Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sunday improvisations... Jimmy Lyons... Jimmy Giuffre... Johnny Griffin... Ornette Coleman... Blind Willie Johnson... King Oliver...

What might Charlie Parker have played like if he had lived, say he had made it to the '70s at least, through the fire and the turbulence? One of those futile speculative games, I know... Maybe it would have been something like Jimmy Lyons – Cecil Taylor's long-time cohort, who made few albums under his own name and on whom Parker was a major influence. Derek Taylor in his review of a Lyons boxed set makes the following pertinent remarks:

'When Paul Desmond started recording as a leader in late 1954, he and his employer Dave Brubeck ironed out an agreement. The gist of the unwritten pact stated that the alto saxophonist would not involve piano, Brubeck’s instrument, in any of his solo ventures. Jimmy Lyons and Cecil Taylor seem to have struck a similar bargain. None of Lyons’ solo recordings incorporate piano...' (From here...).

Carefully, one notes the guesswork: 'seem to have struck.' I don't know the truth... But there is no piano on any of them...

Here is a track from 'Jump Up,' 'Sea Trees.' Bass: John Lindberg and, on drums, the mighty Sunny Murray – an old sparring partner. Murray's cymbals rip like a splashing wind here as Lindberg moves steadily through in between the alto and the drums. Considering the storms going on around him in all his playing career with Taylor, the whirling density of it all, Lyons always seemed to keep a clear head. As here... There is something almost classical about his lines – one of the true sons of Parker who took the heritage forward in a unique manner. Certainly someone who could think almost as quick as Bird in any situation... He delivers his fluent expansions on post-bop unhurried by the fast-moving backdrop before he eventually drops out for Lindberg to step up and fire off some equally fast and accurate lines. Murray falls off briefly to give him space, returning spasmodically for colour. Some stunning pizzicato work here... This live piece unfortunately ends abruptly...

Jimmy Giuffre recorded with the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1956. Interestingly – he was moving away from piano in his groups (until the once and future collaborations with Paul Bley). This is 'Fine.' Lewis starts with his finely sprung piano, followed by a canon-like introductory procession of two bar phrases from the rest of the amalgamated band – sax, vibes, guitar, the bass players and finally Kay. An intriguing mix of shifting counterpoint – the instruments weaving around each other in a gentle but supple dance – and the blues are never too far away. At one point Giuffre plays some dancing figures that echo the theme of his 'Train and the River.' An interesting session... chamber music spliced with the blues...

I mentioned Giuffre's collaborations with Bley – here's a track from their first go-round with Steve Swallow on bass, 'Threewe,' taken from the album 'Freefall.' Again, a feel of chamber music although Bley is more tuned to the angularities and oblique strategies demanded of this situation than John Lewis, perhaps. But: horses for course - and much had happened in the intervening years... perhaps these two selections demonstrate the distance travelled...

Johnny Griffin in 1961 with an unusual album featuring two basses and french horn (Julius Watkins, not featured here) – 'Change of Pace.' This is 'Nocturne,' starting with the the basses slow tracings before Griffin enters – a solemn stating of the theme. The basses speed up as Griffin stays in the slow tempo, punctuated occasionally by faint cymbal chinks from Riley. Arco bass takes over, tracked by pizzicato from his companion. Griffin returns for more funereal late night keening. An oddity in his catalogue, more chamber jazz than the usual fast and hard tenor madness...

A live recording of Ornette and company from 1969 – opening on ethnic flute over a distant bass drone joined by a wailing sax line, this slowly builds into a squalling sonic storm, high up the frequency range in the main and buttressed by Haden's sturdy bass. Ornette on violin throughout, taking a jumping skitter of a solo at the end. The young Denardo acquits himself well... Free jazz...

Well, it's sunday... here's a gospel track from the mighty Blind Willie Johnson. 'Let your light shine on me.' Starting slowly, Johnson takes a rare excursion into his tenor singing range - which comes across as surprisingly tender. Then he picks up the tempo, his guitar accompaniment firing off some neat runs as he drops his voice to the usual rougher register, a gravelly precursor of Howling Wolf.

Lest we forget - back to 1923 and King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, with the young Louis Armstrong in tow - soon to overshadow his mentor. (Interestingly, Armstrong shared the same birthday as the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley - two 'unacknowledged legislators of the world' indeed - August 4th). Historically always noted for Oliver's three muted choruses - but some fluent clarinet from Johnny Dodds. A jaunty swing to this: 'Oh play that thing...'

Jimmy Lyons (as) Sunny Murray (d) John Lindberg (b)
Sea Trees


Modern Jazz Quartet/Jimmy Giuffre
Milt Jackson (vib) John Lewis (p) Percy Heath (b) Connie Kay (d) Jimmy Giuffre (ts, cl) Jim Hall (g) Ralph Pena (b).


Jimmy Giuffre
Jimmy Giuffre (cl) Steve Swallow (b) Paul Bley (p)


Johnny Griffin
Johnny Griffin (ts) Larry Gales, Bill Lee (b) Ben Riley (d)


Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman(as,vln) Don Cherry(tp,indian-fl) Dewey Redman(ts) Charlie Haden(b) Denardo Coleman(d)
Trouble in the East

Buy– good luck - you'll have to search for this one...

Blind Willie Johnson (g, v)
Let your light shine on me


King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band
King Oliver, Louis Armstrong (t0 Honore Dutrey (tr) Johnny Dodds (cl) Lil Hardin (p) Bill Johnson (b) Warren (Baby) Dodds (d)
Dippermouth Blues



Happy In Bag said...

I'd love to think that Parker would sound like that.

Rod... said... of those games you play (well, I play!)... but Jimmy Lyons was very out of Bird and yet his strong voice evolved to cope with extremely demanding situations way beyond bop with taylor... actually, I 'm looking forward to seeing cecil t in london soon - with anthony braxton... the last gig they played separately, Braxton opening - and he took the night on points -although cecil was awesome...

Happy In Bag said...

That Cecil Taylor is still touring astounds me. And with Braxton- it's almost too much to absorb!

Rod... said...

...these old guys have some stamina! Both Cecil and Ornette in their seventies - with Braxton a mere 62, I think. But Sam Rivers is even more amazing, still doing the rounds in his eighties... the upside in the jazz world as some kind of counterbalance to all the tragic early deaths, maybe.