Friday, October 06, 2006

Influence and Obscurity... Jason Moran... Jaki Byard... Andrew Hill... Cecil Taylor... Thelonious Monk ... and others...

Tracking influence is of course a great amateur critical sport. Jason Moran mentioned in interviews quoted in earlier posts that his first influence was Monk – and that there were three others who stood large in his career development – Jaki Byard, with whom he studied, Muhal Richard Abrams and Andrew Hill. Monk and Byard in particular have that sense of historical awareness in their work – odd refractions of stride and swing and more earthy styles in Monk especially. Solo and playing a stark blues you get odd whispers of Jimmy Yancey, say... Byard always seemed able to channel the piano history from ragtime to the avant garde at any given point in a performance – which is why he suited Charles Mingus and Roland Kirk so well, perhaps, two figures who are difficult to pigeonhole because of the ways that they can veer sharply and entertainingly through the gamut of jazz styles and foreground their influences and awaress of the past. This can flirt with preciousness and turn pastiche sticky – I've never been such a great fan of Mingus's 'Jelly Roll Soul,' for example. When Monk plays stride, it rarely seemed affected - even if used occasionally for deadpan purpose (although you never know with Monk...) but just what is necessary at that moment. (Of course, like all true fans, I'm biased...). Awareness of the tradition can be just a revivalist exercise in the wrong hands – in all genres. But when used with finesse, these homages help, perhaps, to bring in the spirit of older jazz, some barrelhouse vibe to counterbalance the sometimes over-serious modern sensibility. And act as a vital link with the past... think of Albert Ayler and his take on New Orleans polyphony, for example, compared, say, to a lumpy Dixieland tribute band...

To start with Jason Moran. Who learned his lessons well – here is a trio performance from 'Black Stars.' A rolling vamp in the left hand underpins at first and re-occurs throughout, a device he uses a lot – a small kernel to build outwards from and a unifying device – conception from Monk, technique via Byard? The piano falls back to let the drums have their say – a tight trio performance although the bass is not heard to best advantage in the mix. Some rattling and crunching chording towards the end – a two fisted player, as I have said several times recently...

I don't have any Jaki Byard solo to hand (or any Muhal Richard Abrams apart from a big band session) – but do have several albums on which he played as sideman. Another strand to this post is obscurity – I am always fascinated by the stories of those who never quite made it, made it and were critically hated/ignored, or arrived and disappeared in a short space of time. Here is Byard on a Don Ellis date from the early sixties – in company with Charles Persip, sublime Ron Carter and- Al Francis on vibes. Who came and went. (As did Don Ellis, although more flamboyantly – the Stan Kenton of the 70's in some critical eyes and ears, he died in 1978 froma heart attack). Something about vibes players? Earl Griffiths, Walt Dickerson? Early death or obscurity? Solo Ellis commences the track – muted and sharp. the chord sequence sounds like 'Sweet Georgia Brown' Byard solos first, single note lines, two handed chordal passages, a hint of stride, some skilfully executed overlapping lines in each hand. In a brief space of time, Byard shows what we are talking about here – he plays the history and adds his own flavours. Ellis solos on open trumpet – fleet – he and they all must know this sequence backwards. Francis enters on vibes – things hotting up behind him as Persip comes more to the fore, prodding and poking and Byard is all over the piano. An ensemble passage and a fairly abrupt ending.

Byard played with Eric Dolphy on some sessions – including 'Far Cry,' from which I have selected 'Miss Anne.' On the edge of bop still – the first tracks on the album are dedicated to Charlie Parker - before Dolphy really took it out. He solos first, buzzsaw tone and odd intervallic leaps in place even if the shadow of Bird still looms strong (as it is over much of the album) but defiantly working his way to his own territory. Booker Little soars when he steps up – an exciting player. Then Byard – single notes first again – as if launching off from the bop platform before he surges into a complex contrapuntal passage. A brief solo again – but telling... Much more than the standard bebop piano out of many of Bud's followers. Exchanges between the front line – rapid two bar catch. A fun four minutes...

The Andrew Hill track is a long track (14 mins plus) showing his solo skills. Taken from 'Verona Rag,' recorded in 1986, this is 'Retrospect.' A slow thoughtful beginning... Hill shows how he has solved the problem of what to do with the left hand, beyond just marking chords off, comping style – independent lines, reaching down to a resounding bass in places. His right hand - firmly struck single notes in long streams, alternated with chordal thickening. A searching improvisation... Godoggo mentioned in one of his comments to a previous post that he could hear Andrew Hill in Jason Moran – compare... Hill's career had veered off the track by the 70's – yet he is one of the lucky ones who were able to held on until the world caught up...

A bumpy link...

'The best real free jazz I’ve ever seen was Cecil’s quartet at the Iridium. There were no egos involved. Just incredible music.' (Jason Moran speaking in an interview here...).

