Herbie Mann was on that 1961 State Department tour that was just supposed to bring American jazz to Brazil; instead, it brought bossa nova back to North America. Mann soon returned to Rio to make an album, and recorded this track with its composer, guitarist Baden Powell de Aquino. Incongruously named after the British founder of the Boy Scouts, Baden Powell mixed indigenous Brazilian rhythms with elements of jazz and Django. His signature sound is dark and mysterious, which fits this hypnotic composition perfectly. Mann soars over the extended chorus, making it the longest track on the record.
Master reedman Yusef Lateef was playing “world music” before the genre had a title. As early as the mid-1950s African, Near and Far Eastern influences are heard in his compositions and improvisations; by the end of the decade his records included many foreign instruments. On “The Plum Blossom” Lateef opts for the Chinese globular flute—which allowed him the use of only five pitches. He works within this limitation magnificently, constructing a concise improvisation that continuously evolves the simple, buoyant theme. Though the piece is built on only two chords and a repetitive rhythmic vamp, its exotic, minimalist qualities are compelling.
Excavated flutes fashioned from a mammoth's tusk or swan's bones have been dated to >35,000 years. Imagine the shock of hearing that first flutist! And how long did it take before a second joined in? "Flute Talk," improvised by modern masters playing state-of-the-art instruments, obviously cannot be compared with cave art. But at its heart is the same impulse that motivated the prehistoric duet of tusk and bone, namely to make sounds that interest not just one player and listeners, but multiple players whose conversation may have been an entirely new human experience. "Flute Talk" preserves a profound tradition. Beautifully.
As Canadian flutist Moe Koffman's 2-minute "Swingin' Shepherd Blues" swung for three months on the U.S. pop charts, he and his swingin' shepherds flocked their hit on TV robed as Franciscan friars, cowls and all. Although the connection between flutes, shepherds and Franciscans was never explained, Moe's follow-up "Little Pixie" sold well enough to make him a 1½-hit wonder. As for why "Swingin' Shepherd Blues" became the token totem of late '50s jazz, it was probably the reverb. This track appears to have been recorded deep in the echoic catacombs of Carlsbad Caverns. Maybe the cowls were protection against bats.
The exceptional versatility of jazz flutists transcends the fact that most were primarily saxophonists. Even fulltime flutists such as Herbie Mann and Hubert Laws were discontented with a single genre. Nobody encapsulates this restless eclecticism better than Paul Horn, who spent two years with Chico Hamilton, graced Roger Corman's beatnik flick A Bucket of Blood
(1959), performed a jazz mass, took up tran- scendental meditation, recorded unaccompanied solos at the Taj Mahal and Egypt's Great Pyramid, and played duets with killer whales. With this stylish allusion to Miles Davis's "So What
," Horn shows his killer jazz chops and wails without whales.
Among the portable pawnshop of strange instruments slung around Roland Kirk's neck was an ordinary transverse flute. Ordinary, that is, until he played it. Not even the Marquis de Sade could have more thoroughly debauched this genteel staple of 18th-century Parisian salons. Under the roguish Captain Kirk's aegis, the celestial flute beamed down to earth faster than a photon torpedo. Throughout this slow, accusatory blues, the Captain spits, snarls, grunts through, and otherwise gutturally accosts his flute for 2½ wrenchingly expressive minutes. Oh, and lest we forget, it's funnier than a Marx Brothers movie. A fabulous track by an incomparable jazzman.
November 07, 2007 · 1 comment
Herbie Mann's 1957 decision to flute exclusively was an unprecedented risk. Hard as it was to earn a living playing only jazz, fulltime fluting would be a fluke fit for a flake. To his lasting credit, Herbie Mann-aged this feat, establishing himself as jazz's most popular flutist for over a decade, and in so doing also solidifed the flute's rightful place in jazz. Recorded live, "Comin' Home, Baby" demonstrates Mann's appeal as he nimbly hang-glides above a steady 12-bar blues vamp anchored by two bassists and three drummers. (Pretty hard to miss the beat with that crew.)
, artwork by Michael Symonds
Summer 1963. Manhattan. Avant-garde composer John Cage is performing his Variations III
, in which individually amplified Slinkies suspended above the stage go BOING-BOING. Great stuff. Anyhow, during intermission, whom do we meet in the audience but Eric Dolphy! Introducing ourselves, we tell him how much we admire his work and ask whether Cage's sonic experiments might apply to jazz. "I don't know," Eric replied. "But I like what I'm hearing." The next year, his atonal tribute to Italian avant-garde flutist Severino Gazzelloni reinforced our wonder at the borderless map of Eric Dolphy's imagination— adventurous, uncompromising and, for listeners, relentlessly rewarding.
Armed with flutes of various nationalities and sundry construction, Dave Valentin adds sequencing and other electronic effects for a crowd-pleasing live display of what promises to be god-awful gimmickry. This promise goes spectacularly unfulfilled. Instead, Valentin's self-described "mind painting" is a vivid tropical landscape exploding with exotic colors and unclassifiable species, a too-brief travelogue of a solitary summer vacation in the rainforest. "Mountain Song" is 3½ minutes of aural artistry. Book your passage now.
As a recording artist, Hubert Laws has amassed an extraordinary body of dreck. Is there another jazzman considered the most accomplished ever on his chosen instrument whose output less justifies said claim? Laws cannot be solely blamed for the 1970s, but he played a big part. In 2002, however, revisiting "Strange Girl
" from Flute By-Laws
(1965), Laws showed with a simple, born-again bossa nova how far both he and jazz have come. When this lovely, wistful track concludes, he remarks, "That's the one." No argument. The only thing Extraña about Hubert's Muchacha is how long it took her to arrive.
A year after Mann, Ayers and Coryell moseyed south to record with the house rhythm section at Stax Records, renowned for its Southern-fried soul groove, “Memphis Underground” surfaced among the Top 100. Thanks to Eddie Harris's "Listen Here
" and Hugh Masekela's "Grazing in the Grass
," a monotonous 2-chord vamp was now obligatory for crossover jazz, and “Memphis Underground” obliged. (Jazzmen once put down rock 'n' rollers for using only three chords!) Combining fuzz-tone, B.B. King-style blues licks and Hendrix-type feedback, Coryell's trendy guitar was a jazz novelty but tame by rock standards. This dated track is more interesting historically than musically.
November 06, 2007 · 1 comment
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