Category Archives: Jazz Desk

MY FAVORITE YEAR: Coltrane ’58: The Prestige Recordings

John Coltrane March 23, 1959 Rudy van Gelder Studio Hackensack NJ

Craft Recordings compiles a comprehensive set, Coltrane ‘58: The Prestige Recordings, of all John Coltrane recordings from a pivotal year. The 5CD box drops March 29, along with digital, while the 8LP version will be April 26. (Above photo: Esmond Edwards)

BY BILL KOPP

1958 was a landmark year for saxophonist John Coltrane, and by extension, for jazz as a whole as well. Coltrane had made his first recordings (in Hawaii with fellow Navy servicemen) some 12 years earlier and played as a sideman with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk in the middle 1950s, not recording under his own name until his 1957 debut, Coltrane, recorded for Bob Weinstock’s independent label, Prestige. While Coltrane is a superb album, it only hints at what was in store for the groundbreaking musician.

In 1958, Coltrane traveled seven times to Van Gelder Studios, working with engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Showing up at the Hackensack, New Jersey studio on average of once a month between January and May, and once more in both July and December (the latter on the day after Christmas), Coltrane recorded 37 songs. Remarkably by today’s standards, each session took place in a single day, and no songs were played on more than one session.

Newly clean after a serious bout with heroin addiction, John Coltrane was man on fire throughout ‘58. And at the risk of gross oversimplification, the experience of listening to those sessions in chronological order reveals the almost real-time flowering of the saxophonist from merely a very good musician to a visionary one.

The 1958 sessions yielded material that would see release on various albums, but only a handful were released during the period in which Coltrane was signed to Prestige. The five tracks recorded on February 7 yielded Soultrane, originally released the year of its recording. The box set’s remaining 32 sides would be scattered across other albums: The March 7 sessions yielded Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane (released 1963). Other tracks appeared on Lush Life and Settin’ the Pace (both 1961), 1962’s Standard Coltrane (1962), Stardust (1963) The Believer and Black Pearls (1964), Bahia from 1965 and The Last Trane (1966).

The tracks cut in gloriously pristine high fidelity by Van Gelder variously featured some of the era’s best sidemen, many of whom went on to greater fame themselves: Kenny Burrell on guitar, trumpeters Donald Byrd and Freddie Hubbard, Paul Chambers on upright bass, drummers Jimmy Cobb, Louis Hayes and Art Taylor, Tommy Flanagan and Red Garland on piano and trumpeter/flugelhorn player Wilbur Harden.

Coltrane’s earliest session from this banner year began with the saxophonist playing in a relatively conventional (yet transcendent) style; as the year progressed, Coltrane seemed to grow more ambitious. His famous “sheets of sound” (characterized as such by critic Ira Gitler) showed up early but became a central part of his approach as the year wore on.

The 8LP set opens with “Lush Life,” a cut that would be released as the a-side of a 1960 single. Six other tracks appeared as a- or B-sides on other Prestige singles (“I Want to Talk About You” and “By the Numbers” with Red Garland each saw release on 45s’ split across both sides). By the time of cutting the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne chestnut “Time After Time” in December 1958, Coltrane had assimilated his adventurousness into a wholly accessible style. His approach seems almost effortless, true to the original melody yet unencumbered, unrestrained by it.

Hardcore Coltrane enthusiasts – and no doubt many others – will already own all of these tracks via their appearance on the aforementioned LPs and/or CD reissues. But that fact in no way lessens the impact or essential nature of the new Coltrane ‘58. Housed in a heavy cloth-bound binder, the set is spread across eight 180-gram vinyl LPs, each placed inside a black paper sleeve that fits into a heavier brown paper page of the 1 1/2” thick binder. The package also features a bound-in 40-page booklet that includes Grammy-winning music journalist/author Ashley Kahn’s superb essay, copious black-and-white and color photographs and reproductions of relevant memorabilia (Van Gelder’s handwritten notes, tape boxes and so forth).

The loving care that has gone into every part of this package more than justifies its cost. In fact, the music itself does that; as top-notch as it is, everything else included in Coltrane ‘58 should be regarded as bonus material.

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK, ep. 12: 5 LATE ‘18 / EARLY ‘19 JAZZ RELEASES

 

For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at some of the most notable new titles…

4 out of 5 stars

09-14-18 street date

TONY BENNETT & DIANA KRALL – Love is Here to Stay

Verve

www.ververecords.com

The Upshot: A meeting of two jazz vocal greats results in a low-key, subdued yet note-perfect musical summit.

