Art Tatum & Roy Eldridge: Night and Day

Art Tatum had performed with Roy Eldridge back in 1944 at a famous concert by the Esquire All-Stars, but their paths rarely crossed afterwards until Norman Granz brought them into the studio a decade later as part of the producer's "Group Masters" project. The idea of matching Tatum with top-notch horn players sounded fine in theory, but with some exceptions, found the pianist playing over rather than with his colleagues. Yet his outing on "Night and Day" with trumpeter Roy Eldridge coheres better than one might expect. Eldridge was no stranger to battles on the bandstand, but here he focuses on sheer swing rather than try to match Tatum note-for-note. Simmons and Stoller are energized by his presence, and create a more supple pulse than one usually finds on the Granz-Tatum projects. The pianist is hardly chastened by this change of affairs, and continues to throw out his baroque runs and elaborate reconfigurations, but even he is infused with the groove. This may not quite match the impromptu give-and-take that Tatum achieved after hours in casual jams, but it comes closer than most of his studio sessions to capturing that ambiance.

October 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Frank Rosolino: I Love You

Frank Rosolino could burn through a jazz standard in a way that few other trombonists could. "I Love You", recorded in the Netherlands with a Dutch rhythm section five years before his death, stands as one of the most stunning documentations of Rosolino's prodigious talent.

Rosolino pulls no punches from the opening solo trombone intro; however, we soon discover that he's just getting started. His presentation of the melody sits perfectly within the tempo laid down by the rhythm section. Rosolino launches into a five-minute solo, implying the melody while engaging in nonstop trombone acrobatics. He spends most of the time in the upper register of the horn, creating an exciting effect that he sustains throughout the entire solo.

But it doesn't stop there: Rosolino takes the head out after short solos by van Dyke, Schols and Engels, but instead of stopping at the end of the form, he keeps blowing for another minute, just in case anyone thought he might be getting tired. As the track fades out to Rosolino's continuous burn, we're left wondering just how long he might have kept going were it not for the recording engineer's fade-out!

October 04, 2009 · 0 comments


Oliver Jones: I Love You

Oliver Jones, who turned 75 this month (9-11-09), has always played second fiddle to Oscar Peterson amongst mainstream Canadian jazz pianists, although he's widely admired by his countrymen, winning several Juno Awards and the 1990 Prix de Oscar Peterson, among other honors. Like Peterson, Jones was born in Montreal, and even studied piano with Oscar's sister Daisy, as did Oscar himself. Jones didn't begin focusing on jazz until the early '80's, having been the musical director for the Jamaican pop singer Ken Hamilton from 1962 until 1980. The Northern Summit album is one of his many for Canada's Justin Time label, and the instrumentation on it resembles that of Peterson's trio in the '50's, with Herb Ellis simulating his role with Oscar and Red Mitchell taking the place of Ray Brown.

The rapport between these three musicians on the opening track, "I Love You," is exceptional. Jones bouncily expounds upon the Cole Porter theme with Ellis breezing lightly through the bridge. The pianist's solo is backed at first by a percussively tapping Ellis in the manner of Tal Farlow, as Mitchell churns out deeply resonant bass lines. Jones' richly voiced chords and shimmering runs show little obvious sign of Peterson, his acknowledged greatest influence. Ellis solos with his customary twangy tone and agile bluesy runs, bending notes for added color. The clearly articulated formulations of Mitchell's compelling improv explode from his specially tuned (in fifths) bass, with never an instance of hesitation or murkiness. Jones and Ellis exchange passages and then engage in elaborate contrapuntal weavings, and finally, after completing another thematic reading, a tirelessly inventive and jubilant out chorus.

September 22, 2009 · 0 comments


Hampton Hawes: I Love You

If your concept of mid-50s California jazz is of unrelenting cool, take a good listen to Hampton Hawes’ album For Real for proof to the contrary. All four of the musicians heard here were part of a small but vibrant group of California hard-boppers, and on Cole Porter’s “I Love You” they offer a blindingly fast but musically coherent demonstration of state-of-the art improvising. Harold Land had plenty of experience in playing way up-tempo during his tenure with the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet, and he and Frank Butler had occasional opportunities for quick tempi in their new gig together in the Curtis Counce Group. LaFaro was new on the LA scene, but worked with Victor Feldman, Stan Getz and another Brown/Roach alumnus, Sonny Rollins, all of whom excelled at quick-speed features. From the introduction, Hawes shows that he’s no slouch at fast tempos, even when it involves a complex piano figure. In their solos, both Land and Hawes demonstrate that one of the secrets to surviving a breakneck tempo is to think of long phrases that will fit over several bars of chord changes (the faster the tempo, the longer the phrases). At this speed (liner essayist Leonard Feather clocked it at 22 seconds per chorus), it’s easy to play 8 bars or longer without taking a breath. This allows Land especially to create long flowing lines that could never be played in one breath at a slower tempo. Hawes didn’t need to breathe between phrases, of course, but his solo also includes several long phrases that extend over the 8-bar sections. LaFaro's single chorus is simply a walk through the changes, but Land and Butler are stunning in their set of exchanges. And speaking of Butler, I’m quite amazed at how he keeps the rhythmic groove solid without clicking his hi-hat on beats 2 and 4 throughout. Close listening shows that he keeps that essential heartbeat going for long sections of the recording, but the time stays solid even when he drops the hi-hat from his arsenal of sound.

