Friday, September 16, 2005

MP3 - jazz - monk and miles and mulligan

Here's two tracks linking Miles Davis to Thelonious Monk via Gerry Mulligan who plays on both. The Monk and Mulligan session is from August 1957, the Miles track from the famous Birth of the Cool recordings, April 1949 - this taken from the Rudy Van Gelder CD remaster which is brilliantly clear and bright. If you wanted to make and obvious link via the received critical wisdom, you could see Monk as the father of bebop and Mulligan as the father(or one of them) of Cool Jazz... Actually, I picked these tracks at random - then realised that Mulligan was the common factor. Synchronicity - or something. The Miles recordings are, of course, acclaimed historical tracks from that point in the late forties when Bebop was mutating - here into an orchestral take with a nine piece group who sound larger due to the clever scoring of Mulligan, Gil Evans, Carisi (who wrote and arranged the minor blues here - 'Israel') which deploys the light, dancing alto of Lee Konitz and Miles' trumpet against trombone, french horn, tuba and baritone sax,giving a deeper sonority which was - relatively - new to jazz. 'Israel' is a couple of minutes or so long, due to the medium of the time - 78's. But it is crammed with movement vertical and horizontal due to the clever arrangement and the two soloists - Miles on open trumpet, sounding assured, Lee Konitz, one of the few original alto players who took their own road from under the shadow of the almighty Parker - his playing here very much pre-figures the so-called 'cool jazz' to come. Whose main man was Mulligan when he went to the west coast and subsequently formed his quartet. Who was a mighty creative force in this 'Birth of the Cool' band - he wrote seven of the twelve arrangements and three of the themes: 'Jeru', 'Godchild', and 'Venus de Milo' - and also wrote the sleevenotes to the original 1971 lp that brought the old 78 rpm tracks together for the first time - if you want a real, neat tie up. (An unfortunate reference given the plethora of hard drugs around modern jazz in the forties and fifties - and the battles both Mulligan and Davis had with addiction...)

And who features with Thelonious Monk on my second selection - a Monk warhorse 'Rhythm A Ning' which they bounce freshly through, taken from a somewhat obscure session. Quite why this has been so over-shadowed, I have no idea - maybe the pairing seems incongrous to some but Mulligan had been a creative wheel in New York especially with regard to the above group around Miles who recorded the Birth of the Cool oeuvre. And was always his own man, while happy to jam in any context. Monk, of course - is Monk. He recorded this tune many times - I have to hand one version with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers where they fly through it in hard-bop style. This version is taken at about the same speed - but seems slower, due to the relaxed ambiance of the session. This was an interesting set to compare Mulligan's rhythmic conception to Monk's - I think it works well - and he has the relaxed feel he always conveyed on his unwieldy horn. His playing is usually seen as slightly retro in conception, compared to some of his contemporaries - yet he gets along with the different world of Monk very easily, it seems. Maybe the key is melody - the piano-less quartet was an attempt to get away from the vertical bebop harmonies that the piano emphasizes and at its best was a counterpointing neo-baroque dance between Chet Baker and himself. Monk, despite his craggy, so-called dissonant complexities of harmony, always told his musicians to respect the melodies of his tunes and play from them rather than run the underlying harmonies ragged in the usual bop style when invention failed. Maybe the link between these two is the way that they both stand slightly apart from the received critical linear progression of jazz - Monk, for all the 'High Priest of Bop' malarkey and the complexity of his sound world, has much stride piano in him and his blues playing at times reminds me of Jimmy Yancey for some reason. Mulligan's contrapuntal muse seems to hark back in a disguised way to New Orleans polyphony at times. These are two musicians who doff their hats/berets to what went before... So.

And Miles -well - Miles was just timeless full stop. Even when playing wa-wa trumpet over a seething rhythm section and electronic stew, you can always see how the actual notes wouldn't be too far out of place alongside the playing of his old mentor, Charlie Parker. Although it is interesting to consider the ease with which Monk and Mulligan seem to get on musically and compare it to the famous Christmas 1954 session with Monk and Miles - the latter who insisted that Monk lay out behind his soloing as his piano got in the way too much...

A good place to ride on out... Enjoy...



Rhythm-a-ning - Monk and Mulligan. Buy it here...

Israel - Miles Davis - Birth of the Cool. Buy it here...

1 comment:

Taxi Driver said...

Cool. Thanx!