John Coltrane & Don Cherry: The Blessing

The Avant-Garde is John Coltrane's most literal encounter with the music of Ornette Coleman. It features several of Ornette's sidemen: trumpeter Don Cherry, drummer Ed Blackwell, and bassists Charlie Haden and Percy Heath. (Haden played on two tracks, including this one; Heath played on the other three.)

"The Blessing" was first recorded by Coleman on his debut LP, Something Else!!!!, which is arguably his most conservative album. Coltrane's approach to this tune seems similarly restrained. Indeed, compared to his other work around this time, he sounds almost tentative, as if he were trying to find his way around an unfamiliar landscape. That's not to say the results are less than fascinating. His soprano sound is a good deal rounder and less penetrating than usual, perhaps because of the need to blend with Cherry's Harmon-muted trumpet. The trumpet/soprano sonority is novel and effective. Cherry and Coltrane play together extremely well in the ensembles; their line breathes together as one. Cherry solos first, playing cleanly, quickly and perhaps more coherently than he did with Coleman. He plays like he's got something to prove—as well he might, given Coltrane's exalted status. Coltrane takes a stab at unalloyed lyricism at the beginning of his solo, but his improvisation soon evolves into a maze of complexity over the simple harmonic base. Haden and Blackwell are a bit introverted, not engaging the soloists to any great extent, but holding down the fort harmonically and rhythmically. Blackwell does contribute an attractive, tom-based solo that moves beyond explicit tempo and form.

Coltrane did his own thing at this point in his career. That he was willing and eager to step outside his comfort zone to engage the music of another musician says a great deal about the respect he had for Coleman, Cherry, et al. While he's something of a fish out of water on his own record, he plays beautifully, as do his cohorts.

November 14, 2008 · 0 comments


Steve Lacy (featuring Elvin Jones): Four in One

After a Roy Haynes/Max Roach-influenced drum break to open "Four in One," Elvin Jones declares his singular presence with his multi-layered approach of building broken-triplets (with his snare and bass drums) on top of his complete cymbal/hi-hat pattern (00:07). Elvin (and his many talented disciples) play this pattern so often that it's easy to forget how much skill it requires. Note the brief yet revealing polyrhythmic fill that giftedly turns the beat around at the conclusion of Lacy's improvisation (2:20-2:23). This is just a glimpse of the heightened focus on polyrhythm that would increasingly define Jones's playing. Also note Elvin's energetic, "try-to-find-beat-one!" fills during the fours section at the tune's conclusion.

August 02, 2008 · 0 comments


Jane Ira Bloom: Nearly Summertime/Summertime

Recorded during a summer in New York City, Jane Ira Bloom's version of "Summertime" is quite evocative of the season, and a brilliant example of the saxophonist's approach to standards. The recording opens with Jane's angular composition "Nearly Summertime" played in unison by saxophone and trumpet. Next the rhythm section enters with drum color, a bass solo and a piano vamp in dotted quarter notes (2 notes over 3 beats) that presages what will come later. Gradually, Werner, Priester and Bloom join into the ensemble before Bloom launches an ascending scale to introduce the Gershwin melody, set in 6/4 time. Behind the melody, the horns play long, hypnotic chords at half the speed of the piano vamp, and when Bloom takes over for her solo she leads with another ascending scale based on the same rhythmic pattern. Her sound grows more impassioned as she climbs higher in register, and as the performance grows in intensity you can almost feel the heat generating from the ground. The intensity doesn't let up until the end of the theme, when the horns suddenly dissipate and Hersch plays a rippling triplet figure that might signal a much-needed summer rainstorm.

July 30, 2008 · 0 comments


Sidney Bechet: Summertime

Sidney Bechet's version of "Summertime" is one of the great recordings in jazz history. Bechet takes the Gershwin song's 16-bar form and simple harmonic structure and treats it like an extension of the 12-bar blues. With Teddy Bunn providing single-string commentary on his guitar behind Bechet's soprano, it is as if Bechet and Bunn were playing the parts of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong from a classic blues recording. Bechet solos throughout the 4-minute recording (certainly one of the longest jazz solos recorded to that time), utilizing much of his unique musical vocabulary, including rasps, growls and various speeds of vibrato. Bunn's responses are almost all from the blues vernacular, except in one spot where he quotes the familiar countermelody from the original opera score.

