The Modern Jazz Quartet: Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise

This song stayed in the repertoire of The Modern Jazz Quartet for many years—they would play it again at their so-called "last concert" recording almost twenty years after this rendition. Although the composition follows a standard AABA form, the quartet evokes the flavor of the minor blues in this lightly swinging version from 1955. The opening is handled with the kind of chamber music restraint we have come to expect from this band, but the tempo accelerates and the conception gets looser during Jackson's solo. But Lewis brings down the intensity level with a smartly-crafted improvisation which is one of his finest. The character of this tune has changed over the years—it started life as a tango and has evolved into a hotter blowing number with a modal flavor. But the Modern Jazz Quartet balances the two extremes, playing off hot against cool and showing off the chemistry between the two lead soloists. And don't miss the counterpoint in the closing melody restatement, which is handled very effectively.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Daniel Sadownick: Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise

The appealing strong melody and rhythm of "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" has attracted countless jazz artists since it was introduced in the 1928 Broadway musical New Moon. The lyrics are both hopeful and portentous, a dichotomy that is also conveyed in the music. Memorable instrumental versions have included those by Artie Shaw, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Art Pepper, and to that list must be added this fresh new interpretation by relatively unknown percussionist Daniel Sadownick on his debut CD.

Sadownick's spirited and creative arrangement is what makes this track work so well. Tenor and trumpet play the opening catchy vamp leading up to Michael Karn's swirling fill and an Afro-Cuban rhythmic dialogue between Sadownick, drummer Daniel Freedman and bassist Scott Colley. Pianist Rob Bargad enters with forceful spaced-out chords, followed by the horns' theme reading offered with a provocative rhythmic slant. Bargad's solo is a Latinized modal romp, shades of Eddie Palmieri at his best. Karn's tenor explodes out of the box with a relentless urgency, backed by the driving Sadownick and Freedman. Trumpeter Joe Magnarelli's mellow take slows the tempo but is no less insinuating. Sadownick shows his infectious skill on congas, framed by the vamping horns, and Magnarelli unearths the theme over yet another delightful vamp to complete the cycle.

Daniel Sadownick has definitely got his act together, a percussionist carrying on the tradition of Mongo Santamaria and Ray Barretto.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Marc Copland: Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise

The cover art of this 1998 release is Claude Monet's "Impressions: Sunrise," which speaks volumes about Marc Copland's impressionistic approach to music. The pianist has assembled a complementary group to realize his dreamy, translucent and reality-suspended musical statements. "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" takes staccato form with Copland and bassist Peacock establishing a catchy syncopated backbeat leading into the memorable melody line. A clipped duet by Hagans and Lovano adds bounce to the melody before they break into their exploratory solos. Hagans's trumpet is early-'70s Miles-like. Lovano, one of those rare contemporary saxophonists who can play melodically or free with equal ease, here does both. The two horn men chase each other up and down the musical scales in a pseudo call and response unfettered by convention and more like a cacophony of released ideas. The fact that these guys can be inspired to play this freely is testament to Copland's ability as leader to choose such thoughtful material. When Lovano does let go, the flight of freedom in his voice is quite inspired. Copland's moaning during his solo anticipates his keyboard ideas, and his harmonic invention is always feathery and surprising. Stewart, who at times overplays for my taste, is given a nice solo to showcase his own virtuosity at layering rhythms. Impressionism at its best!

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Sonny Rollins: Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise

A Night at the Village Vanguard, Volume 1 marks Sonny Rollins's first "live" recording as a leader. He used several combinations of fine musicians during that engagement, but preferred this trio lineup. Thank God there were people recording these nightclub sessions back in those days. In this case, legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder rolled the tape. There is a certain charm to the technical primitiveness of the times. This monaural recording authentically captures artists in growth mode and also helps define a historic period in American music. Can you believe that people used to go out to local jazz clubs and listen to music? I know it seems hard to believe, but lots of folks were doing it.

The ballad "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise" is treated with reverence by Rollins, bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer Elvin Jones. Ware plucks a few strings to let Rollins know when to start. Rollins plays the melody with a blues melancholy, revealing Sonny the sensitive interpreter, not the powerful saxophone colossus. Ware follows Rollins's affecting solo with a fitting run at the melody himself. If you listen carefully as Jones uses his brushes, you can hear some of his signature vocal grunts helping to carry the tune along. All three players were in top 1957 form, playing music that was worthy of a vaunted venue like the Vanguard.

I was only 10 months old when this gig happened. But I still miss those days.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments


Freddie Hubbard: Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise

This CD probably is less well known than it should be. I recollect that someone handed it to me on an airplane. It documents Freddie Hubbard live at Todd Barkan’s Keystone Korner, where he did many excellent live recordings. This extended up-tempo version of "Softly" is relentless. Freddie pushes himself to his outer limits; just when you think he’s going to come crashing down, he somehow reinvigorates himself and comes up with another bunch of choruses. This is how I remember Freddie live—simply mind-boggling.

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments


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