David Murray & the Gwo Ka Masters (with Taj Mahal and Sista Kee): Southern Skies

David Murray returns to the studio with traditional Guadeloupian gwo-ka percussionists, and this time brings along Taj Mahal and Sista Kee as guest vocalists. As you may know, Taj Mahal comes from a blues perspective and Sista Kee a gospel-rap orientation, but, honestly, there aren't enough genres to go around here. The Caribbean participants deliver a blistering world music beat, while Murray and the rhythm section superimpose their brand of heavy James Brown-ish funk. So this is one occasion when the well-known guests on the date adapt to the hosts rather than the other way around. Murray contributes an aggressive solo over a static harmonic accompaniment, but this isn't the place for fancy chord changes. The rhythm, hot and unrelenting, is the centerpiece here, and David Murray risks coming across like a sideman at his own date. Even the mix sends that message. It sounds like the rest of the band has been pushed back behind a partition of percussion. Is it jazz? Is it dance music for the block party of all time? I'll leave the labels to others, but I will validate the potent rhythm content, which is filled to the brim and spilling over the sides.

November 08, 2009 · 0 comments


Houston Person: Lester Leaps In

The CD is entitled Mellow, but Houston Person closes it with a track that is anything but. Lester Young's personal take on "I Got Rhythm" changes serves as a platform for hard-swinging at a pace somewhere north of 300 beats per minute. Person may be best known for his soulful tenor stylings and his many years spent accompanying Etta Jones, but this outing is situated at that intersection where bop and Kansas City swing meet. And, frankly, if you plan to hang out at any intersection, you could hardly pick a better one, my friend. Person shows off more technique than usual, and the rhythm section plays with confidence. Drummond sticks to walking lines, even during his solo, but he is a major source of swing here. But at a little over three minutes, the track is all too short. Next time invite Lester to stay awhile.

November 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Joe Lovano: Dewey Said

In explaining the origins of “Dewey Said,” a track from Joe Lovano’s second Soul Note release, Village Rhythm, the saxophonist explained that it “was written for both Miles Dewey Davis, and Dewey Redman. The first four bars are reminiscent of a phrase that reminded me of both of those cats.” Those justly inspired first four bars are encapsulated from quick solo bursts from Paul Motian, followed by a clamorous, clever, tuneful drum solo after the head. After a brief statement from Werner, Harrell enters with his clean and crisp, equal-parts-horizontal-and-vertical solo statement. Then Lovano enters at an already raised intensity level and delivers a statement complete with extended, across-the-changes lines and rhythmic unraveling through the altering of accents and/or riff placement within a measure, as evidenced by his run from about 3:40-3:55. As has become expected in Lovano’s world, the end of the solo climaxes with intense upper register screams, heightened by his ability to continue incorporating legit melodic moves while living up there in the stratosphere. A fine representation of early Lovano.

October 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Jan Garbarek: Milagre dos Peixes

Given a five year lapse since his last ECM leader date, In Praise of Dreams, any Jan Garbarek recording is a significant event on the European jazz scene. But the double-CD Dresden is an especially poised project which comes closest of any of Garbarek's releases to capturing what this artist can do in live performance. Here he is joined by one of those cross-border bands that are increasingly common in Europe these days. In this instance, the Norwegian saxophonist is supported by French drummer Manu Katché, German pianist Rainer Brüninghaus and Brazilian bassist Yuri Daniel. The song of choice is also Brazilian—Milton Nascimento's "Milagre dos Peixes"—but this is really music that travels without baggage or security checks. When pianist Brüninghaus unleashes his solo, there is more blues than bossa in his conception, and Garbarek proved decades ago that he can impose his own musical personality on any piece, whether working alongside Keith Jarrett or the Hilliard Ensemble. This is the longest track on the double-CD release—a thirteen-minute workout—and like the best of Garbarek's work, it comes across more as a ritual performance than the cover version of a song. I have long thought that jazz players could learn from visual artists, who realized decades ago that a distinctive personal style is more important than the demonstration of technique. Certainly Garbarek has no shortage of technique—Stuart Nicholson recently sent me a tape of his work as a teenager which is stunning in its hard bop workout over the changes—but he is also one of the grand stylists of the horn, as this new release will confirm again to the delight of his fans whose five year wait is over.

September 29, 2009 · 0 comments


Gerry Gibbs & Ravi Coltrane: Impressions

If you are wondering how Gerry Gibbs and Ravi Coltrane came together on Gibbs' 1996 debut album, The Thrasher, it just happens that Gerry's father, vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, introduced John Coltrane to his wife-to-be Alice McLeod. Their son, Ravi, and Gerry became close friends and Ravi was a member of the drummer's working quartet at the time of this recording, after having spent three years with the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine earlier in the '90's. As can be heard here on Gibbs' fresh arrangement of John Coltrane's "Impressions," even early on in his career Ravi sounded very little like his father, who died when he was only two.

Uri Caine's sprightly piano intro sets the stage for Coltrane's playing of Gibbs' totally reworked--both harmonically and rhythmically--version of the "Impressions" theme, with violinist Mark Feldman joining the saxophonist on the replay. This is followed by a swaying montuno from Caine and vibist Joe Locke and a prickly vamp by Feldman (pizzicato) and Locke, just prior to Coltrane's tenor solo. Suspended time sections serve as launching pads for Ravi's convoluted, logically conceived, and unyieldingly inventive phrasings and runs. Caine's improv is buoyantly zestful and rhythmically diverse. Gibbs' well-executed, aggressively delivered drum solo is bolstered by the same vamp and montuno heard previously. The concluding well-written parts for the sextet as a whole seal the deal on one the most provocative and unique treatments of "Impressions" ever recorded.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Ike Quebec: Blue and Sentimental

One aspect of Ike Quebec's playing that was conveyed so eloquently on his "comeback" Blue Note albums of the early '60's was his expressive "boudoir tenor" ballad treatments, an instrumental equivalent, if you will, of the style of singing that Billy Eckstine utilized in the '40's to keep the girls swooning in the aisles. Guitarist Tiny Grimes had ably assisted Quebec on his first round of Blue Note recordings in the '40's; now, in 1961, Quebec was matched with the up-and-coming Grant Green for his own Blue and Sentimental date and on Green's Born to Be Blue. If not for Quebec's untimely death from lung cancer in 1963 at the age of 44, surely Blue Note (for which Quebec also did influential A&R work) would have continued to pair his tenor with Green's guitar.

The title track, "Blue and Sentimental," is a definitive example of Quebec's sexy ballad creations. Quebec's velvety, fluttering evocation of the theme is tenderly apt. In his solo you can clearly discern Quebec's two self-admitted major influences, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, but to his credit they've been successfully assimilated into a personally assured approach all his own. Green's following solo is actually longer than the leader's, and is played with a noticeably lighter tone than would be heard from him in the years to come. His always melodic, blues-inflected, and concise phrases hold one's interest despite threatening to veer into repetition, as his subtle, surprising, and clever variations unfailingly prevent that from happening. Quebec reenters with the famous Count Basie vamp from Hershel Evans' original 1938 feature, before bearing down on the melody in mellifluous fashion once again, right down to a sensuously caressing coda.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Sonny Stitt: Blues for Pres, Sweets, Ben and All the Other Funky Ones

Sonny Stitt was in prime form during his 1959 recording session with the Oscar Peterson Trio, perhaps partly because of the planned nature of the set, as opposed to a totally spur-of-the-moment selection of overplayed tunes. Sonny pays tribute to Charlie Parker with "Au Privave" and "Scrapple from the Apple," to Count Basie, Ben Webster, and Lester Young with "Moten Swing," and sums up his salute to "the fine funky ones: Bird, Pres, Sweets, Ben, Louis, Basie and those," with the original composition spotlighted here. This was the last time Stitt would record with Peterson, and the two monster technicians subdue their egos and work in highly effective accord, anchored by the responsive, classic rhythm team of Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen.

