Sonny Rollins & Coleman Hawkins: All The Things You Are

This track comes from the fabled Sonny Meets Hawk! sessions from July, 1963 with Rollins and Coleman Hawkins, and exhibits perhaps the most abstract playing of Rollins’s career. This track also features one of the greatest piano solos ever from Paul Bley. While retaining bits and pieces of Jerome Kern’s melody in their improvisations, Bley and Rollins both play against the time, the changes, and everything else, but still swing ferociously, while Henry Grimes on bass and Roy McCurdy on drums keep things together underneath it all.

April 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Dexter Gordon & Wardell Gray: The Hunt

Two of Wardell Gray’s and Dexter Gordon’s tenor duels, “The Chase” and “The Hunt,” rank among the all-time highlights of west coast jazz. While “The Chase,” recorded a month earlier on June 12, was the seven-minute top-seller, “The Hunt” is an all-out 18-minute jam session where several Cali pioneers skip the melody altogether in order to roll up their sleeves and get down and dirty with their improvisations. This track represents so many things at once: bop that doesn’t really sound like Bird and Diz; a rare jazz performance where audience interaction plays an important role in the tune’s development; and two leading west-coast tenors proving that they can jam as hard as any of those dominant east coasters. The track’s importance is encapsulated by a singular moment of jazz history intersecting with another landmark of American cultural history, when Dean Moriarity himself, of Kerouac’s On the Road, remembers “listening to a wild bop record…’The Hunt,’ with Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray blowing their tops before a screaming audience that gave the record fantastic frenzied volume.” A historically significant track featuring Gordon at his most vibrant.

April 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Al Cohn & Zoot Sims: Lover Come Back to Me

                  Zoot Sims at Birdland
                  Photo by Marcel Fleiss

Al Cohn and Zoot Sims may have gone to that great tenor battle in the sky, but at least they live on at their own MySpace page. (However, I must admit that I am afraid of clicking the link on that page which sends an email message to Al and Zoot. I prefer to use a Ouija board, not cyberspace, to contact the great horn players from the golden years.) Face the facts, email and text messaging are not the way to enjoy these tenor titans. Better to mix a stiff drink, and kick back listening to the knights in shining Selmers joust over the changes to "Lover Come Back to Me." Cohn takes the first two solo choruses, and Zoot digs in for three, and of course they save some special treats for the four-bar question-and-answer period. And here's an unexpected treat: Mose Allison serves as referee on the eighty-eight keys. Who wins this duel? The listener, of course.

November 27, 2007 · 0 comments


Alex Riel: On Again, Off Again

Lester Young vs. Coleman Hawkins. Dexter Gordon vs. Wardell Gray. Gene Ammons vs. Sonny Stitt. The tenor saxophone battle has always had an important place in the history of jazz. In a nice outing by Riel, "On Again, Off Again" adds to that tradition, pitting modern tenor giants Michael Brecker and Jerry Bergonzi against one another on this lively minor blues. The angular and jagged melody leads into swinging solos by both Brecker and Bergonzi, but the highlight of the track comes when the two duel it out, trading back and forth. For fans of contemporary saxophone, this track is a must.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments


Sonny Rollins & Coleman Hawkins: Lover Man

Sonny Rollins’ avant-garde period – culminating in East Broadway Rundown – was in full bloom when the 33-year-old recorded with his boyhood idol, Coleman Hawkins. On “Lover Man,” Rollins’ boisterous tenor is at its most expressive – jarringly rhythmic in the low end, feeding off the more subdued statements of Hawkins. The two trade inspired choruses before Hawkins restates the melody under Rollins’ screeching, sustained altissimo counterpoint. A thrilling performance.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments


Pete Christlieb & Bob Cooper: Passion Flower

Duke Ellington’s celebrated alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges set the standard for the performance of Billy Strayhorn’s elegant ballad “Passion Flower.” Here two tenor saxophonists a generation apart, Bob Cooper, who rose to prominence during the so-called cool period of the 1950s, and Pete Christlieb, a big-toned player of more recent vintage, honor the alto master and complement each other in a bright Latin version of the classic.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments


Dexter Gordon & Wardell Gray: The Chase

Bebop was an East Coast innovation, but much of the early bop tenor sax idiom was developed on the West Coast – shaped by the contributions of Teddy Edwards, Harold Land, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray and others. “The Chase” offers the best possible introduction to the state of the tenor in the postwar period. This heated battle between Gordon and Gray evokes the late-night jam sessions of Central Avenue. Who wins? The listeners, of course, who are treated to one of the classic jazz match-ups of the era.

November 02, 2007 · 1 comment


Al Cohn & Zoot Sims: Blue Hodge

Tenorists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims played together as members of Woody Herman’s famous Second Herd and later continued their association in quintets of their own. Although both men were, like many saxophonists of their generation, the musical descendants of Lester Young, they complemented each other with individually distinctive approaches. Gary McFarland’s slow blues, written for alto titan Johnny Hodges, displays both their similarities and their individual strengths. Sims demonstrates his unerring sense of swing while Cohn, also a composer, contributes beautifully constructed melodic lines.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments


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