Lee Morgan: Trapped

When paired together in a frontline, Wayne Shorter and Lee Morgan never disappointed. Shorter’s compositions consistently lured the best out of Morgan and the cookin’ 16-bar “Trapped” is no exception. Supported by the insistent but always tasteful prodding of his favorite drummer, Billy Higgins, Morgan’s solo is one of his boldest from the mid-1960s. At this point in his career he rarely exploited his high-range so heavily and the results here are staggering—an incredible exhibition of technical virtuosity, stamina, intensity and searing power.

Countless numbers of Morgan’s tracks conclude with the trumpeter trading with one or more of his bandmates, and honestly, it never ever gets old. Morgan and Shorter, at the time partnered in the Jazz Messengers, return after Mabern’s piano solo to display a communicative interplay so complementary and seamless their lines sound like they must have originated in a shared brain. It’s freakish.

Could Morgan’s overtly inspired playing on the dubiously titled “Trapped” hint at a frustration with Blue Note’s commercial aspirations in the post-“Sidewinder” era? Did the pressure to churn out another jukebox hit hold him back? These are questions for another forum. Regardless, the trumpeter’s playing here is ferocious and some of his finest on record.

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: I Remember Clifford

The heartbreaking death of Clifford Brown devastated the jazz community in 1956. Admired not only for his extraordinary trumpeting but also for his clean-living gentlemanliness, if there was ever a musician who deserved to be honored with an elegy this beautiful, it was Brownie. Benny Golson tapped 18-year-old Philadelphian trumpet sensation Lee Morgan to unveil his composition, passing the torch from the great master to one of his most gifted disciples.

No frills are necessary with Golson’s immaculate melody and the normally hurried and excitable young Morgan adheres closely to it, expressive and melancholic while recalling his mentor with a velvety sound and warm vibrato. Though his improvisation exudes a lighter, bouncier spirit, it is infused with a loving reverence, capturing both the tender and playful sides of the young trumpeter’s playing. Golson has said, “I wanted to create a melody that the public would remember and associate it with [Brown].” He did just that; with the help of Morgan, “I Remember Clifford” remains one of the most touching and enduring ballads in the annals of jazz.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wynton Marsalis: Black Codes

Say what you want about Wynton Marsalis the person but Wynton Marsalis the trumpeter, especially during the 1980s, played with an assurance that I've hardly ever heard from any player since. On his 1985 album Black Codes (From the Underground), Marsalis was still playing with brother Branford and Jeff "Tain" before they left to join Sting's band and the energy level is high as ever on the title track. Opening with sharp hits from the master Kenny Kirkland, the band evokes the sounds of old with great swing. I really like how Tain brings the band back and forth between hip-hop groove and swing. The melody is also interesting on this song, it's very angular and disjointed but also pleasurable on the ear.

Wynton plays a rivoting solo, full of squeaks and wonderful nuance. The most driving part of this band was always the thunderous power of Jeff "Tain" Watts, who could make anyone sound good. This track is a strong testament to the legacy of Wynton's music. Even though he manages to drive a lot of people crazy, I think we should focus on the music and then we might have less to say about him as a person. A great track from one of the most celebrated quintets of the last forty years. Cheers!

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: Stratusphunk

I remember when I first heard this album during college. It had a huge effect on me. I loved the angularity, the humor, the sheer craziness of it. For starters, it likely influenced my conception of what a great bass trombone should sound like. Listen to Tony Studd play the opening melody as he plays alone with only the drums playing brushes. Technically it's a blues, but it takes a while before you realize that. One already knows from the intro that this piece is going to go to some pretty far-reaching places when you hear that big, high brass pyramid right off the bat. And what a great sound from the slap-tongued statement of the melody at 0:37 (apparently something conceived at the recording session). The bass trombone continues for a little bit before making a perfect decrescendo that melds right into the walking bass as he passes the baton. I love that Gil staggered these entrances and exits. It makes it wonderfully organic. The pitches of the melody become clearer as a few horns enter with edgy "color." Tony Studd comes back, and the wildness ensues as the two tenor trombones play bizarrely and harmonically ungrounded notes in the middle range between the bass trombone and the melody. There's a lot of character here, but one becomes really confused as to where they are in terms of key, form or pretty much everything else. It's quirky fun, and one relishes being lost.

