George Adams & Don Pullen: Big Alice

This session featuring Mingus alumni (with the obvious exception of Cameron Brown) is filled with high- energy original music from Adams and Pullen. While the arrangements are expectedly unpredictable and multidimensional, their free jazz elements are countered by a strong compositional basis in the blues and gospel music (à la their former bandleader). This Pullen-penned track opens with an exceptionally melodic unaccompanied drum solo from Richmond, followed by extended solos by Pullen and Adams over the New Orleans street-beat groove. The tune concludes with playful, quote-dominated trading between Adams and Richmond. Stimulating, bold jazz from understudied masters.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Pepper: Anthropology

Art Pepper’s post-rehabilitation career reached its pinnacle with a successful run at the Vanguard in late July 1977. Backed by a first-rate group of Cables, Mraz and Jones, Pepper performs at an impressively high level on original cool jazz compositions and bebop mainstays, as evidenced by this version of "Anthropology." While some may be bothered by occasional intonation issues at points throughout the complete session recordings, the unorthodox combination of musicians assembled here is quite sensitive to one another's personal styles, making for an absorbing listen. On this track, note the duet between Pepper (on clarinet) and Mraz on bass, later joined by Jones on brushes.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dexter Gordon: 'Round Midnight

Due in large part to the concluding chapter of Ken Burns’s engaging yet contentious documentary Jazz, the return of Dexter Gordon to the United States (after 14 years of living in Europe) has gradually become an iconic moment in the history of modern jazz. While there has always been brilliant jazz being performed since the music’s creation nearly a century ago, the late 1970s may have been a time when many jazz fans were nostalgic for the bebop and post-bop giants who had dominated the jazz clubs in decades past. Dexter Gordon’s triumphant return set at the Vanguard satiated some of those desires with an exciting set of music backed by Woody Shaw’s working quartet. Dexter is clearly impacted by his reception and plays especially emotionally and intensely on this Monk classic.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Thad Jones & Mel Lewis: Big Dipper

This track is the first tune played on the first night of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, a Monday night tradition at the Vanguard that continues to this day, nearly 42 years later. After finishing major tours with Count Basie and Stan Kenton, respectively, Jones and Lewis started the band in order to solidify a fresh, swinging New York big band. With arrangements written predominantly by Jones and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, classic swing charts were infused with modern bop elements to push the big band tradition into innovative territory. Even though Jones left the band in 1979 and Lewis passed away in 1990, the current Vanguard Jazz Orchestra extends the Jones/Lewis tradition by continuing to play some of their arrangements on Monday nights at the Vanguard.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bobby Timmons: Dat Dere

This underrated 1961 session presents Blakey/Adderley alumnus Bobby Timmons in a trio format with Albert “Tootie” Heath and a young, understated Ron Carter on bass. A Philadelphia native with a penchant for blues and gospel-influenced playing and composing, Timmons alternates hard-bop compositions (“Topsy,” “So Tired”) with standards (“Autumn Leaves,” “They Didn’t Believe Me”) on this date. The chosen track, “Dat Dere,” is one of two Timmons hard-bop classics (alongside “Moanin’”), and is performed tastefully and flawlessly, if perhaps in need of some Jazz Messenger guest appearances.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Spiritual (Take B)

There is perhaps no better combination in jazz than Elvin Jones’s ride cymbal and John Coltrane’s tenor. The minds behind these two instruments pushed each other to the musical limit throughout their tenure as members of the classic Coltrane quartet, and there is no better example of their raw energy and extreme interaction than on the Complete Vanguard sessions (November 1961). Note the beginning and end of this track for the Coltrane/Jones lockup (Coltrane on tenor at the beginning and soprano at the end), split in two by an inspired, strenuous improvisation from altoist Eric Dolphy.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Some Other Time

The summer and fall of 1961 at the Village Vanguard marked one of the greatest musical runs in jazz history. In just a matter of months, Bill Evans and John Coltrane would release some of their most revered music, all captured live at 178 Seventh Avenue South. The Evans recordings are complete master classes in the art of the piano trio – all three players communicate brilliantly and seem to know exactly when to play, and more importantly, exactly when to leave space for their trio-mates. While Evans and Motian are both in fine form, it is LaFaro’s exquisite decision making on the bandstand that places these recordings on the edge of (dare I say) jazz perfection.

