Tuesday, September 5, 2017
Monday, September 4, 2017
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.
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'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 (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
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
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
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:
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Miles Davis and the brilliant jazz composer/arranger Gil Evans found each other in the late 1940s, and remained friends and collaborators for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, that collaboration was sporadic and occasional, except for one glorious period - 1957 through 1960 - when Davis and Evans produced three masterpieces: Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain. Sketches was inspired by Miles' love of Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra, and by the Spanish volume of the World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, a massive anthology of the world's folk music compiled by Alan Lomax. The Adagio movement of the guitar concerto is recomposed, not "jazzed up," and it works beautifully. Davis' playing on "Saeta," Evans' recreation of a religious procession with a brass band, is some of his most moving work on records.
I have been listening to this music for about 40 years, and it floors me every time. I just found a nice mono ("regular," the cover says) Columbia 6-eye copy. I'm enjoying discovering Sketches of Spain all over again.
Friday, August 11, 2017
James Booker (1939-1983) was a troubled man - he had drug problems for most of his life, and was certainly mentally ill to some extent. He was also a genius - one of the best piano players New Orleans ever produced. As I've listened to his recordings over the years, I've often experienced the aural illusion of hearing three hands.
Booker recorded or toured with Aretha Franklin, Fats Domino, Dr. John, Ringo Starr, and other luminaries, but his unpredictability meant that these jobs usually didn't last long. But he had one hit. In 1960, he was in Houston, doing session work for Don Robey's Peacock label. Robey suggested that Booker come up with some organ instrumentals, and Booker responded with "Gonzo" and "Cool Turkey." "Gonzo" reached #3 on the Billboard R & B chart, and #43 on the pop chart.
Both titles are drug references, which nobody much noticed at the time. Musically, they certainly don't represent the full range of what Booker could do, but they are unusual, catchy, and enjoyable. Incidentally, I tracked this single down in the pre-internet days, when looking for a rare 45 consisted of looking at the ads in record collection magazines, writing various stores with your wantlist, and waiting weeks for the replies to come in.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Pharoah Sanders was a compatriot and protege of the great John Coltrane for the last couple of years of Coltrane's life. That association led to a recording contract with Impulse Records. Sanders' Impulse releases can be characterized as smoothed-out late Coltrane - more accessible "spiritual jazz" than Coltrane's demanding music. Modal improvisations and vocals were often part of Sanders' music. This 1972 release is generally considered one of Sanders' best Impulse records, but it has never had a U.S. reissue.
The East was an arts center in Brooklyn, but this is actually a studio recording, with some of the regulars from The East invited to provide a "live" atmosphere. It's a large ensemble, with bassists Stanley Clarke and Cecil McBee providing very impressive interplay. Besides Sanders, the most impressive soloist is trumpeter Marvin "Hannibal" Peterson, who plays impressively on "Healing Song."
At some point in the production process, Impulse apparently changed their mind about the album's lineup and editing. The back cover lists the 21-minute "Healing Song" and a short part one of "Lumkili," with "Lumkili's" part two and an 18-minute "Memories of J. W. Coltrane" on side two. In actuality (matched by the record labels), "Healing Song" is by itself on side one. A 13-minute "Memories" starts side two, with "Lumkili" finishing out the side in one unbroken piece.
Friday, August 4, 2017
For four nights, from June 17 to June 20, 1970, Miles Davis played at New York's Fillmore East, opening for Laura Nyro. Each night, Davis and his band played an hour-long (more or less) medley of the psychedelic free-jazz fusion they were exploring at the time. Columbia, Miles' record label, recorded all four nights, and from that four hours of music, issued a double album called Miles Davis at Fillmore. Each side of the album was edited down from a single night's performance and given a title that indicated which night it was recorded: "Wednesday Miles," "Thursday Miles," "Friday Miles," and "Saturday Miles." These edited medleys range from 22 to 28 minutes in length.