The sudden full-shout ensemble (1:53–2:06) starts to ground us harmonically, rhythmically and phrase-wise to a more conventional place, and releases us in a very contrasting, sudden and humorous way to a blues guitar solo by Ray Crawford. At 3:33, Gil enters on piano for the first time with his quirky and personal way of comping. He's the perfect pianist for his own music. The trombones now play a riff similar to what Gil just played, and he starts to answer them. The guitar is still going as layers are added. At 4:24, more instruments enter the ensemble, which starts to move into a wild direction harmonically. It almost sounds like we're going to head into a new solo, maybe even a new key, but then it becomes clear that Gil is just playing with us as he brings us back down again to the understated guitar solo. At 4:50, a similar ensemble passage comes in, but much bigger, more intense and dissonant, wonderfully sloppy, and with a low, especially sloppy blast on the end. Then we're off a cliff again to a trumpet solo by Johnny Coles. He's one of my favorite soloists used by Gil on his music. These contrasts are off-the-scale! Soon we shift to the entire ensemble playing the tune in a thick mess of almost indecipherable harmony while the bass trombone is back on the bottom walking with the bass! I love Gil's little tremolo behind it all. This is sumptuous, fun music.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis-Gil Evans: Once Upon A Summertime

Quiet Nights was a record that neither Miles or Gil wanted to have come out. And in a way, I understand that, as it doesn't have a cohesive whole that even comes close to matching their other collaborations. But, that being said, there are some absolutely gorgeous things on this album—and again, it's just so hard to pick one cut. But I have to say, this one I've chosen KILLS me! It begins with a fluttering harp along with the woodwinds. How about that sudden cup mute zinger chord at 0:17? It's just SO Gil. After that, the chords simply hover almost motionless when Miles comes in so gorgeously on the melody. You can hear the lyrics in every note of his playing! The harp fluttering keeps just a little motion passing through the air, as does the slowly descending line in the inner ensemble. That descent creates a powerful feeling of yearning as it presses against the slow passing of time. Everything really feels as if it's hovering in the air, keeping us almost holding our breath in waiting, not only because of the harp, hovering chords and descending line, but also because there's no bass grounding us yet. Only at 0:52, when the bass begins playing pizzicato, do we start to get more settled. How did Gil manage to foresee and coordinate all these layers that create such a deep, deep expression? Did he know what he was doing? How I wish I knew then what I know now. How many questions I would ask! Ha, and Gil probably would have run out of the room!

OK, going on: Listen to the lovely tuba and bass clarinet with the bass at 1:04—what laziness and beauty! Another absolutely magical moment is the perfectly executed harp ritard at 1:21 that sets us into an even slower waltz tempo. Oh dear, now my heart is really aching. The inner lines in the bassoon at 1:35 to 1:50 are so compelling. 1:58 is just searing! Check out to those high voicings moving in parallel motion! Wow. And how did he think to suddenly bring in such high trumpets? What a brave move! Then there's the shift he makes in the sonic universe at 2:07. This is genius! And how great they played it! Listen to the inner descent at 2:30. Now at 2:47 you'll hear the intro recalled. What was in the woodwinds on the intro is now in the French horns, also with the harp fluttering as before. If this piece doesn't doesn't send you to heaven, then I can't help you.

Looking back to 1988, I'm recalling the time when on the phone Gil asked me to come over and discuss my music. It was not long before he died. Well, we never got the chance for that. It's been one of the regrets in my life. Listening to this and all of the pieces I'm analyzing, I have to say, I'm getting getting my chance now, because just about any lesson to be learned about music of any kind—and certainly mine included—is here.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: Search For The New Land

Recorded not even two months later yet far from the carefree groove of his hit single “The Sidewinder,” Morgan travels to the outer reaches of hard-bop and flirts with a darker, modal terrain on the aptly titled “Search for the New Land.” Like two seasoned explorers at sea, Morgan and Shorter reflect nostalgically on previous journeys while their vessel rolls over swelling waves of trills and cymbals in the rubato opening section. Workman spies land on the distant horizon and valiantly sets course, introducing an ominous waltz groove. As the rhythm section picks up steam, Morgan and Shorter sing their same song with newfound exuberance over the steady bounce of their rhythm mates. Shorter cautiously ventures out first, soon finding firm footing and skittering through all registers of his tenor and Morgan follows with pensive and introspective ponderings, though still deeply rooted in the blues. Hancock’s comping is intriguing; note his “broken record” repetitiveness contrasting Morgan’s pulling back on the time (6:00-6:10) and his pulsating connection with Higgins which allows the trumpeter to experiment with polyrhythms (6:20-6:30). Green takes a swinging solo before Hancock’s dense block-chording leads the group back out to sea and on towards their next endeavor. Morgan was entering the pinnacle of his career with Search for the New Land, broadening both the scope of his compositions and the depth of his improvisations.

