Tag Archives: jazz desk


For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at titles from MPS, Modern Harmonic, Varese Sarabande, and North Texas Jazz. Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk. (Pictured above: Barney Kessel.)



Monty Alexander – Here Comes the Sun (MPS)

Jamaican pianist Alexander has a bright, flowing and lyrical approach to his instrument. Originally released in 1971, Here Comes the Sun was Alexander’s sixth album. Working with three other musicians (bass, drums and percussion), the pianist is at the center of the arrangements on all seven of the album’s tracks. His style often sounds like it’s the result of overdubs; his left hand plays rhythm, as expected, but his right hand is so busy that it sounds like two hands in and of itself. But yet the approach never feels busy. There’s a lively and exuberant to Alexander’s playing that can leave the listener nearly breathless. He and his sidemen sound as if they’re having the time of their lives here; the opening cut “Montevideo” is quite uptempo, but Here Comes the Sun explores a variety of textures; you’re not likely to mistake any one of these tunes for another; such is the level of originality on display here. Be warned, however, that the titular Beatles classic is transformed beyond recognition. MPS does its by now expected top-flight job of repackaging and reissuing another timeless classic from nearly a half century ago.

Richie “Dick” Garcia – A Message from Garcia (Modern Harmonic)

Though he doesn’t receive prominent billing on this 1956 album from jazz guitarist Dick Garcia, pianist Bill Evans is all over this album. Garcia is out front, but it’s Evans’ crystalline and meditative piano that holds things together. The band explores a variety of tempos and textures, but at its heart, A Message From Garcia is fairly consistent in its musical approach: the guitarist plays single-note melodic runs while the band provides subtle support. Garcia does engage in the occasional musical dialogue with Evans on cuts like “Ev’ry Night About This Time,” but there’s little doubt whose show this is. When he does take the spotlight, Bill Evans sounds as if he’s enjoying himself. The Modern Harmonic reissue of this relative rarity features top-notch sleeve reproduction and colored vinyl.

Barney Kessel – Live at the Jazz Mill 1954, Vol. 2 (Modern Harmonic)

Acclaimed jazz guitarist Barney Kessel only began his career as a band leader around 1953. By that time he had made quite a name for himself thanks to his work on recordings featuring Billie Holiday, Benny Carter and others. And he’d continue to provide supple six-string support to some of the biggest names in jazz and pop, including Sonny Rollins, Sam Cooke and Chet Baker. Those who don’t know better could easily mistake Live at the Jazz Mill 1954, Vol. 2 for a reissue of a record from years past. In fact it’s not: a young fan taped Kessel (backed by the Jazz Millers), and the tapes were only recently discovered. This second volume (the first was released a couple of years ago) features surprisingly good audio quality. And everything about the package – the cover art, the jacket’s liner notes – is note-perfect.

Volker Kriegel – Spectrum (MPS)

I first – and quite belatedly – discovered the work of Volker Kriegel via a 2014 archival release from the now more-or-less defunct SWR/Jazzhaus label. The German guitarist worked in a number of musical idioms including soul jazz and jazz-rock fusion. This 1971 album – Kriegel’s second – is (in places) much closer to rock than anything else I’ve heard from him. With a nasty fuzztone, percussion that may remind some of Low Spark of High Heeled Boys-era Traffic and a kinetic bottom end (featuring acoustic and electric bass as well as cello), Spectrum is a scorcher. John Taylor plays what’s noted as “electra-piano.” The rest of us would know it as a Hohner Pianet or maybe (but probably not) a Fender Rhodes. The opening track “Zoom” finds Kriegel doubling his fuzztone leads on sitar, and it’s not even a little gimmicky. Two years later Kriegel would form a band named after this LP. A tasty treat for those who dig the most accessibly tuneful end of jazz rock, Spectrum is adventurous, too: “More About D” is almost Zappaesque in its weirdness, albeit still rooted in jazz traditions. The album is newly reissued from MPS and is enthusiastically recommended.

Herbie Mann – It’s a Funky Thing: The Very Best of Herbie Mann (Varese Sarabande)

One could say that Herbie Mann was the Rodney Dangerfield of jazz: he got no respect. Part of that was his own doing; he resolutely refused to be boxed in with regard to what is and is not jazz. His work is wonderfully accessible and irresistibly catchy. It’s also, on occasion, a bit schlocky, and some of his work has a distinct air of bandwagon jumping (or at least musical dilettantism) about it. How else to explain disco outings like “Hijack,” a big hit in the disco era? But for listeners who can put all that baggage aside and simply dig, Herbie Mann’s music is supremely diggable. Truth be known, he was at the forefront of the world music movement, though few will afford him the credit he deserves for it. And anybody hip enough to hire Larry Coryell and Sonny Sharrock is okay by me. This collection – annotated by my pal, the esteemed author and esteemed music journalist Pat Thomas – is a lot of fun. The tracks here are featured in their single edits, most making their first appearance on digital media of any kind.