The Fillmore album is raw and complex, and although some of the splices are awkward and all too obvious, it represents what Davis' band was capable of more than the studio recordings of the time (many of which weren't released until later). Miles Davis at Fillmore got a lot of play on my turntable for many years.
Finally, in 2014, Columbia released Volume 3 of the Miles Davis Bootleg Series. This was a four-CD set with all four nights' medleys at last presented intact, with no editing. The full picture of the band (Steve Grossman, soprano saxophone; Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, keyboards; Dave Holland, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums; Airto Moreira, percussion) was now available.
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
Max Roach was one of the greatest of jazz drummers - swinging, responsive, virtuosic, and paradoxically for a drummer, extremely melodic. The quintet he co-led with trumpeter Clifford Brown in the mid-1950s was one of the very best small jazz groups of the time before Sonny Rollins replaced Harold Land as the tenor saxophonist; after that the band was a frighteningly powerful force of nature. Unfortunately, that edition of the band didn't last long - Brown and pianist Richie Powell were killed in a car accident while on tour. Kenny Dorham, a tasteful player with a unique sound and style, replaced Clifford Brown, and the band remained one of the best in jazz, although no other trumpet player at the time could match Clifford's power and imagination.
While Brown was still alive, Sonny Rollins had written a jazz waltz for the group, "Valse Hot." Later, in the fall of 1956, during sessions for the Max Roach + 4 album, the quintet recorded a version of the waltz "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." This apparently gave producer Bob Shad the idea of making an entire album of jazz waltzes. This was an unusual idea, since at the time, almost all jazz was in 4/4 time. There had been a handful of 3/4 jazz pieces before that, but Dave Brubeck's supposedly groundbreaking Time Out album was still three years in the future.
It was a good idea, and this was the right group to make it work. They swing hard, and it all seems natural and unforced. There is a new version of Rollins' "Valse Hot," and Sonny is inspired to contribute a long, intense solo.
Monday, July 31, 2017
This album, by trumpeter Luis Gasca, was released in 1972 on the Blue Thumb label. It's called either simply Luis Gasca or For Those Who Chant. I vote for the former - the latter motto appears inside the gatefold cover, but not on the front, the spine, or the labels.
I found this LP in the cutout racks of a discount department store in Athens, Georgia in the late 1970s. I was in college, and I had been exploring the work of tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. He name was among the personnel listed on the back cover, and that was enough for me. In addition to Gasca and Henderson, some other fine jazz musicians are on board - pianist George Cables, Hadley Caliman on flute, Stanley Clarke on bass, and drummer Lenny White. In addition, almost the entire band Santana is on present, including guitarist Carlos Santana. Only bassist David Brown is absent - Clarke is the only bassist on the album.
As it turns out, though, this album is somewhat diffuse - more interesting than great. The intent seems to be to create a sort of Latino Bitches Brew, but the focus is just not there, for the most part. Joe Henderson is excellent throughout, but his solos are mostly short. There are long-ish passages during which nothing much happens. The best track is probably "La Raza," which has Henderson's longest solo. I like that one a lot.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
One can be forgiven for looking askance at this album - a 1968 offering with a somewhat
unfortunate cover painting, which comes dangerously close to reducing an American musical genius to an Uncle Tom-ish stereotype. Of course, for much of his career, Louis Armstrong seemed like a sellout, an Uncle Tom, or worse to those who didn't take the time to really examine what he was about musically and socially.
In short, Armstrong's music took on an increasingly crowd-pleasing, pop-ish surface veneer as he got older. But scratch that surface, and there was much brilliant music all the way to the end of his career. This collection of songs from Disney movies (on Disney's Buena Vista record label) is a case in point. Many of the songs are excellent, but most of them are saddled with hokey arrangements and background choirs. No matter - Armstrong's singing is touching and personal throughout, and this album contains some of his last great trumpet solos.
