Let's weave in and out of some big band and combo sides...
'Miles Ahead' was always a curious work in the Davis canon... He had collaborated with Gil Evans on the Birth of the Cool band so this would be their second recorded project but it seems to have been partly forgotten/over-shadowed by 'Porgy and Bess' and 'Sketches of Spain.' Evans' unique sonorities frame Miles' playing superbly – a dark rich tapestry out of which his mournful brass voice emerges, that burnished mixture of fragility and courage. As both an extension of jazz soloing and the big band tradition, taken into new emotional and technical areas, could one see all these collaborations, perhaps, under the problematic banner of 'Third Stream?' Or, rather, where the Third Stream could have gone... Certainly, contemporary critical opinion was divided as to whether they were 'jazz' or not... Whatever...
'The Maids of Cadiz,' which is, I suppose, a pre-cursor of 'Sketches of Spain.' Miles is meltingly restrained, as if choking back strong emotions, which gives his solo a clenched edge. Paul Chambers bass is the spine of this track, beginning and ending with fast sequences of notes and prominent throughout offering rock-solid support as Evans deploys his 19 piece orchestra around Davis's flugelhorn in a slow colourful dance that expands outwards and back to clear new ground...
Harold Land's album 'The Fox'...
'One Down' opens on toms and a whacking backbeat from Frank Butler. After the theme, the obscure Dupree Bolton takes the first solo with Butler's snare clatteringly prominent in the mix. A brilliant - but sad - taster – there isn't much of Bolton around. Like the better known Chet Baker, Bolton was from Oklahoma – and he shared his fellow trumpeter's penchant for drugs – which put him in jail eventually. Bolton was apparently a rather taciturn charactee. I like this story – especially the dry last sentence:
'The only thing he said to John Tynan in an interview was 'When I was 14, I ran away from home.' When he ran away it was to join Jay McShann...' (from here... ).
Hope takes over and shows his class – another intriguing musician condemned to obscurity. Land seems relaxed - another underrated player, yet by the standards of Hope and Bolton, more readily known – and he had a longer career, luckily. And did Butler get his due? He shows his stuff after the leader... romping through his solo. This album is one that always crops up on favourite lists – not exactly ground-breaking but just – extremely good in-the-pocket jazz. A great ensemble performance...
Some fifties Coltrane is always welcome... From the album 'The Believer,' this is 'Do I love you because you are beautiful,' introduced by the tenor player - a master of ballad playing as well as his wilder forays up and down the horn. His keening tone with an edge of vulnerability is ideal for a slow tempo exploration. Garland ripples his way through his solo, that perfectly sprung line flowing across the solid rhythm of Paul Chambers and Art Taylor's brushes – ending as always (somewhat predictably) in his locked hands block chords. Freddy Hubbard – smart, sparkling and lyrical trumpet joined briefly by Coltrane sketching a few notes behind him to end.
There were always dissenting voices, of course...
'See, a lot of people don’t know that Coltrane was not a great bebop player. He was there all the time, but he never did really capture the bebop feeling in his soloing. Well, he was a hard worker; he practised a lot, and he got a lot of stuff together—but it has nothing to do with jazz. Not really. When you play harmonics, and play through the changes of blues, that’s really not playing blues. Some guys play one note and play blues; if you don’t believe it, you listen to some old records—those cats played at best, four notes, and they played a whole blues chorus. And it sounds good too. '
So said Lou Donaldson, in an interview here...).
Discuss... well, whatever one thinks about Lou Donaldson's comments on Coltrane, here's one of the 'old records' – 'Big Butter and Egg Man,' recorded in 1939 by Muggsy Spanier's Ragtime Band, who were a semi-revivalist group in one sense in their looking back to the previous years of hot jazz before the swing big band phenomenon moved the game on. 'Ragtime' is used somewhat confusingly in the band name – they are not harking quite that far back. This is more in the vein of Condon's Dixieland, small band jazz with a swing rhythm section, playing from the repertoire of Spanier's heroes, Louis Armstrong and Joe Oliver, that stands at a diagonal to the looming phase shift of bebop. Spanier always had a strong lead but was no great technician as a soloist – yet he knew how to make the notes speak – as Lou Donaldson says in the above quote, 'those cats played at best, four notes... And it sounds good too...' For the historically minded – or plain curious – here's a contemporary review I found of this track:
'The most heartening jazz record issued by a commercial company in a long time. Muggsy, reviving now from his long bondage to Ted Lewis, is again the hottest of the white trumpets, and he's taking his little "ragtime" band along with him. This record observes a simple adherence to the simple traditions of jazz. On the first side New Orleans influence is felt in the selection and style; on the second, the effect of Armstrong's personal style is apparent. Muggsy listened carefully to Joe Oliver, Armstrong, and Tommy Ladnier, in their prime; he still feels the music something the same way they did.' (From here...).
