Max Roach-Clifford Brown: Love Is A Many Splendored Thing

Clifford Brown And Max Roach At Basin Street is one of the albums that I played along with the most when I was younger, and—along with Round Midnight by Miles with Philly, Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, John Coltrane’s Crescent, and Horace Silver’s Silver’s Serenade, among others—it’s one of the classic albums that anybody who is interested in pursuing a career in the music really needs to check out. Even though it was only together for about a year, it’s one of Max’s most important bands, with Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown on the front line. I love the arrangements and the way that band played together. The stuff was tight. It was a true band—a perfect example of the best. I hate to use that sort of terminology, but that’s the way I feel about it. These cats were executing at such a high level, and the music was so refreshing. It’s still refreshing, to this day.

This one starts off with a little, one-bar intro on the bell of the cymbal, and then they go into five, and then come the solos—Clifford, Sonny, Richie Powell, and Max. One thing that attracts me to this take is the way Richie Powell plays coming out of Max’s solo going back into the top of the song. It’s a seamless transition, like they’re coming together from different places, right into the theme.

It’s important that they were playing in 5/4 in 1956. In American culture most music is in four. It’s just those 5 beats, but with a little lopsided feeling. Now, if we were raised in India or Iraq, we would be accustomed to feeling those rhythms—but we’re not. So the fact that they were using it in “popular music” meant something in pushing the music forward—initiating something that hadn’t been widely accepted, as happened when Dave Brubeck did did “Take Five” a few years later. So this is an important document in terms of recorded history. Once an idea is documented, it becomes a possibility. If you were a younger musician in 1956 listening to this for the first time, it may have been the first time you’d heard someone do it, or play a different time signature—and the presentation is so beautiful. Max was part of so many movements where he was ahead of his time, or pointing to the future, part of the vanguard of musicians who always did something challenging.

October 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Miles Davis: Bye Bye Blackbird

Miles Davis' classic version of "Bye Bye, Blackbird" has long been considered one of the essential modern jazz recordings. However, the reasons why this particular recording became much more popular than similar recordings from Miles' discography are not so clear. One reason for "Blackbird"'s popularity was that it was recorded on his new label, Columbia, rather than on his old one, Prestige. Columbia had excellent distribution and the records were available for sale and commonly heard on the radio. And then there was the LP programming: At the start of Side 1 was the stunning title track "Round About Midnight" and at the start of Side 2 was "Blackbird", a jaunty yet sad setting of a old standard. Contrary to the myth, "Blackbird" was hardly a forgotten song: Tom Lord's "Jazz Discography" shows a steady recording history of the song up until Miles recorded it. The song was still familiar and loved by the older members of Miles' audience, and even if the song was new to you, it was easy to glean the wistful quality of the song through the Quintet's interpretation. Another key part of "Blackbird"'s popularity has to be in the solos themselves. Every solo on this track is eminently singable. Even Coltrane's runs can be sung with a little practice! For young musicians learning how to improvise, these solos were a gateway into modern jazz. And for the hipsters of the period, it was an easy way to show just how hip they were (or thought they were...) There are many wonderful little moments in this recording that make it special, but my favorite is near the end as Miles plays the final chorus. When he reaches the make my bed and light the light/ I'll be home late tonight lines, Red Garland plays the melody a third above Miles. It's a simple little gesture, maybe a little corny, but whenever I hear it, I can't help but smile.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Cannonball Adderley: Limehouse Blues

A friend of mine summed up The Cannonball Adderley Quintet In Chicago as "the Miles Davis band without Miles". True enough, but it's more than Miles' physical absence that makes this album special: it is a Cannonball Adderley album from the get-go, and most of the music included here would not have fit into the sound of Miles' band as it approached the intense modal moods of Kind Of Blue, which was recorded in the two months following this date. That is certainly the case with "Limehouse Blues", which opened the Adderley record. All thoughts of Miles disappear with the opening rush of Wynton Kelly's introduction. Played at a whirlwind tempo, the band races through the tune before Cannonball bursts in with a note-gobbling solo. His joy is infectious and he rips through sixteenth-note runs with great abandon. Coltrane was also brilliant as fast tempi ("Giant Steps" was only 3 months away) and he kept the searching element of his sound by breaking up his runs with searing held notes. Kelly provides a fleet single-line solo, but the tempo gives him a little trouble near the end of his chorus. The horns play a quick set of exchanges with Jimmy Cobb followed by a chorus of exchanges by the horns alone. After the reprise of the theme, there is an effectively arranged coda that maintains the excitement while offering a satisfying conclusion.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Horace Silver: The Cape Verdean Blues

