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.