Thursday, September 28, 2006

Jason Moran's 'Artist in Residence' - a review... 28 September 2006...

There is a steely confidence about Jason Moran... which manifests not just in his performance on piano but in his wider conceptual ambitions... For example: the origins of the music on his new CD for Blue Note, 'Artist in Residence,' are in three recent commissions from the American art world. The Walker Art Center commission 'Milestone' was an engagement with the life and work of Adrian Piper, specifically 'The Mythic Being: I/You (Her).' To quote from her website:

'Adrian Margaret Smith Piper is a conceptual artist whose work, in a variety of media, focused on racism, racial stereotyping and xenophobia for over three decades; and now investigates the deeper spiritual and ideological pathologies that cause them.' (Quoted from here...).

The Dia Art Foundation material comes from 'The Shape, the Scent, the Feel of Things,' created in collaboration with the performance and video artist Joan Jonas who 'uses unlikely combinations of objects to create performances that are concerned with the image as metaphor. ' (Quoted from here...).

'RAIN' originated in a commission for sextet from Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Moran took a selection of all this material and condensed it down to one CD – which acts as a succession of snapshots from the larger works. Can we group these snapshots into a coherent whole, considering the obvious lack of the visual/theatrical elements? We shall see...

A significant amount of his work has been inspired by artists such as Egon Schiel, Robert Rauschenberg and Jean-Michel Basquiat. So, engaging with the art world is a logical and conscious strategy to reach out beyond the boundaries of what we can loosely still just about call 'jazz' – as problematic a word as 'art.' Moran, arguably, wants 'jazz' to be regarded as 'art' – but on its own terms, with respect for its history. This is not obeisance to the academy but negotiation... from strength. Within the boundaries of the 'jazz' tradition he is also moving backwards and forwards while incorporating currents from outside - hip hop for example and sampling techniques. These trajectories – which amount to an overall call for free artistic interchange between idioms and cultures 'high' and 'low' - are encapsulated on the first track:

'Artist in Residence' opens with what could be regarded as a manifesto (in the tradition of 'art') - 'Breakdown' – using the sampled voice of Adrian Piper as the piano shadows the vocal movement, over a strong back beat, the piano slowly edging out into rolling lines, some hammered low register chords as the drums breakdown from the hip-hop inflected rhythm and erupt into freer rolling pulses - Piper declaims: 'Breakdown the barriers,' ...'The misunderstandings...' Break down the barriers between idioms? 'Artist in Residence' proceeds to do just that... A funky start...

In contrast – 'Milestone' (echoes of Miles...) - a slow elegaic intro and the soprano voice of Alicia Hall Moran comes in – classically trained and singing with elegant grace – name-checking European cities as if in recognition of her 'orthodox' musical origins: 'London, Paris, Brussels, too' – then rolling drums rising and bass doubling behind the piano – the guitar of Marvin Sewell imitates the voice timbres and melodic movement in swooping figures as the piano expands rhapsodically. This track reminds me - glancingly - of Steve Lacy - his take on 'art songs' in partnership with his wife Irene Aebi. (Lacy also took much inspiration from artists – Paul Klee, for one). 'Milestone' is less angular than Lacy's work, but has much warmth and beauty and manages to create a space where classical voice and jazz can co-exist easily (a deliberate echo of the Morans' marital relationship?).

'Refraction 2.' Jazzy bass bounces over washing electronic soundscape followed by the piano riffing in – some stomping playing here as the Bandwagon jumps – Waits giving his percussive all towards the end. One of the tactics you notice throughout this album is the way in which often simple riffs/repeated figures are used to expand outwards to build complicated structures and movement – an ever-expanding circling dance which could stand as the overall image for this project, perhaps?. More of this later...

'Cradle Song' – out of the cradle endlessly rocking... a gentle piano sounds as scratching noises obtrude – a mirror of memory – his late mother used to make pencil notes as he practised/played... But: if you did not know what the extraneous noise is, how would you link it to the overall thrust of the piece? This is after all a private resonance – the gap between original performance and studio recreation minus the visual/explanatory dimension shows here. Yet: once you are aware of the original intention, it does add to the experience by creating a poignant image... The piano builds in a powerfully emotional rendering as the pencil scratching ceases – leaving that trace of sad memory in its absence.

'Artists ought to be writing.' Continuing the theme of breaking down the barriers – a plea for wider understanding of the artist's life –' if the artist's ideas were more accessible to the general public I think it might break down some of the barriers etc'– the speech rhythms of Adrian Piper subtly matched and interlaced with the piano's falling and rising... which comments interestingly on the words and eventually leaves them behind – is there a subtle conflict going on here? That however much one tries to explain verbally, music will always go beyond. 'All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music,' in the often-quoted words of Walter Pater. (From 'The School of Giorgione,' online source here...). Piper comes across a little overwrought, maybe – but the point she makes rather didactically ('artists should be...' Well – why should they be? Discuss...) is valid enough – perhaps - in the overall theme of breaking down barriers and Moran's use of her voice on this track is fascinating in its endeavour.

'Refraction 1' opens with slow ringing treble figures as Joan Jolas's lightly pattering, scraping and sporadic ringing percussion comments. Moran has to play through her rather than with her – coming into a lurching left hand stop-start rhythm as he fires off streams of single notes and chords. The percussion becomes busier to match the rising volume and complexity of the piano – in emotional intent rather than matched technical facility. Not sure about this track – maybe the live performance and visual dimension help this piece although Moran's playing is as ever immaculate. Break down the barriers between professional and amateur musicians, anyone?

'Arizona Landscape' – solo piano - a loping bass – from an archetypal western soundtrack – crossed with a distant murmur of boogie woogie? Echoes of: Sonny Rollins, intentional or otherwise ('I'm an old cowhand' etc)... meets John Ford – with an odd resonance of Woody Guthrie's 'Pastures of Plenty' in the tune (maybe this is unintentional). Cinematic in range, ironic in tone:

'I'm, like, a big movie fanatic. I watch a lot of movies all the time. And I'm always listening to the soundtracks in the background, behind certain scenes or just the soundtrack in general, the pieces that they choose to support a scene. ' (From an interview with Fred Jung here... ).

Moran said in another interview that one of the things he admired about Jaki Byard and two other musicians who were strong influences was their use of the whole keyboard – 'Those cats, Jaki, along with Andrew and Muhal, they use the entire piano.' (From am interview with Fred Jung here...). This panoramic wide-open keyboard skill is appropriately (given the spatial/desert theme) on display here. Moran is an exceptionally good solo player – two fisted meaty stuff.


'After a regular worship service, congregations used to stay for a “ring shout”. It was a survival of primitive [sic] African dance. So, educated ministers and members placed a ban on it. The men and women arranged themselves in a ring. The music started, perhaps with a Spiritual, and the ring began to move, at first slowly, then with quickening pace. The same musical phrase was repeated over and over for hours. This produced an ecstatic state. Women screamed and fell. Men, exhausted, dropped out of the ring. (Quoted from here...).

Begins with rustling footsteps in evocation of the above-described ring shout or ring dance, then a mournful trumpet (Ralph Alessi) proceeds to state and repeat a six bar theme followed by piano, bass, eventually soft drums, ensemble slowly coming together. The tempo starts to accelerate, changing key and the drums become more involved spurring the song along with pouncing keyboard interjections. The trumpet is gradually overwhelmed by the now-rampaging piano-led ensemble, being slowly buried in the mix, as if having heaps of sound tossed over it. Slowing down again to a mainly backbeat driven section with the trumpet emerging and hiding and re-emerging to restate the theme - finally to solo over pedal driven chords moving round an insistent e flat. Possibly the ebbing and flowing of the trumpet volume is deliberate as in the original live performance he was circling the group onstage in emulation of the dance the piece was inspired by. A seamless transition as the rhythm stretches into another fiery freed-up section, that evokes the trangressive nature of the older African ritual coming through the newer framework of the adopted Christian religion – 'educated ministers placed a ban on it' - all finally reining back the volume and tempo as the rustling footsteps return ... the circle is completed. A highly accomplished ensemble piece - Abdou Mboup's contribution (on djembe, kora, talking drum) and Marvin Sewell's guitar adding to the overall colourations rather than being sharply-defined voices.

'Lift every voice' – a slow rolling beginning, the guitar vocalising a melismatic line over the gospel-style piano as they pay homage to James and John Wheldon Johnson's historic song. ( the lyrics are here...). Hammered low register piano – as emotional single note lines spin out behind the guitar's pleading urgency. Drifting almost imperceptibly into a strong swinging four four – nice guitar again from Sewell here – bluesy and vocally testifying, playing with timbres as the trio go into a repeated four bar section – some bass double-timed rippling high to low before a rather abrupt fade out stop. This track was not part of the original three commissions, but, given its historic significance, dovetails in neatly.

'He puts on his coat and leaves.' Solo piano – reflective over a left hand vamp, variations building and overlapping. Like someone building a structure before you, starting with the foundations and moving upwards and outwards until a light treble fall back collapses it and signals the end of the track - and the album - on a peaceful chord that - fancifully - puts on its coat – and leaves... An understated ending...

A creative musician has always had to be aware of his/her tradition – and be able play their way through it to discover their own ground, by omission or inclusion or a combination of both... To complicate things further, contemporary music – and what used to be called 'jazz' especially - has evolved and fragmented to the point where an often overwhelming number of streams run into it, further speeded up in recent years by the immediacy of global technology. To incorporate them with ease – and finesse– on the journeys through the territory - that's the trick. From Hip-Hop to High Art and all 'jazz' stations in between. Has Jason Moran succeeded here? By and large – yes. His ambition is no small thing – so it is not surprising that here and there it overreaches itself. But that is a minor quibble. Overall, I think that the selections from different performances, apart from acting as a valuable record, do adhere better than might be expected, because they have a couple of themes moving through that help to create an albeit fragile unity. For example, the long and troubled journey of African-American history and culture, from the ring-shouts of slavery (and before) to the modern Art commission. And on a different but linked trajectory, the urge to 'breakdown the barriers' between the walls that surround high art/the museum/the gallery and the wider public and their vernacular social musics – hip-hop, for example – with 'jazz' – at times elitist, especially since the emergence of a conscious avant-garde, at times popular/social - standing in an uneasy position in the middle. Interestingly, the album does not describe a straight line – rather it enacts (appropriately) a circular dance to widen out the musical field. Performed with a warm generosity that flows from the firm confidence of Moran's artistic conception. Compositionally, this is echoed - by taking often fairly minimal material and expanding it out... as a complex dance builds from individual footsteps... Arguably, in the specific jazz tradition of his chosen antecedents ...'Monk was my first [major influence]...' (from an interview with Fred Jung here...).
Which brings us back to history in a convenient circle dance of my own... Monk, of course, was mightily aware of his antecedents. As was another of Moran's mentors – Jackie Byard.

'He [Byard] embodied what every essential pianist should embody. He could grasp anything from stride to ragtime to some very free jazz. ' (Ibid).

This inclusiveness is the hallmark of Moran's playing and composing, the ability to incorporate sometimes conflicting material into an overall vision that looks back with respect to often forgotten and neglected origins – and forwards to new syntheses, new ideas, utilsing new technologies... Often, when 'jazz' has engaged with 'art,' the results have been forced or dry and arid. Apart fom a few small wobbles here and there – in the overall scheme, a risk worth taking – Moran avoids this significantly on this CD, his own exemplary playing helped by the tight cohesion and complementary instrumental skills of Tarus Mateen, Nasheet Waits in his core unit, the Bandwagon, and the contributions of his guests, especially Marvin Sewell's guitar and Ralph Elessi's trumpet playing on 'Rain.' Further, the decision to take this music out of its original contexts was an interesting gamble – given the quality of conception and performance on 'Artist in Residence', this has paid off handsomely...

Jason Moran – Artist in Residence.

(Jason Moran – piano; Marvin Sewell - guitar; Tarus Mateen – bass; Nasheet Waits – drums; Alicia Hall Moran – vocals; Adrian Piper – sampled voice; Joan Jonas – percussion (bells, shakers, toy car, claves); Abdou Mboup – djembe, kora, talking drum; Ralph Alessi – trumpet)

You can buy the CDhere...

Belated return... Coltrane and Duke... and Paul Quinichette... Alice Coltrane...

My apologies, amigos. The last week has been fraught and chaotic with all manner of craziness to contend with. Three up for a fast holding action – normal posting resuming very soon – maybe even later today if the gods smile - with a review of Jason Moran's new album 'Artist in Residence' for starters...

John Coltrane recorded with Duke Ellington in 1962 . 'Big Nick' is a jaunty little tune, Coltrane sounding relaxed and happy on soprano. Duke his usual urbane self, spacy and sharp.

Coltrane made a lot of records in the fifties – one of these from 1957 is with Paul Quinichette – whom Lester Young dubbed 'Lady Q.' Coltrane ebullient here and Quinichette a more than adequate foil for some straight ahead blowing - he was a better player than his heavy influence by the Prez sometimes suggests.

And the wife. Into the mystic we shall go... 'Universal Consciousness' is one of those swirling harp and string led tracks from Alice Coltrane which theoretically should not work – but do. Strings nicely astringent...

In the Videodrome...

Some Jimmie Lunceford your heart out MTV...

and some Spike Jones – Song of the Volga Boatmen...

and Paul Whiteman... the King of Jazz(sic)...

and the REAL stuff – Count Basie...

John Coltrane/Duke Ellington
(John Coltrane (soprano saxophone); Duke Ellington (piano); Jimmy Garrison (bass); Elvin Jones (drums)
Big Nick


John Coltrane/Paul Quinichette
(John Coltrane, Paul Quinichette (ts) Mal Waldron (p) Julian Euell (b) Ed Thigpen d)).



Alice Coltrane
Personnel includes: Alice Coltrane (arranger, harp, organ); John Blair, Julius Brand, Leroy Jenkins (violin); Tulsi (tambura); Jimmy Garrison (bass); Rashied Ali, Clifford Jarvis (drums, percussion); Jack DeJohnette (drums).

Universal Consciousness


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dreaming of Thelonious in Philadelphia...Miles Davis/John Coltrane, Bill Evans/Jim Hall, Herbie Nichols... and Thelonious Monk...

First up: some Coltrane and Miles. This is 'All Blues' taken from a (bootleg) Stockholm concert in 1960. The loping see-sawing swing of this tune is introduced on bass, the piano rippling, Cobb firm on 6/8 – then Miles stating the theme on that smoking muted sear. The beginning of this track is so archetypal, it's embedded deep in the collective jazz subconscious... Miles switches to open horn – there is a tightly stretched beauty to his tone – a choked back quality that implies burning emotions held in check. An exercise in space and placement. After Miles – Coltrane. Long, probing notes for the first chorus – into the second these start getting extended, phrases up-ended and examined from different angles. Building in complexity until the line is only held back by the physical limitations of breath. Then going into a section of sonic exploration - in a forerunner of the timbral bending to come. Listening to Coltrane running deeper into the labyrinth, spooling out dense streams of notes, is one of my main pleasures in life. Confront the minotaur – boo! Questing improvisation of a high order with pointers of what was yet to come... Wynton Kelly steps in carefully for 12 bars. Cobb starts hitting a Philly Joe-style rimshot behind him in the the next chorus. A nice touch of historic continuity coupled to the hint of the dancing clarity that Red Garland used to bring to the band in the piano solo – but Kelly is his own man. Bluesy/gospel riffs – tinges of hard-bop that are placed next to lines of more complication in interesting juxtaposition - then a rhapsodic two-handed section that leads neatly back into the signature backing riff. As the crowd applaud the band go into 'The Theme' and finish. Classic music from a classic band...all blues and then some...17.09 minutes of sheer brilliance...

'My Funny Valentine' was a song that Miles did some nice things with over the years ( a bumpy link if ever there was one...)... Bill Evans and Jim Hall here – Evans bouncing the tune in lithely with his right hand as Hall plays bass notes behind him, comping briefly before Evans switches to accompaniment and the guitar takes over. Turn and turn around. They somehow negotiate how to criss-cross and play in tandem, throwing the solo and accompaniment around lightly and skilfully – Hall at one point doing a Freddy Green four on the floor – without getting in each others way. Guitar and piano do not always mix well – a dull stodge can result. Here? Two masters – and a joyfully light reading of the song.

For some bizarre reason I dreamed I was in Philadelphia last night with my daughter's mother – which is where McCoy Tyner was born – another wacko link... I was going to play 'Blue Monk' from 'Manhattan Moods'(recorded with Bobby Hutcherson) as a taster to the Monk versions below - but the whole album has just been posted elsewhere – synchronicity... Don't you just love it? An obscure fact (well, not to the F.B.I. -onetime, perhaps - ) - Jarvis Tyner, McCoy's brother, is, according to Wikipedia, a high-up official in the American Communist Party... Tyner coming up soon after a decent interval...

No dreams about Herbie Nichols (as yet...) - although I'm re-reading 'Four Lives in the Bebop Business' by A.B. Spellman so who knows what will feed in to my subconscious? One of the (all too) many tragic figures in jazz, dead in 1963 at the age of 44, he recorded this track for Blue Note in 1955, in the company of Al McKibbon and Art Blakey. The sound is a little murky but Nichols just about comes through... A quirky off-centre bounce to the A theme, the B section more a succession of chords – very much a jazz tune to blow on. Nichols solos and one can hear his influences – Bud Powell and Monk – but they combine in a way to produce a fascinating amalgam – Monk's rhythmic sense, dissonance and ever-awareness in his solos of the original melody, Powell's speed and flash. Although Spellman suggests an earlier model (alongside Monk) which broadens out Nichols stylistic boundaries (in the same way as a lot of Monk comes out of stride piano):

'Herbie's style seems to fall...between those of Teddy Wilson and Thelonious Monk.'
(A.B. Spellman: 'Four Jazz Lives' P. 169 - new edition of 'Four Lives in the Bebop Business').