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder

Morgan spent the majority of 1962 and 1963 in Philadelphia in the clutches of a heroin habit he picked up while in the Jazz Messengers. After a brief (and not totally successful) stint in rehab, he returned to Van Gelder Studio on December 21, 1963 to record The Sidewinder. A surprise hit, it peaked at number 25 on the Pop LP charts in early 1965 and snuck into the R&B Top 10, becoming Blue Note’s greatest commercial success.

The rhythm section’s bouncy groove on “The Sidewinder” is so irresistible and the melody so catchy it’s possible to neglect what is one of Morgan’s most impressive recorded solos. It’s meticulously constructed with logic and clarity, and Morgan displays a modesty that he often lacked in his ostentatious youth. His phrasing is especially noteworthy; the spaces he leaves between his concise ideas serve as timely punctuations that enhance the efficacy of each statement, creating three bluesy choruses that breathe and build organically. It’s also Morgan at his coolest and funkiest, grooving like none other.

The unexpected success of “The Sidewinder” left Blue Note determined to produce another hit single. Dozens of mid-1960s LPs kicked off with bluesy R&B-tinged tracks in an effort to place the label back on the charts. Though most of these tracks were solid, none would ever duplicate the success of Morgan’s original.

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey: A Night In Tunisia (featuring Lee Morgan)

In his review of this track as part of his Essential Art Blakey Dozens, my fellow Jazz.com compatriot Eric Novod asks, “Is there a more intense, energetic single track anywhere out there?” Well, I’d confidently bet my entire CD collection that there isn’t. From Blakey’s thunderous opening crash through its explosive conclusion, this version of “A Night in Tunisia” is like a roller-coaster ride through a minefield. Hold on to your hat.

Morgan was featured nightly on “A Night in Tunisia” in Diz’s big band from 1956-1958 so he was no stranger to the tune, and pushed by Blakey’s propulsive beat and Timmons’ powerful comping his performance here reaches new heights. The rumbling Mt. Blakey erupts with the ferocity of ten volcanoes as the trumpeter enters; spitting some hot fire of his own, Morgan dodges the drummer’s bombs at first before rocketing through a monstrous, mind-blowing solo. His unaccompanied cadenza is one of the great moments in jazz trumpeting with forcefully driving lines, flurried trills, and stuttering blues licks pieced together with astounding precision. Blakey, famous for vocally encouraging his bandmates from his drum stool, goads on his brilliant young trumpeter at 8:42 (“Play yo’ instrument!”) and again after a particularly nasty lick at 9:06 (“Get mad!”).

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown-Max Roach: Good Bait

When Harold Land left the quintet in November 1955 to tend to an ailing grandmother in California (he also missed his home life), Max and Clifford located the great Sonny Rollins, who was then living in a Chicago YMCA, re-evaluating his life, and practicing with none other than trumpeter Booker Little. They hired Rollins to play the Beehive Club (recordings of this exist also) and he joined the band permanently until the unexpected Pennsylvania Turnpike accident changed the quintet’s fate and direction. This is indeed the final recording of the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet, recorded live at the Continental Restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia (a place where Roach’s relatives had to sit on the stage in order to enjoy the band), just days prior to the deaths of Brown, Richie Powell, and Powell’s young wife Nancy on June 27th while driving en route to the quintet’s next engagement in Chicago. Though it was broadcast live for WIOR radio (as announced by Bob Story), this is actually a private tape done by the owners of the restaurant, which accounts for the poor sound quality (the piano is only slightly audible) and incomplete songs.