BY BILL KOPP

Tony Bennett is an American institution. At age 92 he’s still going strong, long after most all of his contemporaries have left us. Diana Krall is only a bit over half Bennett’s age, but she’s well established as one of her (my) generation’s finest jazz vocalists. It’s fitting – if not inevitable – that the two would eventually team up for a sultry stroll through the Great American Songbook. With superb backing (Bill Charlap Trio) the two tackle a dozen songs the likes of which won’t surprise listeners. But the seeming effortlessness with which they deliver the songs is a true delight. Bennett’s voice is surprisingly like it was decades ago, and Krall could – as the shopworn saying goes – sing the telephone book and it would sound great. Everything about Love is Here to Stay is understated, but when you’re these cats, there’s nothing to prove, so you do it the way you want. Bennett and Krall are so assured that they happily give space for pianist Charlap trio to drop in the occasional tasty solo, too. The pair’s classic phrasing and smooth back-and-forth is spot-on. Each takes a solo break (for Krall it’s “But Not for Me,” and for Bennett it’s “Who Cares?”) that’s a delight, but it’s the pairing-up that really makes this disc special.

Listen: (“Love is Here to Stay”)

4 out of 5 stars

12-07-18 street date

THE GIL EVANS ORCHESTRA – Hidden Treasures Volume One: Monday Nights

Bopper Spock Suns

The Upshot: Led by its namesake’s talented son, the modern-day Gil Evans Orchestra delivers the goods in a set that bridges the gap between classic and modern-day (if not strictly modern) jazz.

BY BILL KOPP

Gil Evans was a giant of jazz; he was a key figure in the development of several substyles. To some, he’s best known as a Miles Davis associate, but there is much more to his work. Evans passed away more than 30 years ago, but today his band is led by his son (pointedly named Miles Evans). And all of the thrilling ambience of the elder Evans’ work is on display in tis 21st century recording. Ten core musicians (including Gil Evans associate and brother of bassist Tony, keyboardist Pete Levin) are joined variously by auxiliary players . Some of them are fairly obvious choices (the ubiquitous but undeniably talented Paul Shaffer, for example), while others are quite unexpected (guitarist Vernon Reid on trumpeter Miles Evans’ original Steely Dan-flavored number “LL Funk”). The set is a tasty mix of classic and more modern (urbane funk-jazz) approaches, and it all works. Even when synthesizer is used (as on the orchestral-tinged “I Surrender”) it’s done in a tasteful way that’s fully integrated in to the arrangement, never showy or scene-stealing. This set is a fine collection worthy of its namesake.

Listen: (nothing recent)

4 out of 5 stars

11-09-18 street date

JEFF GOLDBLUM & THE MILDRED SNITZER ORCHESTRA – The Capitol Studios Sessions

Decca

www.deccarecords.com

The Upshot: Don’t hold it against Jeff Goldblum that he’s best-known as an actor. Joined by to-flight guests, the pianist and bandleader shows that he deserves recognition as a skilled jazz artisan as well.

BY BILL KOPP

There is, I think, a healthy tendency among critics to look upon potential busman’s-holiday efforts as just that. Such a perspective brings skepticism to album releases by artists better known as actors. That said, Jeff Goldblum knows how to play that piano, and he lead s a band. His quirky persona meshes well with a swingin’ cocktail-vibed collection of vocal jazz numbers featuring talented friends. Using a proven approach favored by the great Cannonball Adderley, Goldblum assembled band and audience in an ersatz club inside the Capitol Records building. With a peerless selection of songs – the set opens with Herbie Hancock’s soul jazz classic “Cantaloupe Island” – Goldblum and band deliver in a big way. There is, of course, little about The Capitol Studios Sessions that identifies it as a current-day recording. What does give it away is the onstage guest list: Haley Reinhart, Imelda May, trumpeter Till Brönner and a surprisingly competent Sarah Silverman. The band really cooks – simmers, actually – and Goldblum is a superbly expressive pianist. Even chestnuts like “Caravan” are performed in a way that feels both true to the original spirit and some combination of timeless and modern. A delight.

Listen: (“My Baby Just Cares for Me”)

3 out of 5 stars

01-04-19 street date

JORGE NILA – Tenor Time

Ninjazz Records

www.ninjazzrecords.com

The Upshot: A pleasing tribute to some of the biggest jazz names in tenor saxophonem, with just a splash of the new.

BY BILL KOPP

The tenor saxophone holds an important place in the history of jazz. On this new recording, Jorge Nila pays tribute to the masters of the instrument, a list that (from his perspective at least) includes Lester Young, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Stanley Turrentine, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt and Harold Vick. It’s hard to argue with those choices, nor with the songs chosen to represent each of them on this album. Some of the choices are expected (“Soul Station in tribute to Mobley) but Stevie Wonder’s “Rocket Love” is an unexpected choice that still fits in well among the older classics. Nila’s band is small (guitar, drums and organ); while there’s plenty of ensemble playing and individual soloing, that configuration keeps the focus primarily on the horn.

