Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz & Miskiewicz: Hyper-Ballad

Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Michal Miskiewicz are best known as Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s current rhythm section. But on their own, the trio (sometimes operating under the moniker ‘Simple Acoustic Trio’) creates some truly stirring sounds, and in 2004, they stirred up the music of their heroes with their ECM debut. On the album, the group interprets Wayne Shorter’s “Plaza Real,” Stanko’s “Green Sky,” and Bjork’s “Hyper-ballad.” The latter, a powerful exercise in mid-1990s electronica, is given new life by Wasilewski and company. Now truly a ballad, “Hyper-ballad” reveals itself to be sparse and sentimental, where Bjork’s version was heavy, and tense. Wasilewski is a patient player, and knows just what notes not to play. We’ll be hearing more from him, no doubt.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Jason Moran: Joga

The pianist Jason Moran is as adventurous with his repertoire as he is with his playing. The bandleader and in-demand sideman (Don Byron, Charles Lloyd, Paul Motian) has recorded everything from pieces by Duke Ellington (“Wig Wise”) and Jaki Byard (“Out Front”) to film music (The Godfather: Part II) and hip-hop (“Planet Rock”). So, somehow, it makes sense that he’d be hip to Bjork. With bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits in tow, Moran, on acoustic piano, delivers a delicate reading of Bjork’s “Joga,” the gorgeous ballad-turned-head-nodder from 1997’s Homogenic. The leader meditates carefully upon the tune’s inner drama until about the five-minute mark, when all things soft and thoughtful take a turn for the funky.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Marian McPartland: When The Saints Go Marching In

As host of the long-running radio series Piano Jazz, Marian McPartland has played innumerable piano duets with some of the finest jazz artists on the scene. The piano duet concept was transferred to McPartland's 1998 CD Just Friends where she performed with Tommy Flanagan, Renee Rosnes, George Shearing, Geri Allen, Dave Brubeck & Gene Harris. The last track on the CD was Marian's alone, and it doubtlessly represented the duet she wished she could play, but could no longer. Subtitled "for Jimmy", her solo version of "When The Saints Go Marching In" is a heartfelt tribute to her late husband, Jimmy McPartland. She starts the performance with a simple single-line reading of "The Blue Bells Of Scotland" (one of Jimmy's favorite songs) then makes a smooth segue into "Saints". The tempo is slow and thoughtful, making us remember the words, forgotten after so many raucous Dixie renditions. Marian was always more advanced in harmony than her husband, but I suspect that Jimmy would have approved of the "pretty chords" that Marian plays here. I suspect that someday in the hereafter they will play together again, but for now, Marian's solo version is a profound tribute to her dear departed husband.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Duke Ellington: Solitude

Ellington Indigos is one of my favorite Ellington albums. Recorded right after Such Sweet Thunder, it was designed to show the "dance band" side of the Ellington orchestra. But it is so much more: In arranging a program of standards mixing his songs with those of other composers, Ellington created wonderful new settings that were richly-colored and easily accessible. When it was recorded in 1957, stereo recording was still new (in fact, Indigos may have been the first stereo Ellington album). Like other albums of this period, there were occasional problems with the portable stereo recorders which necessitated using different takes on the mono and stereo versions of the LP. One track, "The Sky Fell Down" never appeared on the stereo LP, and in 2 other cases, not only were the solos different between the mono and stereo, but the orchestrations changed, too! After 50+ years with various tracks turning up here and there, the Jazzbeat CD above includes all of the music recorded for this album. It's about time.

