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


Gerry Gibbs & Ravi Coltrane: Impressions

If you are wondering how Gerry Gibbs and Ravi Coltrane came together on Gibbs' 1996 debut album, The Thrasher, it just happens that Gerry's father, vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, introduced John Coltrane to his wife-to-be Alice McLeod. Their son, Ravi, and Gerry became close friends and Ravi was a member of the drummer's working quartet at the time of this recording, after having spent three years with the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine earlier in the '90's. As can be heard here on Gibbs' fresh arrangement of John Coltrane's "Impressions," even early on in his career Ravi sounded very little like his father, who died when he was only two.

Uri Caine's sprightly piano intro sets the stage for Coltrane's playing of Gibbs' totally reworked--both harmonically and rhythmically--version of the "Impressions" theme, with violinist Mark Feldman joining the saxophonist on the replay. This is followed by a swaying montuno from Caine and vibist Joe Locke and a prickly vamp by Feldman (pizzicato) and Locke, just prior to Coltrane's tenor solo. Suspended time sections serve as launching pads for Ravi's convoluted, logically conceived, and unyieldingly inventive phrasings and runs. Caine's improv is buoyantly zestful and rhythmically diverse. Gibbs' well-executed, aggressively delivered drum solo is bolstered by the same vamp and montuno heard previously. The concluding well-written parts for the sextet as a whole seal the deal on one the most provocative and unique treatments of "Impressions" ever recorded.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Bill Evans & Jeremy Steig: So What

When Denny Zeitlin was brought in by producer John Hammond to play piano on Jeremy Steig's 1963 debut recording, Flute Fever, as Zeitlin recalled in a recent interview (see Marc Myers' JazzWax blog), Steig "was very frank about his raw emotional approach to playing. He said to me, 'Sometimes I just like to have a tantrum out there.' " Bill Evans first met and heard Steig in 1964, and in his original liner notes for the 1969 What's New album wrote, "Jeremy's playing also has a side of intensity that occasionally might defy belief. I played flute and piccolo for fourteen years and therefore feel a justification for my high estimation of Jeremy's exceptional scope as a flutist." Evans, who had once recorded with flutist Herbie Mann (Nirvana), was well aware that Steig was taking the instrument to places untouched emotionally and technically by even Eric Dolphy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. It wasn't until 1968 that Evans and Steig played together, Steig sitting in with the Evans trio at club dates in New York, which logically led to their recorded collaboration on What's New.

Steig had already performed "So What" on his Flute Fever session with Zeitlin [see jazz.com review], and of course Evans had played it on the album that introduced the now jazz standard, Miles Davis' revered Kind of Blue. Evans and Steig essay a diverting free-form intro and play the theme together alongside Eddie Gomez's bass vamp. Steig's breathy tone and swirling, tenacious attack is encapsulated in his first brief solo, which gives way to Evans' lengthier improv. Evans' pronounced McCoy Tyner-like left-hand figures, two-handed unison exclamations, and unyielding momentum are all a far cry from the pianist's contemplative, subdued side. Steig's second solo seems to be propelled to greater and greater heights by Gomez's driving, variegated bass lines. The flutist's tonal inventiveness is boundless, including the use of overblowing, humming, and vocalized overtones. Even at his most possessed, however, Steig's phrasing retains logic and relevance. Gomez's feature prior to the theme restatement is an excellent early example of his deliberate yet elaborate modus operandi.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Dexter Gordon: Kong Neptune

Recorded in Paris in 1964 and featuring two of Gordon’s most familiar European sidemen (pianist Kenny Drew and bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen), One Flight Up reveals one of the more intriguing relationships in the history of jazz influence—Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane. Dexter Gordon’s line construction and big, open sound was a major early influence on Coltrane. And while Trane initially took a little while to develop his craft, we all know that once he did, he altered the course of how just about everyone—Gordon included—approached their instrument. At the height of Coltrane’s creative powers in 1964, Gordon, in turn, released One Flight Up, and while it’s certainly not free or avant-garde, it features a kicked-in-the-rear Gordon eager to stretch out more than ever before.

Whether listening to the 18+ minute “Tanya,” the 11+ minute “Coppin’ the Haven,” or the 11+ minute “Kong Neptune,” one gets a glimpse of a Gordon who is relying a bit more on energy, texture, and mood than on careful construction of bop lines. While “Tanya” may be the most adventurous and Trane-like (although it proves that not even Art Taylor could pull off a legit Elvin Jones imitation), “Kong Neptune” comes closest to achieving a fully cohesive atmosphere. Note how Gordon utilizes the full range of his horn for certain lines and then alternately focuses on repetitive, single-note lines to provide a more-tension-than-release feel. A rigorous, self-aware performance featuring Gordon at his most creative.

