Duke Ellington: Black and Tan Fantasy (Victor)

The second of Ellington's three 1927 "Black and Tan Fantasy" recordings disproves the adage that the Third Time's a Charm, since this is the one enshrined in Grammy's Hall of Fame. The performance is dated by Hardwick's smarmy alto sax, a taste best left unacquired. Plumber's helpers also abound, as Miley's growling trumpet trades rude noises with Nanton's whinnying trombone. And, yes, that's Chopin's "Funeral March" at the end. Yet whether intended as highbrow art music or floorshow underpinning, "Black and Tan Fantasy" still conjures phantoms after all these years. For, as one critic marveled at the time: "Beneath all its oddity and perverseness there was a twisted beauty that grew on me and could not be shaken off." Twisted beauty? That was undoubtedly Duke's idea.

January 20, 2008 · 0 comments

Tags:


Duke Ellington (featuring Bubber Miley): The Mooche

Duke Ellington once described Bubber Miley as "the epitome of soul and a master of the plunger mute." In time, Miley's alcohol abuse and unreliability would lead to his departure from the Ellington band, and he was dead from tuberculosis before his thirtieth birthday. But no one, apart from Duke himself, did more than Miley to shape the early Ellington sound. His incomparable mute work helped transform "The Mooche," "East St. Louis Toodle-oo" and "Black and Tan Fantasy" into classic statements of the jazz idiom. In an era in which jazz was increasingly focusing on virtuoso soloists, Miley remained true to King Oliver's philosophy that emphasized the quality of sound rather than the multiplicity of notes. With his arsenal of bends, moans, whimpers and growls, Miley could turn even the simplest melody into a deeply personal statement. Ellington, who always knew how to write to his band members' strengths, contributes one of his finest compositions of the decade.

November 26, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Duke Ellington: Black and Tan Fantasy (OKeh)

Ellington's growing musical maturity from the 1920s through the 1940s is one of the most remarkable stories in the history of jazz. At the time of "Black and Tan Fantasy," Duke was still in the early stages of this unprecedented evolution, but already we see his ability to craft a distinctive musical mood, to tell a story through the medium of his band. Here he presents a late-night dreamscape, both menacing and alluring, one that must have drawn many patrons back to the Cotton Club, where Duke had recently started his four-year stint leading the house band. Trumpeter Bubber Miley helped craft this memorable piece, both as composer and through his solo efforts. But on this date, 18-year-old Jabbo Smith -- a near-legend of 1920s jazz -- subs for Miley, and handles the trumpet chores with aplomb. One wonders what Smith might have accomplished had he accepted Ellington's offer to join the Cotton Club band. Duke completists will want to compare this track with the Brunswick and Victor versions, each featuring Miley.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Chris Botti: La Belle Dame Sans Regrets

During the original mid-'60s bossa nova craze, Brazilian Portuguese was the lingua franca. Despite being understood worldwide by a fifth as many people as English, the native tongue was part of the mystique, as with Swedish cinema. Four decades later, English pop star Sting writes and sings a lovely bossa nova in—no, still not English, but French! The good news is that the Harmon mute has made it into the new millennium. Chris Botti, the most angelic-looking trumpeter since a young Chet Baker, is such a divine Harmon-izer that the mute's sleepless 19th-century inventor, John F. Stratton, may at last rest in peace.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Rick Braun: Missing in Venice

"Missing in Venice" is a drawing, part M.C. Escher and part René Magritte, from Chris Van Allsburg's book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (1984). Inexplicably, a Titanic-sized ship is lodged in a lagoon where, on a good day, two dieting gondolas might just squeeze past one another. "Even with her mighty engines in reverse," confirms the caption, "the ocean liner was pulled further and further into the canal." Listeners to this track will be similarly sucked into an improbable vortex where a 19th-century mechanical device (the Harmon mute) navigates such 21st-century obstacles as computers, synthesizers and drum machines, pulling us further and further into The Mysteries of Rick Braun.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Miles Davis: Circle

It's a long way from Miles's Harmon-ized landmark "There Is No Greater Love" (1955) to the untethered flotation of mid-1960s jazz. In the interim, the reluctant romantic had become an abstract expressionist. Miles's legendary onstage detachment now dominated his art, which grew increasingly remote from recognizable forms. Fans were as befuddled as if Mozart, at the pinnacle of classical mastery, had suddenly started composing atonal music. Yet the stark beauty of "Circle" is as penetrating as the most heartfelt conventional ballad. Symbolically, the Harmon mute connected Miles's past to his ever-changing present, giving his ever-dwindling (for now) fan base something familiar to hold onto.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Joe Gordon: A Song for Richard