Maybe 'seems to fall... between' is a more accurate assessment, in that one can see influence on the sides but the centre, as with all matured styles, is pure Nichols? Enough of this tortuous tracing...

...back to the 'Third World.' Bass and drums are solid all the way – Blakey a little subdued? Horses for courses... he trades fours in the middle and at the end without too many explosions. Nichols is a little more four-square than Monk, perhaps... but he is someone I intend to investigate further.

I also dreamed that I was sat talking to Thelonious Monk in a Philadelphia bar - who was elliptically funny and great company... what is strange is that after all the years since my initial encounter with his music which I have mentioned (several!) times in this blog (my introduction via the tune 'Blue Monk), this is the first time he has turned up in my nightscapes (that I remember). Hope he returns... maybe bring Herbie Nichols along...

So: Monk... 1958 at the Five Spot with Johnny Griffin – I wish this band had recorded more together. Much as I admire and like Charlie Rouse, this line-up and the 1957 band with Coltrane are my favourite Monk quartet outings. A slow reading of 'Blue Monk,' stated by Monk initially before Griffin joins him. The tenor takes the first solo – stepping in slowly to begin with. Classic blues riffs – including a sneaky quote from Bird's 'Parker's Mood'– then the architecture starts to build in denser layers as Monk drop out. One of the fast gunslinging tenors, I love Griffin. Monk solos – laying out all the familiar devices but, as ever, fascinatingly different every time. He sounds relaxed here. A nicely rolling bass solo then Haynes shows his skills to good advantage – a pithy solo that matches his leader's oblique rhythms, before the ensemble two chorus return of the theme.

Here's Monk playing the same tune in 1954, leading Percy Heath and Art Blakey. Taken at a faster tempo than the last track, interestingly – he takes a longer solo and stretches out more, the lines (relatively) smoother than usual, rhythms (relatively) less abrupt. Heath is strong, Blakey's hi-hat marking the two and four as he throws in cross-rhythmic interuptions and double-times to spur Monk on. A contrast to the Nichols session – but Blakey and Monk were one of the old firms, experience encouraging a sprightly mixture of respect and challenge. Heath takes an eloquent solo then Blakey rattles in over that demarcating hi-hat – a succinct display of his talents before Monk comes back to lead them out. I sometimes think that no matter how much critical acclaim is accorded to Blakey, he is sometimes overshadowed by Max Roach say, or a younger drummer such as Elvin Jones in the annals - here he displays as much melodic sense as rhythmic - Max's turf invaded succesfully...

In the Videodrome...

One for Matt... Woody Herman...

Bill Evans on the final go-round...

and courtesy of Godoggo (see the comments to last post)... another version of 'Bilbao Song' here...

...and a brief chat between Ornette, George Russell and Robert Palmer...

Miles Davis Quintet
(Miles Davis: trumpet; John Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Wynton Kelly: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Jimmy Cobb: drums).
All Blues


Jim Hall/Bill Evans
My Funny Valentine


Herby Nichols
(Herbie Nichols: piano; Al McKibbon: bass; Art Blakey: drums).
The third world (alternate take)


Thelonious Monk Quartet
(Monk:piano; Johnny Griffin: tenor saxophone; Ahmed Abdul-Malik : bass; Roy Haynes:drums).
Blue Monk


Thelonious Monk Trio
(Monk: piano; Percy Heath: bass; Art Blakey: drums).

Blue Monk


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Will big bands ever come back? Woody Herman... Gil Evans... Thelonious Monk... Anthony Braxton

Jimmy Giuffre came to fame originally way back in the forties with his arrangement for the second Herman Herd of his composition 'Four Brothers' which had the unusual lineup of three tenor saxophones and baritone (with Herman and Sam Marowitz making up the rest of the section)– on this recording: Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward and Serge Chaloff (Steward was replaced later by Al Cohn). The tenor trio were all coming from the general direction of Lester Young, so there is a light and airy blend here which offers hints of later Giuffre (if anyone could have written a work titled 'Skies of America' apart from Ornette, Giuffre would have been up for the task). The rougher jazz saxophone timbres have been removed... one could not see them working so well with three tenors from the Hawkins lineage, say. Possibly one of the first sightings of the 'cool school, birthed from Lester... A true jazz classic... Interestingly, the genesis of this sound was a little earlier than the Second Herd:

'In their first incarnation, the brothers were Herbie Steward, Zoot Sims, Jimmy Giuffre and Stan Getz, all playing tenor saxophones. "We had a band at Pontrelli's in the Spanish section of Los Angeles," recalls Stan. A trumpet player named Tommy De Carlo was the leader and we just had trumpet, four saxophones and rhythm. We had a few arrangements by Gene Roland and Jimmy Giuffre. Herbie doubled on alto and I transposed the third alto part to tenor.”' (From here... scroll down a ways... ).

Looks like a big band trip today... Goddoggo mentioned the Gil Evans version of 'Bilbao Song' from the 1960 album 'Out of the Cool' and in my usual eagerness to please (and find inspiration!) I had a rummage round – I have the bugger somewhere but since the recent house move much is still buried. Synchronicity came to the rescue as ever – managed to acquire it ( a tip of the bop beret to the Busconductor... ). Evans offers a dark-hued reading of the Brecht/Weill song. Cymbals and bass plus percussion figures lead it in as the orchestra hold long skirling notes up to a strident chord – then the bass brings in the melody over light swishing -like a rattlesnake- with some heavy double stops. A light backbeat then orchestra stab and a splash of 'arranger's piano' and some more bass before the ensemble take up the theme in a staggering gait, strange extended phrases – a hint of drunken dancehall tango, evocative maybe of the beat-up venue celebrated in the song:

“No paint was on the door,
The grass grew through the floor
Of Tony's Two By Four
On the Bil - ba - o shore”. (English Lyrics: Johnny Mercer).

