Jim Hall: Piece for Guitar & Strings

Jim Hall's pre-1960 written output had been, as was the guitarist himself, modest. Hall the composer came out of left field—or, at least, out of Cleveland, where he matriculated at the Institute of Music. His bluesy playing is no surprise, since that was always Hall's forte. Nor is it unexpected that he incorporates folk jazz, which he'd explored as Jimmy Giuffre's sideman. What's revelatory about Hall's Opus #1 is his uncanny writing for strings, rendering those hoary Stradivari tinderboxes as funky as fiddles at a hoedown. Like the MJQ's "England's Carol," this proves Third Stream can be fun.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gunther Schuller (featuring Ornette Coleman): Abstraction

"Abstraction," explained its composer, combines "the most advanced [circa 1960] stylistic manifestations of both jazz and classical music," particularly investigating the "many parallels between the playing of Ornette Coleman and serial music." The piece is structurally ingenious, employing an "ABA form, in which B is a solo cadenza by Ornette, and the second A is an exact retrograde of the first A" (in other words, a mirror image). "Abstraction" occasionally sounds like a radio picking up two stations simultaneously, one jazz and another 12-tone. But soon we realize that, amazed as Alice, we've slipped Through the Looking-Glass. Curiouser and curiouser!

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Modern Jazz Quartet: England's Carol

Ironically, the greatest achievement of Third Stream music, for all its intellectual pretensions, was an update of the traditional English carol "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." John Lewis first arranged it for the MJQ in 1956, and later added German symphonic backing for what became a surprise hit and perennial Yuletide favorite. It's hard to convey a jazz fan's wonderment at discovering a tip-top Milt Jackson solo swinging across pop radio in the early 1960s. Talk about a gift from Santa! As stocking stuffers go, this remains jolly good, Holmes. Pip-pip and all that. God Rest Ye Modern Jazz Quartet.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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George Russell: Concerto for Billy the Kid

Every important theorist needs a worthy practitioner. The collaboration between composer George Russell and pianist Bill Evans began in 1955, and soon struck pay dirt with Russell’s “frame to match the vigor and vitality” in Evans’s playing. "Vigor and vitality" may puzzle those who know Evans only by his later, introspective work, but “Concerto for Billy the Kid” more than justifies Russell's adjectives. The band is stellar and Art Farmer's solo is characteristically fine. But Russell's advanced modal writing focuses on Evans, who flawlessly executes a difficult passage in octaves and then delivers a long, muscular single-note solo. Dazzling stuff.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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