Clifford Brown-Art Blakey: Blues

Upon his release from the Hampton Band in December 1953, Brownie found employment wherever he could—most notably with Charlie Parker and Art Blakey. The brilliant recordings he made in New York City in the Fall and the ones captured while in Europe were being released steadily to positive critical acclaim, and it was inevitable that before long, Brown would be snatched up as a star sideman or become a leader in his own right on the professional jazz circuit. This historic live date with Art Blakey in February 1954, came just before his emergence.

Alfred Lion asked Blakey to do a live date at Birdland for the Blue Note label and Art responded by hiring an all-star cast. With the advent of the LP, it was now becoming feasible to present live dates and extended songs and we are certainly richer for it. There were some rehearsals for the date and incidentally, when Miles Davis attended one, Clifford played so well that Davis told him that he hoped he would “break his chops!” The night was recorded (superbly by Rudy Van Gelder, I might add) in five shorter sets, so some of the tunes are repeated for alternate takes. “Blues” falls somewhere in the middle and it seems like the band just wanted to ‘get down and dirty’ in the midst of a series of pretty demanding tunes. Hence, we have a relaxed-groove, blues-drenched outing, much to the audience’s delight (you can hear a fan shout “harder, harder") and also to Blakey’s, who shouts to Lou Donaldson, “blow your horn!”

Horace Silver sets the pace with an eight-bar intro, emphasizing the triplet feel and sets up what might initially be mistaken for as “stripper” music, complete with audience jeers! Donaldson’s four choruses are very Parker-esque, as one might expect, in the “Parker’s Mood” vein—he is a true master of this idiom. Brownie’s four choruses are dripping with raw blues emotion—there is very little in his output that contains such base emotions. His emphatic and clarion statements alternate with phrases that sound almost like crying, exciting the crowd and building tension. By the third chorus, his lines carry the impact of a knife cutting repeated deep slashes as he sets up a kind of call-and-response with himself between the lower and upper registers of the horn. After some effective stop-time on chorus four, Brown ends with a fantastically executed double time passage. Silver’s four choruses (and his comping) are classic Horace ‘Messengers'; churchy, punchy, full of triplets and heavy shuffle rhythms. Russell provides a wonderfully solid feel, and it is apparent that Blakey is loving every second of this.

We are left with a slice of history that was undoubtedly both fun and cathartic for the players and audience. The beauty of it is that we can actually feel and enjoy it the same way those lucky participants did 55 years ago. And to think that LaRue once told me that she didn’t think Cliff (as she called him) could play the blues!

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Bobby Hutcherson: 8/4 Beat

Stick-Up! is one of Hutcherson's finest albums, either from his Blue Note years or thereafter. It was the first time Joe Henderson had appeared on a Hutcherson-led session, and also the initial recorded interaction between the vibraphonist and McCoy Tyner. Also, an additional five from Hutcherson's ever growing list of first-class, distinctive compositions were introduced here, including the angular, rhythmically infectious "8/4 Beat." This is a tune that takes up permanent residence in your subconscious, picking out furniture, carpeting, and wallpaper. It's there to stay once you've heard it, especially after a few unavoidable repeat listens. Even Hutcherson, upon hearing it afterwards, remarked, "Wow! That's a good tune!"

"8/4 Beat" straddles hard and post bop, with none of the avant-garde or atonal leanings of some of his earlier works. Vibes and piano establish the 8/4 beat and vibes and tenor play the theme, enhanced not surprisingly by Billy Higgins' vibrant colorations. Henderson's opening, unforgettably inviting phrase draws you into his probing solo, his varied tonal inflections and insistent creative pulse carrying the day. Hutcherson follows with his chime-like sound, lucid phrasing, and percussively diverse attack. His solo builds slowly in intensity and relies on a series of savory motifs to complete a compelling narrative. Tyner's improvisation could almost have been played note for note by Hutcherson, so similar is it in substance and feel to the leader's style. No wonder Tyner and Hutcherson would hook up regularly in the years to come.

June 29, 2009 · 0 comments


Tom Harrell: Tune-A-Tune

It's hard to imagine a better frontline than this—Harrell, Joe Lovano, and the trumpeter's former employer during the '80's, Phil Woods. Add the then up-and-coming Danilo Perez and the adroit rhythm team of Peter Washington and Bill Goodwin, and have this sextet be inspired by their leader's new and striking compositions, and the end result is a keeper CD of the highest order.

"Tune-A-Tune" is the most complex and challenging piece on Upswing, and appears last in the batting order. The staccato theme has a dark undercurrent, and the three horns harmonize it with a resolute cry. Harrell's lyrical, warm-toned solo is in surprising contrast to the theme's delivery, and is supported by Perez's varied textures, which range from montuno to modal note clusters. Lovano's thrusting improv nimbly explores many of the melodic and harmonic pathways offered by Harrell's composition, his runs laced with enhancing shrieks and overtones. Woods follows with a sweeping statement as well, played with a piercing sound and a passionate drive that recall his performances many years earlier with his dynamic European Rhythm Machine. Perez's solo brings the temperature down a notch, with twirling motifs and ethereal passages that coalesce cogently. The horns' beseeching reprise presents a pleasing, if slightly jolting, deviation from the pianist's more understated attack. Final mention must be made of Goodwin's aggressive, yet also highly anticipatory and responsive drumming throughout this compelling track.

May 19, 2009 · 0 comments


Dexter Gordon: It’s You or No One

After thirty-plus years in the business with a respected yet somehow undervalued reputation, Dexter Gordon received an astounding hero’s welcome upon his return engagement to the United States with a week-long run at the Village Vanguard in December 1976. Seemingly all at once, the jazz world realized that there weren’t many musicians whose resumes were as entirely representative of jazz history as Gordon’s—from swing to bop to hard-bop, from America to Europe and now back to America again. From December ’76 on, the jazz community, filled with many new faces who were just kids when Gordon last resided in America, made up for lost time by celebrating Gordon’s life and music.

The playing on “It’s You or No One” is emotional and raw. One could almost sense that the Vanguard might not have felt this kind of energy for a quite a few years. Backed by Woody Shaw and his working band at the time, which featured the propulsive drummer Louis Hayes, Gordon’s playing is fun and witty—and his bop lines are infused with an excited grittiness not heard so strongly since his early bop recordings. Shaw is in top form here as well, displaying such effortless talent that another review of this track could rightly focus on Shaw’s sustaining impact on the post-bop trumpet world. But it’s Gordon’s party, and his solo here encapsulates the classic up-tempo Gordon bop style with his never-ending focus on improvisations with clear beginnings, middles, and ends. As legend (or the original liner notes) has it, Charles Mingus showed up to one of the rehearsals for this engagement and declared to Dexter: “you’re gonna be teachin’ New York some stuff, man. Some lessons.” He did indeed.

April 14, 2009 · 0 comments


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