I'm particularly fond of "Chim Chim Cheree." Both vocally and instrumentally, Armstrong finds the dark center of what could be a silly throwaway tune. His first trumpet solo is just stunning and heartbreaking to these ears.
to be part of the 1970 Disney feature "The Aristocats." Inside the album is an artist's sketch of his proposed character. By the time production got underway, Armstrong was in ill health, and the part was changed to Scat Cat, voiced by Scatman Crothers.
Monday, July 24, 2017
I have been wanting to post an album by the late John Coltrane here, but most of what is on my shelves by the great saxophonist is in CD form. Today, however, I found an original pressing of Expression at a junk store in Bellingham, Washington. The record is in decent condition, and cost me all of 50 cents.
Expression was the last album planned by Coltrane before his death. There have plenty of posthumous Coltrane albums issued, but this was the first, and Coltrane himself chose the tracks and title before he died. It's late Coltrane (recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in February and March, 1967), and that means non-metered free jazz. But Expression is pretty mellow late Coltrane, for the most part. He's accompanied by his usual quartet of the time: Alice Coltrane on piano, longtime bassist Jimmy Garrison, and Rashied Ali on drums. On one track, "To Be," Coltrane plays flute, and his frequent late-career partner Pharoah Sanders is added on piccolo.
My favorite track is "Offering." It's challenging free jazz, but it also has a sense of balance and structure. Here it is, for those who have never heard Expression.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Louisiana bluesman Robert Pete Williams had a unique, haunting style. His verses aren't constructed in the standard AAB format most blues conform to, but are unrhymed, stream-of-consciousness ruminations on the subject of the song. His guitar playing is unpredictable and virtuosic, interacting with and amplifying his lyrics.
Williams was serving time in Angola when he was discovered and recorded by ethnomusicologist Harry Oster. Louisiana Blues dates from 1967, after he had been released from prison. It was released on the John Fahey's Takoma label, which specialized in blues and folk music. Here's a sample of Williams' beautiful music from this album:
Monday, July 17, 2017
In case anyone actually checks out this blog, I'll apologize for the dearth of posts this month. I have been and will be on the road for much of July.
Maynard Ferguson's first 12" LP was an informal blowing session for EmArcy, Mercury's jazz division. Jam Session was recorded in 1954 and issued the next year. The record has two long tracks, one per side. Ferguson is frankly the least interesting soloist here - Herb Geller, Bob Cooper, Milt Bernhardt, Claude Williamson, and Max Roach all contribute fine improvisations, though. Bassist John Simmons is solid throughout, although he doesn't solo. Bob Gordon is listed in the credits, but his baritone sax is nowhere to be heard - I suspect he left the session after recording the tracks issued on an earlier 10" Ferguson LP.
Here's the entire album on YouTube:
Friday, July 7, 2017
Marcel Mule, who was born in France in 1901 and died a hundred years and six months later, was one of the 20th century's pioneers of the classical saxophone. He is the father of the French school of saxophone playing, and scores of pieces were written for him. If the extremes of his style - a fast, almost nervous vibrato, a sometimes harsh, almost metallic, sound, and a tendency to go sharp at the ends of notes - have been modified and softened by his followers, his musicianship and influence endures.
This early-50s Capitol 10" LP finds Mule playing two French compositions for saxophone and orchestra. The Ibert Concertino is one of the best and most well-known pieces for saxophone and orchestra (or chamber orchestra, in this case), and Mule's reading is somewhat dated in several respects, such as his avoidance of the altissimo passages - those sections utilizing the notes above the "normal" range of the saxophone.
Mule's recording of the Debussy Rhapsodie, on the other hand, is among my favorite versions of this piece. That might not be saying much - Debussy was not enthusiastic about writing the Rhapsodie, and it might be his weakest work. But the Rhapsodie is not without its charms, and Mule brings out the best of what Debussy put into it.
