Sunday, June 18, 2017

Eddie Gale - Black Rhythm Happening

 Eddie Gale's Black Rhythm Happening was, for many years, one of the most obscure and unheard Blue Note albums of the 1960s. More recently, it has been reissued on vinyl and CD, and it is generally regarded as a groundbreaking, if flawed, fusion of soul and free jazz. As you can see, the cover of my copy is in rough shape, but record plays well - I don't think the original owner, who wrote his name across that of Eddie Gale on the front, played it that much.

Before recording his own two albums for Blue Note (Black Rhythm Happening from 1969 followed Gales' Ghetto Music from a year earlier), the trumpeter played with Sun Ra and recorded for Blue Note as sideman on Cecil Taylor and Larry Young LPs. His own records featured a choral group (mostly singing in unison), free jazz horns, and dreamy folkish songs accompanied by guitar - the weakest aspect of these albums. Black Rhythm Happening has the added attraction of some guests, including Elvin Jones on drums and alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons. Jones is wonderful throughout the album, and Lyons' one solo is a highlight of the record. 

The mix of styles in the title track is typical of the album. Here's that track, along with "Mexico Thing," with that great Jimmy Lyons solo.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Andre Hodeir - Anna Livia Plurabelle

In honor of Bloomsday, here's an obscure one - a jazz cantata by Andre Hodeir, based on James Joyce's Finnegans Wake.

Andre Hodeir was, among other things, one of the great jazz composers - someone who created fascinating, complex music structures out of the jazz language. His Joyce cantata was recorded for Philips in Paris in 1966, with a band composed of some of the best French jazz musicians of the time, including Jean-Luc Ponty on violin, Michel Portal on alto sax, bassist Pierre Michelot, and drummer Daniel Humair. But the real stars are the two vocalists, Monique Aldebert and Nicole Croisille. They navigate Hodeir's complex melodic lines and Joyce's strange texts masterfully, and it has to be said that their French-accented English adds an attractive piquancy to the performance.

John Lewis' liner notes imply that Hodeir's work is totally composed, down to the solos. It that's the case, the musicians do an admirable job of making everything sound spontaneous. This is a record I only listen to every five years or so. But I appreciate it more on every hearing; this time around it seems really great.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Circle - Gathering

There have been several bands named "Circle," but the one that interests me is the free-jazz supergroup that lasted about a year in 1970 and 1971. The group started as Chick Corea's trio with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul; they became Circle when saxophonist (and multi-woodwind player) Anthony Braxton joined. They were a wonderfully inventive group - four virtuoso instrumentalists who were all masterful improvisers, with Braxton, Holland, and Corea contributing compositions.

Circle did a fair amount of recording during the band's relatively short life. Early on they recorded a couple of hours of material for Blue Note, none of which was released until several years after the band had broken up. ECM issued an excellent live double album, and Japanese CBS/Sony issued two LPs, a live album taken from a German concert, and this one, Gathering.

Gathering is the last issued recording of Circle. It's a 42-minute improvisation recorded in a New York studio in May, 1971. As such, it only shows part of what the band could do, since Braxton and Holland's compositions (and Corea's, to a lesser extent) were such an important part of the band's music. But it's an impressive 42 minutes of spontaneous music. Gathering has still not been issued in the west.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Parkway Limited Edition Blues 45s

In January of 1950, the tiny Parkway label recorded a stellar blues trio - Baby Face Leroy Foster on guitar and drums, Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, and Muddy Waters on guitar - in two sessions, resulting in some of the greatest recorded blues ever. Baby Face sang lead on the first session; those records were issued under his name. Little Walter was featured on vocals at the second session, so he is credited as leader on those sides. Muddy functioned mostly as "just" a guitarist, but sang some wordless vocals on one side - more about that later.

The undoubted highlight of the sessions was an amazing version of the Mississippi blues standard "Rollin' and Tumblin'," spread out over two sides of the original 78 and 45 RPM records. Baby Face Leroy sings the familiar lyrics on the second side, but the first side features "moaning" vocals by all three musicians. The whole thing is raw, eerie, and intense.

The rest of the recordings are excellent, even if nothing can match "Rollin' and Tumblin'." The eight originally-issued sides have been frequently reissued over the years. But in 2012, the British Louis label gained access to the original masters, and found that part one of "Rollin' and Tumblin'" had been faded out - shortened by about 30 seconds. In addition, they found two unreleased alternate takes - Leroy's "Boll Weevil" and Walter's "Just Keep Lovin' Her." Louis issued them on limited edition 45 RPM records, along with the unedited "Rollin' and Tumblin'." They are now out of print, although there are copies floating around to be had. I'm put links to the mp3s below.

Incidentally, some discographies have mentioned an unknown additional guitarist on some tracks. Nope - they're not listening carefully. On the tracks where two guitars can be heard, like "Just Keep Lovin' Her," Baby Face is playing the drums only with his feet - kick drum and hi-hat only - while playing the other guitar.

Rollin' and Tumblin' part 1

Rollin' and Tumblin' part 2

Boll Weevil

Just Keep Lovin' Her

Monday, June 12, 2017

Eddie Burns - Orange Driver / Hard Hearted Woman

Mississippi-born bluesman Eddie Burns is perhaps best known for backing up John Lee Hooker (they both ended up in Detroit after leaving Mississippi), but he made some great records under his own name. None is better than this 1961 pairing on the Detroit-based Harvey label. "Orange Driver" is the tale of a woman who made a fool out the narrator, "drinking that orange driver and talking all out your head." (For "orange driver," read "screwdriver," as in the orange juice/vodka cocktail.)

The "Harvey" in the label name was Harvey Fuqua, the Detroit record producer who went on to be one of the founders of the Motown label. He put out a few singles by Mr. Burns, to little impact in terms of sales. But "Orange Driver" remained one of Burns' best-known songs; it was covered by the blues/rock group  J. Geils Band in the 1970s. Among the personnel here are "Popcorn" Wiley, later a popular "northern soul" artist, and a young Marvin Gaye on drums.

Here are better-sounding transfers of this record than can be found elsewhere on the web:

Orange Driver

Hard Hearted Woman

Sunday, June 11, 2017

George Russell - Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature

George Russell (1923-2009) plays piano on this album, and played drums early in his career, but his real instrument was his pen - he was one of the handful of really great jazz composers. Russell contributed some challenging charts to Dizzy Gillespie's big band in the late 1940s and came into his own with some mature and highly personal compositions and arrangements in the late 1950s. But his career took a leap forward when he became a bandleader. In the early 1960s he produced a series of groundbreaking sextet, with a changing cast of characters which included Don Ellis, Dave Baker, Eric Dolphy, Don Cherry, and Steve Swallow, with Russell at the piano. This album, recorded in 1969 in Norway, is an extension of that sextet series.