Sounds like I place I used to know down in the west of Ireland...

A sudden biting crescendo - then silence... An oddly uncentred rendition conjuring in my mind dream-like, hazy recollections of 'Tony's Two By Four,' sketched lightly from the Evans palette with just the occasional surge of power and sonority to add a larger smear of colour...

Not strictly a big band but just one of my favourite aggregations - Monk at Town Hall, 1959. Here's 'Friday the Thirteenth,' played by a tentet and led in by the guv'nor's piano, a strange tune that evokes some awful mental treadmill or Kafkaesque nightmare as it trudges remorselessly through the repeating four chord descending sequence, with just a hint of macabre humour lurking. Hall Overton's arrangement handles his forces well, one section given the theme as another shadows the chords down the treadmill. Phil Woods comes up for the unforgiving task of improvising over this sequence – and is well up to the mark. Monk next, playing some nice rhythmic tricks. As ever. Charles Rouse the redoubtable, safely home, a few familiar licks to get there. Donald Byrd – lyrical and edging in thoughtfully before essaying some double timing to lay his authority on the piece (maybe time for some Donald Byrd soon...) - followed briefly by Monk at one point behind him - ending with the theme statement to lead into the band's restatement of same, doubled on bass at the finish. This is taken from one of my favourite records – it must have been a joyous night...

Anthony Braxton put together a large ensemble he called the 'Creative Orchestra' in 1976 – a track from this offered, Piece Five. A squalling bouncing introduction - then the rhythm drops out as a jaunty sectional counterpoint ensues – returning and on a flourish of drums announcing a sturdy walking bass. Kenny Wheeler solos first – high notes and histrionics, far from his usual trademark plangency. Big band trumpet writ large. Jerky horns and pounding ensembles then Abrams solos – rippling and bright over bass and drums, building through some percussive stomping figures. Ensemble return over a repeated pedal, some fascinating section work – low brass and trumpets set against each other without the rhythm section – the lines becoming denser, more dissonant. The piano repeats an insistent two bar riff as Braxton shimmies in, the contrabass clarinet taking a solo of awkward but appealing grace. Braxton the revolutionary has always returned to the tradition for his own homages. One forgets sometimes he was doing it so long ago... In the lineage of big band sectional experimentation that we started with – check out the the strange sax/woodwind section and the depth of the brass section – bass trombone/tuba – a hint of Gil Evans' sonorities... Braxton at this time in the seventies recorded as a sideman with a couple of larger congregations such as the Global Unity Orchestra and the Jazz Composer's Orchestra...

In the Videodrome
Pepper Adams in the UK with some Brits... here...

Some of the MJQ

Get happy with Bud Powell – if only he could have done regularly...

Woody Herman and the Herd
(Stan Fishelson, Bernie Glow, Marky Markowitz, Shorty Rogers, Ernie Royal (tp) Bob Swift, Earl Swope, Ollie Wilson (tb) Woody Herman (cl, as, vo) Sam Marowitz (as) Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward (ts) Serge Chaloff (bars) Fred Otis (p) Gene Sargent (g) Walter Yoder (b) Don Lamond (d) ).
Four Brothers


Gil Evans
(John Coles, Phil Sunkel (tp), Jimmy Knepper, Keg Johnson (tb), Tony Studd (btb), Bill Barber (tu), Ray Beckenstein (as, fl, pic), Bob Tricarico (bas, fl, pic), Budd Johnson (ts, ss), Ray Crawford (g), Ron Carter (b), Elvin Jones, Charlie Persip (dm, perc), Gil Evans (p, arr, cond)).
Bilbao Song


Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk - piano. Donald Byrd - trumpet. Eddie Bert - trombone. Phil Woods - alto. Charlie Rouse - tenor. Pepper Adams - baritone. Robert Northern - french-horn. Jay McAllister - tuba. Sam Jones - bass. Art Taylor - drums. Hall Overton - arranger.
Friday the thirteenth


Anthony Braxton Creative Orchestra
(There seems to be a little confusion over personnel on some tracks so I have given the overall lineup taken from the Braxton discography here...).

Anthony Braxton (as, cbcl, cl)
Seldon Powell (as, cl, fl)
Bruce Johnstone (bs, bcl)
Ronald Bridgewater (ts, cl)
Roscoe Mitchell (ss, bsx, fl, as) on #2-4
Kenny Wheeler, Cecil Bridgewater, Jon Faddis (tpt)
Leo Smith (tpt) on #2-4, 6; conductor on #1, 3, 5
George Lewis, Garrett List (tb)
Earl McIntyre (btb) on #1, 6
Jack Jeffers (btb) on # 2-5
Jonathan Dorn (tuba)
Muhal Richard Abrams (p) on #1, 2, 4, 5; conductor on #6
Richard Teitelbaum (syn) on #2
Frederick Rzewski (p, b-d) on #2-4
Dave Holland (b, clo)
Warren Smith (d, tmp, b-d, sn-d, bmba, chm) on #1-5
Barry Altschul (perc, gongs, sn-d, bells, chm) on #2-4
Philip Wilson (d, perc, marching cymbals) on #2-4
Karl Berger (glck, vib, xyl, chm) on #3-5
Piece Five


Monday, September 11, 2006

Lest we forget...

I was going to post something... then thought better of it. I went to Ground Zero last year when I was in New York with my daughter and it had a profound effect on both of us. Sometimes silence is the only response... Lest we forget...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Think of three... Alice Coltrane, Jimmy Giuffre... Dave Douglas...

Think of three...