Listen: (nothing recent)

3 out of 5 stars

11-09-18 street date

TED PILTZECKER – Brindica

Zoho

www.zohomusic.com

The Upshot: A varied collection that showcases the versatility of the vibraphone in a jazz context.

BY BILL KOPP

It’s not all that uncommon for a jazz player to be a multi-instrumentalist. But trumpet and vibes are an unlikely combination. Though he studied at the Eastman School of Music as a trumpeter, Ted Piltzecker ended up playing the vibes. And that’s fine; that storied instrument is among the most expressive and lively tools in the jazz idiom. Here, Piltzecker plays nearly as much marimba, a similar instrument, albeit one with a slightly more gimmicky sound. It’s when he moves over to the vibes that he really shines. The rich interplay between the band (various combinations of some 16 players) is the true star of this set. The tracks are nicely varied, showcasing the vibraphone’s appeal across a wide array of jazz styles. Piltzecker is equally at home playing with understated nuance as he is tearing up the scale.

Listen: (“Brindica”)

 

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK, ep. 11: SEVEN RECENT JAZZ RELEASES

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.)

BY BILL KOPP

  

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.

 

JOE HENDERSON FEATURING ALICE COLTRANE – The Elements LP (reissue)

Album: The Elements LP

Artist: Joe Henderson Featuring Alice Coltrane

Label: Jazz Dispensary/Concord/Milestone

Release Date: July 28, 2017

www.jazzdispensary.com

The Upshot: Fire, air, water and earth are the four elements, and saxophonist Joe Henderson serves up jazz ruminations upon each on this 1974 album featuring Alice Coltrane, Charlie Haden, Michael White, Leon Chancler and Kenneth Nash. (Go HERE to see additional entries at the BLURT Jazz Desk.)

 BY BILL KOPP

Released in 1974, The Elements is the 16th album from tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. This four-track album features four extended tracks; each is an improvisational exploration/meditation on one the elements. Though much of Henderson’s work had been well within the relatively conservative parameters of hard- and post-bop, The Elements is a conscious and largely successful attempt to venture beyond convention.

“Fire” begins with several minutes of hypnotic rhythm section work; the track eventually flowers into something more exploratory, first with a violin solo from Michael White and then Alice Coltrane playing a harp in a manner that makes it sound more like a kalimba. It’s only when she does a glissando that the instrument is recognizable for what it is. They rhythm section (bassist Charlie Haden and Leon “Ndugu” Chancler) remains steady throughout, though via modern recording techniques they’re brought forward and faded deeper into the mix at various points. In a slight bow to convention, “Fire” restates its head near the end of its eleven-plus minutes.

“Air” has a completely different character. Lacking the insistent groove of “Fire,” it begins with sax and bass both seemingly vamping, with what sound like random bits of percussion splashed about. Henderson wails on his saxophone, and Coltrane enters, playing dramatic figures on piano. After five minutes or so, the entire performance is faded out, replaced in the sonic space by what sounds like a wholly new piece, and a different song. But this second “song” has a similarly unfocused character, one that has the feel of musicians preparing to play a piece together but never actually quite getting around to doing so. Alice Coltrane’s piano improvisations form the centerpiece of the second half of “Air,” joined now and then by Henderson’s sax and Haden’s upright bass work. White shows up on violin near the end of the piece.

The Eastern flavors of tambura and harmonium (played by Coltrane) open “Water.” While Haden lays down a static bass line, Henderson overdubs multiple sax parts, some of which employ heavy amounts of reverb. Unlike the previous tracks, “Water” is a Henderson solo spotlight, with none of the other players stepping forward. Near the track’s end he plays a few relatively conventional melodies, but for most of the track’s run time, he seems more intent on improvising.

At over 13 minutes, “Earth” is the longest track on The Elements. The track combines African percussion and a smoky, slightly sinister and funky beat. That backdrop provides a musical canvas upon which Henderson paints with his tenor saxophone. He plays smoky, soulful lines, again making extensive use of overdubbing; various sax lines intertwine throughout the piece. Sometimes the result is jarringly atonal, but more often it comes together seamlessly. Just over four and a half minutes in, all of the players save Haden are faded out of the mix. After a full minute of soloing, the bassist is joined by subtle bits of Indian instrumentation. Coltrane adds harp, and while the rhythm section continues to lay out, the players set up a mysterious sonic landscape. Percussionist Kenneth Nash recites lyrics that ruminate on the concept of time. The narration may remind some listeners of Rick Holmes’ work on Nat Adderley’s Soul Zodiac. The track’s final moments are built upon a slow, hypnotic rhythmic pattern, with layers of saxophone, harmonium and violin all competing for the sonic space.

After The Elements, Henderson would go on to make more than a dozen albums, switching from Milestone to Red and eventually Verve. His exploratory nature would continue after The Elements, but he never again would work with that album’s particular set of musicians.