Fed up with racism in the United States, Russell moved to Scandanavia in 1964, working in Norway and Sweden through the rest of the 1960s and 1970s. The Electronic Sonata was one of his major achievements during this period; it has been recorded several times, first with a big band. This live sextet version is the second recording of the piece, issued in the U.S. on the Flying Dutchman label. The outstanding, mostly European sextet contains, besides Russell on piano, the German trumpeter Manfred Schoof, American expatriate Red Mitchell on bass, and three Norwegians: saxophonist Jan Garbarek, guitarist Terje Rypdal, and John Christensen on drums. Russell's piece is long and multi-sectioned, with complex melodies, rock rhythms, bass vamps, and an electronic tape part which plays in the background and between movements. It's a wonderful piece, and wonderfully played here. Here's side one; if you like it you should be able to find side two without much trouble.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Derek and the Dominos - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

Certainly not a rare item - but Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is the greatest rock album ever made, in the opinion of this blogger. Derek and the Dominos was the band Eric Clapton formed after his tenures with Blind Faith and Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. Three of Clapton's colleagues from Delaney & Bonnie's band completed the core quartet: Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon, and Carl Radle. This, the band's only studio album, was recorded over several months at Criteria Studio in Miami, with the brilliant producer Tom Dowd in charge. Early on, Clapton met Duane Allman, and the two guitarists made an instant musical connection. Allman plays on all but three of the 14 songs here, but was not willing to leave the Allman Brothers Band to tour with Clapton's band - although he did play a couple of live shows with the Dominos, as low-quality bootleg recordings attest.

Most fans know all about the background of this album - Clapton's tortured infatuation with Pattie Boyd, the wife of his friend George Harrison, the meeting with Allman, the copious amounts of drugs ingested during the sessions - so I won't elaborate on any of that here. The music speaks for itself, and is of a consistently high quality. The most well-known piece here is the title song, the anthemic "Layla." Almost everybody has heard that, so here is the old blues standard "Key to the Highway." The band started jamming on this unexpectedly, so the tape machine was not runniing when they started, which is why the track fades in.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Johnny Littlejohn - "So Called Friends"

Johnny Littlejohn was, I suppose, a second-tier Chicago blueman. I don't mean that he wasn't accomplished, just that his music wasn't as powerful and distinctive as that of best practitioners of that genre, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, or Jimmy Reed. But even if it was not that level, Littlejohn's work was excellent, and remains worthy of our attention even 23 years after his death.

Like Muddy, Wolf, and Reed, Littlejohn was born in Mississippi (in 1931). He migrated north when he was 15, landing in Gary, Indiana for a while before moving on to Chicago at the beginning of the 1960s. He did the usual Chicago bluesman thing by recording a few singles for small local labels before, as the 1960s turned into the 70s, producing a string of albums for various companies. "So-Called Friends," from 1985, comes from about the middle of that series of albums.

"So-Called Friends" was recorded for Rooster Blues, the great label Jim O'Neal ran first in Chicago and later in Clarksdale, Mississippi. It features a fine lineup of accomplished Chicago blues musicians, but it has never been reissued digitally - so if you want to hear it, you have to have the LP. And you should try to hear it, if only for one of the great blues lyrics, in the title song:

"Nobody can hurt you but your so-called friends."

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

JIm Pepper - Pepper's Pow Wow

Jim Pepper (1941-1992) was a Native American (Kaw and Creek Nations) tenor saxophonist. He was involved in early attempts at jazz/rock fusion, primarily in the band Free Spirits, which included Larry Coryell and Bob Moses. He later added traditional Native American songs and chants to the mix. One result was Pepper's anthemic song "Witchi-Tai-To," which has been covered many times by a wide variety of artists.

"Witchitai-To" (Pepper's later preferred spelling has not yet been adopted) is the lead-off track on Pepper's Pow Wow, the first album released under Pepper's name. The 1971 record is a fascinating blend of the styles mentioned above, with a touch of Johnny Cash-ish country mixed in. Among the outstanding musicians on board are guitarist Coryell, drummer, Billy Cobham, and alternating bassists Chuck Rainey and Jerry Jemmott. Pepper's father Gilbert Pepper had a hand in arranging the traditional material, and appears on vocals and percussion.

Here's "Witchitai-To," beginning with the traditional chant:

Monday, June 5, 2017

Johnny Hodges and Wild Bill Davis - Wings & Things

Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington's longtime alto saxophonist, was one of my earliest saxophone heroes, and I still love his music deeply. In the 1960s he made a series of albums with organist Wild Bill Davis for Verve and RCA; Wings & Things is one of the best of the series. Why? In part due to the personnel. Guitarist Grant Green and Richard Davis, one of the greatest bassists in jazz history, are on board, as is fellow Ellingtonian Lawrence Brown on trombone. And frankly, it doesn't hurt that Davis lays out on three tracks, on which he is replaced by the great pianist Hank Jones. The selections are a really nice mix of Ellingtonia, Hodges originals, and standards. Here's the bluesy title cut.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Jazz at the Philharmonic Volume 1

Producer Norman Granz first presented the long-running series of jazz concerts known as Jazz at the Philharmonic in 1944. He recorded them from the beginning, and in 1948 arranged to have the JATP concert of February 12, 1945 released on the Stinson label. The first release was a set of three 12" 78s, with this 10" LP coming a little later. Moses Asch, the owner of Stinson (and later Folkways) retained the rights to the recordings, so when Granz later arranged with the Mercury label to release the JATP concerts, he started over with a new "Volume 1." This Stinson release is the real "Volume 1," though, even though it isn't labeled as such.

The concept behind Jazz at the Philharmonic was of a public jam session, with a succession of soloists improvising at length. The results varied in quality, and JATP gained a reputation for featuring grandstanding, crowd-pleasing soloists. There were plenty of those over the years, but there were always excellent improvisers on board as well.