The music of Horace Silver always referenced and sounded different than most other jazz. His music has a tinge to it that most other music doesn't have. He mixes swing and Latin better than most and had a gift for composition that few musicians possess. Silver wrote this title track for his father, who was born in Cape Verde, a small chain of islands located in the Atlantic Ocean, northwest of Africa. Silver was joined by trombone master J.J. Johnson and a stellar horn section that also included Joe Henderson and Woody Shaw.

This song has a great dance feel to it, as Humphries accents the hi hat on the off beat on the quarter note. The melody is also really playful and the sound is further enhanced as Silver doubles up the melody with the horns. He opens up his solo with strong block chords in his left hand and plays some blues licks with his right hand. This is an album, which sounds completely different than most jazz that was coming out in 1965. I like the fact that Silver was always looking for the groove and he sure found it with this track.

July 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Horace Silver: Serenade to a Soul Sister

I have to be honest, there's not a single Horace Silver song that I don't like. So now that my biases are out front, Silver returned in 1968 with this hard bop masterpiece, Serenade to a Soul Sister. Joined by tenor giant Stanley Turrentine, the band might not be the most recognizable names in the history of jazz but that's the way I like it. This group of musicians flies under the radar, digging deep for those blues. Judging from the way Turrentine and Tolliver solo, I would've liked to known this soul sister. Silver's comping on this song is typical, very relaxed and to the point with a heavy use of chords in the middle register. What I enjoy most about Silver is his consistency as a soloist. He's not going to play note after note like a Tyner or Hancock would, he has a nasty pocket and plays accordingly. His solo is marked by some nice upper register, singular melodic ideas that are simple but groove perfectly with the song. Hats off to one of the best!

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Donald Byrd: Slow Drag

Here we have yet another Bossa nova song disguised by a heavy piano bass and some bluesy changes. The opening to this song definitely sounds like it was meant for the opening sequence of a bad P.I. movie. Donald Byrd sounds good on this song as well as the rest of the album and I enjoy the changes to this tune better than the others. Byrd's playing is aided by the loose nature of the song and it grooves a little harder, especially on the turnaround, which sounds like they ripped it straight from a Hancock Blue Note recording. Byrd's trumpet style is very interesting to my ears, I can't figure out sometimes what he's going for and then all of a sudden he brings me back to table with some nice note choices. I recommend this song and the entire album for anyone that wants to get their teeth wet to some of the R&B/Bossa music of Blue Note from the late 1960s. You also don't want to miss the cool Billy Higgins vocal adlib towards the end of the song. Classic!

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Joe Henderson (with Lee Morgan): Caribbean Fire Dance

Joe Henderson added his hard-nosed tenor stylings to The Sidewinder (1963) and The Rumproller (1965) so Morgan graciously returned the favor in 1966 by joining the tenorman on his fantastic Mode for Joe. Surrounded by a who’s who of Blue Note superstars, Morgan stands out with a performance that characterizes his mid-1960s playing: daring and bold but imperfect, yet unrelenting in energy and determination.