Jazz Dispensary’s 2017 reissue of The Elements recreates the original, upgrading to 180-gram vinyl and a sturdier color sleeve.

DOWNLOAD: “Fire”

 

 

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK, ep. 10: TWELVE ARCHIVAL RELEASES

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.

 

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK, ep. 9: SIX NEW RELEASES

For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at titles from Codes Drum, Ronin Jazz, Resonance, Mack Avenue, and Cuneiform. Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk. (Pictured above: Ignacio Berra Trio)

BY BILL KOPP

Ignacio Berra Trio – Straight Ahead from Havana (Codes Drum Music)

Cuba has a long, storied and proud history of jazz. But owing to the U.S. Government’s half-century-long embargo on all things Cuban, few Americans know much about it. The doors were opened less than a year ago when President Obama relaxed some – but by no means all – of the restrictions regarding travel to and in Cuba by American nationals. The current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – who does not deserve the dignity of having his name printed (but oh, does he love to hear and see his name) – arbitrarily reversed those rules, citing as his justification the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. As consolation, we have this new collection by Cuban-born drummer Ignacio Berroa, who explored the many facts of Cuban jazz in highly appealing form. Until the U.S. comes to its collective senses and kicks the Orange One to the curb (or better yet, Guantanamo Bay), this set of ten immortal Cuban tunes interpreted by the former Dizzy Gillespie sideman will do quite nicely.

B.J. Jansen – Common Ground (Ronin Jazz)

It’s a neat trick to make something new while conjuring the aesthetic of something old. But (a) that’s what is expected of jazz players of a certain stripe, and happily (b) that’s what baritone saxophonist B.J. Jansen has taken on as his mission. And with Common Ground, he succeeds. Joined by five musical heavyweights, Jansen tears through a dozen tunes – mostly originals – that evoke warm memories of hard bop, West coast cool and other classic jazz styles. Recommended.

Dave Liebman / Joe Lovano – Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane (Resonance Records)

To note that NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman (tenor and soprano sax, recorder, flute) and Joe Lovano (tenor sax, clarinet, flute, etc.) are established artists is to engage in laughable understatement. But for this new set, the two men set aside their own material and focus instead on the music of Coltrane. Aided by a trio, they tear through six tracks. In the process they succeed both at making the songs their own and remaining true to Trane’s spirit. From thrilling to adventurous to soothing, Lovano, Liebman and band strike all the right notes.

Microscopic Septet – Been Up So Long it Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues (Cuneiform)

This New York outfit’s ethos is expressed by soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston’s slogan, “Break all the rules and respect all the saints.” That’s as good an aphorism as any for soul – or blues-jazz. And that’s what’s on offer here: not so much of the odd meters and such; more of the blues-based approach to jazz that keeps one foot in melodic accessibility and another stretched into adventurous territory. And – unlike some of the more “serious” jazz out there – it’s fun.

The Ed Palermo Big Band – The Great Un-American Songbook: Vol. I & II (Cuneiform)

With a style best described as big band fusion/pop, here the Ed Palermo Big Band plays big-group jazzy interpretations of songs more often associated with progressive and/or psychedelic rock. With former Frank Zappa associate Napoleon Murphy Brock fronting the nearly 20-person ensemble, the works of (to name just a few) King Crimson, the Beatles, Traffic, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Radiohead and Jethro Tull are reinvented with a varying (but generally high) degree of success. Who – beyond prog fans and those who appreciate Zappa-style weirdness – will enjoy much less even know about this release remains to be seen, but for those who take the time to discover it, The Great Un-American Songbook is rich with delights. Bring on future volumes, please.

Christian Sands – Reach (Mack Avenue)

Sands’ deft touch on the piano is a thing to behold. His lengthy melodic lines demand a good deal from the listener; his ambitious approach all but requires close attention. Backed by supremely tight and creative rhythm sections, he expresses all range of emotion in his eight original (and two cover) pieces. The covers are interesting, too: Bill Withers’ “Use Me” is reinvented to the point of being nearly unrecognizable, but Sands’ reading still conveys the original’s vibe. Some tasty (and tasteful) elective guitar crops up now and then as well.

 

MICHAEL TOLAND: 3 ECM PIANO TRIOS—Collin Vallon, Benedikt Jahnel Trio, Julia Hülsmann Trio

Today at the BLURT Jazz Desk we have guest columnist and blogger Michael Toland weighing in on three recent piano trio releases from the venerable ECM label. Take it away, Prof. Toland. – Fred Mills & Bill Kopp

 

COLIN VALLON – Danse (3 out of 5 stars; released Jan. 27)

BENEDIKT JAHNEL TRIO – The Invariant (4 stars; released Feb. 17

JULIA HÜLSMANN TRIO – Sooner and Later (4 stars; released March 10)

(ECM) http://ecmrecords.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

The piano trio is one of the bedrock supports of jazz, a vehicle seemingly perfectly designed for the balance of composition and improvisation that drives the genre. Whether inadvertently or by design, ECM released in the first quarter a, ahem, trio of records by contemporary piano threesomes, all based in Europe, that deserve a close look.