This first released concert featured trumpeters Howard McGhee and Joe Guy, Illinois Jacquet and Charlie Ventura on tenor saxes, Garland Finney on piano, guitarist Ulysses Livingston, Red Callender on bass, and drummer Gene Krupa, who is not mentioned in the liner notes, presumably for contractual reasons. To my ears, the best moments are by the trumpeters. Howard McGhee was an excellent soloist throughout his career, and I've always been fascinated by Joe Guy's playing - his note choices were unusual and forward-looking, even if his playing was somewhat disjointed at times. The tenor saxophonists lean to the crowd-pleasing, and in that respect this record set the tone for many JATP albums to come.

In the JATP version of "How High the Moon" from this album, Joe Guy has the first trumpet solo, and Illinois Jacquet plays the first tenor solo.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Cousin Joe of New Orleans

Pleasant Joseph, the New Orleans pianist, bluesman, and entertainer also known as Pleasant Joe, Brother Joshua, Smilin' Joe, but most commonly as Cousin Joe, was born in Wallace, Louisiana, west of New Orleans, in 1907; he died in the Crescent City in 1989. Joe was not a "deep" bluesman, but he was a clever songwriter and an entertaining performer. This 1973 album was made for ABC's blues subsidiary, BluesWay, with Joe at the piano and crack New Orleans rhythm section: Justin Adams on guitar, bassist George French, and drummer Alonzo Stewart. Blues piano giant Roosevelt Sykes even sits in on one number, although he isn't credited in the liner notes. There's an uncredited harmonica on "Love Sick Soul," and I suspect that it's the great Snooky Pryor, who made a BluesWay album with the same rhythm section around the same time.

Cousin Joe was quite the blues philosopher. Here are some of my favorite lines from the songs on this album:

"It takes two to tango; don't take but one to mess around." (from "Messin' Around")
"Life is a one-way ticket, and there ain't no second time around." (from "Life's a One Way Ticket.")
"According to ancient history, so it was told to me, it took a million years for nature to make a man from monkey. But it took a very short time for woman to make a monkey out of man." (from "Evolution Blues")

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tony Fougerat at the 'Maple Leaf Bar'

I would guess that New Orleans trumpeter Tony Fougerat (1900-1979) didn't think of himself as a jazz musician, but just as a musician. Although he toured on the vaudeville circuit and recorded (probably) with Jimmie Rodgers, he was little known outside of his home city. His primary gigs in New Orleans were in the small neighborhood dance halls, like Munster's in the Irish Channel. He was playing dance music, but for his audience the preferred style of dance music included a healthy dose of relaxed New Orleans jazz.

Fougerat's band here includes two longtime associates, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Geary and trombonist Joe "Red" Margiotta. Margiotta had lost his right arm just above the elbow, so he strapped his trombone to his stump in order to play, using his left hand to move the slide. Fougerat's rhythm section consists of three then-young Brits, pianist Maggie Kinson, Bob Culverhouse on bass, and drummer Andrew Hall, who has enjoyed a long career playing New Orleans music.

Although this session was later reissued on a G.H.B. LP, it doesn't seem to be available at all in digital form. The music is gentle, but swinging, with plenty of emphasis on melody. This was the last gasp of this style of New Orleans dance music, and I'm glad that Lar Edergran took Fougerat's band into the Maple Leaf to record this album for Rampart Records that spring day in 1974.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Ormandy Conducts Ives

The odd, iconoclastic composer is something of an American tradition, and Charles Ives (1874-1954) was perhaps the oddest and most iconoclastic them all. His career as an insurance executive gave him the freedom to write whatever he wanted to without worrying about commercial considerations. The resulting music made use of polytonality, polyrhythms, and complex, layered textures. He was years ahead of his time, and his music had few performances during his lifetime - a situation not helped by the disarray of his manuscripts, which were often nearly illegible and interspersed with inserts written on scraps of paper.

By now Ives is recognized as a genius, and his music is frequently performed and recorded. This 1968 album features Eugene Ormandy conducting the brilliant Philadelphia Orchestra in two long works by Ives - the early and relatively conservative Symphony No. 1 (composed while he was still a student at Yale), and the more typical (and quite beautiful) Three Places in New England. The first movement of Three Places, "The 'St. Gaudens' in Boston Common (Col. Shaw and His Colored Regiment," was presumably written first, and it echoes the conservatism of the Symphony No. 1 to some extent. But the other two movements, "Putman's Camp, Redding, Connecticut" and "The Housatonic at Stockbridge" are pure Ives - complex, haunting, and otherworldly. Here's Ormandy and the Philadelphians performing that last movement.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Stanley Turrentine - Mr. Natural

Many excellent Blue Note sessions were not released at the time, for various reasons. Sometimes there were minor technical or musical flaws, sometimes an artist recorded more than could be viably released, and sometimes the results were judged to be out of character for the artist. Beginning in the 1970s, the label introduced several release series to bring out these worthy, previously unheard recordings. The Classic series, known to collectors informally as the "Rainbow" series for the graphic in the upper left corner of each cover, was begun in 1979, and resulted in much wonderful music.

Texas tenor man Stanley Turrentine recorded for Blue Note for about a decade, beginning in 1960. His Blue Note albums tended to be bluesy blowing sessions or dates featuring covers of then-current pop and R & B tunes. There is one of those pop covers here - The Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love." But Mr. Natural was most likely not released at the time it was recorded (1964) because it was deemed too edgy for Turrentine's fans. The personnel consisted of musicians more associated with the more forward-looking, rather than bluesy, side of Blue Note: Lee Morgan, McCoy Tyner, Bob Cranshaw, and Elvin Jones. (Percussionist Ray Barretto appears on three tracks.) Turrentine, however, fits in well with his colleagues here, while maintaining his personal style. This music took fifteen years to see the light of day, but it was worth the wait.

Here's the first track, a 5/4 blues called "Stanley's Blues." Duke Pearson later recorded Turrentine's tune as "Yahoo."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The First Great Rock Festivals of the Seventies

The 1969 Woodstock Festival seemingly caught everyone by surprise. No one - not the organizers, the artists, the audience, nor the outside world - expected it to be as huge as it was, both in terms of its sheer size and its cultural impact. Woodstock ensured that other rock festivals would follow. The summer of 1970 saw the Atlanta International Pop Festival (which was actually held in Byron, Georgia, nearly 100 miles south of Atlanta) and the Isle of Wight Festival off the southern coast of England. Estimates of audience size at Byron vary, but it appears that it was probably about the size of Woodstock (400,000 attendees). But everyone agrees that the Isle of Wight Festival was the largest such event up to that time, with 600,000 to 700,000 people attending.

