Red Mitchell-Harold Land Quintet: Catacomb

This track is a fine example of the work of this excellent but short-lived group. Though this was geographically a West Coast group, their music was much closer in spirit to the style of small-group jazz that was coming out of New York at that time. Harold Land was always one of the most underrated great players in all of jazz, and wrote many distinctive original tunes that appeared on recordings by Wes Montgomery and Bobby Hutcherson, as well as on his own dates. Red Mitchell was one of the most melodic bassists in jazz both as a soloist and accompanist.

"Catacomb" is an attractive 32-bar Land original that provides a stimulating sense of tension and release, both harmonically and rhythmically. It also features a hip off-kilter rhythmic figure that is used as a send-off into the solos.

Land's solo is notable for the combination of intense rhythmic drive, beautifully constructed lines, and distinctive gritty tone quality that made his playing instantly recognizable. Mitchell turns in a spare, warm-toned arco spot. Carmell Jones's solo is notable for its lyricism and warm, glowing sound. Strazzeri's solo is particularly noteworthy for the unconventional way he employs block chords with great rhythmic and harmonic variety. He builds tension by not using conventional right-hand lines until the bridge of his second chorus. Add Frank Strazzeri's name to the short list of jazz soloists who have strong individual styles yet remain practically unknown to the jazz public.

May 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Art Pepper: You Go To My Head

Art Pepper's 1977 run at the Village Vanguard in New York was a career high point for the brilliant yet troubled (and oft-incarcerated) altoist. The gig put him in the company of one of his best rhythm sections—pianist George Cables, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Elvin Jones—and resulted in some of the most passionate, inspired playing of his career. Pepper has his way with "You Go To My Head," imbuing the ballad with the raw, almost desperate intensity that defined the work of his final years. The rhythm section's suavity contrasts with Pepper's compulsive style; his quick, double-time eruptions bespeak a welter of emotion that's always on the very edge of breaching Pepper's tenuous self-control. Indeed, there's a primal aspect to his playing that's utterly instinctual, even beyond what's common in the playing of other great improvisers. As good as Pepper was in the '50s, he was even better here, in the final phase of his not so straight life.

May 18, 2009 · 0 comments


Hampton Hawes: The Green Leaves of Summer

After a drug bust on his 30th birthday in 1958, Hawes was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but eventually sought and received executive clemency from President Kennedy in 1963, just three months before Kennedy's assassination. On Hawes' fourth Christmas day spent in prison, the film The Alamo" had been shown, and as he wrote in his autobiography, the tune "The Green Leaves of Summer" from the soundtrack "kept humming through my mind and I told myself I would try to record it if I ever saw daylight again." Hawes got his wish to record the Academy Award-nominated song on his first album after his release. The LP's dust jacket featured a color photograph of Hawes that made him look like a matinee idol or male model, or, as he wrote of it years later, "I might have been the Super Fly of 1963, the Flash Gordon of the niggers." Contemporary Records founder Lester Koenig's extensive original liner notes skillfully managed to make absolutely no mention of where Hawes had been for the past six years.

Hawes turns "The Green Leaves of Summer," which had already been sung on recordings by the likes of The Brothers Four, Marty Robbins, and Eddy Arnold, into an invigorating jazz waltz. Hawes' long unaccompanied rubato intro is reflective, tinged with an air of sadness, and of classical derivation. When the pianist focuses on the theme, and bass and drums join in, the mood of the intro is maintained until the tempo is gradually increased. Hawes then uses an insistent left hand pattern to propel his improvisation, effectively mixing staccato note clusters with earnest declamations of select thematic phrases. He eventually retreats to the more languid pace from where he began, and finishes with a sustained trill and a tumbling lower octave run that never quite resolves, dissolving instead into thin air. A gem of a performance, one that emphatically announced Hawes' return to the scene to all concerned.

May 15, 2009 · 1 comment


Prince Lasha: Congo Call

Prince Lasha grew up with Ornette Coleman in Fort Worth, TX, playing with the great altoist in R&B and church groups. As adults their paths diverged, but their music continued in similar stylistic directions. Yet they found vastly different degrees of notoriety, with Lasha attracting attention briefly in the early 1960s only to thereafter disappear from the jazz world. Here he teams with Sonny Simmons, an altoist who owed much of his sound to Coleman. On the African-inspired "Congo Call," Lasha's and Simmons' vibrato-less tones blend well as they piece together an exotic melody over an octave-doubled ostinato by bassists Peacock and Proctor. Though both Simmons and Lasha stay mostly inside the minor harmony, there are a few exciting moments that indicate their cutting-edge interest in freeing their improvisations from conventional norms. While Simmons's brittle, wailing tone is reminiscent of Coleman, his playing is more precise and with no superfluity. Lasha articulates the blues of his Texas upbringing during his solo, while developing a few distinct themes. Hypnotic, dramatic and evocative, "Congo Call" is an undemanding and under-recognized early free jazz recording.