January 13, 2008 · 2 comments

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Sonny Rollins: Old Devil Moon

No better place to start than at the beginning. This landmark Blue Note session was the first record released from the Vanguard. Originally issued in two separate volumes comprised of the afternoon and evening sets on November 3, 1957, the complete collection has since been remastered and re-released (with additional tracks). Musically, this set the standard for the piano-less trio – Rollins is accompanied by just a bassist and drummer. This musical freedom allows Rollins to showcase his masterful rhythmic reconfiguration of the “Old Devil Moon” melody throughout his improvisation.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Martial Solal: Zag Zig

Some have said that Solal is one of the most illustrious followers of Art Tatum, as far as sheer virtuosity is concerned. During this concert, recorded a couple of days after 09/11/2001, the great French pianist seems to be more interested in exploring various moods than in showing muscles. With the help of one of his regular bass players and an excellent drummer he’s less familiar with, Solal first creates a rubato rhythmic and harmonic climate, then the melody and a regular beat appear with a rather dark atmosphere, and finally everything becomes joyous and swift, with a light bouncing melody. A metaphor of the soothing Solal wanted to bring to an audience that had just experienced horror?

January 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joshua Redman: My One and Only Love

Sinatra's 1953 recording established this song as a pop standard, and Coltrane's version with Johnny Hartman enshrined it as a much cherished tenor sax ballad. Since then, everyone from Michael Brecker to Sonny Rollins has shown off their chops on these changes. Big shoes to fill, but Redman makes his mark on this exceptional performance, captured live at the Village Vanguard in 1995. He has the audience ooh-ing and ah-ing from his very first phrase, and keeps them mesmerized until the conclusion of his tour de force coda. So many great saxophone performances have graced the Village Vanguard over the years, but this still has to be among the very best.

November 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Tom Harrell: Everything Happens to Me

In a 2005 report on the $14 billion anti-schizophrenia drug market, forbes.com focused on "renowned jazz musician" and diagnosed schizophrenic Tom Harrell. "For years, he has fought not only his disease, but also the crippling side effects of the drugs used to treat it. He still cuts an otherworldly figure, a grey-shocked wraith who stands stooped until he puts his horn to his mouth to play. But many of his symptoms—at least the drug-related ones—have improved." In this light, "Everything Happens To Me" assumes singular poignancy. Tom Harrell's deeply moving performance is a victory not of medicine but of one man's indomitability. $14 billion cannot buy such courage.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Greensleeves

Coltrane’s jukebox-friendly interpretation of the show tune “My Favorite Things” has always overshadowed his overhaul of the English folk song “Greensleeves” – also known as the Christmas song “What Child Is This?” – but this is the superior performance. This wasn’t the first time he recorded it, but he really nailed it here. The first few notes out of Coltrane’s sax come crashing down more than an octave as he states the melody once and then sends it caroming all over the place, augmenting its simple beauty with squeals and phrases that seem gorgeously out of place.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: 7.5

In November 1957, Sonny Rollins became the first jazz artist to record live at the Village Vanguard. Forty-five years later, Chris Potter joins the select list of saxophone greats – which includes John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon and Joe Lovano – who have recorded at the famed New York City jazz club. Taking center stage midway through the opening track, Potter duets with drummer Bill Stewart for a performance worthy of the Vanguard's rich history. This track is not altogether consistent, but features several spectacular moments.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Waltz for Debby (live version, 1961)

Because of this historic evening of music, “Waltz for Debby” has become one of the most familiar tunes in jazz. Opening the fourth of five sets that June evening in 1961, Bill Evans states the beautiful theme in ¾ time as Scott LaFaro plucks his considered notes on the upright. After a minute, the pace picks up and Paul Motian moves his brushes to action. Another round through the head, and Evans is off, taking his solo well away from the melody but always within the harmonic framework. Motian doesn’t do much more than keeping time, but LaFaro listens intently to Evans and Evans to LaFaro – their ideas synch up so naturally. This is the evening, and perhaps the tune, that would influence generations of pianists.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Chasin' the Trane

Any self-respecting jazz fan ought to own this four-disc set, and ought to play it at least once a year. It hints at where Coltrane would head in the years to come, and it is a transcendental experience in its own right. “Chasin’ the Trane” – pianist McCoy Tyner drops out for this tune – finds Coltrane and Eric Dolphy squawking at each other while drummer Elvin Jones furiously propels them along and Reggie Workman keeps them tethered with a walking bass. Tyner’s absence is actually a plus here, taking away the middle register and the chords to allow the listener to focus exclusively on the mentally exhausting interchange between the horns. How Coltrane and Dolphy manage never to repeat a phrase through all of this is almost beyond comprehension.

November 16, 2007 · 2 comments

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