Both festivals were recorded, and 1971 Columbia Records issued a three-record set with one disc from Atlanta Pop and two from Isle of Wight. Some of the recordings included were edited - The Allman Brothers Band's "Whipping Post" from Byron was cut from 15 minutes to five, and Miles Davis 35-minute set was issued as a 17-and-a half-minute piece titled "Call It Anythin'," which was apparently Miles' response to producer Teo Macero when asked what the title should be. Many of the sets excerpted here have been issued in full in recent years, notably those by the Allman Brothers, Davis, and Jimi Hendrix.

I bought this album many years ago for the Miles Davis set, but even in my "jazz snob" days I enjoyed many of the other performances, and these days I like most of them. For the record, here's the lineup of the album:

Side A (Atlanta Pop):
  1. Johnny Winter: Mean Mistreater (5:48)
  2. Poco: Kind Woman (5:14)
  3. Poco: Grand Junction (3:26)
  4. The Chambers Brothers: Love, Peace And Happiness (4:18)
  5. The Allman Brothers Band: Statesborough Blues (sic) (4:20)
Side B (Atlanta Pop):
  1. The Allman Brothers Band: Whippen Post (sic) (5:02)
  2. Mountain: Stormy Monday (19:32)
Side C (Isle of Wight):
  1. Sly & The Family Stone: Stand! / You Can Make It If You Try (10:14)
  2. Cactus: No Need To Worry / Parchman Farm (9:39)
  3. David Bromberg: Mr. Bojangles (5:48)

Side D (Isle of Wight):
  1. Ten Years After: I Can't Keep From Cryin' Sometimes  (19:13)
  2. Procol Harum: Salty Dog (5:11)

Side E (Isle of Wight):
  1. Leonard Cohen: Tonight Will Be Fine (6:50)
  2. Jimi Hendrix: Power To Love / Midnight Lightning / Foxy Lady (15:11)

Side F (Isle of Wight):
  1. Kris Kristofferson: Blame It On The Stones / The Pilgrim - Chapter 33 (6:46)
  2. Miles Davis: Call It Anythin'  (17:30)

Here's a bit of "Statesboro Blues" from Byron, including some parts that were edited out of the Columbia album:


And here's "Spanish Key" by Miles Davis from the Isle of Wight. This was an amazing band, Gary Bartz on alto sax, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett on keyboards, Dave Holland on bass, Jack DeJohnnette on drums, and Airto on percussion.


 And finally, here's the reddish-tinged inside photo from the album, taken during Miles' set at the Isle of Wight Fest.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sun Ra - DIW EP Collection

 Yesterday was Sun Ra's birthday, or his "Earth arrival day," as some are referring to it, since he claimed to be from Saturn. In honor of this most amazing and mysterious musician, I played three rare Japanese EPs.

On August 8, 1988, Sun Ra and his Arkestra played a concert at the Pit-Inn in Tokyo. The Japanese label DIW recorded the show, and issued an album called Live at Pit-Inn: Cosmo Omnibus Imagiable Illusion. It's an excellent album, issued on LP and CD; the music is the typical mixture of Ra originals, improvisations, standards, old swing tunes, and space chants that the Arkestra was doing at the time.

But DIW also issued a limited edition set of three 33.3 EPs from the concert. When I became a hardcore Sun Ra enthusiast many years ago, I read about these records, but never thought I would ever see a set. These records have never been reissued, and have remained scarce and hard to find through the years. Much to my surprise, I managed to pick up a mint set a few years ago, and barely paid more that the original list price for them. There is about 30 minutes of music on these records. I'm particularly fond of the two 1930s big band swing tunes Ra included: Coleman Hawkins' "Queer Notions" and "Frisco Fog," originally recorded by the Fletcher Henderson and Jimmie Lunceford bands, respectively.

As a public service, since these records are so elusive, here are mp3 rips of all six sides.

Queer Notions
Prelude No. 7 (Chopin)

East of the Sun
Frisco Fog

Opus Springtime
Cosmo Swing Blues

Monday, May 22, 2017

Charles Mingus - Town Hall Concert

The great jazz bassist and composer made two identically-titled albums, one recorded in 1962 and one two years later. The earlier Town Hall Concert was chaotic and confusing, with incomplete and mistitled tracks and uncertain personnel. The 1964 Town Hall Concert is magnificent: one of Mingus' very finest albums.

Mingus's band here is one of his very finest: Johnny Coles on trumpet, the great Eric Dolphy on flute, alto sax, and bass clarinet, Clifford Jordan on tenor sax, pianist Jaki Byard, and drummer Dannie Richmond, in addition to Mingus on bass. This lineup played several concerts in the US before leaving for a European tour a few days after this April 4, 1964 concert. Unfortunately, they had to play most of the dates in Europe as quintet rather than a sextet; Johnny Coles collapsed on stage one week into the tour and had to be hospitaltized.

Town Hall Concert was first released on Mingus's own Jazz Workshop label in 1971. My copy is a slightly later (I'm not sure how much later) reissue on Fantasy; I've had it for about 40 years. The album consists of two long tracks, and they're stunning. "So Long Eric" is a plain old blues, but the strength of the solos by these amazing musicians and Mingus's compositional instincts make it something far above the ordinary. The textures are constantly changing, and the background riffs are unusual, and hint at polytonality. The 27-minute "Praying With Eric" (aka "Meditations") is deeply moving, and is one of Mingus's major achievements. Here's a partial performance from two weeks after the Town Hall performance, without Johnny Coles.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Thelonious Monk - Prestige Twofer

The jazz "twofer" reissue became popular in the 1970s; these were two specially-priced double albums that had enough playing to either combine two previously-issued LPs or to gather nearly two hours of related material. This collection is valuable for assembling nearly all of  Thelonious Monk's Prestige recordings - it's only missing one alternate take, which I have elsewhere on my shelves.

Thelonious Sphere Monk was one of greatest musicians in the history of jazz. His music was unusual to the point of being unique. Monk was one of the great jazz composers, and his compositional sense extended beyond his "heads," the composed melodies designed as springboard for improvisation. His solos, and even backgrounds for other soloists, were carefully, if spontaneously created to add to the unity of each piece in a holistic way. And he developed his technique so that he had an instantly recognizable sound - no small feat on the piano.