Jay Saunders – Nice!: Jay Saunders Best of the Two (North Texas Jazz)

The University of North Texas has a storied and vibrant Division of Jazz Studies, one that goes back some 70 years. And its North Texas Jazz label has released a sizable catalog of music, featuring instructors, students and alumni. Trumpeter and band leader Jay Saunders recently retired from his position at UNT, where he taught classes and directed bands. This new 2CD collection is subtitled Best of the Two, as in the Two O’Clock Lab. It draws from six earlier releases by the ever-shifting ensemble. The big-band music is a nice mix of standards, ambitious pieces and jazz readings of pop tunes; it’s classic and modern all at once, deliberately all over the map in a way that shows the timeless nature of jazz when it’s done right. “I 8 Da Whole Half Thing” sounds like Lalo Schifrin-style 1970s movie music, and that’s meant in the best possible way.

Various Artists – Jazz for Hi-Fi Lovers (Modern Harmonic)

This time capsule in the form of a colored vinyl LP is a true delight. Originally released in 1958 on the Dawn label, Jazz for Hi-Fi Lovers is a various artists collection presented in wonderful hi-fi (read: monaural). Zoot Sims is among the biggest names featured here, and he’s performing Thelonious Monk’s “Bye Ya.” Paul Quinichette provides the opening cut, the aptly named “Start Here.” Paulette Girard’s original liner notes are presented intact, and they too are a kind of trip back in time: they include three lengthy paragraphs under the heading “about the sound and the equipment,” full of info to satisfy the keen high fidelity enthusiast in your mid-century modern household. The cover art is a gas, too. Come for the packaging, and stay for the music.


THE BLURT JAZZ DESK: 7 Recent Archival Releases

Darin Mercer

For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at titles from Omnivore Recordings, Real Gone Music, TCB Music, Resonance Records and Concord Bicycle Music. [Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk.]


Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer – Two of a Kind (Omnivore Recordings)

Founded in 2010, Omnivore Recordings is a boutique label that quickly became renowned for its thoughtful and carefully-curated reissues and archival releases; the release schedule of the Grammy-winning label reflects the impeccable taste of its head, industry veteran Cheryl Pawelski. But this project is something of a left-turn, even for the reliably eclectic Omnivore. A 1961 collaboration between one of music’s top vocalists (Darin) and one of its finest songwriters (Mercer), Two of a Kind is a swingin’ big-band affair. The two men are clearly having the time of their lives as they trade vocal lines, backed by an explosive band conducted by the inimitable Billy May. The set list is dizzyingly varied, featuring originals (“Two of a Kind”), show tunes and jazz classics. In its character, Two of a Kind is not far removed from the camaraderie of Bob Hope/Bing Crosby projects, but with a couple of helluva-lot-better singers. Get yourself a bottle of rye, some sweet vermouth; mix up some Manhattans, and sit back and enjoy this seemingly effortless musical summit.

Babs Ellington

Alice Babs & Duke Ellington – Serenade to Sweden (Real Gone Music)

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington wasn’t just one of the 20th century’s most important composers and bandleaders; he was one of the era’s most prolific artists. His big-band work is the best-known part of his catalog, but it represents a mere fraction of his prodigious output. This 1966 album finds Ellington conducting an orchestra while Alice Babs – Sweden’s most popular singer of that era – plays the part of siren. Her ability to tackle the highest notes without betraying the slightest trace of effort is a hallmark of her work, and her deliciously clear vocal enunciation is beguiling. Some of the tunes focus on a smaller instrumental ensemble, while others make full use of the big orchestra. But the focus is always squarely on Babs’ superbly nimble (but never showy) vocals. Until this, its first-ever CD-era reissue, Serenade to Sweden was among the rarest and hard-to-find items in the catalog of either artist; Real Gone Music’s reissue features flawless remastering from Aaron Kannowski, and informative liner notes form jazz authority Scott Yanow.

