Thursday, January 10, 2008

Barry Altschul... Shelley Manne... Cecil Taylor... Al Cohn/Bob Brookmeyer... Sonny Terry/Brownie McGhee

Barry Altschul, from 1977, the title track of the album 'You can't name your own tune.' Starts off brisk and busy, then Muhal comes through quickly for a solo, single line and swirl, horn riffs bridging this and Lewis's trombone, borne along on a strong tide that floods most of the sonic space, not allowing Lewis much room in the mix, that ebbs slightly then dies off for Dave Holland to come through and solo. Ending on a fast walk to bring in Rivers. Interesting – more space now opening than for the other horn as the piano drops out and the drummer holds off. Ensemble return to finish. A strange track, somehow, in its combination of tight writing and free solos that do not, however, stray too far from camp. As what was not often the case in earlier recordings, the bass is very up in the mix here – which blocks the trombone perhaps, muddying things a tad here and there as the bustling hyper-hustle of the drummer covers much of the canvas. Still – you can't have everything. Fascinating stuff...

Shelley Manne was doing some interesting work in 1954... His drums open on 'Abstract No 1,' followed by tenor and trumpet, an integral part of the three lined movement through this precursor of free jazz in the melodic/sonic way he intertwines with the horns, messing up the then-accepted (although increasingly fragile) jazz givens of rhythm/melody/harmony. Giuffre switches to clarinet and his inimitable bucolic tone adds another colour to the palette – back to baritone at the end. A sure-footed step into new areas – exploring sound, colour and texture, a long ways from bebop but not as dry as much of the third stream would become.

Cecil Taylor... 'I forgot,' take one. This is early on in his recorded career and the more fascinating because of that. He first recorded in that epochal Death of Bird year, 1955 – 'Jazz Advance,' the album, but this is from the marathon Candid sessions of 1961. The young Archie Shepp, who sometimes seemed to be floundering on some tracks (understandably), here contributes well to the sombre mood of this slow, smoky performance. Two sections - Taylor thoughtful, calm, dropping occasional astringencies into the proceedings but nothing like his usual galloping energy. Neidlinger adding deep arco bass as Shepp wanders through with almost dreamlike tenor. A pause - then the drummer gives spasmodic cymbals, Taylor enters on floating, distant piano, spartan drifting figures. Charles gives restrained cymbal splashes like breaths before bass, tenor and then piano return. A sudden rush, falling away. The whole, like a slow fragmented episodic blur, riffing on the elusiveness of memory - 'I Forgot?' And similar to the Shelley Manne piece in its handling of colours and mood...

To measure the distance travelled, the spaces laid out in new mapping... A 1957 date from Al Cohn and Bob Brookmeyer, from which comes this track, 'Lazy Man Stomp.' A fast yet frothy romp – you could imagine people jiving to this. Cohn was a pretty good sax player, one of the original 'Four Brothers' in Woody Herman's Second Herd, (I think he followed Herbie Steward into the section -who is, according to the link, the only surviving member of that illustrious fraternal grouping) whose arranging/composing skills took over his career, although he kept up a long-term sporadic partnership with other Brother Zoot Sims. A Brookmeyer composition – the title might give that away, perhaps, evocative of an earlier era in jazz that the trombonist always kept a foot and a large piece of his heart in. Good solos all round - including a crystal clear Mose Allison, playing a sideman's role here, rocked along nicely by some punchy drumming from Nick Stabulas and Teddy Kotick's masterfully sprung bass. To say this is solidly swinging and satisfying would be to under-praise it (in a wreckless splash of unintentionally Miltonic sibilance - hissing 'like Medusa's head in wrath' indeed as James Russell Lowell says here... [long scroll down]). The interest for me in selecting these tracks is that, given the haphazard way I pick them, how fascinating it is to let them bounce off each other in such a spontaneous way. I can't help but compare 'Lazy Man Stomp' to the Altschul piece above, given the similar ensemble - trombone and tenor plus rhythm section - this is much clearer, oddly more space allowed for the music, much as I like the other recording. And the drumming is equally as forceful here...

Sonny and Brownie – 'Stranger Blues.' That fine-sprung bounce of Brownie's guitar leads them in after a brief spoken delineation, with Terry's harmonica running across like an effervescent hound dog in the breaks between their matched vocals, also punctuated by Sonny's high woops. By the time this was recorded in the sixties they had fine-honed their style – but it works so well. I saw them a couple of years later in London, headlining a big blues show and they were wonderful. And in Dublin on what was their last European tour together, must have been in the late seventies. They were still great...

Barry Altshul
Barry Altshul (d) Sam Rivers (ts) George Lewis (tr) Muhal Richard Abrams (p) Dave Holland (b)
You can't name your own tune


Shelley Manne
Shelley Manne (d) Shorty Rogers (t) Jimmy Guiffre (ts, cl, bs)
Abstract No 1


Cecil Taylor
Archie Shepp (ts) Cecil Taylor (p, cel) Buell Neidlinger (b) Denis Charles (d)
I forgot take one


Al Cohn/Bob Brookmeyer
Al Cohn (ts) Bob Brookmeyer (tr) Mose Allison (p) Teddy Kotick (b) Nick Stabulas (d)
Lazy Man Stomp


Sonny Terry (v, hca) Brownie McGhee (g, v)
Stranger Blues


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