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



godoggo said...

I'm sure some would argue that those who lack good drugs hear this as less amazing than it truly was, so, you know, it's always useful to maintain a sense of perpective. Anyway, this is obviously atypical, and doesn't show a lot of the band's strengths, but, I don't know, I just thought it's something that ought to be heard, at least by me.

Rod... said...

It is atypical in that this track doesn't show the band at full stretch - my point being much the same as yours that at the time and place it must have sounded maybe more amazing than it was. But all the same, I like Ellis's take on the song which captures a lot of the flavour of the Beatles - English music hall mixed with american idioms laced with psychedelia because it's less respectful than all those dreary jazz Beatles song attempts of the time and the opening section wouldn't be out of place in some of the stuff I currently listen to. I hold my hand up as someone who admittedly was not a big fan of the Beatles or the cult of John Lennon and I hate 'Hey Jude' especially... More from this album anyway later - and thanks for reminding me I had it!

godoggo said...

Oh, well, I love the Beatles, and I love this song, although it's a little odd to recall that this is the first version of it that I ever heard.

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