Saturday, May 31, 2008

Charlie Parker... Evan Parker/John Stevens... Joe Morris... Clifton Chenier...

Back to the source...

Miles leads in with youthful almost hesitant poignancy then Bird takes over to run double time in the main, all round, over and through this slow ballad theme 'Don't Blame Me.' Tommy Potter holds the line, Duke Jordan chords somewhere in the next room alongside equally sonically discreet Max Roach. After the bravura alto, Miles returns for a brief snatch before they end. The flash of Bird is not mere technique venting forth – his sound had such a strong yet vulnerable timbre, his alto saxophone truly a 'vocalised' instrument, that makes his speed integral to his overall concept. Head and heart locked in a mighty embrace. Perhaps one of the defining characteristics of jazz, apart from improvisation (which is linked to it as a moving ever-renewable expression of individuality), is the manner in which an instrument is so heavily connected to a player. This requires the high technical standards necessary in the search for and achievement of individual expression, the way in which a listener can pick out different players from each other by their 'signatures.' But technique alone is not enough - the notes would be 'empty' without emotion. Much of the excitement of jazz comes from this identification with individual concepts and their shifting relationship to the communal. Here – Miles's fragile muted trumpet is instantly identifiable – and Parker even more so. These are voices we know and cherish... Which reminds me of an apposite story that a friend of mine (The Blessed Frank Marmion) recently told me. When he was at sea as a young man a clarinet player came over the radio whom he correctly identified within a few bars – Jimmy Noone, I think. Someone mocked him, in effect saying 'How can you possibly know that – a clarinet is a clarinet, could be anybody.' He had to eat his words when the announcer gave the personnel at the end of the number...

Another mighty player – Evan Parker, in a duet with John Stevens. Coming from a totally different emotional and cultural area, drier, more rarified. Opening on small fragments over spartan percussive patterns. This is '19.44,' taken from the album 'The Longest Night.' Operating on the higher end of the spectrum – cymbals and sharp hits as Parker's soprano crabs its way onwards - this is very intense music, a record of two musicians listening and responding to each other with great intimacy. Going up to bat-squeak sqiggles – yet always under tight technical control. Towards the end, clenched drum rolls and spattering cymbals spur Parker to a longer line - the point where you can see very clearly the lineage back into 'jazz.' Evocative of two friends having a long-ranging late-night conversation that develops its own rules as it moves on through.

My favourite contemporary guitar player Joe Morris, with a trio session from 1997 , playing 'Stare into a lightbulb for three years,' from the album 'Antennae.' Commences with a jerky, fragmented theme, progressing into a three-way collaboration between Morris, bass Nate Morris and drummer Jerome Duepree. The guitarist splats out knotted, gnarled lines with odd intervallic jumps to keep you on your toes, unremitting and remorseless linear improvising. Morris has a purist gunslinger ethos, little tinkering with the sound of his guitar which harks back to earlier modern jazz styles, but a total dedication to his art that takes no prisoners. Actually, once you enter his world, it becomes more friendly – much joy to be had following his logic.

"Morris has gone to the avant-garde well to test the brink of improvisational reason, but at the same time developed a quintessential jazz-guitar tone, dark and dulcet, its vibrato squarely modulated and inimical to sonic overkill. If Ornette Coleman were Jim Hall, he would be Joe Morris."

Said Gary Giddins, quoted from here... 'If Ornette...' Sort of – but Morris is very much his own man... And his cohorts balance him perfectly here – Duepree takes a rippling ripping solo followed by one of some eloquence from the bassist. Morris explains where the inspiration for the album came from in the liner notes:

'This set of pieces was originally named The Green Book. Inspired by a collection of visual graphic aids by that name created by the late composer/improviser/pianist Lowell Davidson... Lowell's Green Book was intended to be used as a guide for improvisation. It consisted of a set of color Xerox images made by the copier running on it's own without source material. The results were dense blotches of random pattern and color. Lowell considered the Green Book to be one of his most advanced devices to be used to steer himself and his players. Others included index cards with different sizes of notes (these were similar to the work of other composers from the 50s and 60s) and his invented staves which were intended to isolate certain musical zones and sounds. He also notated on materials other than paper and used methods of notating such as making holes in aluminum foil and placing it in front of a light bulb. Lowell said that by looking at the foil you could imprint the pattern of light on your synapses and then transfer the pattern to your instrument. In one of Lowell's most extreme experiments, he stared into a high wattage chrome coated light bulb every day for what he claimed was three years-I didn't know him at that time.' (From here – scroll down).

Brief Wikipedia article on Lowell Davidson here... sounds like he was an interesting dude...

Some Zydeco - Clifton Chenier essays a slow-rocking mean old twelve bar - 'I can look down at your woman.' Smouldering stuff - and Chenier transcends the old musicians gag about accordions here with some fine playing. ('The definition of a gentleman is someone who knows how to play an accordion - but doesn't...')