I chose this selection (they are all top notch) because Tadd Dameron figured so prominently in Brownie’s early recording career and now on his final recording. As superb as Harold Land was, the addition of Rollins to the quintet pushed it to a new level. The front line horns fed off of each other and you can hear (and feel) the empathy the two had for one another. Rollins once stated in an interview that he and Brown both felt that on this final gig, they were acting as one, breathing and phrasing together, and were constantly inspired by the thematic ideas each created. Clifford and Sonny split up the melody to “Good Bait,” with Clifford improvising into and through the final A section. They play the standard interlude over the next two A sections and Brown starts his marvelous choruses on the bridge, beginning with a march-like feel. He plays a series of florid runs, with exceptional double-timing, bluesy riffs and a good many triplets, at times seeming like he is just barely touching on the notes, as though they were raindrops hitting a tin roof. Rollins starts his five choruses by toying with the melody notes, twisting some to suit his fancy. He also explores the triplet idea introduced earlier by Brown and lays down a few humorous quotes, testing the audience’s listening skill, or maybe just amusing himself and his band mates. Powell entrenches himself in a rhythmic block chord solo and Morrow quickly falls into a two-beat feel for the remainder of his solo in which Powell runs a gamut of quotes, including “I’m Beginning To See The Light” and the “Old Irish Washer Woman.” George Morrow’s bass solo fades in his first chorus—once again, he doesn’t get his proper due!

The quintet had a few days off following this engagement and were to reconvene in Chicago for a job at the Blue Note Club commencing on June 27th. Clifford’s wife LaRue had traveled to California to show off their new son, one of the few times she didn’t travel with her husband on the road. Roach and Powell returned to New York and on June 22nd, the band made the fabulous Saxophone Colossus album together. Brown spent a few well deserved days with family and friends in Wilmington, then, on June 26th, called his wife for her birthday and their anniversary, went to the racetrack and enjoyed a good soul food dinner prepared by his sister Geneva at his parents' home. Pleading that he didn’t want to go, he hesitantly drove his car up to Philadelphia, reportedly played the early Music City jam session, picked up Richie Powell and his wife Nancy, and started out toward Chicago on a rainy summer night. Powell’s near-sighted wife lost control of the car near Bedford, Pennsylvania, and the trio hit a bridge abutment over Route 220, careening down an embankment to their demise. Roach and Rollins were already in Chicago when they received the tragic news—Max retreated to his room with a bottle of cognac, and remembered, while Sonny simply played his saxophone all night long in his room. LaRue was now a widow and Clifford, Jr., was now an orphan. Clifford Brown’s trumpet was silenced for good, with only these fantastic recordings to speak on behalf of his greatness.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: A Night In Tunisia

This has been Brownie’s most controversial date since its release by Columbia in 1973. For close to 30 years this has been propagated as Clifford’s last session, reportedly done just hours before his death in the horrific turnpike accident. Billy Root himself, in a Cadence interview, said that the date occurred maybe a year prior to his death—because he was out on the road with Stan Kenton when the crash happened. (He was accurate—tour dates show him in Wisconsin at the time of Brown’s accident.) University of the Arts professor Don Glanden and myself tracked down Ellis Tollin, who owned the drum shop in Philadelphia where this jam session took place, and also hosted and played drums on the weekly sessions. They were called “Swing Club” jam sessions and they took place every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. from roughly 1954-1956, mainly for the benefit of the city’s underage musicians and fans to hear and play with the jazz stars who were appearing at Philadelphia’s Blue Note Club. Tollin produced flyers from the session, dated for May 31, 1955, complete with photos and a description listing the tunes and proceedings. The fact that Tollin himself thought these were still the recordings of Brownie’s last night leads me to believe that Brown did indeed play at Music City on his way out of town to Chicago, but this was not the recording of it (he played there many times). Others reported hearing Clifford there that evening as well. The Columbia date is completely erroneous—they list Monday, June 25th as the 1956 session date. The sessions always took place on Tuesday evenings. Also, Clifford’s fatal crash was not on June 26th, as commonly reported, but in the very early morning hours (1 a.m.) of Wednesday, June 27th, according to the Pennsylvania State Police report. That is neither here nor there when it comes down to the music, but I believe that it is proper to set the historical record straight.

