Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Alec Wilder Promo LP

Alec Wilder (1907-1980) was many things - a songwriter, a "classical" composer, a critic, a writer. This LP, which came in a plain white sleeve, was apparently put out by Wilder and his publisher to promote the first aspect of his talent I listed - it contains 18 of his pop songs. The recordings, by various singers (see the picture of the insert below), were almost all taken from Wilder's NPR series American Popular Song, which was aired in the 1970s. Each episode featured a particular songwriter or theme, but there was usually one Wilder song performed during each show. One song, "Just an Old Stone House," was dubbed from a rather noisy Frank Sinatra 78. Based on the catalog number on the label, this promotional album probably came out in 1979.

Although Wilder was one of the great composers of the Great American Songbook, both the songs and performances here vary in quality. I don't think that anyone would rate "Love All the Quiet Flower People" as highly as "I'll Be Around." And there is a surprising amount of out-of-tune singing here. But the best performances are really excellent; I particularly like those by Tony Bennett, Mark Murphy, Johnny Hartman and Woody Herman. In any case, this album is a rare one, and very interesting for a Wilder fanatic like me.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Al Haig - Jazz Will-O'-The-Wisp

Al Haig was one of the pioneering modern jazz pianists, performing with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and many of the other early beboppers. Influenced by Bud Powell, of course, Haig's playing was lighter and more lyrical than Powell's. Haig battled various demons, and seldom recorded after the mid 1950s. This 1954 session, originally recorded for the Esoteric label, is probably his finest recorded recital as a leader.

My copy is a 1974 reissue on the Everest label, in their "Archive of Folk & Jazz Music" series. These cheap Everest records were all over the place in the 1970s, and I learned much about jazz by picking them up at record stores and my college bookstore. They were licensed from small labels, and in some cases they seemed to be were out-and-out bootlegs. I bought many of these records, but this is the last one I have on my shelves.

Jazz Will-O'-The-Wisp is deceptive - if you listen casually, most of it sounds like pleasant cocktail piano music. But the closer you listen, the more rewarding this record is. It's full of invention and amazing details. Typical is Haig's rendition of "Isn't It Romantic" - there is much to wonder at here.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Ornette Coleman - Friends and Neighbors

Ornette Coleman's only LP on Bob Thiele's Flying Dutchman label captures one of his best bands - tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden on bass, and Ed Blackwell at the drums - playing live at his Prince Street loft in 1970. Ornette later called this album "unauthorized," but it seemed to be a legitimate release. I'm guessing that some disagreement between Coleman and Thiele soured Ornette on this album. In any case, I'm glad we have it. My copy is a later reissue, I think produced by the British Ace label, although it doesn't say anywhere.

The album starts with two takes of "Friends and Neighbors," which is the funkiest thing Ornette ever recorded before the formation of his Prime Time band. On the first take, the audience sings Ornette's lyrics, while the second take is instrumental. On top of the funk, Ornette plays violin in his raw, abstract style. It's an exciting start to an excellent album, and Flying Dutchman even issued the vocal version as a single.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Charlie Mariano - Mirror

Charlie Mariano (1923-2009) was an alto saxophonist from Boston who had a long and extremely varied career in jazz. His early work is typically Charlie Parker-inspired modern jazz. He went on to put in time with Stan Kenton, Shelly Manne, and Charles Mingus, and was for a period married to pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi. As the 1960s turned into the 1970s, Mariano, like a lot of musicians,  became interested in fusing jazz with some elements of rock. Mirror, recorded in 1971, is one result of that interest.

"Fusion" means different things to different people; it's a word that covers a lot of musical ground. What Mariano offers here is creative, high-energy music with elements of jazz, rock, and world music. There are some of the "usual suspect" studio players of the time here, but there is also an appearance by the elusive Asha Puthli, probably best known in jazz circles for singing two songs on Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction album. Here Puthli wordlessly harmonizes with Mariano's soprano saxophone on the title cut. Among the other personnel, the paired basses of George Mraz (acoustic) and Tony Levin (electric) contribute a lot to the sound of the album.

Mariano is a somewhat overlooked saxophonist, and Mirror an overlooked album. It's a good one. Here's the title cut.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Original Greek Folk Songs and Dances

 I had forgotten that I had this 10" Dutch album from the 1950s until last night. I don't remember where I picked it up, and had never played it. But I finally put it on the turntable, and it is excellent. I'm inclined to like Greek music anyway, and the playing and singing here is top-notch, and sometimes haunting. I wish I knew who the excellent clarinet player is, but this record unfortunately has limited information on the performers. The founder / president of the Greek Folk Dances and Songs Society, Dora Stratou, is identified, as are a couple of other participants, but the musicians are mostly anonymous. No matter - the music is authentic and enjoyable, and the record is in near mint condition.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

JImmy McPartland / Dizzy Gillespie - Hot vs. Cool

Jazz critic Leonard Feather produced this 1953 album, which was recorded live at Birdland in New York. The idea is either cute or stupid: a dixieland band and a state-of-the-art modern ensemble would play the same four tunes in a "battle of jazz." But even if the idea was stupid, the resulting music isn't - the quality of the musicians involved ensured that the performances are excellent.

The dixieland band, led by trumpeter Jimmy McPartland, includes such stalwarts as clarinetist Edmond Hall, trombonist Vic Dickenson, and George Wettling on drums. The modernists, led by Dizzy Gillespie, include clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, perhaps the most impressive virtuoso on the instrument that jazz ever produced, pianist Ronnie Ball, best known as a Lennie Tristano student, in his recording debut, and the great Max Roach on drums.

The two groups battle on "How High the Moon," "Muskrat Ramble," "Indiana," and the blues. The modernists' approach to the dixieland staple "Muskrat Ramble" is amusing - they give it an Afro-Cuban beat. Otherwise, the music points to how much the various schools of jazz have in common, rather than how they differ.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Gene Ammons - Funky

Prestige Records specialized in the "blowing session" - a recording session which gathered together a group of like-minded jazz musicians to play informal music emphasizing solos on familiar chord changes. The Prestige philosophy fit Gene Ammons to a "t" - the Chicago-born tenor saxophonist preferred loose structures and long, easy-blowing solos. Recorded blowing session were, at their worst, boring and forgettable, but Ammons' were usually engaging, with much worthwhile jazz preserved in the grooves.

Funky is excellent and typical of an Ammons blowing session. The personnel is top-notch - some of the best jazzmen of the time: Art Farmer, Jackie McLean, Mal Waldron, Kenny Burrell, Doug Watkins, and Art Taylor. Waldron's presence elevated many of Prestige's blowing sessions; in additional to thoughtful piano solos, he often contributed loose arrangements which provided a much-needed organizational touch.

Prestige's ever-changing combinations of covers and labels is somewhat baffling. My copy has what is apparently the second cover, which was adopted only a year after the original 1957 issue. The sticker in the upper right-hand corner is from Melody Music on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta.

Here's the title track, a medium-tempo blues: