Max Roach-Clifford Brown: Love Is A Many Splendored Thing

Clifford Brown And Max Roach At Basin Street is one of the albums that I played along with the most when I was younger, and—along with Round Midnight by Miles with Philly, Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, John Coltrane’s Crescent, and Horace Silver’s Silver’s Serenade, among others—it’s one of the classic albums that anybody who is interested in pursuing a career in the music really needs to check out. Even though it was only together for about a year, it’s one of Max’s most important bands, with Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown on the front line. I love the arrangements and the way that band played together. The stuff was tight. It was a true band—a perfect example of the best. I hate to use that sort of terminology, but that’s the way I feel about it. These cats were executing at such a high level, and the music was so refreshing. It’s still refreshing, to this day.

This one starts off with a little, one-bar intro on the bell of the cymbal, and then they go into five, and then come the solos—Clifford, Sonny, Richie Powell, and Max. One thing that attracts me to this take is the way Richie Powell plays coming out of Max’s solo going back into the top of the song. It’s a seamless transition, like they’re coming together from different places, right into the theme.

It’s important that they were playing in 5/4 in 1956. In American culture most music is in four. It’s just those 5 beats, but with a little lopsided feeling. Now, if we were raised in India or Iraq, we would be accustomed to feeling those rhythms—but we’re not. So the fact that they were using it in “popular music” meant something in pushing the music forward—initiating something that hadn’t been widely accepted, as happened when Dave Brubeck did did “Take Five” a few years later. So this is an important document in terms of recorded history. Once an idea is documented, it becomes a possibility. If you were a younger musician in 1956 listening to this for the first time, it may have been the first time you’d heard someone do it, or play a different time signature—and the presentation is so beautiful. Max was part of so many movements where he was ahead of his time, or pointing to the future, part of the vanguard of musicians who always did something challenging.

October 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Roberta Gambarini: Medley from Cinema Paradiso

Roberta Gambarini hits all the right notes, but I have sometimes felt that she misses the psychological riches of the songs she sings. I give her credit: she always surrounds herself with the finest musicians, and her own musicianship is never in question; yet I have expected more from this prepossessing woman. She is one of the most polished vocalists of our day, but if a polished sheen is not what you are looking for in your music, you might be better off checking out Patricia Barber or Cassandra Wilson, artists who grapple with songs from the inside.

Or at least that was my opinion before I heard this recording. Gambarini impresses on this track, recorded a few days after the 9/11 attacks, an event that left her shaken yet determined to immerse herself in her craft. Did the surrounding circumstances inspire the star singer to dig more deeply into her material? I can't answer that question, but I do know that the two tracks on So in Love that were recorded on September 22, 2001 are standout performances, and have forced me to reevaluate this artist, who shows here that she is capable of greatness. And there isn't a single oop-bop-uh-bam-boom tossed out glibly to spoil the mood. I am still cautious, but for the time being I am joining the fan club.

September 23, 2009 · 0 comments


Andrew Green: Narrow Margin/Taxi Driver

Now this is just a terrific juxtaposition. Andrew Green weaves his tense and suspense-laden workout around the brooding jazz-noir of Bernard Herrmann's theme from the film Taxi Driver. Thinking back to the nervous energy that was a major underpinning to the film, the association that developed between jazz after midnight and chilling violence was difficult to ignore and quite long-lasting. Green brings back those feelings, managing to amplify them along the way. The edgy, start & stop unison lines set up the vibe. A minute or so in, Bill McHenry's sax enters in the call and response role. Tension builds until the main theme is introduced, which quickly gives way to a series of ascending rhythmic and melodic swells that pave the way for the appearance of “Taxi Driver” and the dark world of Travis Bickle. Subsequent transitions between Green's work and the original theme become so natural that it's easy to forget that Mr. Herrmann had no direct hand in this structure. Really great & evocative stuff.

June 29, 2009 · 0 comments


Herb Alpert and the T.J.B.: Last Tango in Paris

Featuring an arrangement by Quincy Jones, "Last Tango in Paris" is also enriched by minor electric guitar chords and a more elaborate chord structure than usual for Herb Alpert. Although credited to the Tijuana Brass, it sounds nothing like most of the recordings that group is generally known for.

The majority of Alpert's discography is built on brief, catchy jingles such as "Lollipops and Roses," which boasted an easily hum-able melody and a peppy, joyous atmosphere perfect for TV ads (or, in Alpert's case, shows like The Dating Game, to which he contributed several T.J.B. tracks). However, the only quality this track shares with the earlier hits, besides the contributions of a few mainstay T.J.B. members, is the brief running time. "Tango" is succinct, but even though Alpert's unmistakable trumpet style is present, a sophisticated compositional allure is carried by the orchestration that makes it more provocative (and, ultimately, more interesting) than composer Gato Barbieri's own version. The subdued synths blend in well with the orchestration, a few quick solo lines exist near the end, and Alpert's take is a sexier, sultrier rendering that realizes the song's true potential as its soul is laid bare.