September 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Art Farmer: I Love You

Art Farmer was perhaps the tastiest player in modern jazz. His exquisite note choices were accentuated by his use of mutes, which seemed to make his lines stand out. In the light of the often loud and discordant sounds of free jazz and fusion, he considered himself a traditionalist. But within the framework of modern jazz, Farmer was capable of great flexibility, subtly leading his listeners down paths they might not have expected. For example, the opening chorus of Cole Porter’s “I Love You” from the album Modern Art sounds like a trip into Miles Davis country, with Art playing a standard in a mute over a two-beat rhythm. All such fears evaporate at the opening of the second chorus as Bill Evans takes the spotlight. By this time, Evans was coming into his own and we can hear much of what became his style trademarks in this solo: the light touch, the nearly-inaudible comping and the careful sculpting of each line. Most of the solo is in single lines with parallel thirds, octaves and chords used sparingly but always to great effect. Benny Golson plays a note-gobbling solo that shows his roots in Lucky Thompson, while showing what John Coltrane learned from Golson. Farner, still in the cup mute, plays a flowing melodic solo, filled with long lines and, like Evans’ solo, featuring plenty of effective sequencing. It’s a little surprising when Golson returns for another 16 bars, but it turns out to be the beginning of a long set of exchanges which start at half-choruses and work their way down to 4-bar thoughts. Because of their different but complimentary solo styles, the two hornmen were fine collaborators and they continued to work together (most notably as co-leaders of the Jazztet) until Farmer’s passing in 1999.

September 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Meri Slaven: Dream Dancing

This is Cole Porter done right — swinging hard and fast. Charging out of the gate with a confident, flowing sax intro by tenor man Carl Cafagna, Slaven quickly takes command of this fearless, up-tempo arrangement by pianist Scott Gwinnell. Comparisons with the more laid-back Ella Fitzgerald version are inevitable, but Slaven acquits herself admirably with crisp phrasing and a rich vocal timbre that goes down like a belt of 20 year old single-malt scotch.

It’s always a pleasure to hear a crack ensemble cook. There are no surprises, no flash innovations or grandstanding maneuvers — just a bunch of cats backing a lady who obviously knows her craft, all caught in the act of making love to a timeless classic.

April 09, 2009 · 0 comments


Ann Hampton Callaway: What Is This Thing Called Love

Ann Hampton Callaway is a graceful performer equally at home in the worlds of jazz and cabaret. In addition to many classic pop songs, her repertoire includes several of her own compositions which reflect and expand on the legacy of American Popular Song. Originally, I had planned to discuss one of her original songs, but this version of “What Is This Thing Called Love?” is a superb example of Callaway in a pure jazz vein.

Over a sinuous vamp figure, Callaway wraps her velvety alto voice around Cole Porter’s lyrics, making subtle variations to the melody. After the first chorus, Callaway yields to a piano solo, and one might think that the vocalist would be absent until the last chorus of the track. But Callaway keeps herself involved in the arrangement and after a chorus of piano, she’s back for a George Shearing-styled shout chorus which introduces short solos by bass and drums. Then, backed by only bass and drums, Callaway sings a bop-flavored scat solo that shows that she has learned equally from vocalists and instrumentalists alike. Indeed, Callaway is a pianist herself and like many of her contemporaries, her scatting is informed by her knowledge of chords and scales, and guided by her fine ear.

April 02, 2009 · 0 comments


Kelsey Jillette: Medley – Hot House / What Is This Thing Called Love?

