Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Fred Hersch... Martial Solal... Art Blakey... Charles Mingus/Langston Hughes... Ornette Coleman... John Coltrane... Cecil Taylor

A piano player to start with... Fred Hersch, with Charlie Haden and Joey Baron, playing the Jimmy Rowles tune 'The Peacocks.' From 1986. A slow dance...Hersch offers a meditative yet probing approach to the piece and uses the trio format to good spatial advantage, with Haden strong and deep and Baron making strategic use of his cymbals. Haden takes a soulful solo. The piano ends it on high ripples...

Hersch has made a name as a solo pianist, a difficult area to inhabit. Here's another solitaire – the mercurial Martial Solal, playing 'Que reste-t-il de nos amours.' Originally a French pop song, with music by Léo Chauliac and Charles Trent and lyrics by Charles Trenet, better known in the English-speaking world as 'I wish you love.' (Remember Shearing and Nat Cole?). A jaunty beginning as he teases at the melody. With Solal, expect the unexpected – odd twists and wrong-footing notes and harmonisations... the ending puckishly rolls down into the bass where a sudden snatch of recapitulated melody pokes up...

Keeping the piano link – Horace Silver was with the original Jazz Messengers for about a year. This is his tune 'Nica's Dream,' played by Art and the boys... by Blakey standards, a fairly relaxed track, with a latin tinge. Hank Mobley and Donald Byrd solo fairly effortlessly. Silver belts out a trill to start his solo and plays with much bounce and attack, alternating between single note line and slammed out chords. An intriguing look at the band in its formative year. This session was recorded on April 5th, 1956, so some synchronicity in its selection...

A weird one from 1958... Langston Hughes in a poetry and jazz collaboration with Leonard Feather and Charles Mingus. The album consisted of two long tracks... here's an extract from the second side with Mingus and company... Kenny Dennis on drums in place of Mingus's old traps compatriate Danny Richmond. Hadi on tenor rather than his usual alto. 'There's liable to be confusion when a dream is deferred...' Hughes's readings are a strange mixture of the academic – almost professorial in his enunciation – tinged with 'camp' and mixed with the low-down in their verbal collisions . Bit like 'jazz,' really. Take note, daddio... 'Dig and be dug in return.' Opening on a dirge-like sax and bowed bass before Hughes comes in... Knepper takes a fluidly brilliant but sadly brief solo about a minute towards the end... the track ending on an upwards glissando from Mingus – who is the superb spine throughout... a memory of the old jazz and poetry days... Must dig out my Kerouac stuff... This was ripped at 64 but keeps the atmosphere... a large chunk of the text is here for reference...

Vachel Lindsey
(who claimed he had 'discovered' Langston Hughes) once said, disparagingly, I assume: '"Jazz is is the dust of the dirty dance....The Saxophone is the most diseased instrument in all modern music." (Found here: , scroll down: footnote 1. This article also states that Lindsey was the inspiration for Hughes use of jazz in his poetry). Silly sod... Despite the distinctive use of rhythm in his work:

'Whirl ye the deadly voo-doo rattle,
Harry the uplands,
Steal all the cattle,
Rattle-rattle, rattle-rattle,
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, Boom.'

he denied being influenced by jazz:

'his exuberant recitation[s]... led some critics to compare it to jazz poetry despite his persistent protests. (From here... The quoted lines 21-26 of 'The Congo' are taken from this link).

He was also seen by some as racist, although that could (perhaps) be seen in the context of his times. Enough... He was a fine poet and the beginning of 'Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan' has a certain swing to it:

'In a nation of one hundred fine, mob-hearted, lynching, relenting, repenting, millions,
There are plenty of sweeping, swinging, stinging, gorgeous things to shout about,
And knock your old blue devils out.' (From here...).

Go, Vachel, as Jack Kerouac might have interjected...

Where were we? 'Diseased saxophones'... I love that phrase... Here's some alto, diseased or otherwise, take your pick... Ornette from his album 'Virgin Beauty,' recorded in 1988, the title track. A slow, stately melody, sour-sweet, with odd synthdrum handclaps in the background. The Prime Time band tiptoe around the leader here at first... becoming a little more harmolodically emboldened. Strange rising synth lines and squiggles, presumably from Denardo... An odd album this, without the bite of his electric bands – but I rather like this track...

More 'diseased' saxophone – because I can never get enough of John Coltrane - playing 'But not for me' from the epochal 'My Favourite Things' album. Coltrane takes it steady enough until he really starts to let rip – Tyner takes a stomping solo – starting with an echo of Red Garland from Miles's Quintet days – then taking it much further. Music that is definitive and also in transition – if that makes sense. Coltrane and the group render a superb version of the standard song within the parameters of what modern jazz was at the time - but also one spots the tensions and yearning for more free forms. I love that keening high note Coltrane goes up to – and the overloaded rapid flurries which are simply dazzling...

More 'dust of the dirty dance.' To end with a piano player... one is tempted to say the piano player. I found out yesterday that Cecil Taylor is playing in London this July with a quartet that will also feature Anthony Braxton... to which my reaction was: 'Wow!' Saw Cecil at the controversial-ish gig a couple of years ago when Braxton fractionally edged in to take the honours with his Ghost Trance band - an amazing night. Playing together - a dream ticket. With Ornette performing the next night, I think I had better get my tickets and hotel booked soon... This is Cecil T playing the first section from '3Phasis' which he recorded in 1978. The leader introducing the track on piano before the band join
him , the ensemble given a sharp and piquant timbre with Ramsay Ameen's violin added to Jimmy Lyons and Raphe Malik's alto and trumpet. The piano in torrential mode soon enough... although there are quieter sections where Taylor shades his playing and pauses are used to allow some air in between the wildness. Knotty and intriguing - as ever...

In the Videodrome...

Following on from the last post... here's Herbie...

and David Murray live at the Village Vanguard in 1986...

Fred Hersch
Fred Hersch (p) Charlie Haden (b) Joey Baron (d)


Martial Solal (p)
Que reste-t-il de nos amours


Langston Hughes/Charles Mingus
Langston Hughes (poetry) Shafi Hadi (ts) Jimmy Knepper (tr) Horace Parlan (p) Charles Mingus (b) Kenny Dennis (d)
Weary Blues (my extract)


Ornette Coleman/Prime Time
Virgin Beauty


John Coltrane
John Coltrane (ts) McCoy Tyner (p) Steve Davis (b) Elvin Jones (d)
But not for me


Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor (p) Jimmy Lyons (as) Raphe Malik (t) Ramsay Ameen (v) Sirone (b) Ronald Shannon Jackson (d)
3 Phasis part one


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