In The Jazz Reviewer's Handbook of Essential Clichés, Joe Gordon's placement among the "underrated" is secure, as is sideman Jimmy Woods's spot beneath "unrecognized." Each recorded only twice as leader before Gordon's accidental death at 35 and Woods's baffling disappearance from music soon thereafter. Both deserved better. Gordon's sound, pinched even on open horn, fit the Harmon mute as precisely as if it had been machine-tooled at the factory. Woods's warm, congenial alto complemented Joe's buttoned-down reserve through contrast. Surprisingly, in our Harmon-ized Dozen, sad ballads—the Harmon's native habitat—are outnumbered by optimistic swingers. This track joins the majority.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Lee Morgan: Bess

At first glance, Lee Morgan seems an odd inductee to the Harmon Hall of Fame. A hard-bop stalwart, Morgan's style derived from Clifford Brown, not Miles Davis, meaning extrovert not introvert. But Lee didn't compromise his approach merely by inserting a mute. After blending with the too-little-heard Clifford Jordan in stating Lee's jaunty tune, the trumpeter softens the rough edges of his hard-bop solo just enough to suit the happy occasion. Plus, wonder of wonders, the actively volcanic Mt. Blakey simmers down with wire brushes instead of his customary giant sequoia sticks. This track is worthwhile if only for that!

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Miles Davis: There is No Greater Love

In 1955, Miles Davis made the Harmon-muted trumpet his signature. Too bad a sound cannot be patented the way John Stratton (inventor of the mute in 1865) did his brainchild. Miles would've made a mint. Of course, Miles made a mint anyway, so let's not get softhearted. As for reconciling Miles's Harmon-muted romanticism with his misogyny and pugnacious persona, a phalanx of psychoanalysts commanded by Doktor Freud himself would shrink away with their diplomas between their legs. Miles's 1969-1971 pianist Keith Jarrett asked him why didn't play more ballads such as "There Is No Greater Love." Miles replied, "Because I love them too much." So do we.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Bill Evans: I'll Never Smile Again

Like Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard did not make Harmon a habit, but when he used the mute his affinity was apparent. On this Swing Era leftover (a #1 hit in 1940 for Tommy Dorsey courtesy of Frank Sinatra's vocal), Hubbard shows his familiarity with Harmon's history via an uncanny resemblance to Chet Baker on "Love Nest" (1956). Freddie also displays admirable adaptability for a 24-year-old, jelling with musicians a decade older and vastly more experienced. Neither Evans nor Hall was renowned for hard swinging, but here everybody cooks with gas thanks to firebrand Philly Joe. They make us smile again and again.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Miles Davis: 'Round Midnight


Miles Davis, photo by Herb Snitzer

Miles Davis almost missed the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival, and was only added at the last minute to a jam session. Davis selected Monk’s "‘Round Midnight" for his feature number, and his haunting muted trumpet work left the audience mesmerized. Columbia signed him largely on the basis of this performance, and Davis reprised the ballad on his debut LP for that label. He does little more than embellish the melody, but with such sensitivity to phrasing we ask for no more. Davis leaves the harmonic dissection to John Coltrane, who offers a restless, probing solo. A definitive version of a classic song.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Benny Golson & Art Farmer: Step Lightly

So, if Miles Davis proved the Harmon mute worked on ballads and Chet Baker showed it handled fast tunes, what about medium tempos? Step this way. Art Farmer's lyrical trumpet paired with Benny Golson's warm tenor was a match made in Harmon. Moreover, the lightly funky "Step Lightly" is one of Golson's most insouciant tunes. This recording, where everyone sounds slightly off-mike, would've been better served by Blue Note/Prestige/Savoy's close-up soundman Van Gelder, but regrettably Rudy couldn't be everywhere. Even so, "Step Lightly" is like those can't-eat-just-one potato chips. Once tasted, it'll keep you coming back again and again for another dip in the bag.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Duke Ellington: Black and Tan Fantasy (Brunswick)

A timeless classic of early big-band jazz, this was perhaps the first Ellington tune to really capture the ears of the music industry. It reveals that much of Duke’s compositional character was already in place by 1927: the layering of multiple themes, shifting of moods and tempi, and plenty of freedom for players like Miley and Hardwicke to express their own personalities. This reissue is sullied by poor-quality, scratchy masters that GRP apparently didn’t bother to clean up, but that doesn’t take much away from the enjoyable performance.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

Tags:


Previous Page | Next Page