Saturday, February 17, 2007
Art Pepper... Count Basie/Lester Young... Paul Desmond/MJQ... Miles Davis... Gil Evans... Wolf Eyes... Howling Wolf
Art Pepper came back from the dead – drugs and jailtime - to pretty much achieve his lifetime ambition, according to many:
'Alto Saxophone player Arthur Edward Pepper, Jr. (b. 1925; d. 1982) wanted to be known as the “greatest alto saxophone player in the world,” a tall order considering contemporaries like Charlie Parker, Johnny Hodges, and Paul Desmond. In spite of this, Pepper outlived all of them... Pepper... Desmond and Lee Konitz, were among the few small-combo saxophonists able to forge an individual sound despite the long shadow of Bird.' (From here...).
Despite his torrid life, Pepper was remarkably consistent in performance, live and on record. This is 'Labyrinth' from the exhaustively recorded sets at the Village Vanguard in 1977. Cables and the rhythm section float it in before Art joins them – plaintive, thoughtful alto. Almost gentle. Cables ripples into his solo, cascades of treble. Pepper returns . Mraz takes his turn – a galloping bass solo. Pepper again. Ending over a Cables mutating riff, he gets more enervated, stretching the timbre. Elvin is gentle with them all... Some of the distance that Pepper travelled from his start in the business in the forties to his later career can be measured in a Downbeat article which states that his favourite sax player in the fifties was Zoot Sims. By 1964, it was John Coltrane...
Basie cut some neat small band sides in the thirties – this is 'Lester Leaps In' with the inimitable Prez... leaping in... Basie's piano leads them, the riffing theme then – Lester. Long winding lines, short riffs, stop time breaks, fours with the leader, with the ensemble. A lot going on in a short space of time.
I have always had a soft spot for the MJQ – they were the first band I ever saw live way back in the early sixties, when they were riding high – and visits to the UK by American jazz musicians were rare because of the dumb Musicians Union exchange ruling. Also – Paul Desmond. I saw him not long after the MJQ with Dave Brubeck – and loved them as well... (yes, I dug Brubeck...)... Here are the alto player and the MJQ together at a concert at Carnegie Hall in 197 playing 'Bag's New Groove.' Theme – blues meets Bach almost in the bouncing voices of piano and voices in counterpoint – yet Lewis interjects crushed notes more agressively than you would imagine – his blues pedigree can sometimes be forgotten. Desmond is ice-cool, limpid, one of the unique voices on alto (see above comments regarding Art Pepper). There is a sprightly swing to this. Connie Kay (!) booting it along towards the end... fire in the belly at this particular concert... Recorded Christmas Day, 1971, this is from a rare album – unfortunately. Desmond had a dry wit:
'Of Vogue fashion models, he said, "Sometimes they go around with guys who are scuffling -- for a while. But usually they end up marrying some cat with a factory. This is the way the world ends, not with a whim but a banker." ' (From here...
Early on in their careers – a snapshot of bop in 1951... a Miles-led session with Sonny Rollins and Jackie McLean. Rollins more fully formed than young Jackie. Miles sounds lyrical and at ease – he already had 'Birth of the Cool' and an apprenticeship with Parker under his belt. The alto sounds Bird-ish understandably, starting a bit hesitantly but making it through. Miles returns for another bite. A long track for the time – one of the first for long players... pelted along by Blakey and solid if under-recorded bass. Bishop comps in bebop mode. 'Dig.'
'Spoonful.' Gil Evans doing a Howling Wolf number written by Willie Dixon – looking at the date I wonder if it was via Cream? Theme stated via dissonant piano clusters as the bass picks up the slow walk and the orchestra slowly gather. Dark blue voicings and hovering shimmering figures. Electric guitar (Burrell) sparsely solos. Phil Woods gives out some searing alto... Evans returns -surprisingly effective abstracted blues – arrangers piano, maybe, but he wasn't at all bad...
...whose afraid of the big bad... Anthony Braxton memorably played with Noise band Wolf Eyes not so long ago. This is not a track from the album as it has been out all over the internet already. Here's Wolf Eyes doing what they did in 2003... Tell-tale heartbeat drum brings in deep bass and a ratchety riff as drawling drawn out voice essays some garble – descending into processed stretched-out wolf-howl... returning in a spinning vortex of granular argument – vocal spun off into something else. Almost conventional syncopated snare beats... a slowed down rhythm pattern and swirls of ribboned voice circling like a malevolent flock of bats... whoo hoo...
... Howling Wolf inhabited a similar area of timbre, in a way... my favourite blues singer, I think... something elemental about the Wold, a giant of a man. 'I ain't superstitious.'
(Art Pepper (as); George Cables (p); George Mraz (b); Elvin Jones (d) ).
Count Basie/Lester Young
(Count Basie (p); Buck Clayton (t); Dicky Wells (trb); Freddy Green (g); Walter Page (b); Jo Jones (d) ).
Lester Leaps In
Paul Desmond and the Modern Jazz Quartet
(Paul Desmond (as); John Lewis (p); Milt Jackson (vib); Percy Heath (b); Connie Kay (d) ).
Bags new groove
Miles Davis Sextet
Miles Davis (tp) Jackie McLean (as) Sonny Rollins (ts) Walter Bishop Jr. (p) Tommy Potter (b) Art Blakey (d)
( Collective personnel: Gil Evans (arranger, p), Gil Evans - Piano, Arranger
Eric Dolphy (fl, cl, bass-cl, as); Jimmy Knepper, Frank Rehak (tr); Jimmy Cleveland, Tony Studd (tr, t); Johnny Coles, Thad Jones, Ernie Royal, Bernie Glow, Louis Mucci (t);Wayne Shorter, Steve Lacy, Jerome Richardson, Phil Woods, Bob Tricarico, Al Block, Garvin Bushell, Andy Fitzgerald, George Marge,(reeds, w); Julius Watkins, Gil Cohen, Bob Northern, James Buffington, Ray Alonge, (fh); Billy Barber (ta); Harry Lookofsky (v); Margaret Ross (h); Kenny Burrell, Barry Galbraith (g); Gary Peacock, Ben Tucker, Paul Chambers, Milt Hinton, Ron Carter, Richard Davis(b); Osie Johnson, Elvin Jones (d) ).
(Nate Young, Aaron Dilloway, John Olson - electronics, programming, voices, guitar, tapes, horns etc... )
(Collective personnel for album: Howlin' Wolf (v, g, har); Willie Johnson, Hubert Sumlin (g); J.T. Brown (ts); James Cotton (har); Hosea Lee Kennard, Lafayette Leake, Johnny Jones (p); Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy (b); Willie Steele, Sam Lay (d).
I ain't superstitious