Stitt's on tenor for this track, but while it allows him some distance from his ever-present Parker influence on alto, he still sounds very little like Young or Webster. Instead, saxmen like Gene Ammons, Wardell Gray and Paul Gonsalves come to mind as Stitt plays the Kansas City Swing / jump blues theme and navigates his relatively old-school, riffing solo, with his usual intricate bop vocabulary kept mostly under wraps. Peterson in his solo utilizes a lissome touch of the George Shearing variety, as well as sparse Basie-derived patterns, in order to retain the reverent approach initiated by Stitt. Brown and Thigpen in turn drive the action, the flawless drummer having only recently joined Peterson, with whom he'd remain for the next seven years. All this is heard with crystal clarity thanks to the superb remastering of Kevin Reeves.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Billy Pierce: Star Eyes

It was producer/pianist James Williams' idea to put saxophonist Billy Pierce into the studio with just pianist Hank Jones and drummer Roy Haynes, shades of Lester Young with Nat Cole and Buddy Rich or Benny Carter with Art Tatum and Louis Bellson. Fortunately, Pierce had spent three years with Art Blakey (alongside other "young lions" such as Wynton Marsalis and Bobby Watson), and was in the midst of a seven-year long stint with Tony Williams' quintet, so the challenging trio format and the stature of his bandmates was not nearly as intimidating as one might expect for the young saxophonist. Blakey for one had called Pierce "my best tenor player since Wayne Shorter." Alas, Pierce would gradually turn his focus to teaching jazz at the Berklee College of Music (where Mark Turner and Miguel Zenon have been among his students), but his impressive Equilateral session will forever be a key reminder of his ability as a player.

Of course, Jones and Haynes knew "Star Eyes" intimately, having both performed it with Charlie Parker back in the day, but Pierce more than holds his own on this rewarding version. Jones plays the familiar intro before Pierce warmly intones the theme, augmented by the pianist's undulating chords and Haynes' sleek snare drum accents. Jones solos first in his distinctively florid yet at the same time tasteful style, his lines constantly darting and shifting perspective, but seeming to always coalesce in their thematic faithfulness. Pierce's improvisation is brash and almost blustering in spots, his woody tone adding heft to his fleet-fingered runs and swirling circular phrases. Jones' intricate comping and Haynes' urgent but unobtrusive polyrhythms are memorable examples of their individual artistry. Along with Pierce, in the end this engaged trio has shown its respect for the bebop vernacular while also preferring to take the road less traveled.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Wayne Shorter: Deluge

When Wayne Shorter combined forces with John Coltrane's rhythm section for his 1964 album JuJu, the results were nothing short of ear opening. It's interesting to note the influence that Coltrane had on Shorter. I'm not so sure I buy into the notion that 'Trane influenced Shorter that much as a composer but I think you can definitely hear it in his playing. I think underneath it all, Coltrane had a deep respect for Shorter's playing and that might be why he recommended him to Miles Davis when he left in 1960 (Davis went with Sonny Stitt instead).

The most striking element about this rhythm section is how McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones sound behind Shorter. It's unfortunate but bassist Reggie Workman's levels are extremely low in the mix. I think it's a safe bet that no matter what saxophonist this rhythm section backed up, it would highly improve the sound and quality of that particular player.

On "Deluge" Tyner and Shorter open the song with an introduction before Tyner is joined by the rest of the rhythm section on the chord hits. Shorter's solo evolves nicely here as well, full of nuance and personality. McCoy Tyner also provides his typical sounds, with fragmented harmonic movements underneath the melody and a lush but full usage of the piano during comping. Overall, a great album from probably one of the best post bop albums of the 1960s.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Rahsaan Roland Kirk: From Bechet, Byas, and Fats

Jaki supplies strong comping throughout this record, Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s fantastic Rip, Rig and Panic. On this track, I think the most astonishing thing is the ending. The tempo begins to slow, and Jaki continues playing his stride piano phrases, altering it with the tempo. As if the record was slowing down, Jaki slowed down, and it feels like a time warp.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Johnny Griffin: Blues For Harvey

At the time of this 1973 recording, expatriates Johnny Griffin (Paris) and Kenny Drew (Copenhagen) had been living in Europe since the early '60's, while Ed Thigpen had only just relocated to Copenhagen a year earlier. Mads Vinding was the "house bassist" at the esteemed Jazzhus Montmartre, where this very tight quartet convened for a lively July 4th weekend. A great photo on the original LP dust jacket depicts Griffin, in a dashiki, bell bottoms, and sandals, waving his saxophone case while standing alongside a rather disheveled, liquor bottle-toting Harvey Sand, Johnny's "favorite Danish bartender." Both are apparently feeling no pain, nor will you after listening to the album's title track, "Blues for Harvey."

