Thursday, November 29, 2007

Don Ellis... Duke Ellington... Sonny Rollins

I can't seem to settle into any blogging rhythm at the moment... back from London last Monday after the wonderful Rollins concert weekend (and pissed off that I missed Sunburned Hand of the Man on Sunday because I hadn't checked the listings), then back again to London yesterday, returning late... Still, things are quietening down for a few days (until next week's double dose of the Akron Family, tuesday and wednesday - woot woot!) so... where were we?

Godoggo mentioned in a recent comment that he liked this track -'Hey Jude,' by the Don Ellis big band, live from the Fillmore in 1970. Ellis had been using electronics for a couple of years with this group, alongside a heavy emphasis on unusual time signatures. This starts out in a different soundscape to the usual one jazz inhabited – nearer the heavy processed sonics of psychedelic rock – not sure if the trumpet is the source, probably was, by the sound of the breathy bits, but the sound is bent and shaped away from conventional acoustic tibres. Leading into the theme, played by distorted guitar and a deliberately corny pit band sound (echoes of 'Sergeant Pepper?) before the orchestra fully take it up in a brass-laden back beat. They all drop out for Ellis to solo with his echoplex setting up chasing, conflicting and complementing lines. Going into a jaunty march that disappears in the reverberations. A seriously weird rendition of the Beatles tune – which I have always hated, so, for me, this is a great taking apart (or deconstruction, if you must) of the bugger. Finally going into that runout with le tout ensemble on jazz time at last as Ellis splutters over them. Mucho rapturous applause... if the Fillmore audience had their collective hands on good drugs that night this must have seemed probably more amazing than it was. Fascinating stuff, all the same. Contrast and compare with Miles when he started running the electronic voodoo down.

A change of pace... Duke Ellington in a small band setting: Swing veteran Harry 'Sweets' Edison and Johnny Hodges, Ellington's long-time band member, man the front-line. This is 'Beale Street Blues, the old Handy number, a hybrid of ballad and blues, twelve bars, eight, then twelve, recorded in 1959. Duke leads in, Hodges takes the first strain, Edison the next, tightly muted, then Hodges and Hodges call and reply across the the third section. Hodges solos with a strong bluesy edge despite the smoothness of his instantly recognisable alto, steel concealed in velvet. Duke next, in parsimonious mood, spare and spartan. Spann comes up with his guitar - some Montgomeryesque octaves in the last chorus. Edison rides and bends a riff and goes into nice paraphrase of the theme in the second chorus, ending on spaced out trumpet smears before he becomes more expansive. A sequence of fours with Hodges to end. The whole moving along like a fine-tuned limousine, subtle and swinging. What we used to call mainstream, back when...

And more Sonny Rollins, as a memento of last week. so here's the man from 1956, with a band under his name which is, in effect, the Clifford Brown/Max Roach quintet he was playing with round that time – with Brownie dropping out on this short track 'Count your blessings instead of sheep.' A steady tempo and straight in, the theme being elaborated on in the first chorus, then Powell takes a swirly solo, what seems a slight hesitation and prod from Roach then Rollins back to play just one superb chorus and out. Sublime.

Elmo Hope, from 1959, playing with bass and drums, 'Like someone in love.' Sonny Rollins, his old sidekick, had some nice things to say about him on BBC Radio 3 last week. (Follow the links for 'Jazz Library' here). A sombre reading as Hope explores the standard carefully, mixing space and time by his use of silence, becoming more linear as he expands his lines further. Jimmy Bond takes a thoughtful solo, letting his single notes ring. All sewn together by the underrated Frank Butler...

Don Ellis
Don Ellis (t,d) Stuart Blumberg, Jack Coan, John Rosenberg, Glenn Stuart (t) John Klemmer, John Clark, Sam Faizone, Fred Seldon, Lonnie Shetter (s, ww) Ernie Carlson, Glen Ferris (tr) Don Switzer (b-tr) Tom Garvin (p) Doug Bixby (b, tuba) Don Quigley (tuba) Jay Graydon (g) Dennis Parker (b)Ralph Humphrey (d) Ronnie Dunn (d, perc) Lee Pastora (conga)
Hey Jude


Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington (p) Harry 'Sweets' Edison (t) Johnny Hodges (as) Les Spann Al Hall, Sam Jones (b) Jo Jones (d)
Beale Street Blues


Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins (ts) Richie Powell (p) George Morrow (b) Max Roach (d)
Count your blessings instead of sheep


Elmo Hope
Elmo Hope (p) Jimmy Bond (b) Frank Butler (d)
Like someone in love


Monday, November 26, 2007

Sonny Rollins at the Barbican, London, Saturday 24th November, 2007

The compere : 'Two Words: Sonny Rollins.' On came a frail, stooped man, seemingly bent under the weight of his tenor saxophone. But as soon as he started playing... you forgot the years and the weight and drag of straight time. Over the next two sets, Mr Rollins was to defy gravity and more than fulfil the expectations of the packed, sold-out house at the Barbican. He opened on a somewhat fragmented 'In a Sentimental Mood,' moving round the stage to cue his band as he did throughout with a jab or two of notes – the same scenario throughout where solos were prodded by a small interchange with the chosen musician until the leader would drop out and leave them to play. An odd lineup, but it worked – electric bass, electric guitar, drums and percussionist and trombone – all of whom took some solo space and acquitted themselves well, but looked to their main task - which was to provide the setting for their leader. Cranshaw took only one solo, a fleet scamper round his bass early on, Bobby Broom, albeit his sound seemed a bit muffled, a couple of hurtling, note tumbling efforts, linear and asymmetrically interesting with a bluesier edge creeping in during the calypso in the second set. On the first tune of the night, the percussionist Kimeti Dimizulu scattered chimes and shakers with a filigree shimmer that seemed at first to be out of place – but as the number slowly settled down and over the two sets, you saw how integral he was to Rollins' conception and he took a couple of neat solos. Jerome Jennings held it all together, brush work and stick as necessary, taking his own space in the spotlight late on in the second set, after a couple of briefer efforts where he traded with the leader, moving between quiet patter and louder hurtling rhythms over a classic bophihat ticking on two and four. Clifton Thornton gave solid support in the front line, themes and obbligatos, but also took a couple of rip-snorting solos that showed some fire and finesse. The material – standards, one from Duke (Sentimental), a couple of calypsos where the drum/percussion unit came into its own, a wry but heartfelt 'White Cliffs of Dover,' fragments of which Rollins wove into the last song – another rocking, rolling calypso.

And Sonny Rollins? His voice displayed his 77 years in his announcements, showing a fragile grace – but his tenor playing drew on wider and deeper powers. He was magnificent, still searching for new ways to twist a melody through a harmonic filter – and beyond. Defying the years, it was if he was channeling the whole freight of the traditions he came from – especially on the calypsos, with their cyclic, stripped down harmonies that seemed to offer him more space to blow like a demon, rough bluesy honks where he rode a single note like an r and b tenor shouter of old interlaced with long, breath-defying passages that veered suddenly into dense chromatic flurries that echoed the moves of free jazz. Playing from his position within the music, he veered across and beyond those established spaces, the occasional reed squeak adding to the intensity of the long searches through each song. No disrespect to his cohorts, but his playing was of another order. You were watching one of the great jazz musicians in action, offering no safety net but a performance dedicated to the difficult and demanding art of improvisation that he has followed so rigorously for so long. As he said at one point, 'Let's see if we can find something fresh in this,' referring to a song that he first recorded way back. He did...

At the end of the night, a long and passionate ovation finally drew him back briefly to wave a two-handed salute in acknowledgment before disappearing. The man had blown his heart and soul out for us – his wave was enough of an encore...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Don Ellis... Clifford Brown/Max Roach... Harold Land... Sonny Rollins

"Despair to Hope" from Don Ellis's 1961 album 'New Ideas' features improvisation based on 'an emotional framework, rather than a musical one.' Ellis provided a detailed explanation of his approach in the album's liner notes:

"The inspiration for 'Despair to Hope' came while listening to a John Cage concert. The concert tended to make one more aware of the music in the sounds surrounding us in our daily living, but I had the feeling that jazz musicians, given the conception, could do much more with the indeterminacy principle involved.
One of the pieces, 'Cartridge Music,' was performed by Mr. Cage and David Tudor. They had cards to which they referred, presumably for directions. This to me, is 'controlled' indeterminacy, which is an extension of something which has been taking place in music for a long time. It seemed valid to take Cage's idea one step further and not predetermine anything except the performers and their instruments. The idea of having planned cards with predetermined choices seemed too rigid. If the performers had more freedom they would be able to interact with the audience even more – giving a heightened dimension. Classical musicians, I reasoned, are not trained for this type of extemporizing today, but jazz musicians are. Why not see what could be done? A great deal in jazz has always been left up to chance, but a framework of some sort was always in use (whether written, or stylized by custom).
Al Francis and I tried improvising a duet with just free associations. This was not satisfying to me. I needed to hear more of an overall direction than aimless rambling. The idea of using an emotional framework, rather than a musical one occurred to me. We tried it once keeping in mind the thought of progressing from despair to hope. It 'happened.' I did not try it again before the record date for fear of establishing any set musical routine. When we came into the studio, this was the first thing recorded. Other than the emotional framework and the instruments and means at our disposal nothing was planned. We did one take." (From here... ).

Cor blimey... But this is a fascinating track. Starting in 'Despair,'one assumes, slow muted trumpet over odd rattles and chimes from the vibes, Ellis bending his notes quizzically. A drifting, weary feel, with the odd sudden eruption from Francis – then a long trumpet glissando that turns into a whinny and then something that sounds like a swanee whistle(?). Marking the transition (somewhat annoyingly - an echo of the clarinet upward sweep in Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' - which I have never liked)to 'Hope,' one supposes. Francis is the more interesting player for me and I find it difficult to assess this piece – but at the time it must have sounded downright weird at the time of recording and release. Nearly fifty years on, strangely enough, it would sit easily with a lot of European improv – far from the groove and snap which was retained in however a disguised fashion in the fire musics of the sixties, this is more concerned with sound texture and space. Ellis is another of the 'forgotten,' whose career spanned the fifties to seventies and the upheavals therein. Probably better known for his later big band experiments, which interestingly predate Miles' immersion in electronics and his twist on rock (Ellis was using an echoplexed trumpet in 1967, for example), which used many different time signatures – out-Brubeckian Brubeck... Which I must dig out sometime... Something of the Stan Kenton about him in his dogged, dogmatic approach – but whichever way it falls, he was a superb trumpet player.

A truly great trumpeter, cut down in his prime – was Clifford Brown. Heard here with the band he co-led with the mighty Max Roach, playing a fast version of Duke's 'Take the A Train.' Solos lead off with Harold Land, then Brownie, who always seemed to have so much time at his disposal even at fast tempos. Richie Powell fleet and boppy, then a few exchanges with the drummer – Max letting it rip in stunning controlled bursts. Going out on a programmatic train hoot and simulated engine slowdown. Corny, perhaps – but a sparkling track overall.

Harold Land went on to record 'The Fox' under his own name in 1959. Here is 'Mirror Mind Rose,' which was composed by the pianist on the date, Elmo Hope. Dupree Bolton leads off on this ballad, followed by Land as the slow swaying beat is marked out by the bass and the horns commence to entwine. Land off first to solo, eloquent and probing, to stop suddenly and let Bolton take over for a brief outing before Hope explores his theme, a clenched solo with occasional sudden hard chorded eruptions. Bolton and Land return to spell out the winding melody... Mysterioso...

Freedom means different things to different people at different times. When Sonny Rollins recorded 'Freedom Suite,' in 1958, his original angry comments, directed at racialism in the U.S., were dropped from the sleevenotes and replaced by a more oblique essay by Orrin Keepnews that emphasized artistic rather than political/social freedom. The music was/is ground-breaking, expanding the tradition from within and sending out ripples which are still visible. Rollins explores several themes at length, binding the whole by his melodic virtuosity as Pettiford and Roach dance and weave round him in glorious interaction, switching from four four to waltz time and back. The bass takes a couple of fleetly linear solos and Max is a revelation throughout. In the slow sections, Rollins' horn has a keening, yearning edge to it that hits you right where it should do... When the tempo is up, his sure-footed and rolling command of his instrument bursts through in all its glory. This session took the game further on, out of bop and hard bop to hint at the wider vistas to come...