February 16, 2009 · 1 comment


Woody Herman: Laura

This track was the first recording made for the first session in Herman's contract for Columbia Records. Herman had led a pretty good band for several years that played major venues and made some good recordings on Decca, but by 1943 he was beginning to shift direction to music that was more modern and exciting. With the hiring of Chubby Jackson, Herman had a new bassist who recommended excellent other young musicians; from Charlie Barnet's band alone came pianist/arranger Ralph Burns, vocalist Frances Wayne and trumpeter/arranger Neal Hefti. Herman found Bill Harris, who'd been fired by Benny Goodman for poor music reading. Dave Tough was also a Herman choice. Older than the other musicians and active since the '20s, he proved the biggest surprise with his modern, subtle style, which the musicians loved. A regular radio program for Old Gold cigarettes in 1944 was good exposure for Herman's new direction, and by the time his Columbia contract began, the musicians were roaring.

However, they also played Ralph Burns-styled ballads. This theme from the movie of the same name was a major hit for Herman, and the recording has everything: a great song, wonderful vocal by the leader (who also introduces the theme on alto sax), an excellent, romantic arrangement by Burns, gorgeous playing by the individual sections and the entire band, a pretty transition by vibist Marjorie Hyams, and then a kicking solo by Harris based on the melody. Also note baritone saxophonist Skippy DeSair's anchoring of the entire band: his sound rings through the entire ensemble at some points in the recording.

This track is a sensational beginning to a distinguished series of recordings by one of the most popular big bands of all time.

January 12, 2009 · 0 comments


Terence Blanchard: Taxi Driver

Terence Blanchard's accomplished Jazz in Film extends from Alex North's groundbreaking score for A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) to one of the trumpeter's own film scores, for Spike Lee's Clockers (1995). One of the most striking interpretations, if only based on the strength of Blanchard's and Joe Henderson's solos, is "Taxi Driver," from Bernard Herrmann's final score, for Martin Scorsese's searing and upsetting 1976 film of that name. Herrmann's main theme may be too forlornly gorgeous for a character as disturbing and repugnant as Robert DeNiro's Travis Bickle, and also doesn't do justice to the seamy, violent and crumbling New York City of the '70's, but it is an undeniably entrancing creation nonetheless.

The orchestra's supple intro remains faithful to Herrmann's own, after which Blanchard tenderly and glowingly intones the bittersweet melody, then repeated by Henderson before a unison reading by trumpet and tenor above the swelling strings. A melancholy interlude by the orchestra, containing also a tinge of foreboding, precedes Blanchard's moving solo, with its irresistibly melodic development and captivating vocalized effects. Henderson's entry is typical, a fluttering, succinct phrase that he embellishes before progressing to the meat of his statement, characterized by swooping runs and graceful legato transitions that culminate in a satisfying resolution. The two horns and the orchestra now play a pensive refrain, after which Blanchard reiterates Herrmann's theme.

August 16, 2008 · 0 comments


Gary McFarland: Theme from <i>13</i>

Gary McFarland's main theme for the 1967 film 13 (later retitled Eye of the Devil) is one of his most recorded pieces, though under several different titles (e.g., "One I Could Have Loved," "Eye of the Devil," "Death March"). Here we hear it in a relatively straightforward version with strings, voices and rhythm (the former two overdubbed in London). Many of McFarland's recorded efforts later in the '60s reflected his interest in current pop-flavored music, often with him singing wordlessly in unison with his vibraphone. We hear a sample of that here. In a sense, it's unfortunate that his efforts to reach a wider audience went mostly unfulfilled—he was a charismatic, strikingly handsome figure, a natural for pop stardom.

July 05, 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


John La Barbera Big Band: Walk on the Wild Side Suite

Maybe it's the genes, or growing up in a musically nurturing upstate New York family, or both; whatever the case, the brothers La Barbera have founded a formidable jazz dynasty. Celebrated trumpeter/arranger/ composer/bandleader/educator John La Barbera made his mark with Buddy Rich, where he survived the gauntlet as a member of the trumpet section to eventually become Buddy's principal composer and arranger, an association that would last for 19 years. Additionally, his works have been recorded by Woody Herman, Dizzy Gillespie, Mel Tormé and Phil Woods, among others. His older brother Pat, best known for his nearly three decades of tenor work with Elvin Jones, also performed with Buddy, as well as a range of notables from Woody Herman to Santana. Younger brother Joe forged his reputation on drums with Bill Evans, Chuck Mangione, Art Farmer and Tony Bennett.

Walk on the Wild Side, one of Elmer Bernstein's greatest soundtracks, gave life to the gritty emotion and hard-luck urban struggle of Nelson Algren's 1956 novel, brought to the screen in 1962 by director Edward Dmytryk. Here John La Barbera's electrifying arrangement manages to shed the stiff orchestral baggage of the original film score. After a short bass ostinato, the band swings hard into the now-familiar head, setting the stage for Pat La Barbera's throaty tenor. Growling and threatening, his solo is kicked along by brother Joe's tight drum work and a screaming horn section in a scorching 6/8 romp. As the band transitions into the suite's dreamy, plaintive middle sections entitled "Night Song" and "Rejected," Brian Scanlon's soprano sax poignantly conjures the lament of Algren's "po' buckra" white trash lost in a neon wilderness.

