Denny Zeitlin: Broadway Blues

Denny Zeitlin has long had an affinity for the music of Ornette Coleman, and he is one of several pianists (others including Paul Bley, Walter Norris, Keith Jarrett, Joachim Kuhn, and Geri Allen) who have best assimilated Coleman’s musical language. He has recorded several Coleman works, including “Lonely Woman,” “Bird Food,” and “Turnaround”.

Zeitlin and bassist David Friesen (b. 1942) collaborated productively for over a decade, and this blistering version of Coleman’s “Broadway Blues” shows the duo at their best. The piece is a blues in intent rather than conventional twelve-bar form (in Coleman’s typically idiosyncratic fashion). Zeitlin and Friesen take the theme apart and explore it from a variety of angles— in effect, deconstructing Coleman’s deconstruction.

June 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Charlie Haden: War Orphans

In 1969, even though Charlie Haden & Co. were clearly staunch opponents of the Vietnam War, the Liberation Music Orchestra took the high road to deliver a sociopolitical message, performing instrumental music largely inspired by the Spanish Civil War. The big band was therefore infinitely more powerful than your average musicians performing their usual fare while playing political preacher between song performances.

On Ornette Coleman's "War Orphans" from the Liberation Music Orchestra's debut recording, Haden and pianist/arranger/co-conductor Carla Bley engage in an extended conversation with delicate, guarded grace. The remaining players creep in as the tune concludes, providing an eerie culmination in which a social and political message has been delivered without a word uttered. Also notice that this big band is not assembled by section as classic big bands were. A big band where you have only one musician to a part, as is the case here, is a significant modern development that leads to some groundbreaking playing throughout this 1969 recording.

Although the group has only occasionally toured and recorded since 1969, Haden and Bley occasionally bring the band out of retirement whenever the time comes to deliver a musical message. No surprise that they were set to perform at the Blue Note during election week in November 2008.

October 30, 2008 · 0 comments


Bill Carrothers: When Will The Blues Leave

The music of Ornette Coleman is chockfull of so many twists, turns and unexpected changes in direction that its structure (if it's fair to use that word) is as iconic as Coleman's unusual saxophone sound. It is for these reasons that it's always interesting to encounter interpretations of Ornette's music. Bill Carrothers celebrates the Coleman landscape by employing dizzying chromatic runs and very angular passages, all while swinging like mad. Credit for the swing factor must also be given to Gary Peacock and Bill Stewart, who sound like they've been playing with Carrothers for their entire careers. Kudos to Bill Carrothers's colleague Marc Copland for helping to push this record out into the daylight.

October 13, 2008 · 0 comments


Bobo Stenson: A Fixed Goal

Bobo Stenson sounds a bit like Keith Jarrett in the way he approaches this lesser-known tune from the pen of Ornette Coleman—which shouldn't surprise, since the two pianists followed a roughly parallel course at one time in their careers. Each first recorded for ECM more than 30 years ago. Both have used many of the same musicians: in the '70s, Jarrett led a memorable quartet with tenor saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen. With Garbarek, Stenson co-led the same lineup (minus Jarrett) more or less contemporaneously. Both Stenson and Jarrett possess a lyrically romantic strain and a free-flowing melodic sense.

However, the passing years have seen their paths diverge, as this performance shows. Whereas Jarrett has become primarily an interpreter of the standard jazz repertoire, Stenson maintains his interest in freer structures. "A Fixed Goal" is the kind of start-and-stop, out-of-time tune that suits his abilities so well. He plays with a gentle yet precise touch. He states the theme in octaves, but tends to rely on single-note lines in his solo. The strategy gives the music a sparse texture, in which the occasional chord or parallel line becomes striking in contrast. Jormin has a swift technique and a dynamically sensitive manner that allows him to shadow and answer the pianist's ebbing and flowing. Fält is a light-handed drummer, maintaining an oblique swing while both embellishing the counterpoint and adding swaths of tonal color. This is head-and- heart stuff, attractive in every respect.

August 29, 2008 · 0 comments


Geri Allen: Law Years

Geri Allen has recorded with a wide array of impressive trios, some of which include Anthony Cox and Andrew Cyrille, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, Buster Williams and Lenny White, and Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. When she joined forces with the particularly sympathetic rhythmic duo of Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, however, her longest-running and most memorable trio recordings ensued. As only the finest and most mature jazz musicians can, Allen, Haden and Motian know precisely when to play and when to leave space for the other musician to make a statement – often achieving frighteningly telepathic moments of collective interaction.

The influence of Keith Jarrett's American Quartet (of which Haden and Motian are alumni) is heard clearly throughout Segments, yet Allen's unique voice and her playful take on improvising with Haden and Motian results in one of the more inventive trio recordings of the 1980s. Of special note here are Allen's melodic playfulness with Ornette's "Law Years" melody, Haden's powerful solo statement, and Motian's mostly straightforward (for Motian, anyway) bubbling, bouncing groove.

