Saturday, May 13, 2006

Johnny Griffin, Eddie Lockjaw Davis: two tough tenors... Monk at Town Hall... Evan Parker in church... Anthony Braxton takes on Monk...

Start with the basics and expand the field outwards...

Johnny Griffin ('the fastest tenor in the world') spent some time playing with the equally formidable Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis and they made some fiery records with their two tenor blastout. The first track today is taken from an album – 'Tough tenors back again' – which tells you pretty much all you need to know about the contents. 'Blues up and down' is a fast 12 bar with wild blowing from both men – Griffin having the slight edge on speed, Davis making up the ballast with his rough-hewn tone and forceful playing. A live set and it has great presence – this is grits and greens jazz, taken to another level by the technique of the participants. A great piano solo by a new name to me, Harry Pickens, the bass is actually audible and drives the band along in company with the thrusting drums of Washington. Joyous stuff...

Johnny Griffin played with Monk's quartet for a time in the fifties. When the pianist came to Town Hall, New York in 1959, he brought an enlarged group supplied with arrangements by Hall Overton. 'Little Rootie Tootie' is kicked off at a brisk pace by the leader's piano, before the band joins in. One of those Monk tunes that have a deceptive simplicity and elastic swing.. A call and response where the piano answers the first part of the theme with a banging treble figure that is quintessential Monk as is the organic flow secured by the subtle way that the A theme is elaborated on in the B section. Pepper Adams essays a brief but smooth baritone solo, followed by a longer, skillful trumpet outing from Donald Byrd with the band playing the main theme riff as a background figure – a Monkish trick as Thelonious always required his soloists to be aware of his tunes and not just run up and down the changes. Followed by the man himself – encapsulating what I have just said, his solo referencing the theme and knocking it off-centre with displacements and crushed minor seconds. Then the theme restated with that hammered treble figure – which will be picked up by the ensemble and repeated by Monk's piano in a game of musical catch after the brief but eloquent alto solo by Phil Woods as the band deliver a complex transcription of Monk's original solo in the early fifties.

Some don't rate this album as highly as more well-known dates – I've always loved it, the enlarged ten piece band giving a tantalising hint of how Monk's compositions can sound beyond the usual quartet settings with the tuba and french horn giving a lot of depth and expanded sonority.

No obvious connection to the next track – except that the musicians were (and are) radicals - taken from Evan Parker's seminal solo recording 'Six of One.' Recorded in 1980, it still seems fresh – and challenging. Parker's use of the soprano saxophone here has an astringency to it, quite different in tone from that other pioneer of solo soprano – Steve Lacy. Parker spins out long lines via his circular breathing technique that give the illusion of polyphony due to the speed and change of register. Recorded at St Jude's in the Hill, London (an apposite saint, perhaps, for free jazz improvisers and other underground cult heroes - the patron of lost causes and desperate situations? His feast day is October 28th, for future reference...), the acoustics of the church provide a different ambiance to a studio – or live gig – session. The slight reverberation and echo aiding the perceived sense of polyphony...

What happens in the time that it takes to happen, that's the form. (Evan Parker).

How can you not like a man who invents something called 'Ghost Trance Music?' Which I saw him perform a selection of at the Festival Hall a while back on the same bill as Cecil Taylor (who he actually outplayed, just – his young band were phenomenal...). In a sort of thematic link, this is a track from his 1989 album 'Six Monk Compositions.' (Another link between Parker and Braxton, which I have just realised, is that they were all pioneers of solo playing – Braxton getting in first with 'For Alto' in 1968).The reviewer on Amazon hated this album (click on 'buy' below)and said that Braxton just ran all over Monk's music. Well – on this track he certainly does - brilliantly. 'Skippy' is one of those loopy Monk tunes, a fast and spirally melody and some interesting harmonic and rhythmic twists. Braxton charges straight at it and unravels its logics in a wild outpouring of notes, somewhat as if he had opened a tightly packed parcel and the contents had exploded. Waldron, of course, can be lined up in the Monk camp as a pianist although he is very much his own man. His comping here is similar to Monk's, spare and ready to fall out when necessary. Neidlinger is an interesting character who played on some of Cecil Taylor's early sides (with Steve Lacy -another noted interpreter of Monk - and pioneer solo sax player - oh, well - another link with Parker and Braxton...). Osborne is back in the mix a bit but contributes appropriate rhythmic emphasis. A wild ride...

Blues up and down

(Johnny Griffin, Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis: tenor saxophones; Harry Pickens: piano; Curtis Lundy: bass; Kenny Washington: drums).

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Thelonious Monk
(Thelonious Monk: piano; Phil Woods: alto saxophone; Charlie Rouse: tenor saxophone; Pepper Adams: baritone saxophone; Donald Byrd: trumpet; Robert Nothern: French horn; Eddie Bert: trombone; Jay McAllister: tuba; Sam Jones: bass; Art Taylor: drums).

Little Rootie Tootie

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Evan Parker
(Solo soprano saxophone).

One of six.

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Anthony Braxton
(Anthony Braxton: alto saxophone; Mal Waldron: piano; Buell Neidlinger: bass; Bill Osborne: drums).

Skippy

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3 comments:

St Anthony said...

Always room for a spot of Monk - have a few good versions of this tune - bloody marvelous. Should get it on CD.
Both the Braxton and Parker tunes were new to me , and very good they are too. I always listen to Parker with respect - and hesitate to call myself a saxophonist in light of his technical prowess. I do like his soprano tone.
Braxton's one of those formidable intellects, like Cecil Taylor, isn't he? I feel I haven't listened to enough of his stuff and always keep intending to listen to more. I've got a great uncle called Bill Osborne ... I'm guessing he doesn't play drums for Braxton. I do like that book of interviews and whatnot with Braxton ... 'Forces In Motion'. Very good book.

richard said...

Great blog, sir. Interesting stuff indeed.

Rod... said...

I have a few Braxton's which I may put up - like him a lot. I saw him on the Cecil Taylor bill November 2004 and he was a revelation, stole the show with the Ghost Trance stuff and this incredible young band - it was intricately written and loose at the same time, if that makes sense. Cecil was great anyway - a brilliant gig which I've mentioned before I think...

maybe your uncle has a secret life... mind you, I knew a Charles Parker once way back and I'm sure he wasn't a black sax playing genius junkie - although it's a nice idea... Back when, I used to see Champion Jack Dupree, a black blues piano player of some note, play around London (my late wife knew him, I think - she tended to know everyone round Soho) - and he ended up living for years up North on a council estate somewhere... a friend of mine who owns a pub in that fair city alleges also that Chet Baker isn't dead but is living in Nottingham... I like the idea of alternate lives for the (in)famous...