April 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Wynton Marsalis: Knozz-Moe-King

The title of the song may demand "No Smoking," but this band is clearly in violation of the city ordinance. In fact, if you are looking for a smokin' Wynton Marsalis performance, this track from the trumpeter's December 1986 engagement at Blues Alley is a good place to start. At age 25, Marsalis was playing with a technical mastery and burning energy that few horn players in the history of this music have ever matched. In a short while, Wynton would take on a more traditional approach, and enter into an Ellingtonian-ish phase of his career that still marks his music today. But there are no signs of that looming change on the Blues Alley date. Marsalis plays fast and hot, with long loping lines that feed off the rhythm section. And what a rhythm section! For sheer unbridled drive, it would be hard to top this combo. The piece is off in modal land, and is quite malleable; but Marsalis and company push it about as far as it will go without breaking. You can check out the other versions for comparison. (This is the longest—and fastest—of the three versions of "Knozz Moe King" from the Blues Alley album.)

January 22, 2009 · 0 comments


Dick Dale and His Del-Tones: Misirlou

You thought that Miles and Trane were the only people experimenting with modes in the early 1960s? Think again. Dick Dale, the King of the Surf Guitar, was playing some crazy scales on his Stratocaster back in the day, with a little help from his friend: the Fender reverb unit. The "wet sound" from this high-tech (for 1962) baby defined a new style of play. In Dale's words, he "just started cranking on that mother." The modal sensibility came from the history of "Misirlou," which started life as a Greek popular song. But under Dale's prodigious digits, the result was a wild and unhinged instrumental that shot to the top of the Los Angeles charts, and has retained a cult following to this day. Most people believe surf music started with the Beach Boys, but there is still a hardcore group that insists that real surf music is guitar-driven and doesn't need any stinkin' vocals. For this fringe of true believers—and you are invited to join their ranks—Dick Dale is the King.

This song had an interesting afterlife. It was featured in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. The Black Eyed Peas used it as the basis for their song "Pump It." And "Misirlou" was celebrated at the Athens Olympics as a masterwork of Greek music, and played at the closing ceremony. But the event organizers invited Anna Vissi, not Dick Dale, to perform it. What wusses! As punishment, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos decree 30 years of lousy waves on the shores of the Aegean Sea.

October 13, 2008 · 1 comment


Miles Davis: Milestones

On this modal 40-bar-form classic, Cannonball Adderley provides the jump-off solo with his always undeniable force on alto sax. Consistently rooted in the blues, Adderley's solo is the most riveting and moving as he sails across Red Garland's smooth comping. Davis's solo is nice but sounds like it would've worked better if he'd preceded Adderley. John Coltrane provides the last solo and exhibits his tenor sax mastery in ways very few have done since. Philly Joe Jones provides a nice change as he hits the snare on 4 every two measures, which makes the groove of this song during solo sections.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments


Marty Ehrlich: Waltz

The problem with 3/4 modal tunes is not only that there are a lot of them, but that you must improvise in a very original way if you don't want to sound corny. Here Ehrlich manages to be convincing, partly because his bass clarinet is a rather rare instrument, but also because he has great partners and leaves them lots of room. Formanek takes a long, interesting solo, Drummond is refined and swinging, and Caine's voicings get the best out of the rather predictable chords.

March 31, 2008 · 0 comments


Stan Kenton: Ennui

Kenton took his Innovations in Modern Music concert jazz orchestra on two tours throughout the U.S. Although there were sellout crowds at many of the venues it played, the tour lost a lot of money. Even so, it confirmed Kenton’s belief that audiences would pay to hear modernistic jazz-tinged orchestral music. Many composers were asked to contribute, including a young trombone player/leader who had studied with Lennie Tristano in his hometown of Chicago. William Russo would become a distinguished composer, teacher and writer. "Ennui," one of the earliest modal compositions for jazz orchestra (phrygian to be precise), was described by its composer as a study in a quiet and relaxed mood. Harry Betts is the soloist.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments


Wynton Marsalis: Chambers of Tain

My CD copy of this release does not provide any composer information, or list the musicians, or even tell you the state or country where the music was recorded. (Although it does note the microphones employed: Neuman: U-67, KM-84, T170i; AKG: 414EB-P48, 451.) But you can't keep a band this good a secret, no matter how hard the folks at Sony / Columbia work to hide their light under a bushel. When these unknown musicians first released the mystery track on the Black Codes (From the Underground) LP, back in the mid-1980s, a host of cryptographers worked to decipher the discographical information from a cypher supposedly hidden in Stanley Crouch's liner notes. But seasoned jazz fans didn't need to break the Black Code—they just listened to this sizzling hot performance for a few seconds before bowing in deference to Wynton Marsalis, his brother Branford, and the stellar rhythm section of Kenny Kirkland, Jeff 'Tain' Watts and Charnett Moffett. In all honesty, this record shook people up when it first came out, and still amazes today. Wynton puts it all together in his solo—great ideas, peerless virtuosity, hard-edged swing. And the whole band clicks, both on the labyrinthine head and during the fast-paced modally-oriented solos. A classic performance from the mid-1980s.

December 01, 2007 · 0 comments


McCoy Tyner: Impressions

McCoy Tyner had not made a trio recording since 1964, when he walked into Fantasy Records studio in Berkeley to join bassist Ron Carter and drummer Elvin Jones for the two days of impassioned music-making that resulted in Trident. But during the intervening decade, the pianist had expanded his harmonic and melodic vocabulary, and also raised the intensity of his playing several notches. "Impressions" is a carryover from Tyner's days with John Coltrane -- just as "Impressions" was Coltrane's reinvention of "So What" from Trane's stint with Miles Davis. This is some of the finest modal piano work on record, and a reminder of why so many up-and-coming from that era were borrowing from Tyner's bag, imitating his trademark runs and howitzer keyboard voicings. A major work from a preeminent artist.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments


Joe Henderson: Mode for Joe

At a time when far too many Coltrane clones roamed the Earth, Joe Henderson shined as a personal, distinctive stylist with a brawny, instantly recognizable tone. Walton’s delicate and gently swinging “Mode for Joe” brings out the softer, lyrical side of these Blue Note heavyweights. Henderson contributes one of his more subdued solos on record. Though less aggressive than normal, his solo is still harmonically adventurous and surprising. His melodicism is juxtaposed by sudden bursts of frantic clusters of notes. Hutcherson is in top form—once again proving he is the most expressive of all vibraphonists. A great addition to any collection.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments


Herbie Hancock: So What / Impressions

Listeners expecting stylistic imitation (as in many past tributes) will be disappointed, but those who welcome a fresh interpretation of the Davis and Coltrane concepts will love this record. “So What / Impressions” is more introspective and melancholic than 1960s performances by the respective composers, allowing each improviser to reference the styles of their masters, but not be bound by them. Hargrove’s solo is astounding—contemplative and brilliantly paced, eventually reaching a rousing climax. Hancock’s comping is busy and detached at times, but more often faultlessly complementary. Blade adds powerful rhythmic dialogue throughout, especially at the end of Brecker’s inspired chorus. Spectacular playing all around.

November 03, 2007 · 0 comments


Miles Davis: So What

Miles Davis, artwork by Michael Symonds

Miles Davis's 1959 sextet is widely considered the greatest musical group in the history of the universe. Yet neither the scariest lineup since the 1927 Yankees' Murderers Row nor the novelty of modal jazz can explain the enduring mystery of "So What." Derived from Morton Gould’s American Symphonette No. 2 (1938) via Ahmad Jamal’s “Pavanne” (1955), "So What" wasn't this band's first foray into modality; they'd recorded "Milestones" a year before, making "So What" a sequel, and we all know what turkeys those usually are. "So What," though, has attitude. This is the coolest hipster's shrug of all time. So what.

November 02, 2007 · 2 comments


Paul Desmond: Take Ten

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond had a deal. Whenever Desmond recorded as leader, to avoid competing with Brubeck's Quartet, there'd be no piano. So Paul recorded with Gerry Mulligan-type pianoless quartets—twice with Mulligan, more often with Jim Hall. Desmond, who habitually leaned against Brubeck's piano after soloing, joked that Hall "complains when I lean on his guitar." Otherwise, this match of the self-effacing was ideal. Following Brubeck's smash hit "Take Five," Desmond could not avoid a sequel. His 5/4 bossa nova "Take Ten" has a laid-back charm and too-short Middle Eastern modal solo from Paul that easily recommend it.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments


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