July 29, 2008 · 0 comments


John Coltrane: Chim Chim Cheree

This is an amazing version of “Chim Chim Cheree” on soprano saxophone—the groove, the interplay, the flow of the quartet. To come off having such success with “My Favorite Things,” and then to play an interpretation of “Chim Chim Cheree” that was so wide open and exploratory, and just, like, SERIOUS. He wasn’t playing it just to play it. You could feel that he was into exploring what could happen off of that theme, and the way they put it together is a beautiful, joyous journey. This was in 1965, and one of his later studio recordings on soprano. His sound and approach and focus on that horn on this recording was instrumental in giving me confidence to try to play other instruments and explore the possibilities of tonal energy that comes off of the different horns you play. During that period, when I was a teenager, 16 or 17, I’d heard James Moody live and Sonny Stitt live and Rahsaan Roland Kirk live. Sonny Stitt played alto, and then put it down and played tenor. Moody picked up the flute. Rahsaan played all these horns, not only at the same time, but to play each one as his voice for the moment. The focus of sound and energy from the instrument came through. I really felt Coltrane’s focus and sound on “Chim Chim Cheree,” the energy that the instrument gave him, how he executed ideas off that inspiration.

June 25, 2008 · 0 comments


Jane Ira Bloom: A More Beautiful Question


How many people do you know who've had an asteroid named after them? If you knew Jane Ira Bloom, you'd know one. I have no clue why the asteroid was named after her. But a good guess would be because she has made a name for herself by connecting her saxophone to spaced-out electronic effects devices. Over the years, this has allowed her to use echo and looping to produce orchestral sounds from her singular horn.

The credits indicate that Bloom plays "live electronics" on this album as well. They are hardly heard. Instead, we are offered the purer tones from Bloom. To me, this is very welcome. "A More Beautiful Question" is an achingly slow ballad. Melancholy is its main theme. Bloom plays in both the low and high register. She has a mastery over timbre that allows her sax to speak the words of the forlorn. Clement is also quite good during her understated solo. Veteran bassist Helias provides the necessary texture throughout. This satisfying tune would be a trio performance if it were not for the solitary beat that percussionist Wilson ends it on.

In a bit of creative thinking, Bloom has attached an MP3 file to the CD. The MP3 contains a continuous performance of most of the tunes done live as if the band were performing in concert. It is a different take on these very fine compositions, and is a welcome and forward-thinking addition.

May 13, 2008 · 1 comment


Zoot Sims: Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams

Zoot Sims started doubling on soprano sax in 1973, well into his 40s. Until then he was known as an excellent hard-swinging Lester Young-influenced tenor saxophonist, a melodic player with a succulent tone and a vigorous though economical approach to improvisation. That description, it turned out, applied equally to Sims's playing on soprano, which if anything raised his already secure reputation as a complete and polished musician.

"Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" is from his only recording session devoted exclusively to the soprano. His sound on the straight horn is strikingly individual, almost like a cross between clarinet and alto sax. Sims's assured, driving solo features swooping, precisely articulated lines and rousing upper-register wails. The spirit of Sidney Bechet lurks, but it's all Zoot. Bryant's exuberant solo, in his usual surging style, seems ready to burst into stride or boogie-woogie at times, and the way his left hand complements his right brings to mind Earl Hines. Sims returns with some long-held notes and swirling extended phrasings, inventively and persistently embellishing the theme during the out chorus. The soprano sax has rarely been played any better than this.

May 02, 2008 · 0 comments


Dave Liebman: India

Every modern jazz saxophonist owes something to John Coltrane whether he or she sounds like Trane or not. Liebman can really sound like him, though, especially when interpreting Trane's music. Liebman doesn't purposefully mimic lines or solos. It is more about the musical thought process. On "India," he plays the way he thinks Coltrane might have approached the tune had Trane still been around in 1987. Imagine John Coltrane surrounded by electric basses and synthesizers. If you are able to do that, you'll dig Liebman's take on "India."

April 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Julian Argüelles: Mind Your Head

This lengthy tune is admirably built: a slow first part, where the guitar's long notes repeat a meditative melody and create the atmosphere, then the piano adds its contrapuntal lines before the reeds join in as the beat starts swinging harder, evolving towards a kind of Caribbean dance feel. These musicians really cast the listener under their spell, leading progressively to a serene and joyous conclusion.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Steve Lacy: Evidence

Monk's repertoire has been a recurring center of interest in Steve Lacy's career, and he tackled it on many occasions with different partners, often without piano. This particular case differs from others first because these tapes went unreleased for 10 years, and second because they involve a short-lived half-European band with trumpet and vibes, a rather unusual lineup for a Lacy band. Not all musicians are equally interesting here, but every time the highly original Lacy plays the highly original Monk, there's something worth checking. Indeed Lacy's solo, though rather short, is among his most convincing.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments


Louis Sclavis: Napoli's Walls

A jazz band with neither bass nor drums? Check it out before you judge! One of the horns doesn't really fill its traditional role, since the trumpeter is also an expert with electronics, percussion, and a master vocalist in his own strange, noisy way. The cellist also toys around with electronics, and of course the cello can be plucked with the same supporting efficiency as a bass, or bowed with masterful classical art. And the guitar can be bowed too (but not here). In other words: expect the unexpected, as far as sounds, technique, interaction and fun are concerned.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments


Jane Ira Bloom: Mental Weather

Jane Ira Bloom

The words "saxophone" and "electronics" in close proximity normally set off our internal Gimmick Alert! alarm, causing us to scurry for cover. Remember Eddie Harris's summer of '68 "Listen Here," the Varitone sax's one-hit wonder? Or John Klemmer's mid-'70s "Touch," which touched our credit cards with primeval Echoplex effects that led producer Michael Cuscuna, among others, to ever after refer to him as "Klemmer, Klemmer, Klemmer."

Thankfully, Jane Ira Bloom, whom jazz critic Nat Hentoff has called "beyond category," is also way beyond gimmickry in her use of electronics, which is as dazzlingly organic as a painter's swirls, adding colorful touches without ever becoming the central focus. The ingenious title track from her 2008 CD illustrates this approach, building on a bass vamp figure whose time signature, the composer informs us, alternates measures of 4/4 and 3/8. This creates an underlying jitteriness that ideally complements amazing solos by Jane Ira and her remarkable new pianist, Seattle's Dawn Clement, who both swing brilliantly over bassist Mark Helias and drummer Matt Wilson's in-the-pocket groove in a mighty unusual meter.

But "Mental Weather" is not about solos, metrics or electronics. This is a full-fledged four-way exchange between master musicians preternaturally attuned to one another, and it's a delight even for those of us who wouldn't know 4/4 from 6-7/8ths.

When we asked whether it would be off the mark to connect the dots between Jane Ira's present work and the early '60s Jimmy Giuffre 3 with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow—for us, a touchstone in the kind of small- group interactivity that Bloom is so notably exploring—she acknowledged: "Those three artists are all great jazz adventurers." But, she added tellingly, "I think somewhere in the back of my mind Ornette is always lurking."

With Ornette Coleman lurking in the back of her mind, it's no wonder Jane Ira Bloom's "Mental Weather" is so invigorating.

February 01, 2008 · 0 comments


Dave Liebman & Franco D'Andrea: Autumn Leaves

These two know their standards so well that they can choose to approach them from as many angles as they want. After Liebman tiptoes into the melody while D'Andrea comps a delicate, softly bouncing intro, this cat and mouse playing around the familiar chords carries on for more than seven minutes with no letup in inspiration. The soprano soars wildly while the piano builds rock-steady foundations in the low register, then hushes while its companion improvises in a dreamy yet earthy way. Liebman and D'Andrea know a lot about standards—and obviously about empathy and team playing, too.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Sidney Bechet & Martial Solal: All The Things You Are

It must have seemed strange, in the late stages of a "war" between jazz traditionalists and supporters of the bop revolution, to pair a New Orleans-born veteran and an up-and-coming young virtuoso who was soon to become one of Europe's leading modern pianists. Plus a rhythm team that Martial Solal more than Sidney Bechet was familiar with, and which six months later would also support Miles Davis on the famed soundtrack of Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1958; released in the USA as Elevator to the Gallows). But Bechet was such an icon in his adopted homeland of France that he could afford to do anything and was revered by every musician. Here he basically stays very close to the melody, with his huge sound and plentiful vibrato, and lets Solal toy around with the harmonies in a playful, witty way that the pianist even uses when he comps behind his unwavering elder. Not much of an encounter, indeed, but still a very interesting example of musical co-tenancy.

January 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Wynton Marsalis: Sister Cheryl

Generally when the drummer contributes a composition to the date, it comes dressed in meager threads—a few chords stitched together, with only enough substance to support a percussion solo. But on Wynton Marsalis's debut date as a leader, Tony Williams offers up a great jam tune, his medium-tempo "Sister Cheryl." Wynton takes the lead solo, and tosses out short, choppy phrases that snap and pop—all with that big and beautiful 'early Marsalis' tone. This section alone would earn high marks for the track. But brother Branford offers a very smart soprano solo. He also starts with little phrases, but they get longer and more polytonal in the second eight bars, and before closing out the chorus, Branford is dancing with long loping lines. I hated to hear this solo end—if you listen closely you can hear me begging my CD player to give the saxophonist another chorus. I guess I should be content with seven-and-a-half minutes of "Sister Cheryl"; but I can't help asking: "Cheryl, are there any more at home like you?"

January 07, 2008 · 0 comments


Previous Page | Next Page