Rollins Silver

Sonny Rollins Trio & Horace Silver Quartet – Zurich 1959 (TCB Music)

The latest entry in TCB’s “Swiss Radio Days” Jazz Series, Zurich 1959 highlights one set each from Rollins’ trio (with Henry Grimes on bass, and drummer Pete La Roca) and pianist Silver’s quintet (Blue Mitchell on trumpet, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor and the inimitable Louis Hayes on drums), recorded at Radio Studio Zurich on March 5, 1959. The sound is superb – those postwar Europeans demonstrated a keen skill at recording jazz – and it should go without saying that both bands perform beautifully. Rollins’ group turns in lovely, uptempo readings of standard including “I Remember You,” and Rollins’ original tune, “Oleo.” Silver’s quintet is exotic and assured on five originals from its bandleader. All the players are on fire, but Mitchell and Hayes are perhaps even a notch or two above their band mates on this blowing sessions.

Three Sounds

The Three Sounds – Groovin’ Hard: Live At The Penthouse 1964-1968 (Resonance Records)

The title of this set is perhaps a tad misleading: while Gene Harris, bassist Andy Simpkins and – depending on the track – Bill Dowdy, Kalil Madi or Carl Burnett on drums play with skill, finesse and power, this set leans more toward assured understatement than fiery soul-jazz readings. The Three Sounds were together 1956-73, and these archival recordings date from the middle-period (and arguably creative height) of the group, 1964-68. As was often the case, the trio’s sound was best documented live in front of an audience, and this collection – curated by Zev Feldman, perhaps current day’s most important jazz archivist – is no exception. The interplay between the players borders on the telepathic; the music is at once loose and free yet meticulously arranged. Without a doubt, the highlight of this stellar set is “Blue Genes,” with Harris’ deft piano work at its center.


Art Pepper Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Volume 1: Sonny Stitt (Omnivore Recordings)

Art Pepper Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Volume 2: Pete Jolly (Omnivore Recordings)

The estate of alto and tenor saxophonist Art Pepper is responsible for bringing these long-unheard recordings back to light. Led by Pepper’s widow Laurie, and working with Omnivore, a series of the man’s sessions are receiving thoughtful reissue in the 21st century. These volumes are perhaps the most intriguing of what’s come out of the project so far: dates recorded in and around 1980, but featuring players from 1950s jazz. Happily, there’s absolutely nothing “80s” about these sessions other than their recording date. Because Pepper was under contract to Atlantic at the time, these recordings – originally issued on the small Atlas label – don’t feature him as official bandleader, but make no mistake: he’s in charge. The Stitt sessions are spread across two discs, and bring together recordings originally released on three separate albums, adding three previously unheard tracks. The Pete Jolly sessions are a single-disc set, and feature two alternate takes of Pepper’s original “Y.I. Blues.” Booklets include not only short essays from Laurie Pepper, but also diagrams depicting the studio instrument setup for the recordings. Both sets are essential for fans of 1950s jazz.


The Bill Evans Trio – On a Monday Evening (Concord Bicycle Music)

Bill Evans was one of the most distinctive pianists in all of music; his command of the keyboard was such that to the untrained listener, his sound seemed to be that of two different musicians. His left and right hand often seemed to operate completely separate from one another, yet they were always musically connected. The revered pianist was at his best in the context of a trio, and this 1976 recording captures him onstage with drummer Eliot Zigmund and longtime associate Eddie Gomez on upright bass. The monaural recording made at Madison, Wisconsin’s Union Theatre has never been bootlegged, so this vinyl (and CD, and digital) release marks its debut. Typical of an Evans set, the album is a mixture of originals and readings of contemporary tunes. The sound is superb, the performances are flawless, and the vinyl edition is pressed on 180g and comes in a sturdy gatefold sleeve.


Bill Kopp is the Blurt Jazz Desk editor. You can bug him directly at his most excellent music blog, Musoscribe.



Bill Kopp / The Blurt Jazz Desk: Herbie Mann

Herbie Mann (w/ Will Lee)

Previously-unheard 1969 live tapes from jazz flautist and his band make it clear that Mann was nothing if not underrated. “Herbie was pushing the envelope,” says album producer Pat Thomas. “He always had his ear to the ground,” agrees Mann biographer Cary Ginell.


Nominally a jazz musician, flautist Herbie Mann (1930-2003) enjoyed crossover appeal and success that brought his music to a much wider population than simply jazz aficionados. Mann released dozens of albums, and restlessly explored different styles of music. He sold a lot of records, won numerous DownBeat polls, and was a reliable concert draw for decades. But along the way, his interest in different musical forms sometimes worked against him: today, many regard him as little more than a dilettante at best, and at worst a shameless, commercially-driven hack.

