Thomas Moeckel: Asora

Swiss triple-threat jazzman Thomas Moeckel puts aside the guitar to take a turn on trumpet for this airy valse by bassist Michael Chylewski. Recorded in the Zurich studio of Radio DRS as a special project, the album offers a variety of original compositions representing the moods of the seasons. "Asora" features Moeckel in a cool jazz mode, and his playing is authoritative and relaxed. Chylewski's dynamic upright is the key to the energy propelling the rest of the ensemble, supported by J.P. Brodbeck's judicious piano coloration and drummer Christoph Mohler's crisp, airborne punctuation.

I hear springtime and flowers in this piece but, to the best of my knowledge, Asora is a hotel in the charming Alpine mountain village of Arosa, Switzerland, known for its wintry vistas. Regardless, the playing on this track is buoyant and upbeat, a warm ray of sunshine to thaw the most snowbound weary traveler.

February 02, 2009 · 0 comments


Grachan Moncur III: Thandiwa

The only chord change-based tune on an album of otherwise free-form pieces, "Thandiwa" is an angular waltz made up of 4-bar phrases in AABB form. Of the four solos, the leader's is, oddly enough, the shortest and most tentative. Shorter stretches out, exploring the tune from every angle, developing short motives, toying with the rhythms, and dissecting the changes before winding things up with some quiet sheets of sound. It's nice to be reminded of how great Herbie Hancock sounded on a real piano and in the company of his peers. Though the personnel consists of 3/5 of the Miles Davis Quintet at the time, Moncur's music puts things into an entirely different sound world.

January 29, 2009 · 0 comments


Joe Henderson: Black Narcissus

This is clearly one of the most beautiful slow jazz waltzes ever written. Henderson first recorded it with a small ensemble, and its delicacy might have suffered from a big band treatment. But thanks to arranger Bob Belden and to the beautiful piano solo in the first part of the tune, Henderson's entrance comes as a gem in the middle of the track. Corea's work behind him remains incredibly subtle, the horn sections are used to optimal efficiency – be it as discreet color sheets or as source of tension and release – and the rhythm section is exquisitely musical through and through.

March 05, 2008 · 0 comments


Miles Davis: Someday My Prince Will Come

Jazz waltzes were still fairly rare back in 1961, and Paul Chambers' pedal point intro keeps the meter a mystery during the opening seconds. Cobb is part of the conspiracy, and refuses to signal the downbeat, while Wynton Kelly floats over their throbbing pulse. These opening feints -- forty seconds of sweetness and light -- are worth the price of admission alone . . . but then Miles enters and shows how he can put his stamp on a song just by playing the melody. His solo is a minimalist canvas, perfectly matched by Kelly's crisp comping. The swing gets stronger with Mobley's tenor and during Kelly's solo, but when Coltrane enters with his "sheets of sound" the temperature in the studio rises at least ten degrees. The handsome prince has arrived on a Harley, ready to burn rubber. But Chambers rushes back like a protective dueña, instilling decorum with his pedal point, and this magical performance makes a complete circle back to its starting point. What a ride!

December 02, 2007 · 0 comments


Eric Dolphy & Booker Little: Fire Waltz

Trumpeter Booker Little would be dead from uremia less than three months after this celebrated recording, a promising career cut off at only 23 years of age. Eric Dolphy would also soon be gone, dead three years later at the age of thirty-six. But even if this duo had only left behind the Five Spot recordings, their reputations would be secure. The piano is out-of-tune, the audience noisy, but Dolphy and Little solo as though this is the concert to end all concerts, playing with the fervor of those true believers who walk barefoot on hot coals. On this "Fire Waltz," Dolphy leads off with a speaking-in-tongues solo on the alto, proselytizing for a new world of jazz between the extremes of Bird and Ornette. Little follows, opening in a hard-bop vein, but gradually pushing harder and harder against the harmonies. "The more dissonance, the bigger the sound," Little mentioned in a rare interview. "I can't think in terms of wrong note. In fact, I don't hear any notes as being wrong. It's a matter of knowing how to integrate the notes and, if you must, how to resolve them." Little demonstrates his thesis on this track, constantly disrupting the harmonic equilibrium with a slashing, shock-and-awe solo that ranks among his finest musical moments.