January 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Art Pepper: Star Eyes

Art Pepper doesn't meet "a" rhythm section on this 1957 date – he meets the rhythm section. Best known for their tenure with Miles Davis (with whom they were still working at this time), Garland, Chambers and Jones combined the simple sophistication of Swing Era groups with the prodigious fire of the great bebop bands. They collectively improvised, delicately supported their leader, played comfortably fast, and perhaps most importantly artfully interacted on quieter mid-tempo tunes and sensitive ballads. This team therefore pioneered the all-encompassing post-bop rhythm section – even though they were often playing bop. Perhaps most illuminating here is the enormous amount of space left for Pepper, notwithstanding all three rhythm section mates playing plenty of notes. Their sympathetic musicality allowed for Pepper to take his improvisation wherever he wanted – an important development in modern jazz. The rhythm section, though, with their uncanny predictions, was always a step ahead.

June 11, 2008 · 0 comments


Art Pepper: Over the Rainbow

During his announcement to the audience, Art Pepper says that his producer Lester Koenig asked him to do this solo number, and he adds with some humor that it is going to be "one of these Anthony Braxton trips," but "a short thing." Well, it lasts more than seven minutes and, whether you like Braxton or not, I'm not sure you'll see the connection. Lyrical, though sometimes impaired by a hissing reed; dramatic, even if he often fills in with virtuoso licks; adventurous, though respectful of the melody—such is Pepper's solo vision of this song. The vision of a man and musician who, during his lifetime, obviously went several times "over the rainbow," and came back with a different point of view on our world.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments


Art Pepper: Anthropology

Art Pepper’s post-rehabilitation career reached its pinnacle with a successful run at the Vanguard in late July 1977. Backed by a first-rate group of Cables, Mraz and Jones, Pepper performs at an impressively high level on original cool jazz compositions and bebop mainstays, as evidenced by this version of "Anthropology." While some may be bothered by occasional intonation issues at points throughout the complete session recordings, the unorthodox combination of musicians assembled here is quite sensitive to one another's personal styles, making for an absorbing listen. On this track, note the duet between Pepper (on clarinet) and Mraz on bass, later joined by Jones on brushes.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments


Art Pepper: You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To

Art Pepper earned a reputation as one of the top alto saxophonists on the West Coast in the 1950s. So it was a highly unusual occasion when he made an album with the hard-bop rhythm section of Miles Davis’s East Coast-based quintet. The collaboration was advantageous, however, as it brought out the best in the intensely emotional altoist and his hard-swinging colleagues.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments


Jimmy Woods: Not Yet

In L.A. during the mid-1950s, Jimmy Woods worked as a stock clerk at the same Bullock's department store where Ornette Coleman ran the elevator. In the early '60s, Woods recorded a few albums, then vanished from the scene as quickly as he'd appeared. "Not Yet" shows the elusive force of the illusion that was Jimmy Woods. As both composer and performer, Woods simply glowed. Jazz had lots of passionate altoists during this period—Jackie McLean, Phil Woods, Ornette, Eric Dolphy—but none more inviting. Sadly, "Not Yet" was also the response of jazz's declining audience to Jimmy Woods. Our loss.

November 04, 2007 · 0 comments


Harold Land: The Fox

This may be the hottest hard-bop track ever recorded on the West Coast. Butler drives a blistering tempo at close to 400 beats per minute. At this pace, Elmo Hope’s chart is almost impossible to play. Yet the band clings together for dear life and charges ahead fearlessly. Land, who helped define the hard bop sound while with the Brown-Roach Quintet, offers up one of his most driving recorded solos. But then comes Dupree on trumpet sounding like the Angel Gabriel announcing Judgment Day. On the Scoville intensity chart for jazz solos, this one ranks somewhere north of the habañero. Can you play hotter than this? Not without melting the grooves on your LP.

November 01, 2007 · 1 comment


The Poll Winners: Volare

When covering pop hits of the day, 1950s jazzmen often seemed anxious to hurry past the melody, treating the song as pretext for improvisation that bore no relation to the admittedly often second-rate material. Refreshingly, Barney, Ray & Shelly—billed as the Poll Winners because of their perennial popularity—actually play 1958's #1 hit, "Volare" (Italian for "fly"). Carting out his best tongue-in-cheek impression of a Neapolitan mandolin, Kessel shines on this medium-tempo swinger supported by Ray ("Rock of Gibraltar") Brown and Shelly ("Ears of an Elephant") Manne. Delizioso!

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments


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