That’s largely unfair. He did churn out some rather disposable pop, especially in the 1970s, with hit singles like “Hijack” (#14 on Billboard‘s Hot 100, and #1 on their Disco Action chart) from 1975’s Discothèque LP), but he was a true innovator, an artist who was always looking for the cross-fertilization of genres that is vital to music’s ongoing development.


A new 2CD set from Real Gone Music should help rehabilitate Mann’s undeservedly tarnished reputation among jazz lovers, and among musically adventurous listeners in general. Live at the Whisky 1969: The Unreleased Masters compiles previously unreleased tapes from Mann’s week-long engagement at Hollywood’s famed Whisky a Go Go. The set features performances of Mann with his stellar band – bassist Miroslav Vitouš, who would later go on to found Weather Report; vibraphonist Roy Ayers; saxophonist Steve Marcus; drummer Bruno Carr; and avant-jazz electric guitarist Sonny Sharrock. And the set’s second disc includes a rare gem: Sharrock’s wife Linda Sharrock joins the band onstage for some free-form avant-garde vocals that some have likened to the early work of Yoko Ono. By design, this new 2CD set has no overlap with the music released in 1969 as Live at the Whisky A Go Go.

The archival project of rescuing these performances from obscurity came to light thanks to the efforts of Pat Thomas, producer of many reissues and author of Listen, Whitey: The Sights and Sounds of Black Power and (with soul jazz legend Les McCann), Invitation to Openness: The Jazz & Soul Photography of Les McCann.

Thomas explains how the project came about. “I had been a big Herbie Mann fan. And his live albums, of course, are only 30-40 minutes. So it was obvious to me that they didn’t go in and record four songs and leave. I thought that since this was a small club gig, it would be more interesting than, say, a show at Madison Square Garden.”

Thomas “bugged the powers-that-be at Atlantic Records,” but says their response was along the lines of, “’Oh, we can’t find the tapes,’ blah blah blah. So when I moved to L.A. and started doing more reissues and more research, I hooked up with Bill Inglot; he’s done a million research projects for Rhino and other labels. He told me, ‘I found the tapes you’ve been looking for.’”

That entire week of shows at the Whisky had been taped by famed engineer Bill Halverson, who recorded Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young‘s 4 Way Street. “The tapes sounded great, and were really easy to mix,” says Thomas. “We pulled the tapes out of the vault. Brian Kehew – who does a lot of mixing; he mixed that big Yes box set [Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-two] – and I mixed the tapes.”

What they found was that the tapes from the first night didn’t even feature the band’s leader. “That first night, Herbie was sick, so the band played without him,” Thomas says. “I was really hoping that there could be some wild jams, just based on the fact that they didn’t play a real set. But unfortunately, they noodled! They got levels on their instruments and didn’t really play.”

But as Thomas and Kehew dug deeper, their efforts paid off in a big way. They discovered “two versions of “If I Were a Carpenter” that are really just extended jams. I could hear that Herbie was really stretching out. And the most surprising thing was that Linda Sharrock was in the audience, and Herbie brought her up onstage. They did these Sonny and Linda Sharrock songs from the album Black Woman, songs that they had only recorded in the studio three weeks earlier.”

The audience at the Whisky would likely have been mystified by Sharrock’s unexpected and very out-there performance. “Herbie was pushing the envelope,” Thomas chuckles. “The Whisky A Go Go is known for great music, but it’s not exactly an avant-garde jazz haven. So I’m sure there were people in the audience scratching their heads, thinking, ‘What is this Linda Sharrock shit?’”

There was some precedent for the unusual musical direction Mann took his band with Linda Sharrock. “Herbie was very kind to his sidemen,” Thomas points out. “He made sure that all of them wound up putting out a solo album.” That generosity extended to the wife of his guitarist, an avant-garde singer who would release the highly-regarded Black Woman, her first album with husband Sonny, for Mann’s Vortex label, not long after the Whisky dates.


And Sonny himself was considered by some an unusual choice for Mann’s group. His style is closer in spirit and texture to Jimi Hendrix than, say, Joe Pass. But it’s a major highlight of Herbie Mann’s acclaimed 1969 LP, Memphis Underground.

