Sun Ra Arkestra: Prelude to a Kiss

As it turns out, a rather strange, indefinable period in jazz history that lasted from the mid- to late '80s allowed for Sun Ra, one of its oddest, most indefinable characters, to come into greater view. But it wasn't simply a matter of timing that slightly but certainly widened Ra's fan base (or made some of his detractors loathe him a little less). Without ever sacrificing his complete and utter individuality, Ra definitely increased the accessibility factor come the 1970s and '80s teaching a class at UC Berkeley, becoming a visible presence in his Philadelphia hometown, and incorporating classic jazz standards into his live repertoire. A prime example of a Ra-reinvented track is Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss," recorded at Tokyo's Pit-In. Ra's deft stride piano and playful yet respectful arrangement prove that as far out in the cosmos as you get in the big band world, you're never more than a step from the Duke.

October 30, 2008 · 0 comments


McCoy Tyner: Prelude to a Kiss

From the start of his career, McCoy Tyner had a knack for Ellingtonia. A few months before he recorded Ascension with John Coltrane, Tyner undertook an entire project devoted to Ellington compositions for the Impulse label. He would continue to turn to Duke's songs in later years, and his live solo piano performance of "In a Sentimental Mood" from his 1974 Atlantis recording ranks among the high points of his work under the Milestone imprimatur. Three years later he tackled "Prelude to a Kiss" for his Supertrios session with Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Tyner starts out with a fairly straight melody statement that emphasizes the lush harmonies of Duke's ballad, but his solo is a bit schizophrenic. Tyner launches into some of his trademark licks, almost as if he is trying to impose a modal sensibility on this non-modal song; but then after a couple of bars he pulls up and shifts back into a more traditional vein. One gets the sense that the pianist is torn between paying his respects to a classic jazz tune from the past and tearing it apart and rebuilding into a 70s-era Tyner vehicle. The process is fascinating to hear, even if this track finally falls short of some of the pianist's other efforts from this period.

September 04, 2008 · 0 comments


Stan Kenton & June Christy: Prelude to a Kiss

Stan Kenton is sometimes dismissed by his critics as the king of bombast. And in truth, Kenton often went for super-size when others would opt for Slim-Fast. But this session showcases the subtle side of Kenton, matched up in intimate piano-voice duets with June Christy. The setting gives us a chance to enjoy the pianist's rich harmonic palette, often lost amidst the juggernaut of his big band. At times on this track he sounds positively Ellingtonian. But Christy is the party who benefits most from Kenton's unilateral disarmament. Her voice blossoms in the open spaces and fresh air, and one can't help wishing that she had done more recordings of this sort. As it stands, the Duet project is one of her finest moments of the 1950s.

June 04, 2008 · 0 comments


Johnny Hodges: Prelude to a Kiss

Two weeks after recording "Prelude to a Kiss" under Ellington's aegis, Johnny Hodges switched from soprano to alto sax, added vocalist Mary McHugh and redid his boss' serenade under his own name. If Miss McHugh found the song daunting, it doesn't show. She handles its slippery chromatic slopes and heady intervallic ascents with affecting naturalness, setting up a half-chorus of Rabbit at his languid best. Whereas the Maestro's first version of what would become a standard was overly sentimental, Hodges and McHugh clarify Duke's masterful construction with simplicity and directness. The lyric contends, "You could turn it to a symphony: a Schubert tune with a Gershwin touch." We prefer an Ellington tune with a Hodges touch.

December 03, 2007 · 1 comment


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