Composer Cedar Walton’s Latin-tinged ostinato pattern and Hutcherson’s sporadic chime-like octaves give “Caribbean Fire Dance” an anxious, unresolved feeling which the soloists exploit in unique ways, creating a haunting and increasingly tense listening experience. Though Morgan sounds fatigued from the tune’s downbeat, he summons up his chops and courageously puts it all on the line in his solo. He immediately shoots into his upper register, his crackling, spreading tone sounds on the brink of bursting into flames. Exposed, audacious, and brutally raw, the first 16-bars of his improvisation are some of the most thrilling and suspenseful Morgan ever waxed. He returns from the stratosphere on the bridge, moving self-consciously up and down a whole-tone scale. Morgan toys with rhythmic ideas that recall the staccato seesawing nature of the melody during his second chorus, before a more convincing use of the whole-tone scale on his second bridge. Morgan combines all of the distinct elements of his style in this solo—his daredevil power and range, complex rhythmic and harmonic eccentricities, built on top of a bedrock of blues.

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments


Lee Morgan: Search For The New Land

Recorded not even two months later yet far from the carefree groove of his hit single “The Sidewinder,” Morgan travels to the outer reaches of hard-bop and flirts with a darker, modal terrain on the aptly titled “Search for the New Land.” Like two seasoned explorers at sea, Morgan and Shorter reflect nostalgically on previous journeys while their vessel rolls over swelling waves of trills and cymbals in the rubato opening section. Workman spies land on the distant horizon and valiantly sets course, introducing an ominous waltz groove. As the rhythm section picks up steam, Morgan and Shorter sing their same song with newfound exuberance over the steady bounce of their rhythm mates. Shorter cautiously ventures out first, soon finding firm footing and skittering through all registers of his tenor and Morgan follows with pensive and introspective ponderings, though still deeply rooted in the blues. Hancock’s comping is intriguing; note his “broken record” repetitiveness contrasting Morgan’s pulling back on the time (6:00-6:10) and his pulsating connection with Higgins which allows the trumpeter to experiment with polyrhythms (6:20-6:30). Green takes a swinging solo before Hancock’s dense block-chording leads the group back out to sea and on towards their next endeavor. Morgan was entering the pinnacle of his career with Search for the New Land, broadening both the scope of his compositions and the depth of his improvisations.

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments


Clifford Brown-Max Roach: Blues Walk

When the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet formed in the spring of 1954, Sonny Stitt was its first saxophone player. Not able to support three leaders, this group as such only lasted a few weeks, with Stitt being replaced initially by Teddy Edwards, and he by Land. Sonny left behind a wonderful blues riff tune for the quintet’s repertoire, one that he recorded under the title “Loose Walk” in 1952. Why it has been attributed to Brown is a mystery, since he would never have knowingly taken credit for another’s creative contribution. This particular arrangement, albeit simple, gets to the heart of what the Max Roach-Clifford Brown aggregation was all about—excitement, dynamics, hearty swing and coherence of improvisational thought. It offers the listener the true spirit of jazz in such a way that tugs at their emotions by organizing well-placed moments of tension and release into the overall presentation. It wasn’t to be just a ‘blowing session’ left to chance.

The arrangement is simple enough in its execution, but what the players do within that framework is the true genius. The medium-up punchy riff tune is repeated twice, and Brown has the break into the first solo. He intermixes blues-inflected passages with those that take the twists and turns of a studied bebop master. He builds tension to his fourth and fifth choruses where Land plays a background riff that adds to the tension. Relief comes on the sixth chorus, as Brown backs down again and builds toward the next climax. His seven choruses lead into Land’s eight, where a similar approach is employed, Brown riffing on the fifth and sixth choruses. Land has a wonderful ‘barking’ quality to his tone and, complements Brown’s phrases wonderfully. Powell builds his six-chorus solo to a polyrhythmic frenzy by the final chorus, then hands it to the ensemble which plays a four-bar send off to Roach’s drum solo. The sendoff happens again and Max takes another five solo drum choruses that lead smoothly into a series of trading by the horns. These interchanges are some of the most exciting in recorded jazz. Two choruses of fours lead into a chorus of twos, a chorus of ones, and a chorus of half-bar improvisations. It is a tremendously difficult task for an improviser to coordinate these short interplays into coherent, flowing lines, but these musicians do it admirably. If you compare this to the alternate take, you can hear how things can go quickly awry if the timing happens to get away from you! Clifford misses the downbeat of the melody out, but it in no way detracts from the excitement of the moment. This is recorded jazz done in a brilliant and thrilling fashion.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Clifford Brown: Joy Spring