November 25, 2007 · 0 comments


Mal Waldron: Fire Waltz

The fire on this, the original recording of one of the pianist’s most enduring original compositions, emanates primarily from Booker Ervin’s potently keening tenor saxophone. Waldron’s own short solo typifies his style: insistent and blues-tinged, sprinkled with note clusters inspired by Monk’s example but sounding like no one but Waldron himself. The other two soloists are Carter, whose cello playing here sounds undisciplined compared to his work on the piccolo bass in later decades, and bassist Benjamin, who turns in a competent, if not brilliant effort. There’s no Dolphy solo here, but he would make up for it the following month with his classic live rendition of the piece captured at New York’s Five Spot.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments


Max Roach: Lover

Like Dave Brubeck's 1955 "Lover," this track sticks exclusively to waltz meter. These cats, however, are card-carrying hard boppers, so quaintness ain't an option. Roach formed this band after the previous year's premature death of his co-leader, Clifford Brown. Bop veteran Kenny Dorham wisely doesn't try to emulate Clifford, but rather asserts his own, somewhat prissy style opposite the perpetually priapic Sonny Rollins. Little-known pianist Billy Wallace impresses by soloing in octaves, while Max exerts his customary mastery. Whatever fool wrote (on this very website!) that drum solos should be seen and not heard has obviously never listened to Max Roach.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments


Cal Tjader: Colorado Waltz

Touring the U.S. in 1882 to lecture on Aestheticism, a dandified Oscar Wilde ("I have nothing to declare," he assured a customs inspector, "except my genius") was ridiculed by snooty San Franciscans but caused an absolute sensation amongst the silver-mining ruffians of Leadville, Colorado. Eighty-six years later, Cal Tjader continues this ill-advised tradition of aesthetic arbitrage between Bay Area and Rocky Mountains. To a state with one of the U.S.'s highest proportions of Hispanics, Tjader dedicates a waltz—a form forged in that crucible of Spanish culture, 18th-century Vienna. An attractive piece, a lilting performance, but like Oscar Wilde, it's Coloradan by adoption only.

November 19, 2007 · 1 comment


George Russell: Kentucky Oysters

Claiming their bluegrass neighbors couldn't differentiate between seafood and hog guts, Indianans made "Kentucky Oysters" slang for the soul food delicacy chitlins. The slander, as celebrated in this dual-tempo blues waltz by Hoosier David Baker, seems good-natured. (No truth to the rumor that Baker's dislocated jaw, forcing him to abandon the trombone, was applied by an irate Kentuckian.) The ensemble reverb is overdone, and there's an awkward splice between trumpet and piano solos—the latter an especially interesting contribution from leader Russell, best known as theorist/composer. But this is nonetheless an outstanding example of early-'60s jazz, simultaneously searching and funky.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments


Bill Evans: Elsa

During the final studio session by a short-lived but long-loved trio, Evans and LaFaro were reportedly so miffed at one another they weren't speaking. At least, not verbally. Musically, however, they (and Motian) were sublimely in sync, and nowhere more so than on drummer Earl Zindars's lovely waltz tribute to his wife, "Elsa." Beautifully recorded by soundman Bill Stoddard, Evans's piano simply sings, from delicate single-note passages to masterfully subdued block chords. With LaFaro mercifully keeping his monstrous technique in check, and Motian providing his customary sensitive support, the piece belongs to Evans, and his performance belongs to the ages.

November 04, 2007 · 1 comment


Max Roach: Valse Hot (1957)

Max Roach waltzes with Sonny Rollins again a year after they'd twice recorded "Valse Hot" at more plodding tempos. At first glance, the antiquated waltz form seemed as out of place in modern jazz as a plushly appointed, horse-drawn carriage clopping around the Indy 500. But this combination of hip and hoary proved surprisingly compatible. The band is thoroughly at ease with the metrical mutation, for which the leader gets special credit. Roach's timekeeping is steady as a grandfather clock and as swinging as its pendulum. Bright and tuneful, "Valse Hot" sparkles like the blue Danube following a spring rain.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments


Abbey Lincoln: A Child is Born

This reading of Thad Jones’s standard has a sedate, introspective quality, and the solos from Johnson and Kendrick are beautifully executed, fully adding to that atmosphere. The underlying presence of the blues in their playing is thrilling, yet does not tarnish the somber tone of the work. The real show here, however, is Lincoln’s singing. I’d never heard Alec Wilder’s words previous to this listening, and I’m not sure they’ve settled in, but the horn-like quality of Lincoln's voice mesmerizes no matter what words come out. Such a unique and precious jazz instrument!

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments


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