Some more Alice Coltrane, sans harp, on the piano this time from the same album: 'Ptah the El-Daoud.' 'Mantra.' Commencing on low rumblings as the horns fire off some moody squawks before the groove that dominates the track starts to pick up – the iron string that all the hearts reverberate to here, to misquote Emerson. The horns weave across each other as Alice crunches out some biting chords. Ron Carter keeps the groove going and Ben Riley holds the backline with some punching drumming. Sanders emerges, building into some long squalling phrases. Coltrane' piano splatters colour. Henderson takes over – proceeding to growling, throaty timbral manoevres – playing more freely than one usually associates with him. Going into higher register, an edge of John C here being invoked. Chirrupping rasps to finally fall away. Over hammered low register piano and bowed bass the drums drop back and the groove flattens to deep thrumming. Piano building over the bass drone in scuttling deep runs, slowly emerging into the light as the drums return, some almost bluesy trickling scampers through the high register. To theme, with the horns back up front, before dark muttering over drone finale. The blues go east. In comparison to 'The Blue Nile' on my last post, with its bright shimmering textures, there is a more sombre tone to 'Mantra,' a whiff of John Coltrane's more anguished spiritual wanderings...

Jimmy Giuffre stands at the beginning of my fascination for 'modern' jazz as opposed to the traditional/New Orleans stuff that originally attracted me to the music. I've written about this elsewhere with regard to the impact that 'Jazz on a Summer's Day' had on me when young. - It introduced me to Thelonious Monk, for starters. Yet it is also the plaintive bluesy haunting of 'Train and the River' that I carry with me from that movie. Here is Guiffre five years later in 1962 – much later on in terms of conceptual advancemant – playing 'The Five Ways',' taken from the third album that this lineup made. In at the beginning of the free jazz torrent that was to sweep through the sixties, Guiffre was nevertheless doomed to be sidelined for many years. Critically, he was seen as arid, overtly academic, possibly because there is more of a European feel to this music than his trios with their folk/blues resonances. 'Train and the river' this is not...

'Free Fall was such radical music, no one, literally no one, was ready for it and the group disbanded shortly thereafter on a night when they made only 35 cents apiece for a set. ' (Taken from Thom Jurek, All Music Guide, here...

Yet... There is a fearless searching edge to this music – a logical progression from his long-term interest in counterpoint, to seek more linear freedoms? 'The Five Ways' consists of five different themes in a ten minute suite which are vehicles for improvisation. Opening with Bley sounding almost Cecil Taylor-ish. Rippling away behind Giuffre's minimal clarinet as Steve Swallow comments, playing a high almost bluesy repeated riff. Progressing section by section... an interesting examination of the balance between composition and improvisation that skirts abstraction but has enough timbral and idiomatic reference points – mainly from Bley and Peacock - to keep a hold in jazz. Space is a large and determining factor here as well. Chamber music of a high intensity – with episodes that have a jaunty if fragmentary lilt... I wonder if his choice of main instrument at this time was significant in his being sidelined so radically – the clarinet was never popular in modern jazz. I wonder what the reception – and sound – would have been if he had used one of his other horns. Interesting that Giuffre is another Texan – like Ornette... Don't fence me in, as they say...

(I have some air shots somewhere on cassette with the re-formed trio that made this album somewhere which I must dig out... ).

Interesting overview of Jimmy Giuffre with reference to this album here...

Dave Douglas typifies the modern musician who moves easily and skilfully across the old genre demarcation lines. Luckily, his ventures have not plunged him in to the career obscurities that Giuffre and Alice Coltrane endured. If Giuffre tried to accommodate 'European' techniques into his music, so does Douglas – albeit in this instance from the popular end of the spectrum. His deployment of strings on 'Bilbao Song' from the album 'Convergences' evokes the era of Weimar cabaret when this song was written by the old firm of Brecht and Weill (for a show ironically called 'Happy End' – in 1929...). A bustling scrabbling intro with the trumpet-led ensemble before the violin states the theme, shadowed by trumpet and cello. An episodic piece that drifts in and out of rhythm, stops and starts, leading to a duo section between Douglas and Friedlander of trumpet smears and cello scrapes then... a sedate re-statement of theme as the trumpet pops and snaps and whooshs. The strings slowly swoon to each other over a simple repeated bass before the violin returns to lead the piece to a close. A hint of Dada's disruptive absurdity in places, crossed with Brechtian alienation – and a sympathetic tenderness that binds it overall.

On a semi-facetious note, I gather that 'Bilbao Song' has been recorded, not just by the usual suspects (Ute Lemper, Lottie Lenya) but by such disparate characters as Chet Atkins (Brecht goes Country, anyone?) and Andie Williams (Crooners against Capitalism? - Probably not...).

Alice Coltrane has belatedly received some recognition, as has Giuffre. Douglas is a critical favourite in his many ventures and in company with others – notably John Zorn. Two from the sidelines and one from straight down the middle(ish)... such is the nature of the music...

In the Videodrome...

The train and the river...

and a fragment of Dave Douglas...

Alice Coltrane


Jimmy Giuffre

The Five Ways


Dave Douglas

Bilbao Song


Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Blue Nile to Golden Pond...Alice Coltrane...Clifford Brown/Max Roach...Anthony Braxton/Fred Frith...Derek Bailey/George Lewis/John Zorn

Molly Bloom was enquiring about jazz harp players recently – and female jazz musicians. Alice Coltrane can fit the bill for both categories ... 'The Blue Nile' could have been a schlocky disaster... but is a shimmering, hazy, warm and spiritual track, earthed by the bass of Ron Carter. The alto flutes are more for decoration than solo power but work well enough within the overall rubric (Sanders on the left, Henderson on the right). Coltrane's swirling harp plays a bluesy swinging solo. I don't know whether I could listen to much of this in one go, as this type of playing will sound one-dimensional after a while - but here it's damn good. Warm and evocative...