Every time I hear a version of Tadd Dameron's "Hot House," my eyes and ears return to the one-of-a-kind video clip of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie putting the tune through its paces. Though the "Hot House" heard here is a lifetime and galaxy away from beboppers Bird & Diz, it is born of the same spirit. Kelsey Jillette sings the melody vocalese-style above a throbbing bassline provided by organist Brad Whiteley and guitarist Hiro Honma. Soon, the lyrics from "What Is This Thing Called Love?" are coming from Jillette's lips. She owns some well-honed pipes and the emotive powers to use them effectively. The tune takes on a slight Latin feel even as the music becomes denser. Jillette eventually adds a touch of Latin scat herself. Interestingly, the arrangement catches a deep groove but is still somewhat at odds with itself. This tension is explored even as Jillette's voice stays above the fray. Absent her voice, this performance would still make a good jam-band number, given how talented these players are. Yet together, vocalist and musicians creatively transform historic material into an engaging modern mode. This is what playing the standards should be all about. You know, making the music your own. Such distinctive arrangements and performances help make jazz the timeless music it is.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Charlie Parker: I've Got You Under My Skin

On April 4, 1952, an article appeared in Downbeat with the stark headline: "Granz Wouldn't Let Me Record With Parker, Says Roy Haynes." Looking back, there's no denying that during Roy's tenures with Lester Young (1947-'49) and Parker (1949-'53), producer Norman Granz typically chose Buddy Rich to record on his releases, even though Haynes was considered to be the "regular" drummer in both groups during the above-mentioned years. Thankfully, there are multiple alternatives to check out the interaction between Parker and Haynes, most notably on live recordings and this final Parker studio date.

This track begins with a rhythm-section vamp in which Haynes plays his classic hi-hat/snare-drum Latin groove recorded on hundreds of occasions (check out "Reflection" from his 1958 album We Three for the ultimate example). Upon Parker's entrance, Haynes delivers a classic performance of his trademark propulsive, polyrhythmic hi-hat, snare drum, and bass drum comping. As Bird begins improvising, Roy moves to the ride but plays less, allowing Parker to establish his solo within a deeper groove. After a few polyrhythmic runs throughout the melody's restatement, the track ends where it began, with the straight-eighths (but still swingin') Latin groove.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments


Lee Konitz & Franco D'Andrea: Love for Sale

Playing a moody, meditative paraphrase on the famous Cole Porter tune, Lee Konitz is alone for nearly 1½ minutes before Franco D'Andrea joins in. Once the pianist does enter, it is he who maintains the strongest connection with the theme through a highly rhythmic comping that lets the melody trickle through block chords or bits of single lines. Meanwhile, Konitz drifts apart, though never too far, as he often does in a strange and familiar way, like one who knows the melody and the harmonies so well that he can play anything inside or outside of them. With such a complete pianist as D'Andrea, whose strong touch and rich chords are at times evocative of Thelonious Monk for the former and Art Tatum for the latter, Konitz can wander anywhere without getting lost. All the same, the listener can follow him without ever losing track of the harmonic and melodic progression of the tune. This diving into the improvising process by one of the greatest melodic "drifters" of all time, coaxed by one of Europe's best masters of harmony, is fascinating. Inside Cole Porter? Inside Lee Konitz's art, too.

February 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Lee Konitz & Red Mitchell: Just One of Those Things

Is it because Red Mitchell tuned his bass like a cello that it has this huge, elastic bouncing feel while he plays a 7-second opening romp before Lee Konitz enters? Then the bassist carries on playing the same efficient rhythmic pattern, as the altoist exposes the melody. Actually, all along the tune, Mitchell provides an original harmonic and rhythmic support, allowing his partner to explore the tune's chord changes with great freedom. Everything the alto plays is phrased in a rhythmically inventive manner, as Konitz winds his way through the harmonic pattern, creating new melodic segments every couple of seconds. This is exactly the opposite of "vertical" improvisation based on knowing all the scales and licks that can be used on each chord, but that often neglects to combine notes to tell a story.

Lee Konitz is a master of harmony, but never forgets the lessons of his idols Louis Armstrong and Lester Young, or of his master Lennie Tristano: the song comes first. Backed by such a strong musician as Mitchell, who plays few notes yet with maximum effect, making his bass sound like a low-register guitar, the altoist is ideally situated to display his art. At the time of this recording, Konitz had let various fashions like hard bop, free jazz or jazz-rock pass by without giving them a glance. Yet his own style had evolved during those decades, following nothing but its own momentum, to the point where he could now carve this little timeless gem and rejuvenate 10 other pieces from the Cole Porter songbook with stunning candor and freshness.