While Ellington wrote several concertos for his musicians, he seldom wrote features for himself. "Solitude" is a wonderful exception to the rule. Ellington starts alone at the piano with a gentle, out-of-tempo rumination on the theme. After awhile, he adds a simple, slow stride pattern, but soon breaks away from the straight time for more rubato thoughts. He uses single note lines to convey loneliness, and as the solo continues, we wonder if the whole track will be an extended piano solo. Then with a strong entrance on the theme, he brings in the rhythm section. The saxes pick up the melody with Ellington offering sharply voiced chords in contrast. The brass comes in on the bridge and the arrangement continues to build even as Ellington moves away from his melody. The band kicks in hard as the arrangement reaches its climax. Then suddenly, Ellington breaks into a flashy arpeggio that runs up and down the keyboard, and there is a solo piano cadenza that brings the volume and mood back to its quiet beginnings. Ellington caught a lot of heat from the critics when he crossed into the sacred classical music area, but this recording shows the pianist in a seldom-seen context. Far from being pretentious, it is simply a beautifully-realized rendition of a classic song. I loved it when I first heard it 30 years ago, and I still love it today.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Jaki Byard: Dolphy #1

This is taken from the Last at Lennie's live recording. This is also a blues, but I think Jaki's solo is magnificent. He's shouting directions to the band. But the angularity and touch of his playing is rarely as expressive as this. This is totally new stuff, even by today's standards. Many of his ideas truly go against the grain of standard jazz practice, in the same way Monk did, and as Cecil Taylor still does. But what is never in question with Jaki is just how comfortable at the piano he is. This is something I know each musician hopes to attain. This recording documents one of his best groups.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Jaki Byard: Twelve

Pianist/composer Jaki Byard was so rambunctiously creative, it's no surprise he caught the ear of Charles Mingus, with whom he played off and on during the 1960s. Recorded in 1965 at a place called Lennie's on the Turnpike outside Boston, "Twelve" opens a transcendent album. A knotty, medium-up, asymmetrical 12-bar non-blues to begin, the tune kicks into a cooking, Mingus-like 6/8 blues underneath Farrell's inside/out tenor solo, before morphing into a straight-ahead 4/4 blues. Farrell is his usual extraordinary self—a tenor saxophonist blessed with monster chops and an even more profound imagination, whose unflagging energy levitates the bandstand. Byard follows with a discursive, yet fiercely swinging piano solo, following the form and harmonic contour with the loose assurance of someone who knows his destination well and is determined to enjoy the ride. The piano sounds like a slightly out-of-tune upright, yet somehow the instrument's homeliness fits Byard's guileless, joyful style. Bassist Tucker is a bit far back in the mix, but his percussive, swinging presence is felt. Dawson plays as if he's thinking Byard's thoughts, so closely does he follow and complement the pianist's whims. A confab of underappreciated jazzers if ever there was one, this was a tremendous band.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Jaki Byard: Twelve

“Twelve” appears on the great live recording, Live at Lennie's on the Turnpike. Joe Farrell is amazing in this group. Here’s Jaki with his true rhythm section, especially with Alan Dawson on drums. This is a power track; they really muscle through this three-part blues. What Jaki plays during his solo is quintessential Jaki, full of enthusiasm, rhythm, virtuosity, etc. I love the large leaps he makes in his lines, jumping intervals as a frog jumps lily-pads. I love the yelling he does on this track.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


King Cole Trio: One O'Clock Jump

Nat King Cole must have been quite a Basie fan. The King Cole Trio had quite a few Basie tunes in its repertoire, and in its set of transcriptions for Capitol, there are versions of "Lester Leaps In", "Rock-A-Bye Basie", "Swingin' The Blues" and "One O'Clock Jump", The latter piece may be the best illustration of how Basie's style melded into bop. Cole was a proto-bopper at best, but his harmonic language was allied with the new music, and here, as Cole performs his best Basie imitation, we hear the spareness of Basie with richer chords than Basie would have played. Oscar Moore's guitar solo shows his roots to Charlie Christian, and Johnny Miller follows the example of Walter Page in walking a chorus under the light touch of his pianist/leader. There is an interesting mix of material in the closing riffs. The first chorus is an original line, supposedly designed by the trio but based on a line from the band arrangement, the second and third choruses are from the original band arrangement and the last is a boppish variation that moves the piece into a new harmonic direction. Basie was aware of the harmonic evolution that was occuring in the music at this time, but I wonder if ever heard this side, and if so, what he thought of it.

