Friday, July 06, 2007

Jimmy Giuffre... Sidney Bechet... Pee Wee Russell... John Coltrane...

Sometimes you need a break from the honk and skronk...

Jimmy Giuffre has always been a favourite of mine, offering an interesting take on jazz improvisation that, in its understated way, anticipated and complemented much of the avant-garde's directions from the fifties onwards. I have mentioned before that first hit – Bert Stern's movie of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival 'Jazz on a Summer's Day,' which propelled me into a lifetime love affair with Thelonious Monk's music especially. But the other strong and enduring mix of image and sound was/is Giuffre's folk-jazz piece 'Train and the River.' A piece, incidentally, whose influence in English acoustic music circles was very strong- via Bert Jansch and Davy Graham... Here's Giuffre with 'Someone to watch over me,' leading a piano-less quartet – and Ornette came from Texas, as well... Hmm... not to labour the point. Opening on that woody clarinet from the leader followed by Sheldon's bluesy criss-crossing trumpet lines strung on Pena's solid bass and minimal drums. An intimate conversation... (And thanks to 'I like Jimmy Giuffre' for the discography details - I needed to cross-check the musicians present...).

Giuffre's muse was fascinating – taking as much from folk forms as from the 'European' canon, with a memory of what had gone before – although his sporadic sidekick Bob Brookmeyer was probably more overt in his homages to earlier jazz. Here is another clarinettist/saxophonist – Sidney Bechet, who was overshadowed by Louis Armstrong but who preceded him in his improvised solo explorations. I came to the music overall through a childhood fascination with traditional jazz – and hear the connections to later more overtly complicated and 'difficult' art musics within the continuum especially in the playing of Bechet, whose vibrato was as wide as the state of Louisiana, trembling echoes of which can be surely heard in Albert Ayler – who also channelled the earlier forms of New Orleans jazz into his wild ensembles. Bechet was a deep and ever-fascinating character, for whom the word 'mercurial' seems to have been invented. There is a majesty in his playing - but also the intrinsic joyful exuberance of New Orleans. The Feetwarmers session is from 1932 – at a time when as this article reveals:

'Unfortunately the records didn't sell well. The Hot Jazz style was pretty much dead by 1932. Public tastes were shifting to the less wild, more arranged, big band style of Swing. The New Orleans joyful style of collective improvisation that is represented here did not match the mood of the Depression era.'

Tommy Ladnier stands alongside in the front line, as co-leader of a band who, at the tail-end of one jazz genre, crisply encapsulated all that had gone before. But Bechet runs all over this up-tempo romp through Scott Joplin's tune. Henry Duncan takes a rippling piano solo encouraged by shouts from the band – but it's Bechet all the way....

Looping forwards... Charles Ellsworth Russell was an idiosyncratic figure whose career spanned the years from early sessions with his drinking buddy Bix Beiderbecke to his late flowering, via the years as a member of the Eddie Condon dixieland crew. This is taken from a 1960 date, ''Lulu's back in town.' Piano leads it in then Buck Clayton takes the first eight bars of the theme in his usual crisp fashion. Pee Wee takes the next – in his usual oblique, diagonal fashion. Clayton 8 bars again then Russell to answer and lead off the solos. Russell had recorded with Monk on a fascinating live session from Newport and there are flashes here and there of what makes the link between them not seem so incongruous – use of space and referencing the theme being improvised on. Clayton takes a fiery solo and Flanagan follows with some distilled elegance. Riding out on the to and fro from the frontline who let the drums through for a couple of swift breaks. Marshall and Johnson keep the uppish rhythm ticking along nicely throughout. Timeless is an over-used word. But this is...

Honk and skronk (slight return)...

And out with some fire music – John Coltrane, first track of his 1965 album, 'Meditations,' 'The Father and the Son and Holy Ghost.' A looping, almost ragged beginning with simple declamatory figures that give a hint of Albert Ayler's ensembles. Coltrane takes of with a stunningly raw display of tenor playing over a seething, simmering backdrop – drums up – double header of Elvin Jones and the new boy Rashied Ali. Bass is in there somewhere and Tyner ranges out of tempo across the rhythms. Pharoah Sanders overlaps his boss before taking over the solo duties. Skronking saxophone which gives off sonics that threaten to split his reed into tiny fragments. Mighty stuff... these I dig...

Jimmy Giuffre
Jimmy Giuffre (cl) Jack Sheldon(t) Ralph Pena (b) Artie Anton(d)
Someone to watch over me


New Orleans Feetwarmers
Sidney Bechet (ss) Tommy Ladnier (t) Teddy Nixon (tr) Henry Duncan (p) Ernest Meyers (b) Morris Morland (d)
Maple Leaf Rag


Pee Wee Russell
Pee Wee Russell (cl) Buck Clayton (t) Tommy Flanagan (p) Wendell Marshall (b) Osie Johnson (d)
Pee Wee's Blues


John Coltrane
John Coltrane (ts) Pharoah Sanders (ts, bells, shakers) McCoy Tyner (p) Jimmy Garrison (b) Elvin Jones, Rashied Ali (d)
The Father and the Sun and the Holy Ghost


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