February 12, 2009 · 0 comments


Denny Zeitlin: All of You

The thickest piano chords come from the Windy City. You don't hear people talking about a Chicago School of Jazz Pianism (except for me, that is), but how else to account for those orchestral changes and radical reharmonizations from keyboardists who came of age in the chilling breezes off Lake Michigan. Just check out early Chicago-era Lennie Tristano, or Herbie Hancock or Chris Anderson or (little known) Billy Wallace . . . and, of course, Dr. Denny Zeitlin. Sometimes Denny will even construct a chord with more notes than his hand has fingers. (Pianists take note of those voicings with the thumb playing two notes simultaneously.) This 11-minute version of "All of You" could serve as a case study at Berklee. Lots of pianists change the changes, but few with such aplomb. It almost does a disservice to call them voicings; they are more like free-floating sound textures. Melodic and rhythmic possibilities expand in this alternate aural universe, and the result is a very fresh take on an old tune. Buster Williams is a master at navigating through this mist of harmonic indeterminacy, and Matt Wilson knows how to turbocharge a medium-slow standard without overwhelming it. A first-rate trio outing!

January 22, 2009 · 0 comments


Richard Twardzik: Just One of Those Things

Back in 1954, pianist Richard Twardzik was an unusual artist for Pacific, Richard Bock's boutique label focusing on West Coast jazz. Twardzik was a little-known Bostonian with an avant-garde sensibility, far removed from the cool stylings of Bock's usual releases. But based on a glowing recommendation from Russ Freeman, Bock gave the go-ahead for a session featuring a pianist he had never heard. Thank goodness! This would prove to be Twardzik's only leader date in a commercial studio session - he would die from a drug overdose the following year - and the results rank among the most spectacular jazz trio work of the era. The pianist takes Cole Porter's standard at a fast clip. Although one can hear his debt to Bud Powell (and probably his close listening to Powell's veering-out-of-control February 1951 recording of this same standard), Twardzik's lines construct odd patterns across the barlines in a manner beyond Powell's typical bop semantics. No gossamer wings on this track: instead hear the teeter-totter construction at the 1:20 mark in the right hand, and another pattern to the stars, at 1:35, now in the left hand. Along the way, he tosses out Americana quotes (John Philip Sousa and Ringling Brothers), proving that jazzistas can wave the flag at any tempo. The coda lands with all of the subtlety of a hand grenade. One of those crazy things.

December 31, 2008 · 0 comments


Warne Marsh: I've Got You Under My Skin

After a 1948 stint with Buddy Rich's big band, Warne Marsh immersed himself in all things Lennie Tristano, performing almost exclusively with either the famed pianist and/or fellow Tristano protégé Lee Konitz. In the mid- to late-'50s, Marsh began recording as a leader more often, influenced still by his mentor's methods yet incorporating new musicians and an expanded repertoire. Two of the finest recordings from this stage include a 1958 trio date with Paul Chambers and Paul Motian (see, for example, "Yardbird Suite") and this massive set of standards captured live on the West Coast in October 1957. Of the 18 standards on this double-disc release, "I've Got You Under My Skin" is among the highlights. The prime Marsh is when he's in both soulful and playful moods simultaneously, diving deep into a tune's melody to deliver a seamless yet unanticipated improvised line that manages to reveal the essence of any given tune. This tune, as with much of this set, finds Marsh in just that mood.

November 05, 2008 · 0 comments


Bill Carrothers: My Heart Belongs To Daddy

I always like to do a little research before I write a review. This is especially helpful when I don't know much about the musician I am reviewing. This pleases my editor. But I could argue, and would if ever caught, that going into a review with no knowledge is probably the best way to do it. That way you have no preconceived notions and your opinions will probably be more honest. But that is for when I get caught. And of course you could only do that once for each artist. But this whole opening paragraph is a way for me to really say that you should visit Bill Carrothers's home page on the Net. That's what I did for my "research." I actually did not find the information I was looking for, but did find one of the most personal and creative musician web sites I have ever seen. And I have seen thousands.

It turns out that Pirouet Records heard from jazz pianist Marc Copland that there were sessions from 1992 that featured pianist Carrothers along with the estimable bassist Gary Peacock and equally so drummer Bill Stewart. The recordings had never been released. Pirouet has now remedied that. The CD is a display of top-notch musicians jumping into each other's bags to play intricate and interesting progressive jazz.

I chose to review "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" because you will never hear another version that sounds like this. Carrothers and crew turn the damn cutesy song into a busy and aggressive modern jazz assault. Played at breakneck speed, the tune features all sorts of minor piano chords, explicit improvising and anxious energy. Each player proves his worth to the triumvirate with strong ensemble and solo performances that ooze urgency. This trio knows how to move the ball. I wonder what they would do with "The Good Ship Lollipop."

October 22, 2008 · 0 comments


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