August 09, 2008 · 0 comments


Noël Akchoté & Marc Ribot: Street Woman

Noël Akchoté, a French guitarist with a strong cult following, began his career playing bop with Chet Baker and Tal Farlow, and then gradually entered the world of the avant-garde, where collaborations with Fred Frith, Sam Rivers and Derek Bailey followed. More recently, he has released four albums on the Winter and Winter label: two solo recordings (one of which, Sonny II, is a tribute to Sonny Sharrock), Rien, an experimental collaboration with two turntable/computer-based musicians, and Lust Corner, a collection of guitar duets with either New York-underground-hero-turned-session-great Marc Ribot or American improviser/guitarist/banjoist Eugene Chadborne. On "Street Woman," Akchoté and Ribot attack their guitars with Ornette's harmolodics and Hendrix's blistering sound effects. Ornette meets Hendrix? Yup – these two ingenious players will surely make you laugh with their playful playing, and if you pump the volume up enough, it might just make you cry at the same time!

August 09, 2008 · 0 comments


Modern Jazz Quartet: Lonely Woman

I have mixed feelings about this recording. The Modern Jazz Quartet comprised solid, assured performers who made some great music in their time, but the problem is getting Ornette Coleman's original recording out of my head. The mannered, pensive way that the MJQ takes on this standard of free jazz totally changes the flavor of the piece for this listener. In this setting it becomes a multi-movement suite showcasing the melody, then leading to some mundane transitional ensemble work followed by short highlights from bassist Heath and vibraharpist Jackson. This is more of a study of the 1959 classic, and while the band does what it does well, it's a tough tune to cover.

July 12, 2008 · 0 comments


Charlie Haden: Turnaround

This recording was my first exposure to Hampton Hawes, who, in my opinion, was one of the most swinging pianists of all time. Here Hawes plays in an uncharacteristically free-groove way, but he's still steeped in the blues. As so often, it's about interplay. Charlie and Hampton reach a special place on this cut.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments


Paul Bley: When Will the Blues Leave

Paul Bley spent the mid-1960s making some of jazz's most fascinating choices. He performed with Jimmy Giuffre in a free-jazz trio, added additional layers of complexity to Sonny Rollins's "free period" and, perhaps most influentially, led this indefinable jazz trio with Peacock and Motian that is gradually receiving the acclaim it deserves. Far from traditional yet not completely free, Bley's dichotomous usage of structure and freedom form an undeniable link between the traditional mastery of Bill Evans and the modern prodigious talents of Jarrett, Mehldau, and Iverson. The piano solo on this track is fundamental Bley – complex ideas made (more) accessible through his unhurried execution. Peacock and Motian move together as a single unit propelled by Motian's playful, melodic punches.

May 06, 2008 · 1 comment


Marian McPartland: Lonely Woman

Here's a track to fool your snobby jazz friends on a blindfold test. Marian McPartland, on a new CD released a few days before her 90th birthday, records a cover version of an Ornette Coleman tune. And she takes a Free Jazz solo! A smart one, at that. Yes, this is the same Marian McPartland who played in British vaudeville in the 1930s, married trad jazz cornetist Jimmy McPartland in the 1940s, and performed supper club jazz at the Hickory House in the 1950s. Of course that was all more than a half century ago, so why shouldn't Marian go Free nowadays? Bassist Mazzaroppi and drummer Davis evoke the original Coleman recording, but McPartland does her own thang, which is full of soft, angular phrases, tremolos, and various games of consonance and dissonance. I'm not sure that this will replace the Cecil Taylor tracks on my avant-garde playlist, but McPartland gets high marks for keeping her ears open at a time when many far younger players, free or otherwise, are stuck in their own time-warp.

March 12, 2008 · 0 comments


Nick Brignola: Tears Inside

The late Nick Brignola was an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, but it was on his main instrument – the baritone sax – that he most impressed. Possessing a striking solidity and clarity of tone from the top to bottom of the big horn, along with exceptional improvisational skills in almost any context, Brignola is among the baritone sax greats. On one of his best CDs, made up mostly of standards, the early Ornette Coleman blues "Tears Inside" stands out. The original version had Percy Heath and Shelly Manne rather conventionally locked in rhythm-wise. If only Ornette had Holland and DeJohnette (or, of course, Haden and Higgins) to interact with, as Brignola does here. Brignola plays the classic line with just Holland's simpatico bass support, the baritone's resounding tone, especially in the lower register, grabbing the listener. As Nick begins his wailing, prancing solo, DeJohnette joins in with rhythmically diverse commentary, and finally Barron's piano enters as Brignola continues his unflagging creation. After Barron's gliding solo, sax and piano effectively take the theme out together.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments


Javier Vercher: Bird Food

From the first notes on, we're in the wake of Sonny Rollins's late-'50s trio. It's a very refreshing feeling, all the more coming from a young Spanish tenor presently living in New York. What, there are young tenors who don't spend their time trying to follow Brecker's trace, or looking for their sound somewhere between Lovano and Potter? Of course there are! But this one is European and his search for fathers (Rollins for the sound and phrasing, Ornette for the thematic material) spells of sincerity and future strong personality rather than just imitation. Besides, his partners fully understand his approach and help him beautifully in his quest.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments


James Blood Ulmer: Lonely Woman

Before James Blood Ulmer turned himself over to the blues (which admittedly was a strong part of his playing all along), he was the man of guitar harmolodics. On this track from Ulmer's Ornette tribute album, Ulmer takes that winding Coleman melody and discovers all manner of unexpected side turns. This is especially true toward the end of the piece when Ulmer's increasingly frenetic guitar excursions become commingled with Jones' basslines. Surely not surprising for a tune driven by harmolodic theory, but still a fine example of what this unconventional approach has to offer.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments


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