September 05, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Ruby Braff & Ellis Larkins: Exactly Like You

Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins were great duet partners, bringing out the best qualities in each other. Braff could always spin gorgeous melodies from the lower range of his cornet, and Larkins could always create beautiful harmonic backgrounds, but together, there was spontaneity and humor that added to the interplay. “Exactly Like You” was recorded for their 1972 LP The Grand Reunion but not released until the album was reissued on CD a quarter-century later. Larkins plays the introduction and first chorus solo. For the most part, he plays the melody in parallel thirds in his right hand while walking in parallel tenths with his left. Larkins doesn’t keep this pattern throughout the chorus, as he freely breaks it to comment on the melody and to add variety. When Braff enters, Larkins seems transformed and he plays an animated accompaniment with delightful walking bass lines and bright splashes of chordal color. Braff’s solo starts off with poignant lines, but as he listens and responds to Larkins’ commentary, he adds stunning runs and gets sassier as the solo continues. Larkins takes an 8-bar solo on the bridge with a pithy remark in his right hand and classic stride in the left. In the next 8 bars, it sounds like Larkins wants to lead Braff into a more serious mood, but neither seems ready to give up the lighter mood entirely. As the performance winds down, the last comments of each player seems to reflect the playful mood evoked earlier.

September 04, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Art Tatum: Blue Skies

Art Tatum’s solo sides for Capitol were recorded on three dates in July-September 1949. Except for a few old favorites like “Sweet Lorraine”, the tunes he recorded were new to his repertoire. Surprisingly, “Blue Skies” was one of the pieces he had never recorded before, and save for a 20-second live snippet on a Storyville CD, his only other recording was part of the marathon solo sessions recorded for Norman Granz. On the Granz recording, Tatum creates a wonderful re-harmonization of the song, but he is plagued with fingering problems throughout. The Capitol version is breezy and confident, but not as daring. While Berlin’s lyric is as carefree as one can imagine, his melody is in minor. Tatum brings out the minor tonality in his slightly menacing introduction, but lightens the mood as soon as he starts playing the melody. In the first 24 bars, he presents the melody interspersed with minor filigrees and subtle reharmonizations. But in the final 8 bars of the first chorus, the melody is obscured amidst Tatum’s dazzling runs. Tatum wants to keep his listeners with him, so in the next 2 choruses, he refers back to the melody in the first 2 A sections, moves away from it in the bridge and barely touches it in the final A. Throughout the performance, Tatum keeps everything in balance, with lighter textures in the first A of each chorus, long runs in the second A, call-and-response set figures in the bridges and more aggressive improvising in the final A. In the final half-chorus, the bridge he offers a fine variation on the tune, and the final eight includes a quote from the children’s song “In & Out The Window”, which also appeared in the Granz recording. Not an undiscovered masterpiece, but a lovely reading of a great American standard.

September 04, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Fats Waller: The Sheik Of Araby

Fats Waller led a big band for a short period in the late 30s. Like Ray Charles would do years later, he built the band around his existing small group. Usually, Waller’s arrangements were run-of-the-mill, but “The Sheik Of Araby” was a noteworthy exception. It begins with just Waller and Jones (Wallace might be playing too, but it’s hard to tell from the recording) and the mood is like an after-hours club in Harlem. Then, in an effortless segue, trombonist John Haughton solos on the melody with the saxes providing backup. Waller’s vocal starts out straight, but when he gets to “into your tent, I’ll creep”, he just can’t resist making fun of the song and the rest of the vocal chorus is a burlesque. Herman Autrey is the next soloist, but good luck if you want to focus on the trumpet, as Fats comments throughout, including a series of jokes about riding camels. As Fats exhorts the band on, the full brass section finally appears for the last chorus. Had Waller hired a staff of top-shelf arrangers, his band might have been one of the top draws in the nation. Of course, he did just fine with only his Rhythm.

