Lee Konitz & Marshall Brown: Struttin' With Some Barbecue

On a single day in September 1967, Lee Konitz recorded an entire LP of duets with some of his favorite musicians. Some of his partners had recorded with him before (Jim Hall, Dick Katz, Elvin Jones), but most were new, including Marshall Brown, a pioneering jazz educator best known for leading the Newport Jazz Festival’s Youth Band. Brown’s meager discography was almost entirely devoted to traditional jazz, so it is no surprise that the Konitz/Brown duet is on a Louis Armstrong classic, “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”. While there is no rhythm section present, Brown makes up for its absence by playing a jaunty bass line under Konitz’ acidic alto solo. Brown gets the spotlight in the second chorus although Konitz just leaves more space in his playing instead of attempting to play a bass part. Then, through the use of overdubbing, Konitz on baritone sax and Brown on euphonium play a stop-time background to an alto sax/valve trombone reading of Louis Armstrong’s classic solo from the original recording of 40 years earlier. The arrangement is simply delightful, but Konitz’ over-riding seriousness makes this much less fun than it ought to have been.

September 01, 2009 · 0 comments


Canadian Brass: Struttin' With Some Barbecue

New Orleans music is built on a sturdy foundation set by generations of brass bands, and even Louis Armstrong (who introduced this song to the world) learned his craft in that time-honored setting. But the N'Awlins variety of brass band never played quite as cleanly and precisely as the Canadian Brass. Perhaps if New Orleans had been situated in the middle of a military base, and had trained with the discipline of soldiers on the march . . well, maybe jazz would have sounded more like this track. I can't fault the execution here, and the trumpet work is flashy. Honestly, I am more likely to play Louis Armstrong's "version of this tune when I throw a barbecue, but if I ever plan to do struttin' with some caviar and expensive vodka, this rendition might just do the trick.

August 29, 2009 · 0 comments


Gil Evans: Struttin' With Some Barbecue

This arrangement is a wonderful lesson in the art of building excitement. Gil opens simply and in the low register, with Bill Barber playing the melody on tuba. The accompaniment is warmly voiced and also in a low range. I'm guessing that the trombones are in hat mutes, playing along with the French horn. They play lovely little comping hits as if they're a piano, but with the warm glow that comes from the sound of combined French horn and hat-muted trombones. It's perfectly understated behind the tuba, and Philly Joe Jones plays super light and swingin' on the snare with brushes. Philly starts to open up the volume and adds a little more intensity after the solo trombone break by Frank Rehak. After Frank's first chorus, there's more comping behind him in the lower horns that gets increasingly rhythmically creative. There's also a great little sustained unison cup mute tone that begins at about 1:31. It holds for a good eight seconds.

Now we reach a harmonization of the melody that moves the tune to a higher octave and is harmonized for the first time. This ensemble section flies along with ease, and has a lovely counterline by tuba, trombone and bass clarinet that helps the ensemble feel like it's gliding. When this counterline hits 2:07, it starts making a stepwise ascent. From it, we get a feeling of yet more building, opening up, anticipation and general excitement. The range is now getting really high. It's great, because it heralds even more excitement that's soon to come in the form of Cannonball's entrance. Gil even keeps his creative hand in this solo break, as Cannonball, right at the end of the break, has to modulate and launch us into a new key, which serves to lift us to yet another level of excitement. The rhythms and lead lines of the ensemble comping just keep developing—no shortcuts taken here. The details are simply mind-blowing. At 2:45, Harmon mutes in the trumpets add another fresh new color. This whole piece is essentially passing from dark orchestrational color to bright.

Gil's spectacular sense of rhythm, fabulous feel for bebop, and refreshing sense of harmony is clearly evident at his ensemble passage that goes from 3:01–3:10. I love how he wanders to a rather unexpected corner harmonically and just sits us uncomfortably there for a hair longer than we'd expect, before he gently glides us out. Marvelous! His next two short ensemble passages also have wonderful little lilting cross-rhythmic figures. His rhythms are full of surprises but at the same time are very catchy. On the next figure the ensemble soars to its top and dramatically holds it for a moment before we suddenly drop all the way down to a low pedal tone that lasts to the end of the piece. Over that pedal, Philly Joe and Cannonball continue playing to the finish.

All parts collectively decrescendo in what feels like a big exhale after all the excitement. Gil's written a thousand tiny details into this piece, but each of them contribute to a common goal, and, for that reason, add up to a total experience, an emotional ride. In the hands of someone without such a sense of purpose, so much detail could easily add up to a whole lot of clutter. It never happens with Gil. That's one of the many marvels of this man's writing.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Louis Armstrong: Struttin' With Some Barbecue

If jazz had a Mount Rushmore, everybody knows who would have pride of place. Washington was Father of His County, and Louis Armstrong was Pops of Jazz. Consider as evidence this track made at the end of a two-year span in which Pops defined by example the solo as jazz's principal means of expression. Yet, as luminous as his solo is here, Pops shines brightest while leading the opening and closing ensembles. He is spectacularly authoritative. Just as the U.S. presidency was designed with George Washington in mind, jazz was designed with Louis Armstrong in mind.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments


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