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).
Download
All Blues

Buy

Jim Hall/Bill Evans
Download
My Funny Valentine

Buy


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

Buy


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

Buy

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

Download
Blue Monk

Buy

6 comments:

Lucky said...

A post with Herbie Nichols involved never can fail!!!

Since I first discovered this wonderful artist via Misha Mengelberg and ICP Orchestra's tribute to both Monk and Nichols, I'm a big fan of him. Mengelberg and many of the Dutch Improvisers covering compositions by him. His playing is quite different than Monk's, although his compositions tend to the more 'outish' syncopations - they were actually friends back then.

Classic Masterpieces you present here! Good to see a fan of this! ;)

godoggo said...

I think that's the wrong link for "Valentine"

Rod... said...

...you're right! Thanks for spotting it... rectified now... this has been a fraught week... almost over!

godoggo said...

...sorry, and I can't play anything I do manage to download from this post...I notice that hype machine even fails to play them...

Rod... said...

... not sure what is going on this week... I've checked the downloads and they seem to be ok (now that I've amended the Miles link) and Hype Machine also plays them ok...(The Miles is given as 9566) I think the gremlins are in - it's certainly been oneof those weeks - will double check next post's links...apologies for any inconvenience

godoggo said...

OK, I just listened to the Nichols on hype machine, and it's unbelievable! I'd heard his name for years (for example, this great post at Rifftides, but never heard him before.