September 02, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Professor Longhair: Longhair's Blues-Rhumba

Professor Longhair, born as Henry Roeland Byrd in 1918, influenced a host of New Orleans piano players who sold more records than he ever did. The rap against the Prof is that his music was too strange for the general public. His love songs seemed constructed to inspire celibacy (an example of his lyrics: "Lookie there / She ain't got no hair"), and his piano playing would have resulted in jail time if the keyboard could file charges for battering and physical abuse.

In fact, 'Fess's whole career looks like a joke CV of oddities and eccentricities. He started his professional music-making helping to pitch a patent medicine, then he turned to tap dancing, then guitar, then drums, and finally—almost as an afterthought—he settled on the piano. For a while he was working as Little Lovin' Henry. And when he finally got a recording contract, 'Fess decided to call his band . . . the Shuffling Hungarians?

Don't try to make sense of it, just enjoy it. Here he plays a blues-rhumba, which is his own personal take on American vernacular keyboard music. It's not quite boogie, and it's not quite jazz. You could call it R&B, but it doesn't sound like what any of the other jive pianists were playing at the time. And what about that killin' B natural in the second chorus melody line? Just like so much else from New Orleans, Longhair's music makes up its own rules as it goes along. Yes, there is a band participating, but they are as unnecessary as an overcoat on a Gulf Coast summer day. The sideman were just trying to keep up with the Professor. Strange? Certainly. But make no mistake—this is classic Crescent City piano straight from the source.

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Lester Young & Oscar Peterson: Stardust

Lester’s alcoholism had caught up with him by the early ‘50s, robbing him of his prowess on the saxophone. “Stardust” finds his hold on the notes wavering, his gait is stiff and heavy, and he’s audibly blowing much harder to get a sound from his reed. Indeed, there are only glimpses of the recognizable Prez, such as in the first four bars of his second chorus. Nevertheless, Young captures the wistful, dreamy romance of Hoagy Carmichael’s melody, even if it’s a little bit sadder than the nostalgia Carmichael wrote about. The accompaniment is appropriately subtle, too—Oscar Peterson unusually subtle, while Kessel, Brown and Heard spend much of the record in imperceptibility. Like Parker’s “Lover Man,” Young’s “Stardust” is a portrait of an artist at his most tortured, managing to wring fine work out of his own sudden ineptitude.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Nat King Cole & Lester Young: Tea For Two

Prez’s Aladdin sessions often sound like they were made in somebody’s garage, but they’re invaluable, documenting his music during a long reprieve from the Count Basie Orchestra. “Tea for Two” features two future stars, 26-year-old bassist Red Callender and 24-year-old pianist Nat “King” Cole, whose jobs are primarily to set Young up and stay out of his way—though Cole gets off a glittering syncopated variation. Young’s sax sound and phrasing, distinctive as ever through the static and tape hiss, is also as adventurous as ever. His mellow tones form startling abstractions that occasionally let a faint trace of the written melody through, but are simply on a higher level than his young journeymen are prepared for: When Young breaks into stop-time during the song’s final third, Cole hardly knows what to do.

Surely it’s no coincidence that the Lester Young Effect would soon dominate the music in that city, first nourishing young L.A. players like Dexter Gordon, Buddy Collette and later Wardell Gray, then setting the standard for the scene’s new “cool” style. Here we find Lester delivering it to their very doorsteps.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Huey "Piano" Smith: Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu

That piano lick has been stolen more times than second base at Fenway Park, but it still sounds sweet and funky today. New Orleans native Huey "Piano" Smith parlayed it into a 1957 hit with "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu." The song didn't achieve much crossover success at the time—supposedly because white deejays were reluctant to play it—but it reached the top five of the R&B chart. And the song had an even bigger impact when Johnny Rivers covered it in 1972: everybody heard it the second time around, and it earned a gold record for the singer. But you are advised to travel upstream and check out River's source. Smith's piano work is in the classic N'awlins style, with that trademark sliding and rolling sound, while the drums show no mercy in pounding out the back beat. The result is a virulently infectious rhythm . . . and the last time I looked there is still no vaccination against the boogie woogie flu.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Previous Page | Next Page