No other reason than I like the tune... here's 'Jordu' played by the late Clifford Brown with his co-led quintet avec Max Roach, recorded in 1954. Burning, soulful, fast and accurate trumpet with soaring double time runs on display here - Brown was a supreme and unhurriedly elegant melodicist.. Harold Land holds his end up as ever – an underrated talent. I remember hearing him for the first time on a Curtis Counce-led session way back in my youth with Jack Sheldon in the front line – an old Contemporary EP which I wish I still had.. Bud's younger brother Richie Powell (who died in the same car crash as the trumpeter in 1956) takes a crisp solo. A round robin of fours between horns and drums before Roach displays his solo talents – some fascinating shifting bass drum rhythms here. There's an interesting MySpace site devoted to Brownie – here

More or less up to date – coming in on thumps and scrapes from Fred Frith as the Braxton saxophone snake charms, building to long reeling lines that give a resonance of Evan Parker (or should that be the other way round?), threaded through the rising noise. That eventually subsides... more conversational now, Braxton almost quizzical in response to distant deep resonations, gong-like timbres, occasional echoes of the mad iron clatter of gamelan. The saxophone becomes elegaic as the piece ends on a low electronic thrum. A fascinating mixture of jazz timbre from the saxophone and Frith's extended guitar soundworld – a wide and deep orchestrally noisy space which is broad enough to accommodate Braxton without any discomfort. Of course these areas interlap as the cross-currents of free improv and freejazz have splashed across each other down the years. This was recorded at the same festival as Braxton's appearance with Wolf Eyes at Victoriaville 2005. Over on Point of Departure, the rather good online jazz mag, they don't think much of the latter...(click here and scroll down) Word the Cat still has 'Rationed Rot' up from this session here... When I saw Hair Police the other week, whose guitar player Mike Hennessy is also a member of Wolf Eyes, I was struck by the rhythmic connections to freejazz – something many freenoise bands have in common, taking much of the energies and instrumentation of rock but often discarding the rhythms as too restrictive to allow the music to breathe. After all, when noise is invoked, it has a beautiful unpredictability – you may have some idea of what a prepared instrument like an electric guitar (for example) can do sonically – but it will always surprise you. (Which is the idea, after all... ) So you need plenty of acoustic/conceptual space to accommodate the results – and the backbeat doesn't always hack it in the Electronic Sublime...

An earlier improv session... Derek Bailey, George Lewis (the trombonist, not the New Orleans clarinettist – although – that would have been an interesting session...) and John Zorn. 'On Golden Pond.' Not sure what Hank Fonda would have made of this... Unlike some in the world of free improv, the late-lamented Bailey (who died round Christmas last year) had a mordant sense of humour. The 1983 album that this track is taken from – 'Yankees' is apparently devoted to sound pictures and improvisations on sports themes. Zorn's duck calls here set the scene over bubbling watery sounds, occasional rising and falling trombone lines that are the only reference point to 'jazz' and the astringency of Bailey's guitar. So far now from the broad idiom of 'jazz.' Yet music from three players with strong jazz roots – which Zorn is still exploring. Bailey famously turned his back on jazz to further his experiments in non-idiomatic guitar improvisations, (declaring that 'jazz' had died with Charlie Parker). George Lewis, a superb trombone player, second generation member of AACM and composer has also been very active in multi-media and electronic developments – writing the software for the Voyager interactive music program, for example. Yet all of them are linked by the improvisation ethic that came mainly out of twentieth century jazz - here used to explore sounds/noise in a wide open space, a far from serious yet fascinating excursion...

In the Videodrome

Braxton plays Coltrane here...

and... a 100 Tubas!

Alice Coltrane
(Alice Coltrane (harp); Joe Henderson, Pharaoh Sanders (alto flutes); Ron Carter (bass); Ben Riley (drums)
The Blue Nile


Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet

(Clifford Brown (trumpet); Harold Land (tenor saxophone); Richie Powell (piano); George Borrow (bass); Max Roach (drums) ).


Anthony Braxton/Fred Frith

Improvisation no 5


Derek Bailey/George Lewis/John Zorn

On Golden Pond


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Come Sunday... Johnny Dodds... Bunk Johnson... Big Joe Turner and Count Basie... Earl Hines... Anthony Braxton... Brotherhood of Breath...

Another ramble (didn't he...) through the annals... to start with: Johnny Dodds leading the Beale Street Washboard Band playing 'Forty and Tight.' Dodds was one of the great early jazz players, accompanied here by his equally famous brother on washboard, Frank Melrose on piano and Herb Morand on trumpet who takes the first solo – an obscure name but accomplished and in the pocket. After Dodds (way down in the chalameau register) and the piano take a chorus each, Morand returns, brash and brassy, followed by Dodds before the double ride out in New Orleans fashion weaving around each other like a couple of dancers. Buck and wing times two... Invigorating...

From the revival... Bunk Johnson and the boys playing 'Just a little while to stay here.' Opening on Baby Dodd's imperious parade ground snares culminating with three mighty bass drum thumps to wake the dead that leads into the ensemble. A lively recreation of classic New Orleans playing, rooted in the marching bands. George Lewis, another stalwart of the revival, contributes sweet and hot clarinet, trombone ripsnorting along – the track dominated by Baby Dodds' banging resonant bass drum, which really does convey a sense of an outdoors marching band – taking the track out on snare as if disappearing round a corner into the distance...

The blues, Kansas City style – Count Basie with a small group featuring the large roar of Big Joe Turner – 'Honey Hush.' Basie plays one his typically elliptic solos – acres of space to place sparse notes, chords and runs just right... Big Joe tells it like it is, supported by riffing horns...

Earl 'Fatha' Hines recorded 'A Stanley Steamer' in 1966 with Richard Davis and Elvin Jones- proving he could cut it in the most modern company. Hines of course had been around almost from the outset but had moved through as jazz changed so rapidly within his lifetime. This is a blues, solid and swinging. Timeless jazz piano...