Monk's Prestige recordings sometimes get lost in the shuffle. They date from 1952 to 1954, between his groundbreaking work or Blue Note and his stint at Riverside, which produced some towering monuments of recorded jazz, and which mark the period during which he began to gain fame and critical acclaim. But the Prestige sides are very fresh and inventive; all the Monk originals here are making their first appearance. The tracks are split between trios and quintets, and are mostly very strong musically; only a few are comparatively weaker due to being stretched out to fill time on their original LP issues. I'm particularly fond of the original recording of "Little Rootie Tootie" - didn't every pianist at one time have a train piece? In Monk's hands, the train's whistle becomes a dense cluster that nobody else could have come up with.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Bunky Green - Tranformations

Vernice "Bunky" Green is a perfect example of a "musicians' musician." Little known by the jazz public at large, he is revered by his fellow saxophonists, and he has deeply influenced younger men like Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, and Rudresh Mahanthappa. Mahanthappa in particular has championed his mentor, has frequently performed with him, and co-led an album called Apex with Green.

Why all the adulation? First of all, Green has an impressive command of his instrument, but more importantly, he has his own story to tell, as Lester Young might have put it. His approach to harmony and melody is unique and instantly recognizable. His playing is off-center and logical at the same time, and it's tremendously exciting.

Green recorded for Vee-Jay and the Chess family of labels (Chess, Argo, Cadet) when he lived in Chicago in the 1960s. Those are fine hard bop/soul jazz albums, but they give few clues of the original approach Bunky would develop later. He withdrew somewhat from the jazz scene to study and work out his new approach, and made no issued recordings between 1967 and 1974. 

In 1977 he was signed by Vanguard Records, who wanted to turn him into a pop-jazz saxophonist in the Grover Washington vein. Green was reluctant to pursue this path, and only agreed to record for Vanguard under the condition that for every two records shaped by the label's ideas, he could record one for himself, playing his music however he wanted. Vanguard agreed.

Transformations was the first of his Vanguard albums, and it shows pretty clearly why Green was destined to fail as a pop-jazz player, and why his contract was not renewed after the obligatory three albums. The arrangements here are insipid, as are some of the tunes, but Green can't rein in his playing - it's way too interesting, and sometime weird, to be easy listening music. A case in point is "Feelings," as awful a song as ever has been written. But listen to Bunky's polytonal cadenza at the beginning!

Transformations was followed by Visions, a similarly unsuccessful smooth jazz album. But the third Vanguard album is something else. Places I've Never Been is totally uncompromising, and one of Green's finest albums. Vanguard didn't promote it at all, and it barely sold at all.

So why am I featuring the flawed Transformations instead of Places I've Never Been in my first post about Bunky Green? Because of the wonderfully weird version of "Feelings."


Monday, May 15, 2017

Gil Mellé - The Andromeda Strain Soundtrack

Record Store Day, which began ten years ago as a way to celebrate and promote independent record stores, has grown so much that it is now somewhat of a mixed blessing. Record companies use the day to release limited-edition vinyl, which has gotten more expensive each year, and which any individual record store may or may not actually be able to get. Resellers swoop in, buy up the stock, and sell on Ebay for inflated prices. The owner of my favorite Atlanta record store said exasperatedly, "Instead of expensive limited editions, give me something I can sell for years."

But I will admit that I usually hit that favorite store every Record Store Day, and there are usually two or three releases that I am really excited about. The top spot on my RSD want list this year was a limited edition reissue of a record I had looked for for years - the soundtrack to the 1971 movie The Andromeda Strain. I saw that movie when I was about 14, but didn't remember anything about the music. But at some point, I became aware that it was composed by Gil Mellé, and I very much became interested in finding a copy.

Gil Mellé (1931-2004) was a jazz saxophonist turned electronic composer. I'm particularly fond of the three jazz albums he recorded for the Prestige label in the 1950s. His 1967 Tome VI on the Verve label is a fascinating early foray into electronics. By the time he created the Andromeda Strain soundtrack, he had fully mastered the electronic world. He uses pure electronics as well as acoustic sounds, sometimes electronically altered.

The RSD reissue, on the Jackpot label, reproduces the elaborate packaging of the original release, and like the original, the record is hexagonal, with the actual playing surface on each side about the size of a ten-inch LP. It was impossible to take a picture of the highly reflective silver cover without my reflection showing, so I embraced that.

Friday, May 12, 2017

'Pub Crawling' with Jimmy Deuchar

More British jazz today, this time modern rather than traditional. I had never heard of the Scottish trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar until I found this intriguing album a couple of years ago. But I knew many of the other musicians, who were among the cream of the British modern jazz scene. Among them are saxophonists Derek Humble and Tubby Hayes, pianists Victor Feldman and Stan Tracey, and drummers Phil Seamen and Tony Crombie. Pub Crawling was recorded in London in 1955 and 1956 for issue in the U.S. Contemporary label.

The six original compositions on the album, all by Deuchar, are named after brands of beer: "Special IPA," "Bass House," "Final Selection," etc. The playing is as excellent as are the compositions. To international audiences, Victor Feldman is probably the biggest name here, followed by Tubby Hayes. But Deuchar is an intriguing, original voice, poised somewhere between Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham. In the end, a minor figure in jazz, but I'm glad I made his acquaintance via this record.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Humphrey Lyttelon - Jazz at the Royal Festival Hall

As in the first entry in this blog, here's a 10" British "trad" LP from the 1950s. Humphrey Lyttelton, born in 1921, formed his own band in 1947, and was a favorite of the British traditional jazz scene for the next 60 years. Along the way he become popular as a writer and radio personality as well. He made scores of records for Parlophone; this live 1954 album is fairly early in the series.

Two factors which make Lyttelton's music so enjoyable are its utter relaxation and the trumpeter's non-doctrinaire approach to jazz. At a time when many trad revivalists, both in Europe and America, had unyielding ideas about the "correct" way to to play New Orleans-inspired jazz, Humph just wanted the music to sound good and swing. He even included saxophonist Bruce Turner in his band (Turner is on this LP), probably much to the horror of Ken Colyer. Mention should also be made of Lyttelton's clarinetist, the talented Wally Fawkes.

Here's a track from Jazz at the Royal Festival Hall, with a good Turner solo and a fun vocal by a quartet from the band.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Cecil Taylor - Live in the Black Forest

Keeping with the avant-garde jazz theme of the last post, here's one of pianist Cecil Taylor's least-known, but best albums. Live in the Black Forest was recorded in June, 1978 by one of Taylor's finest bands, which was featured on several albums in the late 1970s. The album was issued more or less simultaneously on MPS in Germany and Pausa in the US.

