Monday, March 19, 2007

Four pianists... Bud Powell... Keith Jarrett... Thelonious Monk... Cecil Taylor...

Four pianists – five tracks – leading a variety of groups...

To start somewhere near the beginning of modern jazz piano as we know it... here's the sublime Bud Powell, playing one of his own compositions 'The Fruit.' Apparently a defiant retalition to a frequent insult – embraced and turned back on the insulter... diamond sharp playing, a joyful feel to theme and the variations that flow from it. Bebop piano – but because he is playing solo, more left hand than usual which sounds an echo of the earlier tradition.

Keith Jarrett, with bass and drums, from a live date at the Blue Note, playing 'How Deep is the Ocean?' A pensive, slow beginning, floating the notes out... to be joined by bass down deep and lightly accenting drums, soft but complex flurries from the brushes... A couple of minutes in and they hit a strong groove – cymbals and bass locking it up as Jarrett starts to extend his line, accompanied by the usual sighs and grunts. Peacock takes it up, skidding into a rapid-fire solo.

Thelonious Monk at Newport in 1955 – with Pee Wee Russell, another odd-ball who did not fit into the box assigned to him. A dream band for someone like myself who tries to track the continuities as well as the disruptions. I have been listening to a ridiculous amount of Monk recently – a frequent binge – and discovered anew a lot of tracks I'd forgotten about... Thus is one of them... Charlies Rouse leads off on the solos. Monk comps strongly – full chords, stabbing accents and leading fragments until he drops out to let Rouse have his head (doing the Monk dance round the piano, maybe?). Then Pee Wee – Monk back at the keyboard. He worries at a phrase like a terrier with a rat... playing high which suits sonically as the chalumeau register might get buried in this mix, although he dips down lower occasionally when Monk again drops out. Pee Wee does not seem remotely fazed by the tune or the company, displaying a wonderfully diagonal approach to melody that chimes with the leader's conceptions. Then Monk... bending and stretching the theme, chucking in the patented down-keyboard runs, the glorious asymmetry of it all – and swinging so strongly. Bass up next, spinning off the theme as the piano prods sporadically before leaving the field once more – then Buggin's turn for Dunlop – a strong drummer who gives us his thoughts in crisp fashion. A great shame that Russell never recorded a whole album with Monk...

And because of the Monk orgy - here's another one...

'Ugly Beauty' wasn't the only waltz that Monk recorded - he had performed a wonderful jolting version of 'Carolina Moon' in 6/4 in the forties for Blue Note – but I think it is the only one he wrote – a late composition taken into the studios for the 'Monk Underground' album released in 1968. Monk opens it up then the horns join for the rather stately theme... which has echoes of some of his other compositions... Rouse solos as Monk lays some thick, ringing verticality... Monk comes out after him in a rushing spill of notes... the bass double times in – some intricate games here between drums and piano. Saxophone again, then bass - deep and slow this time as Riley shimmers in the background. Then sax again before the theme returns...

Cecil Taylor from 1960 – playing the Richard Rogers song, 'This nearly was mine.' Another waltz... etched delicately to begin with in the treble as Neidlinger slowly moves underneath... the melody slowly peeking out – with a sudden lurching crashed chord, movement now in the low piano register and the drums emerge to spell the rhythm. Taylor leaves acres of space here – unusually, perhaps – fragments of melody in between sharp, biting harmonies, slowly filling up the sonic area with wild runs and thumping chords, then receding. Putting the ballad/song form on notice while dancing round it, widening the circle... this is Taylor in wonderful transition, on the cusp of abandoning the old forms altogether, showing glimpses of what was to come. I have always thought that the avant-garde of the fifties had to wait to be liberated by the drums - this is on the edge of that freedom – Charles keeps the three four going but lightly enough for Taylor to allow his pianistic/improvisational conception to come through without undue strain - yet wider, more expansive forms were looming, underpinned by the revolutions of Sunny Murray et al... two broad directions to follow – dump the piano, like Ornette had already – or embrace it, like Cecil did and explode the conventional jazz sound world with clusters, atonality in rhythm and melody and surging rhythmic smashes and grabs at the unfettered essence of what 'jazz' piano was truly capable of... but this is a beautiful version of a beautiful song, Cecil showing a tenderness that was not always so naked...


Also: on this rather excellent site there are a couple of stimulating and thought provoking posts that refer to and comment on other blogs that have been engaged in recent debate about the jazz avant-garde and the balance of musicians and innovators on the Afro-American and the white and European scenes. Plus a link to a recent Cecil Taylor interview... here also... scroll down

Bud Powell
The Fruit
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Keith Jarrett (p) Gary Peacock (b) Jack DeJohnette (d)
How deep is the ocean?
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Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk (p) Charlie Rouse (ts) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Butch Warren (b) Frankie Dunlop (d)

Nutty
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Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk (p) Charlie Rouse (ts) Larry Gayles (b) Ben Riley (d)
Ugly Beauty
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Cecil Taylor (p) Buell Neidlinger (b) Dennis Charles (d)

This nearly was mine
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