Swiss keyboard-ticker Colin Vallon sounds like he’s putting a classical education to use on Danse, his fifth album. Joined by bassist Patrice Moret and drummer Julian Sartorious, the Lausanne native concentrates on minimalist melody, moving his digits toward accessible chord sequences and stripped-down licks rather than complicated fingerings or improvisatory flights of fancy. “Kid,” “Morn” and “Sisyphe” don’t push musical boundaries – they simply lay out Vallon’s tuneship as directly as possible. That doesn’t mean he’s crossed the line into new age dreck, however. Sartorious’ frisky cymbal work keeps the rhythms percolating, and the band shifts to more adventurous waters on the complexly structured “L’Onde” and the tensely stretched “Tinguely” (composed by Moret), even going for what sounds like free improv on the title track. While it would’ve been cool to hear the three push themselves a bit more in that vein, it’s also nice to hear a clearly skilled player this comfortable with the direct approach.

Berlin pianist Benedikt Jahnel takes a more traditionally jazz-oriented approach on his third LP The Invariant. Joined by telepathically swinging bassist Antonio Miguel and drummer Owen Howard, Jahnel takes liberties with his melodies, spiraling around them as often as playing them straight through. His nimble keyboard work enhances the tunes powering “Interpolation One” and “Further Consequences,” stopping just short of busy while still letting his technique shine. “Part of the Game” builds on a galloping bassline and almost conga-like drumming for a Latin-tinged, polyrhythmic exercise in making a song dance. “For the Encore” and “En passant” take the opposite tack, relaxing the tempo and arrangement to keep the musicians out of the tunes’ way. The nine-and-a-half minute “Mirrors” shows the trio at its most ambitious, performing a multi-part suite whose sections interlock so smoothly it sounds like it was written as it was being played. A preternaturally sympatico rhythm section and Jahnel’s compositional leadership make The Invariant a delight from start to finish.

As a follow-up to the remarkable quartet album A Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill and America, German pianist Julia Hülsmann (born in Bonn, based in Berlin) returns to the trio format for the first time in six years with Sooner and Later. Hülsmann is a more exploratory pianist than either Vallon or Jahnel – she likes to meander around inside her compositions, checking out the alleys, poking around in the corners and generally enjoying the feel of her own work. That doesn’t mean the tracks come off as unfocused or sloppy, however – “From Afar,” “Soon” and “J.J.” wander with purpose, boasting a playful and relaxed feel that comes from confidence in the durability of the compositions. Bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling contribute pieces as well – the latter’s “You & You” and “Later” sound like the Vince Guaraldi Trio interpreting Pat Metheny tunes, while the former’s “The Poet (For Ali)” shimmers gently like the dawn peeking over the horizon. The trio also covers Radiohead’s “All I Need” with exquisite feel and taste. Throughout the focus stays on Hülsmann, whether she’s comping atmospheric chords or tapping out angular riffs that chop through the arrangements. Sooner and Later brings the Hülsmann Trio back home, and it’s like they never left.

DOWNLOAD: “L’Onde” (Vallon), “Mirrors” (Jahmel), “Soon” (Hulsmann)

 

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK: 6 New Releases

For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at titles from Motéma Music, Mack Avenue, Hot Club, Intuition, One Note and Challenge. [Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk.]

BY BILL KOPP

Gerald Clayton – Tributary Tales (Motéma Music)

Clayton (album cover pictured above) has an impressive family pedigree in music, but his own career deserves serious attention. As Musical director of the Monterey Jazz Festival, Clayton rubs elbows with some of the biggest names in jazz. But the pianist’s work holds up – and quite often towers above – that of many of his contemporaries. Tributary Tales is his fourth album as bandleader, and his first for hip label Motéma. Folding in influences from well outside jazz, on Tributary Tales Clayton creates modern jazz for the 21st century. Walking a fine line between ear candy and abstract, Clayton manages to have it both ways: he is music is adventurous and accessible at once. (Music is here.)

Kevin Eubanks – East West Time Line (Mack Avenue)

Eubanks’ 15-year tenure as Music Director of the house band for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno was a two-edged sword: one one hand, it raised the guitarist’s profile unusually high in the mainstream world for a jazz musician, and afforded him untold opportunities to interact with his musical peers (and lesser musicians) in front of a large and varied audience. But it also gave him at least a bit of a whiff of commercialism, a quality that is often fatal in the rarefied and somewhat insular world of jazz. On East West Time Line, Eubanks embraces that reality, crafting an album divided into two pieces (which can be thought of as A- and B- sides, he readily acknowledges). The first is a set of tasty original tracks cut in New York City; listen for Dave Holland on bass. The second is a set of standards (covers, favorites, whatever) recorded in California. Both build upon his Wes Montgomery influences, and both extend beyond those into something that’s – happily, as he’s earned it – Eubanks’ own bag. (Music is here.)

