Saturday, April 05, 2008
Benny Golson... Blind Willie Johnson... Cecil Taylor...
Bennie Golson arranged and conducted – but did not play on - his 1962 album 'Just Jazz. A selection of classic jazz themes, from which I have selected the old Basie number 'Moten Swing.' A stately, crisp theme statement, counter-pointed by some sharp comping from Bill Evans. Shorter takes the first solo, very quickly spinning off on long double-timed runs - that flavour of Coltrane still there, although his tone is more distant, foggy. Evans comes in next, locked hands style – almost like Red Garland – maybe it was the rhythm section – Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb, from Miles' band - that had echoes for him. The other ensemble that springs to mind looking at the front line – Blakey's Jazz Messengers, with whom Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller and Wayne Shorter were playing round the time of this session. Golson, of course had been in the band a couple of years before. Another geeky fact that points up this intermarriage – Miles occasionally had a trombone in his front line that year – Frank Rehak. Curtis Fuller has also been in his band during the late fifties. Golson's writing made a strong contribution to the evolution of the Messengers sound – the middle eight in the theme statements here has a certain swing and attack that reminds me of the Blakey group – although Jimmy Cobb is not such a violent hitter as Buhaina – crisp cymbals rather than surging press rolls from the left hand of God... Memo to self: must dig out my copy of Blakey's 'Free Jazz,' with Hubbard, Shorter and Fuller – a fiery, wild record.
The pride of Beaumont, Texas, Blind Willie Johnson singing 'God moves on the water' in 1929, a song about the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Superbly tight slide and accurate single note runs across a solid rhythm. The click of the bottleneck on the wood of the guitar gives an acoustic immediacy to the performance that cuts across the years. The hoarse gruff voice is shadowed superbly, question and answer back and forth. Johnson's God annihilates the worldly ambitions of the powerful:
'A.G. Smith, mighty man, built a boat that he couldn't understand
Named it a name of God in a tin, without a "c", Lord, he pulled it in.'
Some debate about this last line – including here... one for the detectives... although I guess that the sense is obvious - the old God Titan defeated by the Christian deity. Certainly - 'The Titanic... served as a warning about technology--about the hubris of a "progressive" age that believed it could subdue nature.' (Taken from a fascinating look at the cultural impact of the Titanic disaster here ). A related incident that would have had further personal resonance in African-American culture was the alleged refusal to allow Jack Johnson the boxer to travel first class:
'Champion boxer Jack Johnson supposedly was refused First-Class passage on the Titanic, due to the fact that he was a negro. He would not travel in the Second or Third-Class areas offered to him, because he thought it was below his stature. Disgusted, he did not board the Titanic, and travelled on another liner.' (From here ). Leadbelly famously mentions this in his (later) song about the Titanic...
'Jack Johnson wanna get on board, Captain said I ain't hauling no coal.
Fare thee, Titanic, fare thee well.
When Jack Johnson heard that mighty shock, mighta seen the man do the Eagle rock.
Fare thee, Titanic, fare thee well.'
I think they call it schadenfreude... But there were many songs written about the disaster... hubris writ large...
Early Cecil again – from 1961, this is 'Cindy's Main Mood, take one.' A three way improvisation between Neidlinger, Billy Higgins and Taylor, ushered in by the drums, as the bass thrums deep and Taylor joins them, pecking away at first, then lop-sided tumbling figures before the line starts to extend. When you compare this performance to the Golson track above, recorded a year later, a measure, perhaps, of the distance travelled by Taylor from his arrival in the fifties can be roughly sketched. On the jazz continuum (no argument there - one would hope)– the bass and drums ensure that - but far enough away from the hard bop norm to sound shocking in its acoustic disruptions and remakings. A session where two of the roads coming through the avant garde meet – the drummer had played with Ornette Coleman's ground-breaking group and, like the altoist, had started out in rhythm and blues. This track was on an album called 'New York R and B.' So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut used to say...
Freddie Hubbard (tp) Curtis Fuller (tb) Wayne Shorter (ts) Bill Evans (p) Paul Chambers (b) Jimmy Cobb (d) Benny Golson (arr, cond)
Blind Willie Johnson (g,v)
God moves on the water
Cecil Taylor (p)Buell Neidlinger (b)Billy Higgins (d)
Cindy's Main Mood (take one)