Thursday, July 6, 2017
The New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra was the late-1960s brainchild of pianist Lars Edegran, a native of Sweden who found his way to New Orleans earlier in the decade. Except for fellow Swede Orange Kellin on clarinet, the band was composed of New Orleans veterans: trumpeter Lionel Ferbos (who was still playing shortly before his death at 103 in 2014), Paul Crawford on trombone, William Russell on violin, bassist Walter Payton, and drummer John Robichaux. The band played classic ragtime, including arrangements from the famed "Red Back Book" of ragtime orchestrations for just such a small band. But they quickly expanded beyond that. The NORO basically played the music that a New Orleans society dance orchestra would have played in the first two decades of the 20th century - rags, jazz, pop songs, and novelties.
The presence of Lionel Ferbos and William Russell is particularly interesting. Ferbos typified the Creole trumpet style - elegant, controlled, and beautiful. Russell was best known as a scholar, writer, and record producer involved with traditional New Orleans jazz, but before that he was a classically trained violinist and composer.
The New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra recorded for several labels in their heyday; this double album on Vanguard was originally produced for the Swedish Sonet label by Sam Charters. Here's their version of "Bugle Boy March," an adaptation of a march called "American Soldier" that was much loved in New Orleans."
Sunday, July 2, 2017
Jeremy Steig (1942-2016) was one of the most unconventional of jazz flutists. His sound was raw, with little of the purity of the classical flute sound, and his improvising was wildly imaginative. His 1963 debut album for Columbia records, Flute Fever, was a masterpiece, although few listeners recognized it as such until the small, uncompromising reissue label International Phonograph put out an exemplary CD version in 2013. Accompanied by pianist Denny Zeitlin, bassist Ben Tucker, and Ben Riley on drums, Steig seemingly came out of nowhere with an album of uninhibited, unpredictable jazz.
But the story doesn't end with either the original LP or the International Phonograph reissue. Columbia issued a single from the session, which sank into oblivion even faster than the LP. And unlike the album, it has never been reissued. One side is very short, edited version of "Oleo" from Flute Fever, but the other side doesn't appear on the album or the CD reissue.
Steig takes a somewhat Coltrane-ish approach to Merle Travis's haunting "Dark as a Dungeon" on that unreissued side. If this track is not quite equal to the best parts of Flute Fever, it's still very good, and fascinating to hear. You're unlikely to hear it anywhere else, so here it is:
Dark as a Dungeon
Saturday, July 1, 2017
Here's another original Sun Ra El Saturn album - a really good one, musically. The Soul Vibrations of Man was one of two Ra albums recorded live at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago in November, 1977. (The other was Taking a Chance on Chances). My copy came in a plain black sleeve, although other copies were issued in a conventional sleeve with cover art. Much of side one features a flute duet, and the rest of the album is a nice mix of composition and improvisation. Recording and pressing quality is of the usual indifferent Saturn quality. But what a great album!
Friday, June 30, 2017
Sacred Harp singing is a southern U.S. style dating back to at least the mid nineteenth century. The hymnbook called The Sacred Harp was first published in 1844, and its descendants and variants are still used by Sacred Harp singers today. The book uses shaped noteheads, each of which corresponds to a different pitch. Traditionally, the first verse of each hymn is sung with solfege syllables (fa, sol, la, etc.) before the words are sung.
This excellent album was released around 1970 by the Sacred Harp Publishing Company, the Georgia firm that publishes the "official" Sacred Harp hymnbook. The singers are anonymous, but the recording was made in Birmingham, so I would guess that the singers were chosen from Alabama and the surrounding states. The performances are accomplished, and not as raw as many less formal field recordings of the style. As I write this, there are a couple of copies of this hard-to-find record on Amazon for around 150 bucks. I paid about 1% of that for my near-mint copy at a flea market.
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Since Geri Allen's death yesterday, I've been re-exploring her work. Etudes, from 1987, is performed by a truly great trio - Allen, bassist Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian on drums. The two veterans were inspired and impressed by Allen's work when they were all touring with Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, and they three musicians apparently felt a real need to record together. The result is a truly beautiful record, with originals by all three musicians and a couple of carefully chosen "covers" by Ornette Coleman and Herbie Nichols. This version of Coleman's "Lonely Woman" is just breathtaking; the composer heard the playback in the studio and reportedly loved it.
