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.