Hot Club of San Francisco – John Paul George & Django (Hot Club)

Prewar jazz manouche is not this reviewer’s favored substyle in the genre; too often its modern-day exponents betray a lack of imagination; despite opportunities for improvisation, in the hands of far too many current artists relies on rote licks. Against that backdrop, John Paul George & Django stands out like the brightest star. Not only is the basic concept a solid one – it builds upon the old saw that a great song is a great song no matter how it’s recast – but Hot Club reinvent the music of the Beatles in clever ways. If the goal of a jazz reading of someone else’s song is to make it one’s own, to take it where it hasn’t already gone, then this album is an unqualified success. Some of the songs are nearly unrecognizable – Abbey Road‘s “Because,” for example – but that’s fine. Hot Club is both true to the inner light (so to speak) of the originals while embossing the songs with their own brand of originality. Bravo. And bonus points for both the decision to release on vinyl and for commissioning some very clever cover art. (Music is here.)

Günter Baby Sommer – Le Piccole Cose (Intuition)

In the right circumstances, jazz can indeed rock. And it needn’t be fusion to do so. Case in point is Sommer’s latest album. The 73-year-old German drummer swings as he leads a quartet through seven songs that evoke the uptempo, boundary-pushing yet traditional vibe of Art Blakey and His Jazz Messengers. There’s a very playful mindset at work here, as evidenced by the off vocalisms which Sommer employs throughout “Inside Outside Shout”: the tune has as much in common with late 1960s Frank Zappa (Lumpy Gravy and Uncle Meat era) as it does with more conventional jazz traditions. Even the subtler tracks (the aptly-titled “Mellow Mood,” for example) have an adventurous spirit that rewards close listening. The band’s makeup (drums, alto sax and clarinet, trumpet and flugelhorn, bass) is just unusual enough to be interesting on its own; the music takes things to another level. (Music is here.)

Melvin Sparks – Live at Nectar’s (One Note Records)

This one’s not so much jazz as it is soul/r&b/boogaloo. Modern-day fans of bands like The New Mastersounds, Soulive and other current purveyors of the timeless style owe it to themselves to seek out this tasty live date featuring veteran rhythm guitarist Sparks with a stellar band. The guitarist cedes the soloing to his band mates, but he shows can be done within the context of so-called “rhythm” guitar playing. Live at Nectar’s is greasy, sweaty, emotion-filled, high octane instrumental music of the highest order. And the recording also represents one of the last performances by Sparks before his untimely death at age 64 in 2011. (Speaking of New Mastersounds, Eddie Roberts produced and mixed the sessions for release.) (Music is here.)

Trichotomy – Known-Unknown (Challenge Records)

The disc’s cover art may suggest that Known-Unknown is going to be a collection of outré progressive jazz, full of atonalities and skronk. Alas, no: Trichotomy is a relatively straightforward piano/bass/drums trio, albeit one that incorporates electronics into its sonic palette. At least that’s what the back cover tells us. In practice, electronics are far from the defining characteristic of this album. It’s a fine collection of impressionistic and evocative jazz instrumentals, but the trio’s use of electronics is fairly subdued; were one not to read otherwise, one might come away form a listen to Known-Unknown thinking it’s a wholly acoustic album. And while there’s not a thing in the world wrong with that – especially when it’s done as well as it is here – the electronics angle is more than a bit oversold. (Listen to the band live here.)

 

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.]

BY BILL KOPP

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.

Pepper

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.

Evans

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.

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

 

 

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK: Latest MPS Vinyl Reissues

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Germany’s MPS label has just dropped a quintet of 180-gram vinyl reissues. According to MPS, “Edel:Kultur unties another bundle of re-releases from the catalogue of the iconic MPS label situated in Germany’s Black Forest. The newest package from the Reforest the Legend series embraces the decade of 1970-1980, and covers a wide diversity of styles. Once again sound engineers Christoph Stickel and Dirk Sommer have scrupulously remastered the original recordings. The resulting Edel:Kultur releases are high quality 180g Vinyl pressings enclosed in record jackets containing the original artwork.” Our Jazz Desk editor takes a closer look (and listen)… [Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk.]