Someone who started off being vilified and ignored and who ended up in the pantheon somewhat quicker than Hill (although he still has a capacity to piss people off as witnessed at his last London concert). Cecil Taylor, and a rather obscure album – 'Spring of Two Blue J's' from 1973. Which comprises two versions of the eponymous title track, one with a band – and one solo. I often think that this is the best way for people new to Taylor to approach his music. It's dense, of course... but not entwined with over-enmeshed lines and rhythms from his various band members. Providing (hopefully – I'm convinced it is a journey worth making) a less complicated route into his music. His solo performancehere display touches of an almost pastoral beauty in places with much light and shade - this track is no exception.And as if to prove that he did not spring ex nihilo and to justify his entry in this post apart from the mention above by J M – listen to some of the stomping bass left hand towards the end. And plenty of crushed notes that invoke the blues...

I mentioned Monk in relation to his early influence on Jason Moran. I can tie this all up by presenting him playing a more obscure number from his songbook – 'Gallop's Gallop.' With Gigi Gryce, whose album 'Nica's Tempo' this is taken from. Monk and Gryce are backed by Percy Heath and Art Blakey. One is tempted to say that this is all you need to know... Gryce solos first and Monk comps fairly quietly behind him. There is a pleasing lyricism to the altoist's playing and he negotiates Monk's tune fluently. Monk rolls into his own solo, close to the theme as ever with less disruption to the flow of the line than usual – apart from a couple of unexpected twists and turns– going into fours with Blakey at the end. Gryce recorded with Monk on 'Monk's Music' with the powerful horn lineup of Hawkins and Coltrane – and, almost to balance the alto player off, looking back from 2006, Ray Copeland, another well-respected player who is perhaps not so well known now. Apart from his early Blue Note dates, Monk seldom featured an alto player (Phil Woods on 'Monk at Town Hall' and with the Nonet that toured Europe would be the only other one I can think of without checking). Grice is out of Bird, of course, but was a fluent enough player (and a very good composer – an echo of Oliver Nelson, not as good an alto player, perhaps, although I like him, who was luckier to find more avenues for his work). He disappeared off the scene into teaching and died in 1983 – the jazz muse was ever a harsh and demanding presence:

'As hard bop was being battered by the avant-garde on one side and the burgeoning pop-rock juggernaut on the other, Gryce, a more conventional soloist, found his musical work drying up... Subsuming his former personality under his Muslim name of Basheer Qusim, he became an inspirational teacher of music and other subjects at public schools in hardscrabble areas of New York. His contribution there was so monumental, that an elementary school in the Bronx was renamed in his honor after his early death from a heart attack.'
(Taken from a book review by Ken Waxman of Gryce's biography 'Rat Race Blues' here...).

So – out of Moran, through some of his influences, bringing in a couple of undeservedly obscure players, some Cecil, just because I like him... and out... Next time – who knows? Maybe some Mingus...

In the Videodrome...

Phineas Newborn

Stan Kenton...

The Tradition Trio

Abdelhai Bennani Quintet

Please note - the long files (Andrew Hill and Cecil Taylor) are put up on Savefile - which may not be recognised by the Hype Machine blog aggregator juke box...

Jason Moran
(Jason Moran: piano; Nasheet Watts: bass; Taurus Mateen: drums).
Draw the light out


Don Ellis
(Don Ellis: trumpet; Al Francis: vibes; Jaki Byard: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Charles Persip: drums).
Natural H


Eric Dolphy
(Eric Dolphy: alto saxophone; Booker Little: trumpet; Jaki Byard: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Roy Haynes: drums).
Miss Anne


Andrew Hill
(Andrew Hill:piano).


Cecil Taylor
(Cecil Taylor: piano)
Spring for Two Blue J's

(if you are lucky...)

Thelonious Monk/Gigi Gryce
(Thelonious Monk: piano; Gigi Gryce: alto saxophone; Percy Heath: bass; Art Blakey: drums).
Gallops's Gallop



godoggo said...

Just wanted to note that I had been aware of Moran's studies with Hill; it was just that his playing on that previousl clip sounded especially Hill -influenced to me; here I hear maybe an occasional Hillish chord or phrase.

etnobofin said...

An Andrew Hill gig back in 1996...the highlight of the show was a solo improvised rag that he used to bookend a set. It was one of the freshest and spikiest things I ever heard, like James P. Johnson meets Schoenberg.

Jaki Byard's solo A.T.F.W. (Art Tatum Fats Waller) that opens the Mingus "Great Concert" disc (Paris 1964) is a also lot of fun... even if it is playful rather than deep.

Great post by the way.

Rod... said...

... thanks - I think I may have the Mingus... been building up to a post on him and related musicians... but been too distracted by other matters to dig through the piles of cds etc

godoggo said...

...also, Hill has 5 live solo tracks on the mp3 page on his site, which I'm listening to now, and they're fantastic.

And, of course, Nels Cline has his new Andrew Hill tribute album.

godoggo said...

Nels' liner notes