Cecil Taylor's music does not make for easy listening. His musical language ranges from highly chromatic to atonal, and, like Ayler, his music is generally unmetered, with no steady beat. And Taylor's pieces tend to be very long - sometimes a single piece can last two hours. But his music is also compositionally conceived - Taylor's aim is create a unified whole with each piece, not a "head" followed by a string of solos. The composed portions are taught to the players by rote, and the improvised sections ideally expand and connect with the composed material. Sometimes it works better than at other times; it works very well indeed here.

The excellent band consists of Raphe Malik on trumpet, Taylor's longtime musical associate Jimmy Lyons on alto sax, violinist Ramsey Ameen, Sirone (who was born Norris Jones) on bass, and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson. All the musicians sound very much aligned with Taylor's vision, and join him in creating two very successful pieces, each taking up one side of the album. (At about 25 minutes each, these are relatively succinct examples of Taylor's art.) One of the delights of the album is Jackson's drumming - his playing is free and unmetered, but he somehow sounds like he is constantly on verge of breaking into a funk rhythm. And in fact he does just that for about thirty seconds during "Sperichill on Calling," the piece which takes up all of side two.

Live in the Black Forest was only reissued on CD in Japan; it has been out of print for many years. If you have 25 minutes to spare, here's side one, "The Eel Pot."

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Albert Ayler - The Last Album

Albert Ayler (1936-1970) was arguably the most radical musician that jazz ever produced. His saxophone sound was harsh and unyielding, and his improvisations often totally dispensed with meter and tonality. Ironically, many of his most radical improvisations were preceded by written melodies that had an almost childlike simplicity, like half-forgotten folk tunes.

His musical career was not all of a piece, however. Although all of the albums under his name were made in the space of the eight years before his death, his music was constantly changing and evolving. By the time of the August, 1969 sessions which produced this album, he seemed to be modifying the more radical elements of his style. The music here somewhat resembles later Coltrane or early Pharoah Sanders - although of course, Ayler's strong personality ensures that he sounds like no one but himself.

The Last Album was released in 1971, after Ayler's death; it has described as a collection of outtakes from the last studio album released during his lifetime, Music is the Healing Force of the Universe. Some of the tracks do seem like leftovers or second-best attempts - the blues "Toiling," for instance, is basically a somewhat inferior alternate take of "Drudgery" from Healing Force. That track and an "Untitled Duet" feature Canned Heat guitarist Henry Vestine, by the way.

Notwithstanding the variable quality of the music on The Last Album, I would hate to be without the beautiful "Water Music," played by Ayler on tenor sax, Bobby Few on piano, and the paired basses of Bill Folwell and Stafford James.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Amarcord Nino Rota

Producer Hal Willner made a name for himself with a series of tribute albums, on which he invited musicians and bands from different genres to record contemporary interpretations of, for example, Disney songs, Kurt Weill songs, or Thelonious Monk compositions. Amarcord Nino Rota, from 1981, was the first of these tribute albums.

Nino Rota was the Italian composer who wrote the music for every one of Fellini's films. The interpretations here prove that this music indeed deserves a life beyond the films; this is excellent music on its own. Willner's album is much more jazz-heavy than his later tribute compilations would be; only a couple of tracks are by musicians not primarily associated with jazz. Among the artists are pianist Jaki Byard, the Carla Bley band, my musical hero Steve Lacy on soprano sax, an ensemble arranged and conducted by William Fischer which includes George Adams and the Marsalis brothers in an early appearance on disc, and two years before his own first album, guitarist Bill Frisell.

Amarcord Nino Rota is hard to find these days; it was reissued briefly on CD, but copies now go for premium prices. Here is Frisell's contribution, a lovely version of "Juliet of the Spirits" played on acoustic guitar, accompanied by a ghostly background of overdubbed electric guitars. The YouTube video has excellent sound quality, for a change, but I have no idea why it continues with two and a half minutes of silence after the track is through.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Preservation Hall Jazz Band - So It Is

Here's a brand-new slab of vinyl by a very old band that has recently reinvented itself. Preservation Hall was opened in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1961, as a no-frills venue designed to give the remaining first- and second-generation jazzmen of the city a place to perform. At first, there was no thing as the "Preservation Hall Jazz Band" - a different musician led the band each night, and the group was billed under his or her name. By the 1970s, though, Preservation Hall was a brand, and although there were still a varied lineup of bands that played the Hall, the main touring band was billed as The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. A classic lineup for many years was the one with the Humphrey brothers - Percy on trumpet and Willie on clarinet. For many listeners from the 1970s through the early 1990s, the Humphrey Brothers band was The PHJB. As the older musicians died out, they were replaced by younger ones - still playing strictly traditional New Orleans jazz.

But things change, and the owner of Preservation Hall (who also played tuba with the band), Allan Jaffe, died unexpectedly in 1987. His widow, Sandra, ran the Hall until 1993, when her son Ben Jaffe took over. Ben is an accomplished bassist and tuba player, and he also had some original ideas about what Preservation Hall and the band should be. As the 20th century turned into the 21st, Jaffe had the band collaborate with indie rock bands and pop and folk singers. In 2013, the PHJB released That's It!, an album totally composed of original compositions by the members of the band - no "Clarinet Marmalade" or "Tiger Rag" is to be found. But every track still sounds like New Orleans music. Just five days ago, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band released their second all-original album, So It Is. Like its predecessor, it's an excellent album of Crescent City music. For someone who savored every note by the Humphrey Brothers, the Wurlitzer electric piano and funk beats take a little getting used to, but yeah - this stuff is real. Here's a live version of "Convergence" from the new album:


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Johnny Copeland - Down on Bending Knees

Between the late 1950s and the early 1980s, Texas guitarist and singer Johnny Copeland recorded dozens of soul/blues singles, on both regional and national labels. I have 15 of them, and spun just over half of those last night. "Down on Bending Knees," released on Golden Eagle in 1962, will represent them all here.

Copeland was "discovered" by the wider blues community in the 1980s, and was recast as a hard-core bluesman for the rest of his career. But in reality, he played and sang R & B as well as blues. Golden Eagle 101 is typical for him - it pairs a blues with an R & B/soul tune, "Just One More Time," on the flip side. I don't know whether the printed title of the blues side is the result of a producer's mishearing, but Copeland seems to be singing, "down on bended knee." He performed this song for the rest of his career - as "Down on Bended Knee," by the way.

