Saturday, February 18, 2006
Teddy Charles and George Russell...
Tangents are there to go off on, of course... The proposed Eric Dolphy post will be a little delayed because I wanted to put up some Teddy Charles. Who is still with us, like Chico Hamilton, featured in the previous post, an elder stateman still playing. Who has never really got his due – jazz critical fashions being what they are/were. Many interesting and valid currents from the artistic ferments of the fifties in America were subsequently overshadowed by the blood and fire of the sixties. The Eisenhower period is always depicted as grey, conformist, coming in off the witch-hunting/black-listing/commie-hunting McCarthy melodramas that put TV on the map. Yet there was the whole Beat ferment, the Black Mountain crew, a slew of painters and a variety of restless jazz musicians whose souls were not in hock to Charlie Parker producing some amazing music. If the dominant streams were the 'Cool school' and 'Hard Bop,' allied to those areas and overlapping were a bunch of mavericks intent on movement down their own paths. Jazz like all art forms runs on fashion and critical opinion. Dave Brubeck – forget it. Tristano – too white, or something, didn't like drummers anyway. And so it goes... Or people are just plain forgotten – like Charles, I suspect although he seems to have come back on the radar over the last few years – in his eighties, for God's sake. Maybe some obscurity is good for the health when you consider the litter of premature corpses round the jazz pantheon... So – Teddy Charles, started out as a drummer, like many a vibe player then took up the vibraharp and really flew. A good overview of his career is here...
The tracks I have chosen – Lydian M-1 by George Russell and Vibrations by Mal Waldron. Note that on the cd/album notes the trumpeter is called 'Pete Urban' – an alias for Art Farmer. The Tentet existed in various combination of arrangers,composers and personnel. This edition has the following musicians on board:
Teddy Charles (vibraphone); Gigi Gryce (alto saxophone); J.R. Monterose (tenor saxophone); George Barrow, Sol Schlinger (baritone saxophone); Peter Urban (trumpet); Mal Waldron (piano); Jimmy Raney (guitar); Teddy Kotick (bass); Joe Harris (drums).
Teddy Charles Tentet - Teddy Charles Tentet
Another unrecognised genius who had a massive theoretical impact on jazz but never really got his due until later in life (perhaps due to his decamping to Europe for a long period) is George Russell.Who composed one of the pieces above – 'Lydian-M1' and has Teddy Charles playing on this session which produced 'All about Rosie.' Noted especially for the Bill Evans solo that helped to establish him as a major new force in jazz, this is a long-form composition in three sections, lumped in with the 'Third Stream' at the time of inception. (And maybe 'Third Stream' – too European, man - could do with a re-examination?). There was a lot of crossover between the two musicians and those who played with them – Art Farmer for one, who plays on all these selections. Yet where the 'Third Stream' veered towards an often uneasy accomodation of European art music devices, notably atonality, Russell founded his own harmonic conception which expands greatly the harmonies of jazz from bebop onwards but is more polytonal than atonal – and he anticipated and influenced the move towards modal structures. Charles came at composition from a different angles but always seems to retain the essence of jazz in his performances, however 'far out' they go.
Charles and Russell stand as musicians who wanted to progress the music onwards without junking the tradition they came from, staying loosely within the 'bebop aesthetic,' as it were. Looking back one can see how much of a ferment was occurring throughout the so-called dull fifties before the jams really were kicked out by the 'new thing' in all its diverse manifestations. (Also, how much the sixties revolutionaries in turn were as rooted in the tradition – with hindsight).
Russell reached his eighties, as did Charles – as a now world-acclaimed composer and theoretician, still leading his ensembles. Charles is less well known – though still playing, apparently – those are the breaks. But the music remains, luckily available on CD and repaying much study – and enjoyment. Because whatever complexity of composition is on display here, the drums still have it underneath – the music swings in the old sense that was to be disrupted by the rhythmic onslaughts of polyrhythmic density to come. In some other more consciously 'Third Stream' settings, the beat edged into abstraction and a more European feel- these tracks swing, still sound fresh and full of surprise.
Art Farmer, Louis Mucci (t), Jimmy Knepper (tb), Jim Buffington, Robert Di Domenica (frh), John LaPorta (as), Hal McKusick (ts), Manuel Zegler (bsn), Margaret Ross (hrp), Teddy Charles (vib), Barry Galbraith (g), Bill Evans (p), Joe Benjamin (b), Teddy Sommer (d), George Russell (con, a),
All about Rosie