Billy Eckstine: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Following the breakup of his big band, Billy Eckstine became a major soloist with fans on both sides of the color line. He was billed as “the sepia Sinatra” and was best known for romantic ballads. “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” comes from an extraordinary small group date, and it shows that Eckstine never lost his bebop roots. The performance is one of Eckstine’s most harmonically daring. In the first 8 bars, he sings the song straight, but then he veers away from the melody with a bop harmonic flair at the end of the word “find.” He returns to the melody through a dramatic stepwise progression, peaking on the word "blind". The bridge starts in tempo, but halfway through, Eckstine takes more chances with the melody over a rubato rhythm section. In the final eight, Eckstine starts with a harmonic variation, moves briefly to the melody, uses another bop substitution on the word “dies”, and then concludes with another rising pattern. He holds on a note that could easily have been resolved by the rhythm section, but then he climbs another half-step to end the performance unresolved.

July 05, 2009 · 0 comments


Keith Jarrett: Intro / Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

This Jerome Kern standard is probably more popular with the general public than with jazz musicians—in other words, you are more likely to hear it tinkling in the background at the cocktail lounge than at a Berklee jam session. Jarrett himself recorded it previously as part of a session, under Bob Moses's leadership, alongside the late, great tenor Jim Pepper. The pairing of Jarrett and Pepper seemed like a jazz dream date, but the music on that late-1960s date didn't tap into the full potential of the players involved. This version of Kern's warhorse, performed by Jarrett's "Standards Trio" at a concert in Tokyo, is more focused and coherent. The intro is a piece unto itself, a wistful minute-and-a-half meditation, all too brief but enough to demonstrate how deeply Mr. Jarrett immerses himself into the inner feeling-state of the music. When Peacock and DeJohnette enter, it is with gentle whispers and smoke floating past your eyes. Jarrett has achieved great things in his career, but one shouldn't minimize the importance of taking the old songs and making them fresh again. This may not be as dramatic as a piano concerto cadenza, but it's no less valuable as a lesson to the rest of us.

January 27, 2009 · 0 comments


Jackie McLean: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Here is a very romantic performance by the often acerbic altoist from his late vintage ballad album Nature Boy. McLean glides over the chords with a lush tone. Instead of angular phrases or sharp tuning, we get unabashed lyricism and even a touch of sentimentality. The top-notch hard-bop rhythm section decides to follow the leader, keeping things gentle. Walton offers an especially tasty piano solo. Those who aren't familiar with this artist will want to check out his earlier Blue Note releases first. But McLean fans will enjoy this glimpse of a different facet of the altoist's musical personality.

June 11, 2008 · 0 comments


Keith Jarrett (with Jim Pepper): Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

The pairing of pianist Jarrett with the tragically under-recorded tenor saxophonist Jim Pepper seems like a dream match-up. During the 1960s and 1970s, before the Standards Trio became his preferred combo setting, Jarrett enjoyed being challenged by on-the-edge saxophonists, and few reed players of the era had more raw energy than Pepper. But somehow this band doesn't click. Perhaps a couple more takes in the studio would have solved everything -- certainly the individual talents are considerable. Maybe the choice of this 1933 ballad was also a factor: a young player might be tempted to pick a fight with the sentimentality that is built into the chord changes and melody. Whatever the cause, the music doesn't live up to the expectations generated by the names on the marquee. Yet we are fortunate to have this track at all. It comes from an unreleased album under Bob Moses's leadership, and only saw light of day in a Keith Jarrett anthology decades after the fact.

May 05, 2008 · 0 comments


Pearl Django: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

What goes around, comes around. In 1930s Paris, The Quintette of the Hot Club of France, featuring Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli, revived the 1920s acoustic guitar and violin style of Americans Eddie Lang & Joe Venuti. In 1990s Tacoma, Pearl Django (jointly named after rockers Pearl Jam and the Gypsy swing guitarist) in turn back-translated the prewar French style, here covering a 1935 Reinhardt & Grappelli recording. There was, of course, only one Django, and front-man Andersson judiciously avoids imitation. Instead, this lively track, highlighted by Gray's alternately arco and pizzicato violin, demonstrates the group's fluent and cohesive buoyancy.

December 10, 2007 · 0 comments


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