All in all, John La Barbera's "Walk on the Wild Side" is a seamless, volatile stroll down Perdido Street, a steamy detour on the way to Perdition. It is also a reminder of a time not so long ago, when big band jazz ruled the American film soundscape.

June 06, 2008 · 2 comments


Nicholas Payton: Chinatown

Nicholas Payton, hailed by some as a young lion of jazz trumpet, takes a fresh approach in this offering. Predominately blues-based, Into The Blue is true to its name. "Love Theme from Chinatown," as originally titled, was the centerpiece of Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-nominated score for Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974) starring Jack Nicholson. The soundtrack featured a memorably haunting trumpet solo played brilliantly by the underrated studio musician Uan Rasey with orchestration.

Nicholas Payton unabashedly takes on this challenge and confidently navigates the song's bittersweet sensibilities, creating a sensuously delicious mood of sultry, slow-steamed blues blended with the mystery of a Raymond Chandler novel. Conjuring up a shadowy back alley, Payton luxuriates in the mood with a deeply evocative tonal range that remains sparse yet elicits great feeling. No technical gymnastics here, just a soulful sound reminiscent of Terrence Blanchard's best scores. The subtle rhythm backing is marvelously in keeping with Payton's sensitivity, a quality too rarely displayed by today's trumpeters. Payton shows great savvy in choosing such subtle but penetrating music that somehow has been overlooked by others. It makes a wonderful vehicle for his artistry.

April 30, 2008 · 1 comment


Ted Kooshian: Bullitt

Watch almost any action movie from the late 1960s and you're sure to hear the signature sound of misbehaving guitars, pensive flutes and spiky horns. Ted Kooshian updates this particular classic movie theme by at first going "out" with a very angular introduction and then slowly building tension as the piano and sax trade ideas. There's an underlying current of funk here that's very much in the spirit of Lalo Schifrin's original, and the energetic climax does bring to mind Steve McQueen, his Mustang and that insanely great car-chase scene. (Subtract 2 ratings points if you remember the chase scene and were annoyed that they passed the same Volkswagen Beetle so many times.)

March 24, 2008 · 0 comments


Mark Murphy: On Green Dolphin Street

Right from the start, when Murphy sings the verse solely with piano, you know it's going to be a great vocal version of this tune. Mostly thanks to the singer, whose relaxed phrasing is full of unexpected breaks and accelerations, and molds the melody with supreme freedom. His timbre also blends gorgeously with the horns because Murphy, given the range of his voice, can afford to use it as an instrument. With such a singer, the arrangement needn't fill too much space, and indeed the horns remain rather discreet—all focusing the spotlight on the one and only Mark Murphy.

January 31, 2008 · 0 comments


Brad Mehldau: Alfie

One of the curses of jazz pianists is that they are forced to share their repertoire with cocktail lounge tinklers and elevator Muzak maestros. Some jazz musicians are so dismayed by this state of affairs that they refuse to play many of the best-known standards -- especially those composed after 1960 when hip chord changes became an endangered species. Most of them would rather work through Czerny backwards or play Hanon with mittens on before tainting their fingers with Bacharach or the Beatles. But Brad Mehldau plunges bravely into the world of pop tunes, playing more Bacharach than Bird, more McCartney than Monk. But he puts these songs through an exemplary purification rite, stripping them of the vapid flourishes and empty gestures that your local bar piano man might employ. The end result is a pristine "Alfie," beautiful in its starkness, and without any excessive sentimentality. This, my friends, is harder than playing "Cherokee" in all twelve keys. Ballard's brushwork is sublime, and Grenadier's time as reliable as a Patek Phillipe watch.

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments


Dexter Gordon: As Time Goes By

After a long expatriation, Dexter Gordon came home during the height of 1970s fusion confusion, and helped restore jazz to its senses. Forget the electrified gimmickry of Varitones and Echoplexes; all Dexter needed was an acoustic backup trio and his trusty tenor sax. Plus, of course, an unforgettable standard. Bogie, nursing a drink and broken heart in Casablanca (1942), muttered through gritted teeth, "If she can take it, I can take it." But Dexter, the ever-superior balladeer, makes us adore this tune even sober. "Moonlight and love songs," goes the lyric, are "never out of date." Nor is Dexter Gordon.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments


Roland Kirk: Alfie

Yet another great movie theme from my youth evoking melancholy and ennui addressed by one of the great musicians/characters of his day. While Kirk may be better known for his persona and extended techniques (circular breathing and playing multiple instruments at one time), down deep his poetic take on this Bacharach/David piece is awe-inspiring. As is often the case with artists of this caliber, you hear the history of the jazz saxophone interspersed with the unique voiceprint of the individual. The band’s sensitivity is top-notch throughout with Boykins standing out in particular. Dig the trick ending!

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments


Previous Page | Next Page