“America is deeply rooted in Negro culture: its colloquialisms; its humor; its music. How ironic that the Negro, who more than any other people can claim America's culture as his own, is being persecuted and repressed; that the Negro, who has exemplified the humanities in his very existence, is being rewarded with inhumanity." (From Rollins' original notes, quoted here... an interesting article by Marshall Bowden about the original recording and the recent take on it by David S. Ware).

This last selection is a taster for Saturday night: I'm off to London for the weekend, mainly to see Sonny at the Barbican - the first time I have ever heard him play live. Part of a somewhat lacklustre London Jazz Festival... A recent interview here gives a flavour of what is to come... and what drives him still...

In the Videodrome..

Newk and Don...

Don Ellis big band play 'New Horizons'...

Bouncing with Bud Powell - 'Anthropology'...

... and 'Round Midnight.'

Don Ellis
Don Ellis (t) Al Francis (vib)
Despair to Hope


Clifford Brown/Max Roach
Clifford Brown (t) Harold Land (ts) Richie Powell (p) George Morrow (b) Max Roach (d)
Take the 'A' Train


Harold Land
Harold Land (ts) Dupree Bolton (t) Elmo Hope (p) Herbie Lewis (b) Frank Butler (d)
Mirror Mind Rose


Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins (ts) Oscar Pettiford (b) Max Roach (d)
Freedom Suite


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Art Tatum... Von Sclippenbach Trio... Junior Walker...

Back again in God's Little Acre and hitting the ground - not exactly running, more of an elegant stagger...

Making Whoopee – as we all like to do... Here, played by a trio of Art Tatum, Benny Carter and Louis Bellson. Tatum ripples in for the first A section then Carter takes the repeat 8 bars theme in a chomped-off manner, stretching the melody out more in the bridge and last 8. Tatum solos first, swinging solidly and staying near the theme, suddenly disrupting with a rapid waterfall of notes. Two-fisted old school in places – overall, damn near timeless stuff that transcends generation and style. Carter, one of the great alto players, lest we forget, comes up for his solo. Pithy elegance but with bite, the occasional double time smoothly showing his mastery. Tatum swirls round him like a velvet mist at times as Bellson keeps it moving fairly unobtrusively.

Evan Parker, Alexander Von Schlippenbach and Paul Lovens – the Old Firm, together now for many years. From 'Elf Bagatellen,' this track is 'Resurrection of Yarak.' I would argue for a generous and inclusive continuum that sees Benny Carter and Evan Parker connected, even though the sound worlds of this group and the Tatum trio possess a fair distance of separation. This is pretty abstract stuff – a pointillistic beginning, dabs and dots. Yet the scamper of Parker's lines when he gets going, the occasional bent sonority, display his jazz lineage, however obscured. Schlippenbach solos and demonstrates the same heritage – and the interplay between all of the musicians in this improvised setting binds it all together into that wider linkage. Well, I think so... 'jazz,' shmazz,' at this level, who really cares? The excitement generated as they really take off around seven minutes in obscures trivial debates about genre... Coming to land finally on rumbling deep piano...

Honking r and b tenor is another strand of the collectivity – Junior Walker and the All-Stars here, in a track with an English slant – 'Tally Ho.' Indeed... Weirdly suitable for a late autumn and wet early afternoon back in Blighty... grits and greens meet the stirrup cup over a whacking twelve bar blues...

Art Tatum
Art Tatum (p) Benny Carter as) Louis Bellson (d)
Making Whoopee


Alexander Von Schlippenbach

Alexander Von Schlippenbach (p) Evan Parker (ts) Paul Lovens (d)
Resurrection of Yarak


Jr Walker (ts) plus the All-Stars
Tally Ho


Friday, November 16, 2007

Imminent Return...

Coming back from Budapest tonight... my apologies as I have been off the radar for nearly two weeks but decided I needed a break/rest - and have been busy editing a book I'm trying to sell... normal service etc will be resumed over the weekend... Budapest a great place, by the way...

Monday, November 05, 2007


I am off to Budapest later today, back a week on friday so posting may be erratic... but I will try to get some music up as soon as I have discovered the wifi spots...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Review: Jack Hudson at the Pack Horse, Loughborough, Friday 2nd November...