More big band jazz and Gil Evans again – this time on his own, 'La Nevada,' taken from his album, 'Out of the Cool,' which marks the advance from the 1949 sessions with Miles. Bluesily dissonant piano then bass and guitar over swishing cymbals as the the orchestra slowly enters and the drums build, deep throaty brass then higher instruments blending – then falling away– strong walking bass and comping guitar as Coles solos. Evans deft handling of his orchestra is subtle, never over-bearing and mindful of nuance. Jimmy Knepper fires off one of his gruff, bouncy solos, echoed by upward smearing trombones in places, followed by Budd Johnson's tenor, sounding plaintive in the higher register with a hint of Oliver Nelson, oddly... Ron Carter comes forward, eloquent, shadowed by faint piano, cymbals and far-away blurry orchestral figures – a trick of the mix or deliberate, it works well to add depth. Ray Crawford's guitar next, buoyed by growling brass and rising skittering drums and pointilist flute/piccolos. Building over repeated figures involving le tout ensemble to suddenly wind down...
This track displays Evans clever updating of big band practice – his melodic materials here are fairly sparse, always the arranger and re-composer rather than composer, perhaps, certainly compared to the winding, complex lines of the 'Birth of the Cool' band - and much of the excitement is built up by clever use of repetition – or riffs, if you like, as exemplified, arguably, by the Basie Band back in KC in the thirties. And perhaps something of Monk in the way he turns a repeated figure slowly round to display different angles? What further marks the advance is the use of extended timbral range, as on the Davis albums – from tuba up to piccolo via bassoon. Oh, and grafting that onto the riffs to make it swing like mad and prevent the essentially vertical/harmonic world that Evans inhabited from congealing into the more lumpy efforts that much of the 'Third Stream' ended up offering... Evans handles the acoustic spaces at his disposal so well... This could just have been a string of solos over a perfunctory theme – it ends up as so much more...
On a totally trivial note, while I was checking the personnel details I found one web site that gave an interesting miss-spelling to another of the tunes from this album – 'Bilbo Song.' Which briefly conjured up a bizarre thought – what kind of a collaboration would Tolkien have had with Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht? In an alternative universe, no doubt such horrors loom...
In the Videodrome...
and playing the Beale Street Blues...
... Miles and Gil
... Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh...
Miles Davis/Gil Evans
(Johnny Carisi, Bernie Glow, Taft Jordan, Louis Mucci, Ernie Royal (tp) Miles Davis (flh) Joe Bennett, Jimmy Cleveland, Frank Rehak (tb) Tom Mitchell (btb) Jim Buffington, Tony Miranda, Willie Ruff (frh) Bill Barber (tu) Edwin Caine, Sid Cooper, Romeo Penque (fl, cl) Danny Bank (bcl) Lee Konitz (as) Paul Chambers (b) Art Taylor (d) Gil Evans (arr, cond) ).
Maids of Cadiz
(Harold Land (ts); Dupree Bolton (t); Elmo Hope (p); Herbie Lewis (b); Frank Butler (d) ).
(John Coltrane (ts); Freddie Hubbard (t); Red Garland (p); Paul Chambers (b); Arthur Taylor (d)).
Do I love you because you are beautiful
(Muggsy Spanier (t); George Brunies (trb); Rod Cless (cl); Ray McKinstry (ts); George Zack (p); Bob Casey (g); Pat Pattison (b); Marty Greenberg (d) ).
Big Butter and Egg Man
(Gil Evans (p); Johnny Coles, Phil Sunkel (t); Keg Johnson, Jimmy Knepper (trm); Tony Studd (btrm); Bill Barber (tba); Ray Beckenstein, Eddie Cain (as, f, pic); Budd Johnson (ts, ss); Bob Tricarico (bass, f , pic); Ray Crawford (g); Ron Carter (b); Charles Persip, Elvin Jones (d, perc) ).