Gary Husband's Drive: Take Five

It is a very cold morning as I write this review. I just came back from dropping my daughter off at school and have decided to hit the keys to toss off a few reviews. I thought I would start by listening to Gary Husband, one of my favorite progressive jazz players. But for some reason I can't hear his band's interpretation of "Take Five" though my headphones. Every knob is turned. Every button is pushed. Software is checked. No sound. I reach to adjust my headphones. What's this? Damn. I still have my earmuffs on!

The P.R. material that came with Gary Husband's Hotwired indicates the multi-instrumentalist and composer wanted to pay tribute to his influences such as Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette and others, and also to capture the "American" or "New York" sound of the wonderful jazz bands that used to visit the London jazz clubs he frequented. I don't think you can pick a more "American" jazz tune than Paul Desmond's "Take Five."

The piece starts with Husband adding drum flourishes in a slightly prolonged intro. To my unmuffled ears the most dominant influence in Husband's playing on this cut comes from Tony Williams. Bassist Michael Janisch thumps the tune along. I love the way Husband mixed the bass and drums on this album. They are very upfront. Saxophonist Julian Siegel and trumpeter Richard Turner play off each other for the tune's head arrangement. The head-nodding quality of the original tune's melody is maintained even through some rather darker passages are presented. "Take Five's" midsection is taken over by expressive and sometimes violent free-jazz blowing before things calm down. This is not your father's "Take Five." If Husband wanted New York City, he got it. This music would have been perfect to follow the rough-and-tumble private-eye Mike Hammer around.

Husband's new band Drive proves to be a powerful unit quite capable of constructing and then deconstructing original musical ideas. Just make sure it is your headphones you are listening through, and not your earmuffs.

January 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Joani Taylor: Take Five

This is definitely a track to separate the men from the boys. Or is it the true believers vs. posers? Maybe it's the arrogant experts vs. the fans? Traditionalists vs. the modernists?

I have deliberately set up some ambiguous labels here, as Paul Desmond's classic has been on my mind lately. I used to listen to a jazz station on my satellite radio. The past tense became necessary as the percentage of repeats became intolerable. That and the fact that their Dave Brubeck selections made it seem as though Brubeck had recorded only two songs: "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo la Turk." It's sadly ironic whenever a groundbreaking artist is forced into some unnecessarily restricted Museum of Jazz.

All of which makes this version of "Take Five" so refreshing. Here we have the original tune updated not only with a funky vibe and Joani Taylor's sensual vocals, but also with a little Hip-Hop crosspollination, and the throw-down of MC Jay Kin. Forget the labels, this is just too much fun.

December 09, 2008 · 0 comments


George Benson: Octane

This recording lacks synergy due to the fact that live and studio performances were merged to create it. There are imperfections, such as the intonation between guitar and bass. But Benson still plays like he has something to prove, and the inclusion of a Hubert Laws flute solo does not put out the fire despite the coolness of that instrument. Benson delivers the goods, and his performance will whet classicists' appetites for original, unaltered tapes that may never see the light of day. Even so, this recording stands as proof of Benson's instrumental prowess.

October 23, 2008 · 0 comments


George Benson: Take Five

Some tuning discrepancies exist here between guitar and bass, but it doesn't matter much, because the track is energetic and Benson's playing has obviously reached its peak. The flaws could be due to the track's genesis, as the original rhythm section was replaced in the studio by Will Lee and Steve Gadd in a last-ditch attempt by CTI to generate sales. Their presence ignited a spark that led to major chart success, and this pre-pop stardom cover version, recorded live at Carnegie Hall, is a clear indication of Benson's mass appeal and strengths as a top concert draw.

October 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Roger Kellaway: Take Five

Anyone who knows my writing through my books or my reviews here at realizes that I am a child of the jazz-fusion era. But I also hope those same people see that there is more to jazz for me than jazz-rock. I will always argue that fusion fans are among the most open of jazz fans. Many of us heard fusion first and then went back and studied its influences. This allowed us to live jazz in a different way than just growing up with it. We discovered we liked the big bands, Dizzy and Charlie, Miles and Coltrane, and on and on. Believe it or not, we hear all of their music in the best of fusion. The point is that even for hardcore fusion fans, there have always been traditional jazz tunes that have opened our ears and given us a better appreciation for the jazz genre and the jazz-rock music we loved. Recorded music has allowed us to have revelations 30, 40 or even 50 years after the fact.

In the 1970s, I was in the middle of my fusion discovery period. But I will never forget my first time hearing Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond playing the live version of "Take Five" on the radio. That music was very much different than what I was listening to in those days. But it had the same mesmerizing effect. I wanted to hear more and I made sure I did.

So of course I learned about standards and what great jazz musicians do with them. I have heard many interpretations of "Take Five" over the years. Most fall short because the memory of the initial experience still overwhelms. Roger Kellaway, regarded as one of the world's most accomplished pianists, does not fall short on this one. That is because he presents the tune from a different perspective that does not compete with the original. That is the real key to any successful interpretation. Kellaway's arrangement is a heavily blues-based number that at times is a slow shuffle and at other times swings like hell. Kellaway doesn't dominate the historic opening riffs as Brubeck did. He leaves more space. Often the main melody is played by bassist Jay Leonhart. Each player takes a traditional solo turn. (Though a cello solo on "Take Five" is anything but traditional.) And boy, can these cats play! Kellaway is as dexterous and expressive as any jazz pianist I have heard. In fact, all these guys are world class. And I have not even mentioned that there are no drums! So Kellaway and gang are expert timekeepers, too. There is another surprise at song's end as some high-energy unison playing almost sounds like a slight nod to progressive rock.

If I were you, I would take the 8 minutes to listen to this "Take Five." It is one of the most creative takes on a standard I have heard in years.

October 02, 2008 · 0 comments


Toots Thielemans: Take Five

In this West Coast-based lineup, a swinging duet intro by onetime Mahavishnu violinist Jerry Goodman and Joni Mitchell session guitarist Robben Ford lead into the swinging 5/4 Desmond/Brubeck classic. After Toots takes the signature lead line on his chromatic harmonica, a playful Goodman puts a new twist with his interpretation where he thinks the song could go. At times bluesy and at times sweet, it is unpredictably enchanting. The unique grouping of violin and harmonica makes this an unusual outing. The two instruments are rarely used in jazz, and almost never together; yet they seem perfectly paired to produce a fresh and compatible sound. A laid-back but thoughtful call and response between Toots and Ford follows. Throughout, the veteran rhythm team of bassist Haden and drummer Erskine keep the beat swinging forward unobtrusively. An original and enjoyable take on this musical stalwart.

March 14, 2008 · 0 comments


Dave Brubeck: Take Five

Columbia Records balked when Brubeck proposed an entire album in odd time signatures. Even Paul Desmond considered it "a dubious idea," but complied with Dave's request to write something in 5/4. Dave unified the two fragments Paul brought in and, keeping it simple, made the experiment fun. Assisted by Guinness (the beer, not the World Records), we determined that Dave plays a steady 2-chord vamp 162 times, even behind Joe Morello's unfettered drum solo. Released as an abbreviated single in 1961, "Take Five" became the first million-selling modern jazz hit, a landmark at the intersection between jazz and pop culture.

October 25, 2007 · 1 comment


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