BY BILL KOPP

 Monty Alexander Trio – Montreux Alexander

Alexander’s seventh release for MPS, Montreux Alexander is a document of the pianist’s trio live at the Montreux, Switzerland Jazz Festival in June 1976. As the liner notes explain, neither Alexander nor his rhythm section – bassist John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton on drums – had any advance idea of what songs they would perform. The sharpness of the performances belies that; while there’s a palpable sense of spontaneity on the six well-known tunes in the trio’s set, it’s all impeccably played. A ten-minute reading of Ahmad Jamal’s “Night Mist Blues” is an effective melding of smoky, late-night club ambience and sophisticated polish. Every now and then, Alexander breaks out of the bluesy mold – often for a mere measure or two – and delivers his melodic lines in another style.

Perhaps Morris Albert’s “Feelings” was less of a cliché in the mid ’70s than it is today, but Alexander’s trio gives the song a suitably understated reading that makes it more effective than it would otherwise be. Still, it’s the weak point of the set, veering uncomfortably close to easy-listening lounge jazz. It’s redeemed slightly by Alexander’s silky-smooth delivery.

Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” enlivens things greatly. The tune jumps and swings, and the uptempo blues arrangement features some tasty three-way musical dialogue between the musicians, eliciting applause less than a minute into the tune.

Nat Adderley’s classic “Work Song” is oddly understated for its first 20 seconds or so; from there it blasts out of the gate. Playing more subtly than in the typical readings of the song, Alexander’s trio still has some fun with playful key changes. Clayton’s bass is showcased here.

Henry Glover’s 1956 composition “Drown in My Own Tears” had, by 1976, been recorded by many artists including Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. Alexander mines the tune’s gospel roots, calling to mind – but not aping – Charles’ reading of the chestnut.

The set closes with the American traditional “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” After Alexander plays a brief melodic figure, Hamilton takes the cue and dives in with some nice brush work of his own. After a minute or so of back-and-forth, the band kicks into a swinging rendition that brings the house down. Deftly-placed glissandi up the ante, and the crowd responds in kind. Nearly 30 seconds of applause wraps up the release, available on 180-gram vinyl in a beautiful, sturdy (albeit non-gatefold) sleeve.

Joe Henderson et. al. – Mirror, Mirror

Joe Henderson – tenor saxophone
Chick Corea – piano
Ron Carter – bass
Billy Higgins – drums

One of the most consistently thrilling qualities of jazz is the manner in which artists team up in different combinations, often just for a single session. Whether onstage or within the confines of the recording studio, the result of these musical summits is always open to chance and circumstance; therein lies much of its appeal.

And while 1980 was nobody’s idea of a high point in jazz, this set for MPS – recorded not in Germany’s Black Forest but in a Los Angeles studio – has all the thrill and musical interplay one could hope for from the four superb artists who took part.

There are no electronics to be found here: the piano and bass are acoustic instruments, and the live-in-the-studio vibe is very much apparent. Six numbers – three per vinyl side – are on offer: one by nominal bandleader Henderson (Joe’s Bolero”), two each from the pens of Corea and Carter, and one standard, “What’s New.”

Ron Carter’s “Candlelight” is primarily a showcase for Joe Henderson’s mellifluous sax work, though near the song’s end Corea takes a largely unaccompanied solo turn. The bassist’s “Keystone” features some appealing unison playing from Corea and Henderson. Higgins turns in some splashy yet controlled drumming.

As one might expect from reading the title, that drumming is at the center of “Joe’s Bolero.” But there’s much more in the way of melody here than in Ravel’s somewhat monotonous classical piece. Henderson’s sax here is unbridled – detractors might suggest “out of tune” – but the one-chord workout is fascinating in its own way.

“What’s New” is the shortest cut on Mirror, Mirror; it’s also among the most tradition-minded reading in the set. Placed between “Joe’s Bolero” and the final track, it’s an example of thoughtful sequencing. The record closes with “Blues for Liebestraum,” a lengthy workout in which all four players push the boundaries of the blues form, often all “soloing” at once. It’s a tasty closing to an album that may have escaped the notice of many jazz fans on its original release. The 2016 MPS reissue is 180g vinyl inside the label’s customary high-quality packaging.

Freddie Hubbard – The Hub of Hubbard

Don’t let the relatively generic cover art of The Hub of Hubbard dissuade you from checking out this 2016 reissue of an album originally released in Germany in 1970 (and in the US two years later). Cut in the Black Forest for the German MPS label, this four-tune set features trumpeter Hubbard blowing impressively while backed by pianist (Sir) Roland Hanna, Richard Davis on bass, and drummer extraordinaire Louis Hayes. (Eddie Daniels is on hand for tenor sax, too.)

The ensemble charges right out of the gate with Vincent Youmans’ “Without a Song,” an example of deceptive labeling if there ever was one. It’s a song and a half. Hubbard and Daniels trade licks throughout.

Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things” is controlled cacophony, a fine example of jazz’s technique of using a song as little more than a mere canvas upon which to paint an original work. All five players are in fine form as they blast full speed ahead through the seven-plus minute performance.

