Jimmy Smith: Just Friends

I once heard Brian Wilson explain that the single most important factor in recording a hit song was to make sure it was around three minutes in duration. People's attention span, it seems, can't handle anything much longer—well, at least not after a long day of catching waves down by the pier. Maybe nobody ever told Jimmy Smith. With track such as “Back at the Chicken Shack,” "The Duel" and “The Champ,” he routinely pushed beyond the eight-minute mark, and "The Sermon" is quite a homily, lasting for more than twenty minutes. On "Just Friends" he continues his crusade for the long jazz track, stretching out for a quarter of an hour of medium-tempo grooving. Yet, pace the Beach Boy, you are unlikely to find this music ennui-inducing. Smith's solo is fascinating, less funky than usual, relying rather on very raw singe-note lines. It almost sounds like a piano solo translated to the organ—something of an anomaly for this artist. But Coleman (on alto) and Morgan are also in top form. Also check out Smith's comping, which ranges from church organ celebrations to jagged thrusts into the middle of the horn player's hindquarters. Just friends? Maybe after the session.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Lee Konitz & Martial Solal: Just Friends

These two had played together on and off for 15 years at the time of this meeting, and each time they reunited showed the same empathy and telepathic relationship. So, although they talk about themselves as "brothers," it's only natural that they should tackle a tune called "Just Friends." Konitz begins alone, tentatively turning around the melody that he states in an oblique way only when Solal joins him. The alto then becomes more voluble, often rising to the upper register in a most expressive manner, while the piano comps in a comparatively restrained way. Only when the alto leaves him alone does Solal let his brilliant, extrovert style overwhelm the keyboard. And even then, he may be considered moderate. Which gives us a clue to the relationship between those two musicians: they tend to give one another what they possess, and their partner has less. Moderation from Konitz to Solal; extroversion from Solal to Konitz. Just friends? Much more than that, obviously!

January 19, 2009 · 0 comments


Hilde Hefte: Just Friends

Few figures in jazz have generated as much controversy as Chet Baker. Occasionally reviled for his drug use and dismissed by some stateside critics as a "pop" artist, Baker was nevertheless revered and celebrated in European jazz circles. Years ago pianist Egil Kapstad had the honor (or the challenge) of playing with the volatile horn man and, if this recording is any indication, his respect for this iconoclastic player remained intact.

Hilde Hefte manages to capture the essence and spirit as well as the tone of Chet's natural, flowing solos on this classic number from the Great American Songbook. Amazingly, her voice approximates a muted trumpet sound: soft, cool and convincing, with deadly accurate lines fitting the changes like well-worn gloves. Small wonder this album has been so enthusiastically embraced by the Prince of Cool's loyal subjects.

August 31, 2008 · 0 comments


Grace Kelly: Just Friends

No, not that Grace Kelly. Even so, there might be a movie angle in this alto prodigy, the child of Korean parents, born in Wellesley, Massachusetts in 1992, and already gaining recognition for her jazz playing in her mid-teens. On this CD, she shares the front line with Lee Konitz (who doesn't appear on this track), and shows off the maturity of her conception. Konitz has also been one of Kelly's teachers, and his influence can be seen in her oblique manner of solo construction. She never takes the obvious angle, and appears to be quite fastidious in her avoidance of the banal and predictable. By the same token, she is not given to showy demonstrations. In short, this is unostentatious playing, driven by a quest to find fresh melodic lines for old chord changes. Malone is the sole accompanist here, and is sensitive to the mood of the performance. But I was disappointed that the duo didn't push this song a little bit more. At under four minutes in duration, this version of "Just Friends" sounds like it could be the intro to a much longer, deeper performance.

July 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Sonny Rollins & Coleman Hawkins: Just Friends

These two tenor legends may have been "just friends," but there is still an aggressive edge to this encounter. Rollins was flirting with the avant-garde during this turbulent stage in his musical development. But here, instead of Don Cherry, Coleman Hawkins is his front-line partner. Even so, Rollins still pushes toward the outside, especially during the closing moments of this track when he tosses out disjointed phrases behind Hawkins's melody statement. This partnership never really coheres to my satisfaction. Rollins is in an exploratory mood, while Hawkins is trying to get more of a swinging groove happening. Nonetheless, the individual solos are smartly done, and there is inevitably a certain fascination in watching so much sax history compressed into a 4˝-minute track.

June 08, 2008 · 0 comments


Charlie Parker: Just Friends

Parker was delighted with this track, and cited it as one of his favorite performances. Certainly he enjoyed the apparent legitimization of his artistry by the presence of a small string orchestra, But the arrangement is insipid, and effectively destroys the value of matching this bebop legend with a quasi-classical ensemble. The altoist, for his part, plays smoothly and with a sure technical command, but nothing here will make you forget his finer Savoy or Dial sides. True, there is a certain fascination in hearing Bird take wing in such an unusual setting, yet I suspect that this recording will be remembered by later generations of jazz fans as a curio rather than a legitimate jazz masterpiece.

May 08, 2008 · 0 comments


Eddie Daniels: Just Friends

Although it was popular in premodern jazz styles, the clarinet has had few top-level performers since the beginning of the bebop era. But Eddie Daniels, who is also a fine tenor saxophonist, concentrated exclusively on the clarinet for a time starting in the 1980s. To Bird With Love is Daniels’ tribute to Charlie Parker. “Just Friends” was the best-known track on Parker’s 1949 strings album. Daniels’ facile bebop honors Parker’s classic performance.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments


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