This record marks the first post in this blog featuring the great Italian Soul Note label. Along with its sister label, Black Saint, this label has been responsible for some amazing and important jazz releases beginning in the 1970s.
It's hard for me to fathom that all three of these master musicians are now gone. RIP.
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
This post is in honor of the brilliant jazz pianist and composer Geri Allen, who died today at the age of 60.
I do a lot of thumbing through used records. Every once in a while I come across an LP by a college jazz band. When I do, I always check it out, with a look at the personnel list to see if anyone in the band went on to a professional jazz career. Usually not - but when I found Howard University's 1978 jazz ensemble album at a record store near my house a few years back, I was excited to see that Geri Allen was one of the several keyboard players on the record, and that she had composed one of the tunes.
Detroit-born Allen was one of my favorite jazz pianists. She managed to keep one foot in the mainstream of jazz and one foot in the avant-garde. Her playing had a slightly "skittery," off-center quality that reminds me of Elmo Hope or Joe Albany. Her compositions were interesting - bluesy, funky, and spacey. I saw her perform with her trio at the Atlanta Jazz Festival when she was a young woman, and was lucky enough to see and hear her twice with Dwight Andrews in recent years.
Allen recorded with the Howard Jazz Ensemble all four years she was at the school; she was a junior when this album was recorded. One thing that set the Howard band from this period apart from other college jazz bands is that all the material is original, written by the students and faculty. I love that aspect of the band, although, truth be told, most of the music is not that great. Allen's original, "For Real Moments," is by far the best thing on the album; the tone colors and chord voicings are quite personal and original.
Here's "For Real Moments," since you're unlikely to hear it anywhere else. The tenor saxophone soloist is Arthur Dawkins.
So long, Geri.
For Real Moments
Monday, June 26, 2017
Trumpeter Lee Morgan was a jazz star when he was still in his teens, and his conception developed impressively throughout his short career. (He was only 33 when he was murdered.) My favorite Lee Morgan album, Search for the New Land, was recorded after The Sidewinder, the title tune of which was an unexpected hit. Probably because New Land didn't have a catchy opening number similar to "The Sidewinder," it was shelved for a couple of years. But it was too good not to release. The all-star band (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Grant Green, Reggie Workman, and Billy Higgins) handles Morgan's originals with aplomb, and the album bristles with inspiration.
My copy is somewhat battered, but in the manner of many Blue Note pressings, it still sounds very good. Here's the opening track from side two, "Mr. Kenyatta."
Sunday, June 18, 2017
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
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
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
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
Just Keep Lovin' Her
Monday, June 12, 2017
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:
Hard Hearted Woman
Sunday, June 11, 2017
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
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 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 (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, 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
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
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
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
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
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 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):
- Johnny Winter: Mean Mistreater (5:48)
- Poco: Kind Woman (5:14)
- Poco: Grand Junction (3:26)
- The Chambers Brothers: Love, Peace And Happiness (4:18)
- The Allman Brothers Band: Statesborough Blues (sic) (4:20)
Side B (Atlanta Pop):
- The Allman Brothers Band: Whippen Post (sic) (5:02)
- Mountain: Stormy Monday (19:32)
Side C (Isle of Wight):
- Sly & The Family Stone: Stand! / You Can Make It If You Try (10:14)
- Cactus: No Need To Worry / Parchman Farm (9:39)
- David Bromberg: Mr. Bojangles (5:48)
- Ten Years After: I Can't Keep From Cryin' Sometimes (19:13)
- Procol Harum: Salty Dog (5:11)
- Leonard Cohen: Tonight Will Be Fine (6:50)
- Jimi Hendrix: Power To Love / Midnight Lightning / Foxy Lady (15:11)
- Kris Kristofferson: Blame It On The Stones / The Pilgrim - Chapter 33 (6:46)
- 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
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.
Prelude No. 7 (Chopin)
East of the Sun
Cosmo Swing Blues