Wes Montgomery: Four on Six

During an era of album-title hyperbole where every tenorman was a Colossus and each new release marked the Change of the Century, Wes Montgomery's Incredible Jazz Guitar was actually justified. After being on and off the scene for over a decade, Wes finally broke through to the hardcore jazz audience. Much was made (rightly) of his innovative octaves technique and distinctive pick-less pizzicato, but Wes's greatest asset was his sense of swing, which was … well, incredible. "Four on Six," based on Gershwin's "Summertime" and given first-rate backing, makes a fitting introduction to this down-to-earth Olympian of jazz guitar.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cannonball Adderley: This Here (Dis Here)

At the beginning of this live performance at San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop, Cannonball Adderley introduces pianist Bobby Timmons’ funky jazz waltz “This Here” as “Dis Here” for “reasons of soul and description.” This early example of so-called soul jazz became quite popular, boosting sales of the album and helping popularize the group itself. Cannonball is at the top of his game here.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Toots Thielemans: East of the Sun

Toots Thielemans single-handedly made it feasible to use "hip" and "harmonica" in the same sentence. Toots spent the 1950s as George Shearing's guitarist, where he played "East of the Sun" nightly. Here, however, Toots wields his alternate ax, although considering its diminutive size, it probably ought to be called a hatchet. In any case, pairing Toots with baritonist Adams was inspired. One's instrument is tiny and shrill, the other's bulky and gruff. Their contrast is a delight. Toots and Pepper play off one another like a hummingbird frolicking with a grizzly bear. Toots was a wizard with a toy wand.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Autumn Leaves (1959 - take two)

Four years after Roger Williams’s vertiginously arpeggiated #1 hit, Bill Evans redid “Autumn Leaves” with vertigo supplied by his sideman. This session marked the recording debut of Evans's startlingly original trio featuring Scott LaFaro, the Earl Scruggs of acoustic bass. The interplay between Evans and LaFaro is astounding, but so is the robustness of Evans's playing. Weighing in at the tail end of 1959, this came just in time to stand as the decade's finest jazz piano trio recording.

Caveat: In 1960, without explanation, Riverside simultaneously released Take 1 (5:54) on the stereo LP and a shorter, superior Take 2 (5:19) on the otherwise identical mono LP, spawning decades of confusion. As recently as 2001, for its newly remastered 20-bit A/D converter with digital K2 interface (whatever that means) CD reissue, Riverside compounded the confusion by listing Take 2's timing as 3:19 instead of 5:19, as if such matters were too trivial to get straight. Lord have mercy!

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Young and Foolish

At largo pace, with minimal flourish and maximal feeling, Bill Evans transforms a 1955 Broadway show tune into a deeply moving experience, quite unlike the florid, superficial prettiness of conventional jazz piano balladry. Evans strips the melody of unnecessary decoration, introduces delicate harmonic hues derived from Chopin, Debussy and Satie, and allows his piano to sing. This gets our vote for Most Beautiful Modern Jazz Piano Performance of All Time. As Miles Davis, who seldom had a good word to say about anyone, allowed of Evans in a cover testimonial: "He plays the piano the way it should be played.”

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Caravan


     Charles Delaunay and Thelonious Monk, 1954
                   Photo by Marcel Fleiss

Plays Duke Ellington is an album that has never sat well with critics. One suspects that’s because people were left wondering why the second-greatest composer in the history of jazz bothered to record an album of tunes by the greatest composer in the history of jazz. But that fails to do justice to the album on its own merits. Considered in that light, this is a wonderfully jarring collection of fresh treatments – and maybe the finest record of Ellington covers. On “Caravan,” the melody is there all right, and Monk doesn’t dare violate the song’s integrity, but he does find ways to add his imprimatur. “Caravan” is the final track on the disc, and it’s the perfect other bookend to his wink-and-a-nod treatment of the opener, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).”

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Well, You Needn't (1957)

Anytime you can get tenor sax giants Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane in a room together, the result is bound to be explosive. Add Monk and his bebop classic “Well, You Needn’t” to the mix, and you’ve got some military-grade dynamite. Coltrane’s and Hawkins’ solos are separated by several minutes, but that does nothing to lessen their impact. Monk’s composition gives the musicians all the framework they need to blow the roof off the studio. And let’s not forget the pianist himself. He saves his own solo for last and throws in unexpected notes, pauses and runs. This reading of “Well, You Needn’t” is the bomb.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Ruby, My Dear (with John Coltrane)

Choosing just one version of “Ruby, My Dear” as Monk’s finest is no easy task. This one stands out for Monk’s strong comping behind John Coltrane, who states the theme and then launches into a romantic solo that strays farther and farther from the melody before coming back around to join it. Monk plays with restraint, never giving in to the urge to splash his perverse tendencies onto Coltrane’s canvas. When he does finally solo, it is with a reverence for his own composition. This two-disc set also includes a version of “Ruby, My Dear” from a few weeks earlier that featured Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax, with similarly satisfying results. Also worth hunting down: a sweet, unaccompanied version on the Columbia album “Solo Monk” and an 11-minute version that Monk’s quintet recorded at the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie

Sort of a sequel to Thelonious Himself (1957), Alone in San Francisco was recorded in an empty hall between gigs at the Black Hawk. The trip to the West Coast elicited what may be Monk’s most beautiful work ever put to record. The album is a mix of originals and standards, and its loveliest tune is the lesser-known standard “There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie,” which was a favorite of Monk’s. The melody is pretty enough, and then the pianist makes it his own with a dash of this and a sprinkling of that there. Best of all, the CD includes two takes.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Monk's Mood (1957 recording)

The final tune on Thelonious Himself is in fact not just Thelonious himself, and it’s akin to a fine dessert after a big meal. “Monk’s Mood” is a beautifully melancholy theme, and here it gets the most perfect treatment its author ever gave it. Monk plays unaccompanied for 2˝ minutes before Wilbur Ware plucks a few notes and John Coltrane arrives with a tender, passionate solo. Throughout, Monk’s touch is heartbreaking, and the simpatico relationship between him and Coltrane is amazing. This ranks among the most wonderful eight minutes anyone could experience.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners (1956 version)

“Brilliant Corners” is the most complex work in the 70-song Monk canon. It speeds up, it slows down, it shifts course abruptly – the musicians must have strained a few muscles trying to keep up with what was going on in Monk’s head. The rhythmic construction was so challenging that it took the band members 25 takes to get what they needed – and even then they never recorded it to Monk’s satisfaction. What we hear on the album is a patchwork spliced together from the various takes. It’s a gorgeously flawed work – while it may have been difficult to create, it is easy to listen to.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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