“Blues for Duane” – a Hubbard original composition – is sexy and swaggering, yet still somehow subtle. Davis’ bass holds things together nicely, and the tune has an even more “live” feel than the record’s other cuts.

Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne’s “The Things We Did Last Summer” ends the album on a sultry, romantic note. A bit of (natural?) reverb on Hubbard’s horn lends just the right melancholy air to this understated piece. Hanna occasionally reaches inside his piano for some clever and effective strumming of the strings; that zither-like effect would be used to good effect at roughly the same time (1969) by Keith Emerson on ELP’s “Take a Pebble.”

The album’s original gatefold sleeve is reproduced here, with a liner note essay in both German and English. Oddly, the essay doesn’t match up with the record’s sequencing, but that shouldn’t take away from the listener’s enjoyment.

Note that since this is a straight reissue of the original LP, the bonus track found on CD releases (Hanna’s “Muses for Richard Davis”) is not included here.

Baden Powell – Images on Guitar

This 1973 album for MPS is listed on Wikipedia as a live recording; it’s “live” only in the sense that it was cut that way in the studio. Recorded October 1971 at MPS’ Black Forest studio, Images on Guitar features Brazilian guitarist Powell (born Baden Powell de Aquino) backed by Ernesto Gonsalves (bass), Joaquim Paes Henriques (drums) and Alfredo Bessa on atabaque and other percussion. Janine de Waleyne shares vocals with Powell.

Four of the tunes here are vocal-led, four are instrumental. One of the latter – “Sentimentos – Se Voce Pergunta, Nunca Vai Saber” is a Baden Powell solo. All tunes are very much in the acoustic Brazilian style made popular by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Powell and a select few others.

“Petit Waltz” is perhaps the disc’s most effective number: its first half features a finely-textured performance by Powell and Bessa; only after that has run its course does the rest of the band join in. Powell accents his precise and expressive chording with a bit of picking, but it’s mostly a showcase for the effective uses to which guitar chords can be applied.

The crystalline voice of Waleyne is equally evocative when warbling wordlessly (“Ate-Eu”) or singing in Portuguese (“Violao Vagabundo”). On the latter, she engages in some scat vocalizing; even if we don’t understand her language, the emotions come through loud and clear.

The most playful and upbeat tune on the set is “Blues a Volonté.” Its composers – Powell and Waleyne – smartly hybridize Brazilian musical forms with North American blues structure; the result is thrilling and invites repeat plays. It’s the clear highlight of Images on Guitar.

Powell’s solo “Sentimentos” slows things back down, presenting an intricate and pensive performance from the guitarist. “E de Lei” features a descending melodic line that gives Powell plenty of room in which to do some interesting things with his instrument; it’s also the least “Brazilian-sounding” tune in this collection.

Images on Guitar closes with the unimaginatively-named “Canto.” Thankfully the song is more creative than its title. With a Spanish feel, it’s mysterious and slightly foreboding tune with lots of space between the notes; those spaces – and Waleyne’s wordless vocals – only add to the mystery.

The 2016 reissue features a gatefold sleeve with black-and-white photos plus liner notes in German and English.

The Oscar Peterson Trio – Walking the Line

Recorded in MPS Records’ Villingen, Germany studio over four days in November 1969 (and released the next year), Walking the Line features pianist Oscar Peterson joined by bassist Jiri Mraz and drummer Ray Price.

Peterson is absolutely on fire from the very start, with a reading of Cole Porter’s “I Love You.” There’s a sense of subconscious connection among the three musicians as they charge through eight tunes, most taken from the pages of the Great American Songbook.

The pianist shows that – had he wanted to – he could have been a soul-jazz giant by showcasing the record’s sole original composition, “Rock of Ages.” Playing a mile-a-minute, Peterson never misses a beat on the ivories. It’s a five-and-a-half minute thrill ride that will leave the listener wanting more.

But the trio shifts gears for “Once Upon a Summertime,” wherein Mraz shares the spotlight with Peterson. The kinetic “Just Friends” is the briefest track on Walking the Line, but in terms of notes played, it’s among the fullest. Price’s drums propel the tune along at a high rate of speed.

The high energy performance continues on Side Two with “Teach Me Tonight,” a bluesy, swinging number. “The Windmills of Your Mind” is built upon a challenging percussion foundation courtesy of Price. Peterson and Mraz glide effortlessly across that tricky foundation, turning in engaging performances.

“I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” finds Peterson simultaneously intricate and understated; his band mates even more so. The number would serve as a fine set closer. But instead that honor goes to a reading of Cole Porter’s “All of Me,” delivered in style.

The Oscar Peterson Trio recorded and released several albums in the very early 1970s; all are recommended. There have been many reissues of Walking the Line since its original release, but the 2016 gatefold-sleeved vinyl reissue from MPS will be hard to beat.

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