I can't find much information on the Golden Eagle label, except that it was based in Texas. I have three Copeland 45s on Golden Eagle, as well as records on the Wand, Jet Stream, Resco, Allboy, Bragg, Kent, Brown Sugar, Wet Soul, and Atlantic labels. The best of them are deep Southern soul/blues. Here's "Down on Bending Knees."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

James Clay & David "Fathead" Newman - The Sound of the Wide Oen Spaces

Cannonball Adderley was invaluable to the small Riverside jazz record label. The alto saxophonist was one of Riverside's top-selling artists, but also worked as a talent scout and producer. This was the first album he produced for the label; it featured two "Texas tenors," the up-and-coming David "Fathead" Newman and the then-unknown James Clay. The rhythm section is a typical one for Riverside: Wynton Kelly on piano, bassist Sam Jones, and Art Taylor on drums.

 The term "Texas tenor" is a stylistic description as well as a geographical one. The idea of the Texas-born, aggressive, hard-toned, bluesy tenor player goes back at least to Herschel Evans' tenure in the Count Basie band; later players so typecast included Buddy Tate, Illinois Jacquet, and Arnett Cobb. Newman and Clay represented the new generation of Texas tenors. Newman was already making a name for himself with the Ray Charles band when this album was recorded in 1960, and his playing sounds mature and assured. James Clay, who was only 24, sounds a little raw here, with a few reed squeaks along the way. Clay doubles on flute on "What's New," and he's quite accomplished on the smaller instrument. Here's the long blues "Wide Open Spaces"; Newman is the first soloist.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Buffalo Springfield

Buffalo Springfield was one of those rock bands that could be described as "transitional." In the 1960s, teen pop rock and roll was transitioning, in some quarters, to the more serious music-for-listening that rock would become. Buffalo Springfield was full of talent, but exhibited the growing pains of the maturing rock style. In retrospect, it was an all-star band, but only in retrospect - Neil Young, Stephen Stills, and Richie Furay weren't well-known at the time. Those three were the main songwriters and singers; bassist Bruce Palmer and drummer Dewey Martin filled out the band.

Much of the songwriting was quite interesting, but kind of dated. And the recordings were often overproduced - Neil Young's "On the Way Home," for instance, is a great song, which he has performed throughout his career. The production here sucks all the life out of it, though - there's just too much of everything.

Among all the not-quite-great material they recorded, though, there are three real gems: Stephen Stills' iconic protest song "For What It's Worth," the unedited nine-minute version of "Bluebird," and a country-rock masterpiece, Richie Furay's "Kind Woman." This two-record retrospective, issued in 1973 on Atco, has them all - and represents the only issue of the long version of "Bluebird." The interplay between Neil Young's electric and Stephen Stills' acoustic guitars is so good that I'm not sure why the full version has never seen the light of day elsewhere.

This collection has tracks from all three of the band's original albums: Buffalo Springfield, Buffalo Springfield Again, and Last Time Around. The first album was recorded in the summer of 1966; by the time Last Time Around was finished in 1968, the band had fallen apart. They managed to finish the album, but not all the members appear on every track. That last album showed, however, the emerging brilliance of the band's three songwriters. Particularly interesting is Stills' "Questions" - a good song that was later revamped as the second half of an even better one, "Carry On," recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

Here's Richie Furay's wonderful "Kind Woman":

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sidney Bechet - King of the Soprano Saxophone

This is the first time an artist has made a repeat appearance in this blog; I posted about another of his albums here. Like that earlier post, this one features an album drawn from Bechet's period of living in France n the 1950s. The recordings date from 1952 to 1955, and were mostly recorded for the French Vogue label. The Contemporary label licensed twelve tracks and issued them on Good Time Jazz, their traditional jazz subsidiary, in 1956.

The heart of the record is a 1954 session which pairs Bechet with fellow American Jonah Jones and a French rhythm section. Jones is a powerful trumpet player, and there are moments that hint at Sidney's sometimes fraught musical relationship with strong trumpeters. The soprano sax and trumpet have similar ranges and Bechet, with his strong personality, was sometimes loath to defer to the trumpet's traditional lead role. But for the most part, the two veterans work well together, and pianist Andre Persiany plays impressively.

The album is filled out with tracks on which Bechet is accompanied by the "trad" bands of Claude Luter and Andrew Reweliotty. The young Frenchmen don't have much original to say, but Bechet is strong throughout. His sound, imagination, and vibrato make me think of Steve Lacy's comparison of Bechet's sonority to the sun.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Tom McDermott - New Rags

Tom McDermott is my favorite living New Orleans piano player. His influences include ragtime, Jelly Roll Morton, James Booker, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and Brazilian choro music. He somehow blends all of these threads together into a style which is kaleidoscopic, yet original and personal. This is his first album, recorded for the traditional jazz label Stomp Off in late 1981 and early 1982.

McDermott grew up in ragtime country - St. Louis - and was still living there when this record was made. It's more or less a ragtime album, but a wide-ranging one. There are two James P. Johnson stride piano classics and a Charles Hunter rag from  1902, but McDermott wrote the rest of the pieces here. A couple almost sound like traditional ragtime, but most display McDermott's harmonic imagination and gentle wit. I particularly like "Almost Rag," so titled because the piece only has two themes rather than the usual three or four.

I have no idea what McDermott thinks of this album these days. He still performs rags frequently, but often "McDermott-izes" them, as in the very cool version of "Maple Leaf Rag" I've included below, since New Rags has not been reissued in digital form.

The multi-talented Mr. McDermott also painted the cover art for this album, and has recently published a book of limericks.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Hank Marr - Sounds From the Marr-Ket Place

Columbus, Ohio jazz organist Hank Marr (1927-2004) had a long career, and made many records for the King label, based in that city. This one, with its awful punning title and baffling drawing of the New Orleans French Quarter on the cover, is extremely interesting for the personnel. Most discographies state that the personnel for this 1964 album is unknown, but in recent years the jazz world has figured out that this record represents the first recorded appearances of tenor saxophonist George Adams and guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer.

Adams and Ulmer gained prominence in the 1970s as fiery musicians who managed to blend avant-garde tendencies with influences from their bluesy R & B backgrounds. While neither Adams nor Ulmer was fully developed stylistically by 1964, their distinctive sounds were already in place. And Adams betrays himself with a few licks that he was still using 20 and 30 years later.