The emphatic, staccato riff-blues theme is spare but ample enough fodder for Griffin's dazzling extended solo, which is propelled by Vinding's surging bass line and Thigpen's variously accented shuffle rhythm. Griffin offers up droll Sonny Rollins-like phrases, hard-edged exclamations, free-boppish distorted intonations, unadorned bluesy riffs, ascending squeals, guttural honks, and more, all executed with his trademark sharp and precise articulation. Drew's succeeding solo possesses a kind of Wynton Kellyesque low-keyed swagger and burn, his prancing runs interspersed with vibrant chords. Griffin returns in full flight, showing once again how much meat can be carved out of a simple blues line. His tenor then begins compelling trades with Thigpen, who has been such a driving force thus far, until the drummer takes centerstage on his own and proves just how dynamic and inventive he can be free of the type of relatively restricted role he had for years as part of the Oscar Peterson trio.

September 08, 2009 · 0 comments


Woody Herman (with Stan Getz): Early Autumn

When asked about this solo years later, Getz noted that he didn't own copies of his old recordings, then added: "I don't remember what I played on it. . . . My music is something that's done and forgotten about." Yet this was the performance that created the first buzz of fame that would establish Getz as a name attraction in the jazz world. And if Getz didn't recall what he played on the date, many musicians and fans committed his phrases to memory. Ralph Burns's chart is a perfect vehicle for the tenorist, and the sax section is luminous even before Getz steps forward. But his solo is a perfectly poised statement, and an important milestone in the development of the cool jazz idiom.

Is Getz a Lester Young disciple? Certainly. A Lester clone? Not by a mile. No matter what you might have heard elsewhere, there is nothing in Prez's body of work quite like this performance. You could teach a classroom of six-year-olds how to distinguish between the two artists, and they would never make a mistake on a blindfold test. Even at 21 years of age, Getz had staked out his territory, and he would never relinquish it. It's not just his tone, a delectable concoction that never gets heavier than a Julia Chid meringue, but even more the freedom of his phrasing, which always makes clear that Getz is playing what he hears in his head, not what he worked on in the practice room, and in his case he hears deep and wondrous possibilities, some of which he shares with his audience. No surprise, then, that when Metronome published the results of its 1949 poll, the young Getz was atop the tenor sax rankings. And despite his assessment of a solo that was "done and forgotten," this one has no shortage of admirers more than sixty years after it was recorded. Mark my words: fans will still be listening sixty years hence.

September 07, 2009 · 0 comments


Diane Schuur (with Stan Getz): A Time for Love

Stan Getz prided himself on his skill as a talent scout—a role spurred both by his genuine interest in new sounds and stylists as well as his need to compensate for his personal indifference to composing, which forced him to seek out others who could provide him with fresh material for his interpretation. Over the decades, he helped advance the careers of Horace Silver, Chick Corea, Astrud Gilberto, João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gary Burton and others, and they in turn inspired him to some of the defining moments in his oeuvre. Late in life, he continued to look for emerging talent, and was especially excited by Diane Schuur, a vocalist whom he first heard at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1979 when she sat in with Dizzy and Stan and received a standing ovation from the audience. In the following months, Getz found opportunities for Schuur to perform with his band, and in 1982 brought the vocalist with him to the White House—an event which led to Schuur's signing with the GRP label, and her subsequent Grammy awards.

Getz joins Schuur on this track from her Timeless album, and his every contribution is perfectly matched to the emotional temper of the song, from his plaintive solo introduction to his moving solo to his austere coda. "Ballads intrigue me," Getz once told a journalist. "I let the mood do what it wants. I never intend to do anything, it just comes as the piece dictates." His obbligato accompaniment behind Schuur's vocal inspires comparisons with Getz's role model Lester Young, whose sax lines underscoring Billie Holiday's classic recordings are the gold standard by which all other such musical partnerships are measured. The singer, for her part, is more controlled than usual, and mostly avoids the shrillness that sometimes mars her work, except for a unfortunate lapse at the 4:11 mark. The arrangement is sweet without becoming saccharine, and the accompaniment is handled thoughtfully. But Getz is so creative, from start to finish, that he become de facto leader of the date.