It is very appropriate that “A Night In Tunisia” was chosen for the jam. Gillespie was an early champion of Brown after Clifford sat in with Diz’s big band in 1949, in Wilmington, Delaware, and flabbergasted him. He also personally encouraged Brownie to pursue music while he was recovering from his 1950 car accident. After the traditional intro, Brown takes the melody in his inimitable style and plays a four-bar break into his solo which excites the crowd. The rhythm section re-enters a beat late, but this doesn’t faze Brown. His ensuing five choruses (over three and a half consecutive minutes!) are full of blistering high notes, cascading triplets, diminished sequences and patterns, and emphatic repeated figures. He builds climax after climax. It is a solo that makes one pause and thank the stars that it was saved on tape! Root follows with four choruses of feel-good swing, sounding bold, confident and as melodic as Clifford. Sam Dockery, a friend of Clifford’s and future Blakey Jazz Messenger, is up next on piano—unfortunately, his outing is reduced down to just one chorus on most releases. Brown returns for two more ‘fire breathing’ choruses, Tollin providing wonderful support and interplay, and plays through the head into a short cadenza. By this time, Brown’s constant forays into the upper register have taken a toll and it is a struggle for him to get some of his high notes to speak. He must have created a little melodramatic scene during the cadenza because the audience chuckles for a moment. He finally reaches his intended note amidst audience cheering.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown-Max Roach: Blues Walk

When the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet formed in the spring of 1954, Sonny Stitt was its first saxophone player. Not able to support three leaders, this group as such only lasted a few weeks, with Stitt being replaced initially by Teddy Edwards, and he by Land. Sonny left behind a wonderful blues riff tune for the quintet’s repertoire, one that he recorded under the title “Loose Walk” in 1952. Why it has been attributed to Brown is a mystery, since he would never have knowingly taken credit for another’s creative contribution. This particular arrangement, albeit simple, gets to the heart of what the Max Roach-Clifford Brown aggregation was all about—excitement, dynamics, hearty swing and coherence of improvisational thought. It offers the listener the true spirit of jazz in such a way that tugs at their emotions by organizing well-placed moments of tension and release into the overall presentation. It wasn’t to be just a ‘blowing session’ left to chance.

The arrangement is simple enough in its execution, but what the players do within that framework is the true genius. The medium-up punchy riff tune is repeated twice, and Brown has the break into the first solo. He intermixes blues-inflected passages with those that take the twists and turns of a studied bebop master. He builds tension to his fourth and fifth choruses where Land plays a background riff that adds to the tension. Relief comes on the sixth chorus, as Brown backs down again and builds toward the next climax. His seven choruses lead into Land’s eight, where a similar approach is employed, Brown riffing on the fifth and sixth choruses. Land has a wonderful ‘barking’ quality to his tone and, complements Brown’s phrases wonderfully. Powell builds his six-chorus solo to a polyrhythmic frenzy by the final chorus, then hands it to the ensemble which plays a four-bar send off to Roach’s drum solo. The sendoff happens again and Max takes another five solo drum choruses that lead smoothly into a series of trading by the horns. These interchanges are some of the most exciting in recorded jazz. Two choruses of fours lead into a chorus of twos, a chorus of ones, and a chorus of half-bar improvisations. It is a tremendously difficult task for an improviser to coordinate these short interplays into coherent, flowing lines, but these musicians do it admirably. If you compare this to the alternate take, you can hear how things can go quickly awry if the timing happens to get away from you! Clifford misses the downbeat of the melody out, but it in no way detracts from the excitement of the moment. This is recorded jazz done in a brilliant and thrilling fashion.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: Stardust

The album Clifford Brown With Strings has an interesting ‘behind the scenes’ tale, if we look to his widow LaRue Brown-Watson for the storyline. EmArcy Record’s producer Bobby Shad suggested the project, recognizing Clifford’s beautiful touch with a ballad, and primed Brownie for the session. Clifford didn’t want to do it, but LaRue, who also appreciated when he performed ballads and classical works, encouraged him to do the date. According to LaRue, Clifford began urging her early on in their marriage to have a child—LaRue wouldn’t budge, expressing that she was much too young to take on the responsibility of a child. He would not relinquish his constant requests, and finally, with a little prodding from her own mother as well, agreed to the idea of carrying a child. LaRue fondly remembers that the strings date was his personal gift to her for that blessing bestowed upon him. In December 1955, Clifford Brown, Jr. (she insisted on the namesake) was born to the couple and Clifford enjoyed the company of his little boy for six months, playing for him, talking philosophy to him and teaching him all he knew about music.