Sounds From the Marr-Ket Place is solid soul-jazz, with a few tracks which are more overtly R & B. Someone has put the entire album on YouTube; given its rarity, I'll share it here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Davis Sisters - In My Room

Philadelphia's Davis Sisters were a major force n gospel music for many years; this 1967 Savoy album catches them about halfway through their long career. There were personnel changes through the years of course; on this album the sisters present are Ruth ("Baby Sis"), Audrey, and Alfreda, along with Cynthia Young. I'm not sure who the guy on the cover is - perhaps pianist Curtis Dublin.

This is strong gospel music, with a lot in common with the soul music of the era - or maybe the other way around is more accurate. The accompaniment varies from track to track, but includes organ, piano, bass, and drums. 

Savoy was one of the independent labels that sprung up in the 1940s; they specialized in all kinds of black music - jazz, gospel, and what would come to be known as R & B. (They called it "jump blues" back in the day.) By the 1960s they concentrated on gospel, although they still issued an occasional jazz album. Most of Savoy's many gospel albums have not been reissued making their gospel LP catalog an invaluable archive.

Here are couple of tracks from the album. I'm glad to say that my copy is in better shape than the YouTube poster's copy.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Jack DeJohnette - Cosmic Chicken

Veteran jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette was born in Chicago in 1942 and is still going strong. He's one of my favorite drummers; his very personal style draws from Roy Haynes and Elvin Jones, as well as from funk and world music - but he never sounds like anyone other than himself. Cosmic Chicken, from 1975, was the second of his two records on the Prestige label, before his long run on ECM. It's also the first by his working band, which he called Directions. (Later bands were called Special Edition and New Directions.) Alex Foster is on saxophone, John Abercrombie on guitar, and Peter Warren on bass. DeJohnette  himself plays keyboards as well as drums - he is a trained pianist.

All the pieces, except for Steve Swallow's "Eiderdown" and a DeJohnette piano solo, are credited to the entire band, which seems to indicate that they are largely or completely improvised. Some of them obviously had some discussion beforehand - at least an agreement on key and tempo. The results are mostly some sort of psych/jazz/fusion, and mostly pretty good. Even if later DeJohnette albums reached greater heights, Cosmic Chicken (which never had a CD reissue) is very interesting and enjoyable.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Duane and Gregg Allman with the 31st of February

There are three main groups of recordings on which Gregg Allman and his brilliant brother Duane appear together prior to the formation of the Allman Brothers Band in 1969. The Allman Joys recorded a series of sessions in Nashville in 1966; the results may not be great, but they are interesting. At its best, the group produced high-energy, fuzzbox-driven blues/rock.

The brothers' next group, The Hour Glass, seemed to have great potential. Their gigs at the Whisky a Go Go and the Troubadour in Hollywood were apparently a step in the direction of the Southern soul/blues/rock fusion that came to fruition with the ABB. The music  establishment was impressed, and the band was signed to Liberty Records, for whom they made two albums. The eponymous first album is overproduced lightweight pop, with a touch of less-than-impressive blue-eyed soul. The second album, Power of Love, is better, but is still a far cry from being an accurate representation of the band's strengths. Frustrated by the tight control that the record company was exerting over them, the band  retreated to Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and recorded a self-produced session that is still mightily impressive. Unfortunately, Liberty wasn't impressed, and the recordings weren't issued until several years later, after Duane's death.

The final pre-ABB recordings by the brothers were made in the fall of 1968, when they hooked up with a Jacksonville band called The 31st of February. The core of that band was Scott Boyer (later of the band Cowboy) on guitar, David Brown on bass, and Butch Trucks (later of the Allman Brothers Band) on drums. The 31st of February already had an album out on Vanguard when Duane and Gregg joined.

Duane & Greg Allman (with Gregg's name misspelled), issued on the Bold label in 1972, represents the 31st of February's unfinished second album. It's definitely not a finished product - there are places where where instrumental solos were obviously going to be added later, and once Gregg can be heard to say, "The break will go here."

But in spite of that, these are the most musically interesting and rewarding of the Allmans' "apprenticeship" recordings. Gregg's songwriting has come into its own, as can be heard in "God Rest His Soul," Gregg's tribute to the recently murdered Martin Luther King, Jr. And Duane's playing is very nearly fully developed at this point - he has mastered the slide and pretty much put away the fuzzbox. There are two near-masterpieces on the album, the blues standard "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," and the first recorded appearance of Gregg's haunting "Melissa." The latter songs marks the first recorded appearance of Duane's "bird chirp" slide guitar playing - that very high, beautiful sound that was unique to him. The legendary March, 1969 Jacksonville jam session that resulted in the formation of the Allman Brothers Band was just around the corner.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Howard McGhee - Star Dust EP

In spite of what I said a couple of posts ago about 45 RPM EPs dying out in the US, they still showed up occasionally after the 1950s. Here a really rare one from veteran jazz trumpeter Howard McGhee, who played with Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins in the 1940s. I snatched up this record when I found it at the Jazz Record Center in New York City last year. Owner Fred Cohen had not been able to turn up any information about the obscure record, which is not listed in any discography. I haven't done much better, but I did find a small advertisement in the January 23, 1971 Billboard magazine, indicating that the record was put out by producer Harrison Smith.  Smith is credited as composer of three of the four tracks; that may provide a clue as to why this record was made.

The recorded sound is boxed-in and confined, but the music is pretty good. McGhee's accompanists are second-tier New York jazzmen who acquit themselves well enough. Eddie Jefferson, well known in jazz circles, sits in for the vocal on "Sammy," a Smith composition. McGhee himself plays very well. I'm glad I found this one, even though I want to know more of the story behind it. Here's one representative track:

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Gagaku: Ancient Japanese Court Music

Gagaku, the "Music of a Thousand Autumns," is supposed to be the oldest unchanged musical tradition in the world, going back to the eighth century or so. I have doubts about that "unchanged" bit - all musics that are passed down orally change over time. I am convinced that the moments when the ryuteki flute and the oboe-like hichiriki diverge melodically are due to accidental misrememberings which became permanent. 

Those two melodic instruments are accompanied by the sho, a kind of mouth organ capable of playing several notes at once, the koto and biwa (string instruments), and several types of drums. The music is strange, slow-moving, and haunting. I was lucky enough to hear three gagaku performances (or rather, two performances and a rehearsal) on a trip to Kyoto several years ago. I fell in love with the music, which in an odd way always reminds of the blues - probably due to the frequent use of bent notes.

Everest issued this LP by the Nippon Gagaku Kai in 1972, but I suspect the recordings were made in the 1960s. Here's a typical piece, "Etenraku," performed in the Hyojo mode.