastefully extroverted horn. Konitz, on the other hand, is extremely cool, weaving a solo of impeccable logic and emotional restraint. Bassist Peter Ind's solo is unusually limber for its time, and pianist Sal Mosca takes a few nice understated choruses. Drummer Shadow Wilson plays with a nice easy feel. In terms of backing the horns, the rhythm section is boilerplate mid-1950s bop—extremely competent, if not overly daring. The horns lead out of the solos into the final statement of the head with a transcription of Bird's improvisation on the original 1945 Savoy recording of the tune, providing a rather direct avenue of comparison. It's a nice touch. Not top-drawer Konitz, but the perspective it gives on his stylistic distance from Parker makes it a valuable track.

October 16, 2008 · 0 comments


Jaco Pastorius: Donna Lee

The eponymously titled Jaco Pastorius was Jaco's first release as a leader. To this day many aficionados still consider it the greatest bass album ever recorded. At the very least, it is the most influential bass album as far as jazz-rock musicians go. It very quickly spawned legions of bass players who tried to live up to its standards. That yielded about 100,000 imitators and, thankfully, about 10 brilliant bassists over the years.

Legends come from someplace, and a big part of Jaco Pastorius's legend was born with this cut. His take on Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," a tune that Miles Davis claimed he authored and very well may have, is always listed in those "Top Ten" lists that fans seem to be so fond of making for their favorite artists these days. But fandom aside, the author of the definitive book about Jaco, jazz critic Bill Milkowski, says this particular performance is the one that introduced the modern electric bass era.

Regardless of original composer, Jaco makes this piece his own. (You'll forgive me a cliché every 300 reviews or so, won't you?) Don Alias keeps a steady conga beat as Jaco blazes through the changes of this bebop number. Those changes, based on the song "Back Home Again in Indiana," give Jaco the perfect opening to display both melodic and rhythmic chops simultaneously. He dives in with all 10 fingers, producing a rolling momentum that only your off-switch can stop.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments


Miles Davis (with John Coltrane): Ah-Leu-Chah

Of course, we’ve heard Coltrane, Miles, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums as a combination on many recordings through the years. I love the way they play on this tune (which I’m pretty sure was derived from the sequence of “Honeysuckle Rose”-“Scrapple From the Apple”), the way it’s structured with the little drum-breaks and all the nuances—the beautiful feeling in the beat and the way they moved through the harmonies. They weren’t just playing over chords and playing 32 bars. They were exploring a way of playing together.

It was Miles’ group, someone has to be the leader, to organize things, but it’s really the community of players that make the music. Each one of my ensembles has been inspired by that particular realization about what is happening on the scene, creating situations for the community I live in. My nonet has a certain repertoire, a certain community of players. We’ve been playing together for years. Now, I’m the leader. I’ve organized and developed my career to a point to be able to put it together. But it’s the community of players that is making music, too. In 1956, Miles and these guys were living this music together, and you can feel how much they loved to play together. Round About Midnight was one of the first records that totally captured me and gave me a lot of ideas, and I wore it out two or three times.

June 25, 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


Warne Marsh: Yardbird Suite

Listening to any member of the Tristano School play a Bird/Diz/Monk standard is always a fascinating representation of the alteration of jazz styles. This track is certainly no exception, and right after an ordinary yet swinging statement of the melody, Marsh is off and running with his vertically improvised lines played mostly in the upper register. Marsh is in a playful mood here and leaves a bit more breathing room than on many of his other extended-line improvisations. Of special note is Marsh's polyrhythmic solo break and his bold playing after bassist Paul Chambers's solo.

May 06, 2008 · 0 comments


Charlie Watts: Relaxin' at Camarillo

As kids, Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts and his friend David Green longed to play with jazz great Charlie Parker. This notion preoccupied their days and nights. What fun that would be! As he grew up, Watts continued to revere Parker. In 1964, he published Ode to A High Flying Bird, a slim, greeting-card style fable in which childlike watercolor drawings and hand-lettered captions depict a potato-shaped bird named Charlie whose life tragically parallels Parker's. So, 27 years later, why not reaffirm Watts's devotion to Parker's music? The drummer reunited with boyhood friend Green, hired a saxophonist-leader and recorded From One Charlie. The CD was then marketed with a new printing of the book at an exorbitant price. Fortunately, the CD (with one of Watts's original 1964 drawings on its cover) also became available as an affordable single unit.

"Relaxin' at Camarillo" (mistitled "Relaxing at Camarillo" on the CD) is a relaxed bebop number that has Watts using his brushes. Lemon plays a lightly swinging piano. Green offers a short standard bass solo. King and Presencer do their best Bird and Gillespie. This is a pleasing interpretation you'd be happy to hear in any nightclub. No one is trying to capture the brilliance of Charlie Parker. The lack of pretense and a desire to do something just for the fun of it are what make this work.

April 10, 2008 · 0 comments


Alan Broadbent / Gary Foster: Relaxin' at Camarillo

Both Broadbent and Foster have Lennie Tristano connections, Alan having studied with Tristano and worked with Warne Marsh, and Gary having played with both Lee Konitz and Marsh. After performing frequently as a duo, they finally had the chance to record as such at the acoustically ideal Maybeck Recital Hall. The concert concluded with this rousing romp through Parker's convoluted 1947 tune which acknowledged his stay at Camarillo State Hospital. Broadbent and Foster play the theme in brisk unison after Bird's original intro, and then the altoist breezes through the changes engagingly at a subtle simmer, provoked by the pianist's inspired comping. Broadbent's own solo is replete with intricate phrasings and spiraling runs. Next follows a stirring dual improvisation as they chase each other's lines. Theme, original tag, and out to enthusiastic applause. Although residing somewhere between cool school and hot bebop, this exciting track definitely prompts a reaction that is far from lukewarm.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments


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