Less than a month after the historic February 1954 A Night At Birdland session with Art Blakey, Brownie found himself in California as the new co-leader of a hard bop quintet with master drummer Max Roach. The group went through a few personnel changes during its first months of existence, and eventually opened at the California Club in April for an extended engagement. Once in Los Angeles, Clifford met, and was immediately attracted to, a young USC psychology student named LaRue Anderson, who was writing a master’s thesis attempting to disprove jazz as an art form. She formed a bond with Max Roach and Charlie Parker in the process, and consequently met Clifford when they both thought she and he would make a good couple. Though it took LaRue awhile to give him a second look, they eventually dated, fell in love, and were married on June 26th of that year (also her birthday). Clifford asked her if she would marry his music and him! During their spring courtship, Brown introduced a new song at the California Club for the girl he recently met that had become his “Joy Spring.” I understand the original title was actually “Little Miss Meow,” and I’ll just leave that one to your imagination! Though LaRue didn’t understand his improvisational genius, she recognized his beauty and told me that he would “absorb the sound of the ocean and the feeling for a sunset,” and it would be reflected in his music.

This recording date features the first recording of two Brown originals—“Daahoud” and “Joy Spring.” Dick Bock had heard Clifford and wanted to record him for his fledgling Pacific Jazz label in the West Coast style with a band of his design. To write the arrangements, he hired tenor saxophonist Jack Montrose, who was working with Art Pepper in a group that was playing opposite the Brown-Roach Quintet at the Tiffany Club around the time of this session. He spent days and nights with Brown, discussing and finalizing all the arrangements. It is unclear whether it was planned or simply a mistake that “Joy Spring” ended up in the key of Eb here as opposed to F as when the Brown-Roach group waxed their version about three weeks later. Whatever the circumstance, Brown plays through it with characteristic ease, even though the second section places him in E-major!

Montrose’s arrangement is busy and quite classical in nature with three lower-voiced horns supporting Brown’s trumpet melody in a kind of responsorial counterpoint. While very “arranged,” the B section does swing, as do the solos. Clifford takes a break into his one-chorus statement and he is extremely melodic in approach, while both he and the rhythm section swing joyously. Though played with a slight restraint, there is very little change from the Brownie the world has come to know thus far. Manne supports with some well-articulated punches on the snare. Bob Gordon follows with a chorus and is also highly melodic, sounding somewhat like Harold Land did when paired with Brown. The melody goes out in a rhythmic variation, complete with some swells by the horns, and Clifford’s melody is voiced to jump in and out of the harmonized horn texture underneath. A quick outing, the whole presentation clocks in at just over three minutes.

Foreshadowing Brown’s own fatal car accident two years later, Bob Gordon, the other featured soloist on this selection, would perish in a similar car incident in August 1955.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Gigi Gryce: Minority

A considerable talent as a composer and altoist, Gigi Gryce produced a largely unnoticed discography that, although all recorded in a relatively short period throughout the 1950s, highlights some legit hard-bop gems. After touring with Lionel Hampton and freelancing with Clifford Brown, Thelonious Monk, and Max Roach in the early to mid ‘50s, Gryce landed two long-standing, largely concurrent gigs from 1955-1958 as a member of Oscar Pettiford’s working band and as a leader of the Jazz Lab Quintet, which (usually) featured trumpeter Donald Byrd and drummer Art Taylor. Until a recent three-disc release of The Complete Jazz Lab sessions, this recording was the go-to Jazz Lab set, featuring sharp alto work from Gryce. Of special note on this version of the Gryce-penned standard, “Minority,” is Byrd’s compact, efficient, melodic solo (he would soon begin stretching out far more than he is here) and Art Taylor’s interesting propulsion on beat four throughout some of the soloing

June 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Hank Mobley: No Room For Squares

No Room for Squares is comprised of two ’63 sessions that both feature the definitive hard-bop styling of Hank Mobley and Philly Joe Jones. The first date finds the two working with bassist Butch Warren, trumpeter Donald Byrd and pianist Herbie Hancock – sensible pairings due to Mobley’s appearance on Byrd’s A New Perspective and Hancock’s My Point of View around the same time as the earlier March date. Six months later, on October 2nd, John Ore, Lee Morgan, and Andrew Hill replaced Warren, Byrd, and Hancock, and while the whole album is a worthwhile listen, there’s a particular spark on the tracks from the second session, highlighted by this title track.

