For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at titles from MPS, Omnivore, Resonance, Sam, TCD Music, and hatOLOGY. Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk. (Pictured above: Albert Ayler Quartet.)
BY BILL KOPP
Albert Ayler Quartet – Copenhagen Live 1964 (hatOLOGY)
The music of tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler (1936-1970) is assuredly not for the jazz novitiate. With an approach that makes Ornette Coleman sound mainstream, Ayler pushed even the boundaries of free jazz. Released in cooperation with the musician’s estate, this never-before-heard live session from more than a half century ago is vintage Ayler: uncompromising, difficult and – if one is in the right frame of mind – fascinating. The sound quality isn’t pristine, but it’s far above bootleg quality and shouldn’t bother those receptive to Ayler’s unique brand of jazz. Ayler is joined in his musical mayhem by like-minded musicians Don Cherry (cornet), Gary Peacock (acoustic bass) and drummer Sunny Murray.
The Kenny Clarke Francy Boland Big Band – All Smiles (MPS)
Big band jazz was decidedly out of vogue by 1968, but apparently nobody told bandleaders Kenny Clarke (drums) and Francy Boland (piano). And thank goodness: the excitement of this 17-man ensemble shines through on this studio outing. Vibraphonist Dave Pike takes a solo on Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” Elsewhere listeners will find tasty solos on flute, piano, flugelhorn, trumpet and so on as the band tears into classics (Gershwin, Porter, Sousa, Dorsey) with relish. Music like this is timeless and really shouldn’t ever go out of fashion. Available on vinyl, too.
Nat King Cole Trio – Zurich 1950 (TCD Music)
Cole’s major breakthrough was as a pop vocalist, but as this 1950 set recorded live onstage at Kongresshaus Zurich, the man was a superb pianist/arranger as well. This small ensemble – Cole on piano plus guitarist Irving Ashby, bassist Joe comfort and Jack Costanzo on bongos(!) – excels as they run through tunes from the Great American Songbook and other songs. Right out of the gate, Cole makes a point of putting the spotlight on his band mates. In 1941 he appeared – uncredited – onscreen in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane; a mere nine years later he had released five albums and established himself as a premier musician. This set captures him mere months before he released his biggest hit, “Unforgettable.”
Don Ellis Orchestra – Soaring (MPS)
By the late 1960s and early ’70s, certain flavors of jazz had worked their way into mainstream pop culture. Even those who claimed no interest in the form could admit to enjoying the theme music from television and film. Ellis’ “Whiplash” – very much of a piece of the music he scored for The French Connection – is a thrilling, impossibly catchy piece of music. What make it and the other tunes on Soaring (1973) so special is the uncanny combination of tricky time signatures with (dare I say it) pop hooks. Ellis was the stuff of legend: might there be a connection between the medical condition that ultimately killed him (and irregular heartbeat) and his penchant for unusual musical meter? The very electric album has a rock sensibility, and it rocks. But it’s not rock. If you don’t enjoy Soaring, like the man said, Jack, you’re dead. Also on vinyl.
Albert Mangelsdorff – And His Friends (MPS)
For better or worse – and fairly or not – this album of free jazz from 1969 is precisely the sort of thing cited as Exhibit A by people who insist jazz makes absolutely no melodic sense. On “I Dig It – You Dig It,” Mangelsdorff’s trombone engages musical dialogue with Don Cherry’s trumpet, without any other instruments. Near the end of that track, Mangelsdorff vocalizes through his instrument in a way that recalls a kind of cross between the kind of thing Nat Adderley did in the early 70s and some of Frank Zappa’s Mothers albums (specifically, Weasels Ripped My Flesh‘s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask”). If that sounds appealing to you, do indeed check out this title. Otherwise, best run in the opposite direction. For those brave few, it’s on vinyl as well.
Thelonious Monk – Les Liasons Dangereuses 1960 (Sam Records)
Monk had one of the most distinctive piano styles in all of music. He used dissonance in a manner wholly unlike, say, Bill Evans. In Monk’s hands dissonance was a tool of expression, used in very precise ways. But to the uninitiated, his style cold sound positively ham-fisted. This previously-unreleased set is the soundtrack from a 1960 film; rather than compose new material, instead Monk ran through favorites from his existing catalog. And owing to his style and inventiveness, these versions are as valid and delightful in their own right as the better-known recordings. Sound quality is pristine, and a second disc of outtakes – not to mention a 56-page(!) color booklet – raises this CD to the level of positively essential.
