Max Roach-Clifford Brown: (I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance

This is the second day of studio recording for the EmArcy label by what most would term the “classic” Brown-Roach Quintet with Harold Land, George Morrow and Richie Powell. This configuration played together for about a year and a half before Sonny Rollins replaced Land. Of the many studio recordings the band made, this cut must certainly rank as one of its finest. The 1950s period in jazz history is partially defined by the fervent choice/goal of so many jazz players to create so called ‘melodic’ improvisations—variations that can stand on their own as if pre-composed for the occasion. Brownie stands out as one of the best practitioners, and, in my humble opinion, this solo is one of the greatest to have been captured on record. If one stops to consider that Brown was just 23 years old at this time, the maturity of his rendition takes on an even greater sense of accomplishment.

The seven-minute showcase is all Brownie except for Powell’s 4-bar introduction and his 16 bars of embellished melody inserted as an interlude prior to Clifford’s dramatic ending. He sets up the tune skillfully with rolled chords that sound like quick and succinct harp glisses. Clifford enters with a rich, burnished tone that at times caresses and warms and at other times crackles and pops. His vibrato shimmers like a vocalist as he presents a sentimental, heart-tugging rendition of the melody. At one moment hesitant, the next prodding and cajoling, Brown keeps the listener’s interest piqued. One technique Brownie keeps in play here that is unique to him is his use of the consonant “n” in his repeated articulations. To achieve this, he inserts his tongue between his teeth (like saying the letter n), while connecting a series of notes to bottle up the sound and produce an effect akin to vocalizing words. His improvisation is in a double time feel from the rhythm section, with Brown often quadrupling the time to great result. Some phrases are fluid, some are ‘pecking’ in contrast, and Roach and the rest of the rhythm section support all of them wonderfully. The new creation is SO melodic that it indeed does sound like it could have been pre-written. A surviving partial alternate shows the same creativity, yet different ideas! There is a sense of classical balance to Brown's improvisation, as he spins out such long phrasing with sheer artistry—a rich combination of inspired performance and high level organizational ability. After Powell’s 16-measure melody in ballad time, Roach thunders a drum roll into a heavy swinging double-time groove on the bridge, featuring a final improvisation from Brown. Clifford wails the final melody in the upper register, exhibiting a power that could match any trumpeter’s, and concludes with a cadenza that only he could fashion. A startling piece of jazz.

The group would perform this live on numerous occasions as a feature for Brown. Down Beat called this particular recording “one of the achievements of the year.”

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Etta James: (I Don't Stand A) Ghost of a Chance (With You)

The film Cadillac Records, which opened in December 2008 to mixed reviews, chooses to portray only one of the two Chess brothers (Leonard) and only one side of Chess Records' output: blues and R&B. The label's ignored jazz side (on its Argo and Cadet imprints) featured such respected artists as Ahmad Jamal, Gene Ammons, James Moody, Sonny Stitt, and Ramsey Lewis. Etta James grew up on gospel and jazz, admired Billie Holiday, but as a rebellious teenager in the '50s was ultimately drawn to R&B. "Besides," she said, "jazz required discipline, and I wasn't about to be fenced in." In the '60s at Chess Records, James's recordings of tunes such as "Stormy Weather" and "A Sunday Kind of Love" hinted at her affinity for jazz, but it was some 30 years later that she finally got to participate in her first undiluted jazz session, no less than a salute to the singer she had so idolized, Lady Day.

James's approach to "Ghost of a Chance" is far removed from feisty tunes like "Tell Mama" and "I'd Rather Go Blind," her intensely exclaimed '60s R&B hits. This is a more low-key, mature Etta James, inspired by Cedar Walton's expert arrangement and producer John Snyder's sensitive encouragement. James still sings primarily in her naturally soulful style, but when she isn't delivering bluesy note bends and sighs, more sophisticated jazz phrasing predominates. Here, she restrains herself from more powerful outbursts until the final chorus. Cedar Walton's effective intro and vamps for the horns, and Ronnie Buttacavoli's mellow flugelhorn solo, help elevate the impact of this notable track. Mystery Lady brought Etta James a Grammy for best jazz vocal album.

December 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Dave Brubeck: Ghost of a Chance

This song has been around a while, and was approaching it 75th birthday when Brubeck recorded it. But at 86, Brubeck had more than a little seniority. Yet this artist has never been one for nostalgic acts. Brubeck immerses himself totally in the spirit of the musical moment, and the result is a moody, introspective "Ghost of a Chance" where the listener feels the emotional truth of the lyrics, the rawness of a love affair that never was. The thick chords, a Brubeck trademark, take on a floating, misty quality -- in particular, check out how Brubeck handles the turnarounds -- and the performance shifts dreamily in and out of tempo. This relaxed, understated performance may surprise listeners who only know this pianist from Time Out and his classic quartet.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments


Lennie Tristano: Ghost of a Chance

The day before this Halloween concert in Copenhagen, Tristano shared the stage in Berlin with Bill Evans, John Lewis, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines and Jaki Byard. He griped afterwards about the constraints and short solo space allocated to him in this all-star setting, branding the event as a "commercial performance." For this follow-up solo recital, Tristano was in a cerebral, noncommercial mood, and works through "Ghost of a Chance" with dense, dissonant chords played at a languorous tempo. One can almost see the overtones lingering over the Steinway, like wisps of smoke from a smoldering cigarette. Midway through the bridge, Tristano seems ready to modulate into something completely different, and it is actually something of a surprise when he returns to the chords of "Ghost of a Chance." In moments such as this, Tristano is out in his own unique galaxy, freed from the gravitational pull of Tatum and Powell and the other keyboard legends who captured so many others in their orbit. This is his sound, his style, his personal conception, set forth in architectonic structures of imposing grandeur. Moreover, he achieves all this while staying loyal to the sentimental pop tunes of yesteryear (this one was introduced by Bing Crosby back in 1933) that always formed the core of his repertoire.

June 30, 2008 · 0 comments


Cab Calloway (featuring Chu Berry): Ghost of a Chance

If he hadn't died from a car crash at 31, Chu Berry might've joined the great first-generation triumvirate of tenormen Hawkins/Young/Webster. Here, in his feature with Cab Calloway recorded 16 months before his death, the big-toned Berry sashays through "Ghost of a Chance" much as Hawkins had plowed "Body and Soul" the previous year. Whether or not Berry would've followed his Calloway band mate, one D. Gillespie, into the uncharted rapids of bebop, this track proves that as the '40s dawned, Chu could chew the scenery with the big boys. If you dig the manly tenorman, Chu Berry's your man.

December 04, 2007 · 0 comments


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