Wes Montgomery & Wynton Kelly: Impressions

There's much to be said about the work of pianist Wynton Kelly. Yeah, everyone knows he played on Kind of Blue, but his contributions to hard bop and post bop during the late 1950s and 1960s make him one of the most active pianists, aside from Bobby Timmons, in jazz. And we all know the story of Wes Montgomery, the comeback kid. It's no surprise that this duo would pick John Coltrane's "Impressions" to glide over when they played the Half Note in New York City in 1965. Joined by bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb, the quartet set the D and Eb dorian changes of "Impressions" on fire. En fuego!! As the guy from ESPN used to say.

Montgomery's solo is chalked full of superior melodic expression. This was the first song I ever heard from him back in the late 1990s and upon listening again I know why I fell in love with his playing. He epitomizes power and assurance with his note selections. On the other hand, Kelly is no slouch either. He's kind of like the Vice President, you know he's there waiting and when it's his turn to take the drivers seat, he'll get the job done. His interaction with Montgomery during his solo shows just how close these two musical minds were. During several moments of Montgomery's solo, he and Kelly accent right on time with each other. This was by far one of Montgomery's tour de force songs.

This song is the very definition of what we know as swing. My advice to you? Pay the $0.99 for this download if you don't already have it in your collection or better yet, go buy the entire album. You can find this version of "Impressions" on most Verve compilation Montgomery discs.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Donald Byrd (featuring Pepper Adams): Jeannine

From 1958-'63, Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams combined to form one of the most appealing hard-bop partnerships. Byrd's carefully developed lyrical improvisations were greatly contrasted by the sheer intensity of Adams's "Knife"-like improvisatory onslaught. An alumnus of the groups of Charles Mingus and (later) Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Adams's work with these famed artists and as a leader and co-leader in his own right warranted his reputation as the leading purveyor of the aggressive, post-bop baritone sax style.

His solo on this hard-grooving Duke Pearson composition has it all: a forceful sound that will knock you to the ground, a multitude of satisfying vertical leaps and bounds (none more amusing than the perfectly placed accidental squeak near the end of his first line at 5:08), and most importantly, brilliantly executed connecting threads that lend his improvisations a tangible storyline. The entire span from 6:00-7:00 is special playing indeed.

Quick sidebar: In his extended improvisation on this track, Donald Byrd returns to the same (rather long) motivic theme no fewer than 9 times over the course of the solo. Is this variation-on-a-theme lyricism an example of giftedly constructed motivic development? Or does he cross the line and deliver a phoned-in, planned-from-the-start performance?

December 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Lennie Tristano: Background Music

The sound quality is quite poor, and the performance is incomplete. But Tristano's solo here is absolutely riveting, full of intensity and élan. The track starts without the melody statement . . . Tristano is in full flight, tossing off chorus after chorus of improvised lines—fast, intricate phrases that go on and on and on. So little of his work from this period is available on record, that it is easy to think of Lennie as having lost his edge, embracing the quiet life of a teacher and mentor to others. But this performance, taken at a demonic tempo, tells a much different story. This is fiery music, and full of surprises. At one point, Tristano lets loose with a barrage of majestic syncopated chords, breaking up the tapestry he is weaving out of single-note lines, and sounding as if he is ready to take off into the stratosphere. This is some righteous piano playing, let me tell you. And if it is true, as many assert, that this pianist wouldn't let a drummer challenge him, you wouldn't be able to prove it by this performance. Stabulas is very aggressive, and Tristano clearly feeds off the energy. If this is background music, I advise you to steer clear of the foreground.

June 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Wes Montgomery with Wynton Kelly: Four on Six

With its catchy bass intro by the unmistakable Paul Chambers, comped in perfect sync by Wynton Kelly's piano, this Montgomery-penned smoker delivers nonstop swing from the very first note. Jimmy Cobb's sure snare and cymbal work drive the relentless beat to its natural level while Chambers anchors throughout. Montgomery's patented octave chording takes over in a stirring solo only to be followed by Kelly's brilliantly dancing response on the ivories. This piano man can surely swing. Chambers offers up a signature bowed bass solo that could easily slow the tempo, but somehow it just allows the tune to temporarily simmer, followed by a brilliantly counterpointed drum solo from the normally reserved Cobb. This is one group that plays completely in sync. Throughout, the normally showcased Montgomery seems, for once, to be seamlessly integrated into the total band concept and to great effect. The totality of purpose that these musicians so effectively demonstrate serves this classic well.