Alphonse Mouzon – In Search of a Dream (MPS)
Powerhouse fusion drummer Mouzon made his name on sides by Les McCann (the stunning Invitation to Openness) and Weather Report’s debut, but it was with Larry Coryell’s 11th House that he gained top-level fame. This, the sixth album under his name, is guaranteed to please fans of his work with Coryell. With a lineup that includes Stu Goldberg, Philip Catherine and Miroslav Vitouš, there’s virtually no way it could go wrong, and it doesn’t. You’ll find more drum solos here than you would on an an 11th House record, but that’s only fair. Even when the energy is dialed down – as on the smooth jazz of “Shoreline” – the playing and arrangement on the reissue of this 1978 LP (once again available on vinyl) are top-flight.
Jaco Pastorius – Truth, Liberty & Soul (Resonance Records)
For someone whose time in the spotlight was only 15 years, Jaco Pastorius was an amazingly busy presence on the jazz scene. And while it has long seemed that listeners had heard the last of the incalculably important bassist, the release of this 2CD set – a project that has been in the works for many years – adds another important piece to the puzzle. Recorded live onstage as part of George Wein’s Kool Jazz Festival, parts of the performance were broadcast on public radio. But the full set – featuring Pastorius leading a big band – has never been heard before. That it’s Jaco will be reason enough for most jazz fans to pick it up, but it’s superb on its own merits. Never one to be outdone, project curator Zev Feldman has included a 96-page color booklet – jam-packed with essays and interviews – as part of the beautiful package. [Ed note: For further investigation, you can also go HERE to read fellow jazz scribe Michael Toland’s review of the Pastorius album.]
Art Pepper – Presents West Coast Sessions! Vol. 3: Lee Konitz (Omnivore Recordings)
Because of his contractual obligations, saxophonist couldn’t record under his own name outside of Fantasy Records. So he and a Japanese label came up with a simple idea: he’s put together bands and appoint someone else the nominal leader. Those albums are now receiving a belated Stateside release, and this volume from 1982 – originally called High Jingo and credited to Lee Konitz & His West Coast Friends – is another fine entry in the series. It features timeless jazz (albeit centered around a 1950s West coast aesthetic) from a five-piece aggregation: two saxes, bass, drums and piano. Thankfully there’s nothing “eighties” about it.
Art Pepper – Presents West Coast Sessions! Vol. 4: Bill Watrous (Omnivore Recordings)
From the same cache of releases on the Japanese Atlas label comes this 1979 set, originally released as the Bill Watrous Quintet’s Funk ‘n’ Fun. But original title be damned: this is more ’50s style jazz, with trombonist Bill Watrous as the purported leader. Longtime Pepper associate and pianist Russ Freeman is at the center of many of these tunes. The Omnivore reissue adds two bonus tracks.
The Art Pepper Quartet – The Art Pepper Quartet (Omnivore Recordings)
Working closely with the saxophone’s widow Laurie, Omnivore is clearly on a mission to bring as much lost and/or unheard Art Pepper music to modern-day ears. One look at the cover art of this set and you’ll know it’s an early title; released I n1956, his eighth album ranks among Laurie Pepper’s favorites. And it’s not difficult to hear why: the band swings in inventive style, and the entire band – Pepper, Russ Freeman on piano, bassist Ben Tucker and drummer Gary Frommer – is on fire.
Baden Powell – Tristeza on Guitar (MPS)
I’m not an especially ardent fan of Brazilian jazz; in general I like a bit more fire and electricity in my jazz. And while for me Powell’s 1973 Images on Guitar has its appeal, it doesn’t rank among my favorites. Yet somehow this set from 1966 knocks me out; there’s an energy to the tracks that brings the session alive. Powell’s playing is superb – that’s a given, of course – but here there’s almost what one could call aggression is his playing on tracks like “Saravá.” The Brazilian character always comes through, but Tristeza on Guitar has a worldliness about it that makes it even more special.