September 06, 2009 · 0 comments


Stan Getz & Dizzy Gillespie: Lover Come Back to Me

Back in 1953 Getz and Gillespie battled it out at a very intense session, and it seemed like Dizzy was picking very fast tempos and deliberately trying to unnerve the cool school tenorist with an immersion into the boiling hot. Is it relevant that Dizzy, writing in his autobiography, griped that cool jazz was "white people's music," played by those "who never sweated on the stand"? Or is there no connection between that sentiment and the intense jousting that always took place when these two artists met in the frontline? In any event, if Dizzy tried to cut him in 1953, Getz did not bleed and fought back with some very aggressive playing of his own.

Fast forward three years, and Gillespie is ready for a rematch, and this time he brings along alto speedster Sonny Stitt to try to put even more pressure on Mr. Getz. Again the tempos are faster than normal, and Stitt sets the pace here with all of his usual double time licks. Gillespie follows, and though he is not quite as prepossessing over these changes as he would have been a decade before, he still makes a very strong statement. But Getz's playing here is the real revelation. Those who have only heard his bossa or ballad work may not know how much technique this artist had at his command, and how well he responded in pressure situations on the bandstand. I especially like Getz's overall sound on this track—his tone keeps its warmth and full body even when he increases the intensity of his attack. Give the nod here to Stan, who shows how deep his bebop roots went in this must-have performance for Getz fans.

August 31, 2009 · 0 comments


Stan Getz: I Thought About You

In the mid-1980s, Stan Getz was living in Menlo Park, California—famous for start-ups and high tech, rather than jazz—just down the street from 3000 Sand Hill Road, that exclusive high-rent enclave of venture capitalists. Getz was in start-up mode too, reinventing himself from the ground up, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly, and associating with professors and community leaders who were a much more stabilizing influence on him than many of his jazz connections from the past.

But it was a hard place to find a rhythm section that lived up to his finicky standards. Getz was difficult to please as a bandleader, and wanted the right pulse, and no rushing, the proper dynamic range, and a rich harmonic palette underpinning his solos. Stan could co-exist briefly with West Coasters in the band, but for the important gigs he typically preferred to fly in a rhythm section from the East Coast if the money were available to do so. He was especially happy with the line-up on this project (Kenny Barron on piano, George Mraz on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums) and invariably played at a very high level when they were on stage with him. Fans of this artist will never agree on which period of Getz's career produced the finest music, but it would be hard to top the tenorist of this period—sober, alert, impassioned, confident.

Yet, maddeningly, Getz hadn't been in the studio for a leader date in ages, and many fans had no idea of how well he was playing at this point. As strong as the Concord releases of the early 1980s were, Getz seemed even more commanding now. Those who heard him live wondered when he would make a record to document this period of intense music-making. We are fortunate that Dr. Herb Wong managed to reach terms with the tenorist and bring this band into the Music Annex in Menlo Park when the group was on the West Coast for performances. Take after take demonstrated Getz's brilliance and the band's chemistry, but perhaps especially so on this heartfelt ballad. Getz would sometimes make fun of this song in concert, sharing an off-color witticism based on its lyrics ("I turned a trick on a train..."); but this was standard practice for the artist, and the jokes often merely indicated some self-consciousness at how much emotion he was channeling into his playing. Perhaps his comment about the Voyage session, that this was the "first date that my head was completely clear," is an exaggeration (or perhaps not), but it is hard to argue with the results. In a career filled with outstanding ballad performances, this one ranks among the finest.

The good times would not last. A year later, Getz was diagnosed with cancer. And though he would continue to perform and record at a very high level for some time to come, this record will always remind me of a glorious period of poise and promise in the life and times of this complex, intensely creative artist.

August 30, 2009 · 0 comments


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