Mobley’s brief opening solo is filled with quick bursts rather than extended lines, yielding a roving, investigational statement. Lee Morgan’s high-risk, high-reward storytelling on “No Room for Squares” is trumpet solo construction of the very highest order – the highlight of the track if not the entire album. Andrew Hill intriguingly dials it back here and delivers simple, dark Tyner-with-a-twist harmonic clusters until he explodes into a super-motivic solo. Listening to Hill and Hancock back-to-back makes for a pretty fascinating study in two players who share similar harmonic proclivities but execute their ideas with quite different rhythmic outputs. Finalized by Jones’ thunderous bombs while trading fours with the rest of the band, this track presents hard-bop highlights at every angle.

June 16, 2009 · 1 comment


Hank Mobley: Roll Call

Hank Mobley’s “Roll Call” is an attention-grabbing, fiercely-swinging hard bop classic featuring some of the greatest players in jazz. Art Blakey delivers a heavy-handed opening statement that leads the tune into its stop-time head. From here, Mobley steps into the spotlight, setting the bar high and playing one of his most impressive solos. His tone has a unique fullness that rarely sounds pushed or edgy, and his use of dynamics is tasteful. Up next is trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, whose impassioned playing forever changed the voice of jazz trumpet. Hubbard plays even his most challenging phrases with ease, proving his physical dexterity and great taste as he flies through the changes outlined by Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers. Kelly follows Hubbard with three lively choruses before Art Blakey takes a solo that carries “Roll Call” back to its head.

June 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers: Come Rain Or Come Shine

I’m not sure who wrote this groovy little arrangement of “Come Rain Or Come Shine” (and while musical director Benny Golson is the most likely arranger, it could have been anyone in the band), but alongside “It’s You Or No One”, this is one of the best versions of a standard ever recorded by the Messengers. The band was in top form on this day and everyone sounds inspired and in a deep groove. The arrangement skips along happily in a medium tempo, but still maintains a slight touch of the song’s intensity without bringing down the mood. Bobby Timmons’ piano solo is almost entirely composed of block chords, and then Golson devours the changes as if they were a turkey dinner. Morgan’s solo shows his Clifford Brown roots, but played with a fiery tone as only Morgan could do it. Merritt’s bass solo is melodic and well-constructed with a downward motive used as a recurring idea. The horns return for a full chorus of melody and at the coda, the final phrase of the melody is repeated and then taken up a third as an acknowledgement of the song’s dramatic nature.

May 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: D's Dilemma

Though they lacked the strong compositional and stylistic influence of departed co-founder Horace Silver and stars like Lee Morgan and Bobby Timmons, the often overlooked second edition of the Jazz Messengers nevertheless contributed a plethora of hard swinging albums to the group’s catalog and helped define its lasting sound.

Blakey’s signature fills complete the fragmented but lyrical melody of "D’s Dilemma," including his patented pitch-altered triplets (the tension of the drum head manipulated by pressure from his elbow). Jackie McLean and Bill Hardman’s similarly acidic tones and pressing styles made them as complementary as any frontline in Jazz Messenger history. Even at this mid-tempo lope they both remain quite edgy — McLean with his bitter tone and slashing double-timed runs and Hardman cutting through with a metallic bite in his Harmon-muted choruses. Fans of hard bop will enjoy hearing McLean during his formative years and might be surprised by what this solid version of the Jazz Messengers has to offer.

May 03, 2009 · 0 comments


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