Neal Hefti, who was given undue criticism for his lush, sweet and sentimental arrangements for the date, recalls that Brown only hit three ‘clams’ in the entire three-day recording session. Hefti’s string frameworks complement Brown’s glorious tone, which simply needs to be heard to be truly appreciated. No words can do it justice—if something can be perfect in this world, this would come awfully close. Brown is a bona fide singer of songs and his artistry is evident on every track of this album. The reason I chose this particular tune is for the 20-second phrase that is exactly two minutes into the cut. It is a delightful and timeless phrase that brings utter satisfaction with every repeated listening.

Though the album was panned critically at the time, the general listener gleaned its meaning. It opened up a new appreciative audience for Brown. Shad said it was a best seller at the time—one of EmArcy’s biggest money makers. With the passing of time, musicians have gotten the message as well. Wynton Marsalis informs that he learned all of the album’s solos as a young apprentice.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown-Sarah Vaughan: September Song

Sarah Vaughan met and heard Brownie while he was a member of Chris Powell and His Five Blue Flames, and claimed to have ‘discovered’ him at the Apollo Theater. She broached the topic of recording together, Powell recalls, but the session didn’t take place until this date two years later while both were part of EmArcy’s artist roster. Brown’s widow LaRue always noted how much Clifford admired and listened to Vaughan and owned many of her records. That comes as no surprise when you hear Clifford play a ballad or interpret a melody, always eliciting a vocal approach.

Here, Vaughan gives special treatment to Kurt Weill’s show tune “September Song.” A beautiful introduction with flute, tenor saxophone and cup-muted trumpet over a bowed bass approximates a morning sunrise, setting up Vaughan’s solo melody entrance. She portrays the lyrics perfectly, displaying a quick vibrato (which can take some getting used to for a few listeners), impeccable pitch, and occasional use of her deep, rich low-register notes, all accompanied empathetically by “Vice Prez” Quinichette on the tenor saxophone far in the background. Her playfulness with the intonation, seeming to ‘get there’ at just the right time, also helps her to massage certain melody notes and bait the listener to lead them right where she so chooses. Clifford enters with a rare recorded cup-mute solo, conjuring up at once ‘Fats’ Navarro and a bluesy Charlie Parker. His phrases seem to dance through the tune, barely ever touching the ground. His melodic quotient is so high that the solo seems pre-composed and his emphatic delivery makes one feel every piercing note. Brown often slips effortlessly into double-timing and his syncopations are sometimes suspended rhythmically across strong beats and bar lines. It is a monumental solo. Mann takes eight on the flute and really does not know what do to with the tune, sounding rather lost. In his defense, I would not be envious of anyone who had to follow Clifford’s initial statement. Brown comes back for eight more, and, at the conclusion of his solo, Vaughan enters with a melismatic display so fresh that it is the highlight of the song, if not the whole album. She finishes the tune leaving the listener with a sense of great optimism.

History has called this session one of Sarah Vaughan’s finest. LaRue agrees—she was there. She remembers the moment she broke into tears when the romantic Clifford cocked his head and pointed at her as Vaughan began vocalizing “I’m Glad There Is You.”

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Max Roach-Clifford Brown: (I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance

This is the second day of studio recording for the EmArcy label by what most would term the “classic” Brown-Roach Quintet with Harold Land, George Morrow and Richie Powell. This configuration played together for about a year and a half before Sonny Rollins replaced Land. Of the many studio recordings the band made, this cut must certainly rank as one of its finest. The 1950s period in jazz history is partially defined by the fervent choice/goal of so many jazz players to create so called ‘melodic’ improvisations—variations that can stand on their own as if pre-composed for the occasion. Brownie stands out as one of the best practitioners, and, in my humble opinion, this solo is one of the greatest to have been captured on record. If one stops to consider that Brown was just 23 years old at this time, the maturity of his rendition takes on an even greater sense of accomplishment.