Uploading this as Thelonious Monk solo piano moves into the Velvet Underground playing 'Sister Ray' on my Last Fm feed – whip it on me, Jim... Between those two polarities I can live easily... One of the joys of Last Fm – just when you think it ticks off stuff you know in the background something totally different comes blasting through – the latest being guitarist Pat Martino the other week, whose playing I did not really know before - what a blast that was. Stopped me in my tracks... I have some of his music arriving soon...

Charlie Parker
Miles Davis (tp) Charlie Parker (as) Duke Jordan (p) Tommy Potter (b) Max Roach (d)
Don't blame me


Evan Parker (ss) John Stevens (d)


Joe Morris
Joe Morris (e-g) Nate Morris (b) Jerome Duepree (d)
Stare at a lightbulb for three years


Clifton Chenier
I can look down at your woman


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Charlie Parker/JATP... Frank Sinatra/Count Basie... Frank Wright...

A wet, cold bank holiday so far here in God's Little Acre... Something to cheer me up. Old School... This is 'The Opener' from a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in 1949. I can remember way back various critics being sniffy about JATP and Norman Grantz – as if people enjoying the music in a live setting and musicians responding with a bit of rabble-rousing was somehow not the done thing. What crap... Flip Phillips opens up the batting here with some rip-snorting tenor. Tommy Turk cools it down a bit with a fine solo - why was he such an obscure figure? Lester sidles in, lithe and detached but getting almost enervated as the background riffing picks up to boot him along. Then the sublime Bird... Playing further 'in' than usual, locking things down in place with a couple of his patented blues phrases – drums were not Max or Kenny Clarke which would have given him a better cushion. (Buddy Rich is four-square but that doesn't matter so much in the overall context perhaps). But still unmistakably THE BIRD... Hank Jones next, some rather spiffing piano - heard very clearly for once – many of those old live recordings were a bit iffy. Then Roy Eldridge – ripping and stabbing at notes, one of the great trumpeters, the link from swing to Diz, surely. Sure its grandstanding – but breathes there a man (or woman) with soul so dead they cannot dig? Also, an interesting transition being documented – swing to bop (with some r and b elements thrown in) and although the differences are there – re my remarks about Buddy Rich, for example – somehow it doesn't seem such a jump between the two. At this point with hindsight it is evident that modern jazz hadn't been totally disenfranchised from swing - as many of the boppers had started in big bands etc, no matter their subsequent stylistic transgressions into 'Chinese Music' (as Louis dubbed it - an early reaction subsequently recanted). Voltaire said: 'All styles are good except the tiresome kind.' Yup...

In a similar vein... A grand meeting of pop and jazz, from the days when popular music was not that far away from jazz. Combining the sheer drive, swing and snap of the Count's band with the majestic presence of old Francis Albert performing 'I believe in you.' The Basie band punch in like a well-oiled machine embedded with soul if that makes sense and Frank enters for a smooth dance over the top of their contained power, his phrasing a delight - learned in the big band trade during his apprenticeship with Tommy Dorsey - whose trombone phrasing he emulated vocally. Although that early gig was not a smooth ride - see here...

So inexorably to the New Thing... Frank Wright on his second recording date in 1967 for fabled free jazz label ESP. 'The Lady,' taken from the album 'Our Prayer.' Starting with the ensemble horns playing the rather attractive head at a slowish pace as the bass runs around underneath leading the drums in a faster rhythmic contrast. Arthur Jones, one of those who popped up briefly and then disappeared not long after (unfortunately – what a good player!), takes a smearing bluesy solo. Nice blog piece on him sometime back on Destination Out . Coursil – who turned up in New York in the sixties and made a couple of stunning appearances on ESP – starts slow over the busy rhythms, following the logic of the theme - then cranks it up mightily. Lowe comes in in Ayler-ish fashion – you can hear the influence strongly. Oddly enough – or not – this brings the blogpost full circle for me... is JATP really so far away from the tonal distortions here – that one could also hear in the African American church as well as in r and b honking horns? And: Coursil's bravura trumpet is surely not so far from Roy Eldridge? There is a freshness to this music that I find very appealing.

The name of the bass player, Steve Tintweiss, intrigued me as I couldn't place it straight away. Googled however to find some interesting info here – and a nice quote from the article about this session:

“All of us, except for Jacques Coursil the trumpet player, were all on acid for that record. We had learned to use LSD in a disciplined way, as a tool. We were able to discipline ourselves to be able to play and fulfill our obligations.”

Far out, as they say. Actually, after I read further, I remembered who he was - the bass player on Albert Ayler's last date, in Europe, a track from which I put up way back. Maybe more from that soon – that's the way this blog works -jump cuts and random movements diagonally...But fun, essentially...

Wonder if the weather will improve today?