Sometimes I forget how good Dizzie Gillespie was... couple him to Sonny Stitt and the mercurial Stan Getz and you have classic modern jazz of the finest order. Sprung on the fluent bass of Ray Brown, Stitt opens the solo festivities – often unkindly regarded as a Bird-copier, he is a player of great originality and fluency, demonstrated here as he winds gracefully at speed through the changes of the old eponymous bebop anthem. (If Hemingway famously defined courage as 'grace under pressure,' this sort of playing could be regarded as technique under pressure - given the fast and unforgiving tempo, one needs plenty of courage to survive). Gillespie comes in slightly off-mike, then unleashes a definitive muted performance, rapid thinking and reflexes that remind of his stature, freely running long phrases across the chorus sections. Getz – that beautiful smoky tone, a ghost of Lester Young wandering through, playing here with a cooler edge than the others. Stitt returns to trade 8's with the drummer (running over him in the first mis-counted exchange) before taking another solo. Gillespie re-enters, sans mute, slightly off-mike again – trades 8 bar chunks with bass and drums before soloing again. Getz returns and trades with Levy, solos some more. Ensemble bops out. Recorded in Los Angeles, 1956, this could stand as a fitting testament to bebop a year after Parker died, 'hard bop' had entered the game and the rumblings of the avant garde were starting to get louder... The album was titled 'For Musicians Only' which hints at the origins of modern jazz as a scary obstacle course devised to keep out all but the best – and most courageous.

Anthony Braxton composes and plays difficult searching music – but he returns to the tradition frequently, as if to draw sustenance from the source(s). Here's a track from his Charlie Parker project – 'Scrapple from the Apple.' His contra-bass clarinet starts way down low, testing the capabilities of my new sub-woofer, as he rambles along to some sporadic string bass accompaniment ending in a cluster of harmonics from Fonda just before he finally hits the theme - in unison with the bass, it eerily mirrors the stringed instrument, with a sawing timbre that is frayed round the edges. Distant comping from Mengelberg, as if in the next room, shadowed by the bass which starts low and rises to insistent high plucking, like a buzzing mosquito -a seesawing slightly off-kilter dance trio. Theme again, doubled with bass, Mengelberg at one point releasing a sudden treble splash before the track just winds down... all scrappled out. What would Bird have thought, I wonder?

To end: the Blue Notes were a South African band who left in the apartheid years post-Sharpeville and the State of Emergency and came to European exile, where they cross-pollenated the scene with their own wild charging brand of jazz – African folk/township/kwela musics and hymns mashed into the wailing freedoms of the new wave and held together by the rock-solid drumming of Louis Moholo. The drummer was the only one to survive the coming years and is still playing - in one of those tragedies of exile, the white McGregor and the black Mongezi Feza, Dudu Pukwhana, Nikele Moyake (who returned to South Africa in 1965 and died a year later) and Johnny Dyani were all to die far too young. I saw McGregor leading a quartet at a gig in Aberystwyth, not long before his death (1990) and he provided a fabulous evening in the company of trumpeter Harry Becket, another lion of the scene still fortunately playing. Here is the 'small big band,' to put it clumsily, with European players swelling the S.A. musicians ranks – Evan Parker and company, assembled and called 'The Brotherhood of Breath.' This track features a sparkling and bubblingly brilliant solo from Feza, a celebration of jazz freedom while rooted in its history . The live recording quality is not great but gives a flavour of a deeply undervalued bunch of musicians who had a massive influence on the British jazz scene especially (although sentimental recall should not disguise the fact that there were resentments on the sometimes over-cliquey London scene...).

Is there any theming to these tracks? There were picked pretty much at random from what was to hand. Yet in many ways they link up- not just from the wider narrative of 'jazz' history but on other levels. Original, revival, revisiting and cross-pollenating. Offering respect to the past, laying down markers for the future... Or maybe I'm imposing some kind of story on a bunch of disparate tracks. Who cares? They are all good... Oddly enough, I was thinking that many constituents of the sixties avant garde, who were often regarded as such a mighty rupture in the holy continuum, continually paid homage to what had gone before... a fact maybe easier to see at a distance...

And in the Videodrome today...

Henry Allen Jam Session here...

and again

Preservation Hall 1971

Sunny Side of the Street...

Max Roach...
Sonny Rollins

Johnny Dodds
(Johnny Dodds (clarinet); Herb Morand (trumpet); Frank Melrose (piano); Warren 'Baby' Dodds (washboard) ).

Forty and Tight


Bunk Johnson
(Bunk Johnson (trumpet);George Lewis (clarinet); Jim Robinson (trombone); Larence Marrero (banjo); Alcide (Slow Drag) Pavageau (bass); Jim Little (tube, bass); Warren (Baby) Dodds (drums)).

Just a little while to stay here


Count Basie/Big Joe Turner
(Count Basie (piano, organ); Big Joe Turner (vocals); Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Zoot Sims (tenor saxophone); Harry "Sweets" Edison (trumpet); J.J. Johnson (trombone); Irving Ashby (guitar); Ray Brown (bass); Louis Bellson (drums).

Honey Hush


Earl Hines
(Earl Hines (piano); Richard Davis (bass); Elvin Jones (drums) ).

A Stanley Steamer


Dizzie Gillespie/Sonny Stitt/Stan Getz
(Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet); Stan Getz (tenor saxophone); Sonny Stitt (alto saxophone); John Lewis (piano); Herb Ellis (guitar); Ray Brown (bass); Stan Levey (drums)).



Anthony Braxton
(Anthony Braxton (contra-bass clarinet); Misha Mengleberg (piano); Joe Fonda (bass)).

Scrapple from the apple


The Brotherhood of Breath
(Chris McGregor (piano);Dudu Pukwana (alto saxophone); Evan Parker, Gary Windo (tenor saxophones); Harry Beckett, Marc Charig, Mongezi Feza (trumpets), Radu Malfatti, Nick Evans (trombone); Harry Miller (bass); Louis Moholo (drums) ).

Tunji's Song