The seven-minute showcase is all Brownie except for Powell’s 4-bar introduction and his 16 bars of embellished melody inserted as an interlude prior to Clifford’s dramatic ending. He sets up the tune skillfully with rolled chords that sound like quick and succinct harp glisses. Clifford enters with a rich, burnished tone that at times caresses and warms and at other times crackles and pops. His vibrato shimmers like a vocalist as he presents a sentimental, heart-tugging rendition of the melody. At one moment hesitant, the next prodding and cajoling, Brown keeps the listener’s interest piqued. One technique Brownie keeps in play here that is unique to him is his use of the consonant “n” in his repeated articulations. To achieve this, he inserts his tongue between his teeth (like saying the letter n), while connecting a series of notes to bottle up the sound and produce an effect akin to vocalizing words. His improvisation is in a double time feel from the rhythm section, with Brown often quadrupling the time to great result. Some phrases are fluid, some are ‘pecking’ in contrast, and Roach and the rest of the rhythm section support all of them wonderfully. The new creation is SO melodic that it indeed does sound like it could have been pre-written. A surviving partial alternate shows the same creativity, yet different ideas! There is a sense of classical balance to Brown's improvisation, as he spins out such long phrasing with sheer artistry—a rich combination of inspired performance and high level organizational ability. After Powell’s 16-measure melody in ballad time, Roach thunders a drum roll into a heavy swinging double-time groove on the bridge, featuring a final improvisation from Brown. Clifford wails the final melody in the upper register, exhibiting a power that could match any trumpeter’s, and concludes with a cadenza that only he could fashion. A startling piece of jazz.

The group would perform this live on numerous occasions as a feature for Brown. Down Beat called this particular recording “one of the achievements of the year.”

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: Joy Spring

Less than a month after the historic February 1954 A Night At Birdland session with Art Blakey, Brownie found himself in California as the new co-leader of a hard bop quintet with master drummer Max Roach. The group went through a few personnel changes during its first months of existence, and eventually opened at the California Club in April for an extended engagement. Once in Los Angeles, Clifford met, and was immediately attracted to, a young USC psychology student named LaRue Anderson, who was writing a master’s thesis attempting to disprove jazz as an art form. She formed a bond with Max Roach and Charlie Parker in the process, and consequently met Clifford when they both thought she and he would make a good couple. Though it took LaRue awhile to give him a second look, they eventually dated, fell in love, and were married on June 26th of that year (also her birthday). Clifford asked her if she would marry his music and him! During their spring courtship, Brown introduced a new song at the California Club for the girl he recently met that had become his “Joy Spring.” I understand the original title was actually “Little Miss Meow,” and I’ll just leave that one to your imagination! Though LaRue didn’t understand his improvisational genius, she recognized his beauty and told me that he would “absorb the sound of the ocean and the feeling for a sunset,” and it would be reflected in his music.

This recording date features the first recording of two Brown originals—“Daahoud” and “Joy Spring.” Dick Bock had heard Clifford and wanted to record him for his fledgling Pacific Jazz label in the West Coast style with a band of his design. To write the arrangements, he hired tenor saxophonist Jack Montrose, who was working with Art Pepper in a group that was playing opposite the Brown-Roach Quintet at the Tiffany Club around the time of this session. He spent days and nights with Brown, discussing and finalizing all the arrangements. It is unclear whether it was planned or simply a mistake that “Joy Spring” ended up in the key of Eb here as opposed to F as when the Brown-Roach group waxed their version about three weeks later. Whatever the circumstance, Brown plays through it with characteristic ease, even though the second section places him in E-major!

Montrose’s arrangement is busy and quite classical in nature with three lower-voiced horns supporting Brown’s trumpet melody in a kind of responsorial counterpoint. While very “arranged,” the B section does swing, as do the solos. Clifford takes a break into his one-chorus statement and he is extremely melodic in approach, while both he and the rhythm section swing joyously. Though played with a slight restraint, there is very little change from the Brownie the world has come to know thus far. Manne supports with some well-articulated punches on the snare. Bob Gordon follows with a chorus and is also highly melodic, sounding somewhat like Harold Land did when paired with Brown. The melody goes out in a rhythmic variation, complete with some swells by the horns, and Clifford’s melody is voiced to jump in and out of the harmonized horn texture underneath. A quick outing, the whole presentation clocks in at just over three minutes.

Foreshadowing Brown’s own fatal car accident two years later, Bob Gordon, the other featured soloist on this selection, would perish in a similar car incident in August 1955.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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