February 20, 2008 · 0 comments


Wes Montgomery: Unit 7

Recently released as part of the Jazz Icons film series is a video of three Wes Montgomery concerts in Europe in 1965. In it, the close-up camera focuses on his unorthodox thumb-picking technique, an invaluable glimpse for students and admirers. Those who never saw him play in person wish they had been at those concerts, or perhaps at the Half Note in New York City that same year, when this track was recorded with the rhythm section that best complemented him during the 1960s. Montgomery's solo begins with inventive, careening single-note lines, followed by a section emphasizing his always highly skilled use of octaves, before concluding with an energizing display of his trademark block chords. The use of his thumb and the resultant thick, resonant sound, as well as his imaginative rhythmic variations, are the icing on the cake. Kelly, Chambers and Cobb as usual create a perfectly buoyant backdrop.

February 20, 2008 · 0 comments


John Coltrane (featuring Elvin Jones): One Up, One Down

A vital part of any extended Coltrane improvisation (this one is 20+ minutes) is the intense interplay between Trane and Elvin Jones. Elvin revolutionized jazz drumming by accenting alternating upbeats of the ride-cymbal pattern (instead of accenting on beats two and four). He is also known for his Latin-to-swing grooves and his ability to build intensity by gradually adding upbeat accents and complex polyrhythmic snare-drum comping. As Coltrane experiments with various motives throughout this improvisation, notice how Elvin is always listening and reacting to Trane’s statements while building to an intense burn on the ride cymbal.

December 01, 2007 · 0 comments


Al Cohn & Zoot Sims: Lover Come Back to Me

                  Zoot Sims at Birdland
                  Photo by Marcel Fleiss

Al Cohn and Zoot Sims may have gone to that great tenor battle in the sky, but at least they live on at their own MySpace page. (However, I must admit that I am afraid of clicking the link on that page which sends an email message to Al and Zoot. I prefer to use a Ouija board, not cyberspace, to contact the great horn players from the golden years.) Face the facts, email and text messaging are not the way to enjoy these tenor titans. Better to mix a stiff drink, and kick back listening to the knights in shining Selmers joust over the changes to "Lover Come Back to Me." Cohn takes the first two solo choruses, and Zoot digs in for three, and of course they save some special treats for the four-bar question-and-answer period. And here's an unexpected treat: Mose Allison serves as referee on the eighty-eight keys. Who wins this duel? The listener, of course.

November 27, 2007 · 0 comments


John Coltrane: One Down, One Up

Unearthed, cleaned up and released 40 years after it was recorded, this performance stands among the Coltrane quartet’s most rewarding. The opening number, which runs nearly half an hour, is a tour de force of creativity and stamina. This would be the final year the legendary group remained together, and they play like they were aware of that fact – with immediacy, urgency and audacity. Elvin Jones bashes away at his kit, Jimmy Garrison plucks with great speed and dexterity, and McCoy Tyner plunks down powerful, well-spaced chords that threaten to break the piano strings and shatter the ivories. Coltrane himself blows so fiercely he must have been gasping for air, ready to pass out, by the end of it all. A meteorologist would call it hurricane-force improvisation with intermittent tornadoes.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments


Lee Konitz: Subconscious-Lee (Live at the Half Note, 1959)

           Lee Konitz, Miles Davis, Art Blakey and
      Bud Powell at Birdland
, photo by Marcel Fleiss

After performing on the Birth of the Cool sessions, touring with Stan Kenton, and studying/performing with pianist Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz recorded this live set from the Half Note in New York City shortly before his musical hiatus in the early 1960s. The two discs are filled with first-rate Konitz and Marsh improvisations (separately and, at times, simultaneously). They are backed by the fascinating rhythm section of Evans (subbing for Tristano), Garrison and Motian. While Evans lays out for much of the Konitz/Marsh improvisation, he opens up on the double disc’s final track, “Subconscious-Lee.” Inspired jazz interaction.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments


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