A lot of anticipation and building excitement for this one – Jack Hudson doing a full gig at the Pack Horse. I had only seen him once before – a brief spot to a sparse audience, but he was brilliant and moving, one of the performances of last (or any) year and gave of himself as if to a large concert crowd – I figured that this was the way he always played. Hopefully... you can lay too much freight onto someone. An anarchic start to the night frayed a few nerves – the door to the venue upstairs was locked (a new landlord has just taken over and things are still settling down). But the key was located in time as people started arriving – so a somewhat rushed beginning. But it settled down pretty quickly. All in the ongoing spirit of the club, anyway...

Jack Hudson is a tall, rangy man with a slightly ironic/lugubrious face. An old hipster... with a deep, resonant voice, dark honey poured over grit and gravel, that conveys a stoic, burned down romanticism, shot through with a good leaven of wry humour. Songs of moving, the transitory friendships of the road, relationships licit and otherwise, the stuff of the heart, that hit you right where they are aimed at. Supported on fine-sprung clawhammer picking that balances the vocals without over-fussy distraction. This is a man who is renowned for his interpretations, the manner in which he gets inside a song, his own or well-selected covers. You could call it 'Americana,' for a fast tag that conveys something of the emotional areas he inhabits, strung off the blues, country and the country side of rock and laid onto an acoustic 'folk' framework – but that is only a necessary shorthand to describe loosely a unique performer. I use the terms occasionally of 'channelling' and 'blackface,' the first being a movement into material from outside culturally that nevertheless finds the true core and delivers it with soul and honesty, the second being a copy that rings hollow, broadened out from its original sense of imitating African-American music. Think white blues or English country in general for the second – and then the (admittedly few) exceptions in those genre who know how to 'channel' the material. Or all tribute bands... with no exceptions. Being English, then, and singing American and American-influenced material is a dangerous route to travel. Most don't pull it off. Jack Hudson does. In spades. Tonight over two sets he will rove through a variety of songs that have one solid link – the emotional truth they convey. From his own fine compositions – such as 'Driftwood and Nails,' about an illicit affair, the Hemingway-esque 'Elvis is alive and well' and the sad waltz 'She likes to go walking' – to some great covers, a man and his guitar and voice delivered one of those special nights. You really wouldn't need more...

The second half bounced of some classic Little Feat songs – 'Willin',' 'Roll 'em Easy,' 'Dixie Chicken' via a righteous version of Guy Clark's 'L.A. Freeway and a duet with one of his friends (Una) on Susannah Clark's 'Come from the heart' (via Mark Twain), less emphasis on his own material now, to end on the Mentor Williams classic 'Drift Away.' There was the occasional fluffed line and odd mistake but Jack is a charmer – they were smilingly shrugged off and oddly made his performance more endearing. A minor quibble, anyway, thrown in for some semblance of objectivity... as far as this audience was concerned, myself included, he could have finished the night by walking on water. He said later that he wasn't as road-sharp as he would like to have been – due to the absurdity of not getting many gigs. Cue outrage... Some people seem to demand cheap pigeon-holing – Jack does not fit easily into purist straight-jackets – as no musician of any worth does. At the end of the night he said: 'If you are able, don't take shit from anyone.' The qualifying phrase shows an intrinsic human understanding - some things are just not that easy. But should be striven for... Jack is a man who has travelled some difficult roads, I would hazard. What he brings back from his journeys, the hard-won truths encased in the pure gold of his songs, I would urge people to seek out. There are not many around like this...

A brief note on the Pack Horse – the new landlord seems to mean business, the room has been cleaned up (shock, horror etc) and hopefully things look bright for the future after some uncertain times recently. The usual hosannas to Mr Marmion, curator extraordinaire. I know how much this gig meant to him. And me...

Friday, November 02, 2007

Jack Hudson tonight at the Pack Horse, Loughborough... Friday, 2nd November, 2007

A quick shout for tonight - anyone within reachable distance of God's Little Acre should get down to Frank Marmion's club at the Pack Horse where the mighty Jack Hudson is playing a rare gig. If you know Jack's music - you'll be there - and if you don't - you should be anyway. Trust me, he is a stone original... I saw him a while back doing a short spot and he blew me away...

Here's a link to his record label - no personal info but a couple of albums which are worth grabbing - ignore the twee name which sounds like an organic breakfast cereal - 'Woven Wheat Whispers.' Dear God...