“In the ‘60s, Herbie wanted to appeal to younger audiences,” observes Cary Ginell, author of several books including The Evolution of Mann: Herbie Mann and the Flute in Jazz. “And the way to do that was through rock ’n’ roll. He always enjoyed challenging his audiences and thumbing his nose at his critics, and when he got a hold of Sonny Sharrock, he did that and more. He was really deliberately antagonizing people by getting the most ‘out’ Hendrix-styled guitarist he could find, and letting him have at it.”

Ginell notes that “Herbie never told his musicians what to play; he figured they knew what they were all about. Sharrock was the first of a run of musicians Herbie hired who stepped out of the jazz mainstream and played from another perspective.”

Real Gone’s Live at the Whisky 1969: The Unreleased Masters puts the exciting, adventurous side of Herbie Mann’s music on full display. “I think this album – for those who are paying attention – is going to establish Herbie more in that Miles Davis camp of groundbreaking progressive jazz,” says Thomas. “That’s a part of his legacy that doesn’t get into the history books, because most people think of him as a sort of pop-jazz hack.”

“Obviously there were points in his career when they did take him seriously,” says Thomas. “But I think that the more casual jazz fans certainly didn’t like the more pop aspects of his work; by the mid-1970s, he went very pop. And then there are these people – I call ’em jazz Nazis – who always tell me that soul-jazz and funk-jazz are not jazz. ‘Oh, Les McCann? That’s not jazz!’ And Herbie Mann gets tossed in that pool.”


Ginell agrees, noting that “critics never liked Herbie, possibly because he got tired of playing the pigeonhole game. They liked him when he played straight-ahead jazz, and then when he ventured into Afro Cuban jazz. But as soon as he started having crossover success, they started accusing him of selling out.”

Ginell points out that in the 1960s, Mann “started recording covers of songs on the pop charts — things by the Beatles, Donovan, etc. — and that alienated him further from the intelligentsia. Crossover success has never been popular among jazz critics,” he says. “They’ve always wanted jazz to themselves; anyone who is successful is accused of selling out.”

Mann’s abilities as a musician are underrated, too, according to Ginell. His research turned up what he calls “mixed messages on how Herbie was viewed as a musician. Some, like vibraphonist Dave Pike, thought Herbie was a phony with limited talent. [Vibraphonist] Terry Gibbs told me he thought Herbie was a terrible musician. Personally, I don’t see it,” Ginell says. “He had great chops, an excellent rhythmic and melodic sensibility, but could get bogged down in simplistic patterns. Herbie was all about excitement, though, and knew how to be a showman. That was his strength.”

That, and putting together excellent bands, and reaching beyond the confines of his genre. “I think he has been vastly underrated as a musician who expanded jazz’s horizons, most notably in mixing jazz with world music,” says Ginell. “Herbie’s efforts helped call attention to jazz among young listeners. He always had his ear to the ground to see about the new styles of music that were coming into vogue and what young people were listening to.”

Ginell observes that “styles always change, and Herbie never wanted to be pigeonholed or forced to play just one kind of music. For that, purists called him a commercial sellout. He refused to play their game. They wanted him to play straight ahead bebop forever, but he abandoned that in the late ‘50s.”


Herbie Mann was “the first American to record with Brazilian musicians,” says Ginell. “He used integrated bands with musicians from other countries, he experimented with Japanese, Eastern European, and other musical areas that other jazz musicians wouldn’t touch. He was curious and was a musical explorer.

“But,” Ginell concludes, “he never gets credit for these things, because he was always looking at music with a commercial eye.”

For those who appreciate Herbie Mann’s music, there’s even more on the way. “I just put together a collection of Herbie Mann seven-inch singles for Varese,” says Thomas. “There are some incredible non-LP funk singles in that collection. There’s no release date for that yet; probably late this year or 2017. It’ll be all over the map, because it’s going to have ‘Hijack’ on it along with some pop stuff, but it’s also going to have a funk single circa 1970 that had a rapper over the top of it! That’s something that the fan will want to chew on.”

Pat Thomas says, “I think Live at the Whisky 1969: The Unreleased Masters will help set the record straight. I think people will be pleasantly surprised, for sure.” He smiles and adds, “Projects like this are what get me out of bed in the morning; this is what it’s all about.”

Main photo credit by Tom Marcello, via Wikipedia Creative Commons


Bill Kopp is a music journalist, editor of Musoscribe.com, and editor of BLURT‘s newly-launched jazz desk. He has written liner notes for several jazz reissues, including Cannonball Adderley‘s The Price You Got to Pay to Be Free and Music, You All, both due out in May.