Charlie Parker et al/Jazz at the Philharmonic
Charlie Parker (as) Flip Phillips, Lester Young (ts) Tommy Turk (tr) Roy Eldridge (t) Hank Jones (p) Ray Brown (b) Buddy Rich (d)
The Opener


Frank Sinatra/Count Basie
I believe in you


Frank Wright
Frank Wright (ts) Arthur Jones (as) Jacques Coursil (t) Steve Tintweiss (b) Muhammad Ali (d)


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Shelly Manne... Spontaneous Music Ensemble... Thelonious Monk...

Shelly Manne made an album called 'The Three and the Two' in 1954 – the Three being himself, Shorty Rogers on trumpet, Jimmy Giuffre on assorted saxes and clarinet, the Two a duo with Russ Freeman on piano. No bass on either – which poses interesting questions in both lineups... These days we are used to drum/other instrument duos – at the time it was fairly radical in modern jazz, especially because of the changes in the rhythm section that had come about, where the bass is much more the basic rhythmic pivot, freeing up the drums. I have chosen two tracks, one from each lineup – both of them Charlie Parker lines - in an attempt to measure some the continuities - and fractures – that Mann was attempting. Arguably, to come at bop from his own direction, in the spirit of inquiry which was the flipside to what is usually seen as 'cool school' simplifications and embrace of commercial success. I think that one of the main impulses in West Coast experimental musics as such was an emphasis on counterpoint in an effort to acquire a greater freedom of linearity from what were increasingly perceived in some quarters as restrictive bop orthodoxies by the fifties. (A measure of the speed of the music's development, as well...). For white musicians, perhaps an attempt to come to terms with the black origins of jazz by attempting to graft more consciously 'European' devices onto the music? As a white European (sort of), one speculates... I do not profess to know the answer - and it is a tricky/dangerous subject to explore without coming across as some wishy-washy liberal apologist – or bigotedly ignoring the harsh and brutal cultural and political realities of post-slavery America. A fascinating blog post by Evan Iverson takes up the thorny subject of the white-black dynamic in jazz at some length, via a consideration of Lennie Tristano and Barack Obama's recent speech. I might take issue with some of his conclusions but to tackle the subject at all is a brave and considered step... Something else I learned from this piece – that Tristano apparently had no time for Monk – put him down badly/offensively, in fact... Tristano is a musician I admire and regard as very underrated – so this was a shock. But, like I say, these are tricky issues – which should be met head on...

The music: a busy opening on 'Billies Bounce' as the piano takes the lead and the left hand covers for lack of bass by ranging deep and busy – some heavy chording in places. Manne ranges freely – always a melodic drummer, concerned with timbre. The exchanges with Freeman point this up... the pianist also keeps to the middle and lower registers to give a full sound, less forays up the keyboard than you would hear if a bass was there to cover the bottom end. This gives a feeling of earlier two-fisted piano styles crossed with modern harmonies – and stomps along nicely.

'Steeplechase' is introduced by the drums before the horns weave in a dissonant counterpoint, a stop-start feel to the first sixteen bars and in the last eight. Giuffre solos first, Giuffre laying down a fairly insistent four – to compensate for the lack of bass? The use of baritone against the trumpet gives a feeling of the Mulligan Quartet refracted into a more abstracted/fragmented area. Rogers was always an attractive player with an ear for the experimental. Some busy exchanges between drums and the two horns. A sideways tipping of bop into something else – less frenetic than Bird would be yet still busy, the lack of bass or piano offering and opening up free spaces...

Plucks, thumps, sporadic drum hits, a single saxophone note followed by another, chomped off, sparsely spattered, the free rhythm slowly gathers pace as Stevens becomes busier. A succession of almost discreet moments that overlap enough between the three participants to move the performance along. This is the English group 'Spontaneous Music Ensemble,' a trio in this manifestation, of John Stevens, Trevor Watts and Kent Carter, playing 'Rambunctious One.' Pioneering free improv of the Brit variety, pointillist and rigorous, coming from 'jazz' but going elsewhere into distanced considerations of manipulating sounds moving through space and time, taking the instruments to the edges of conventional technique and beyond. Building up a fair head of steam as it progresses, an image in my mind of three people walking in to a room, strewing various fragments about and slowly assembling them, as the lines become longer, more developed. Carter's bass returns in places to an almost conventional role, yet the grounding as such timbrally comes from Stevens - contrast and compare to Shelly Manne above...although the rhythms are much more exploded and stretched. I would hazard that Manne was doing something similar back in 1954...

We started on the West Coast – to return, Monk at the Blackhawk club with a pickup band in 1960. East meets West and the combination defies Kipling's strictures... An unusal lineup for Monk who favoured quartets in the main, to his usual tenor man Charlie Rouse are added Joe Gordon and Harold Land to flesh out the front line. His regular bass player of the time, John Orr, is aided by Billy Higgins on drums. 'Worry later', also known as 'San Francisco Holiday,' is the selection. This album never seems to figure much in the Monk canon but it has always been one of my favourites from when I bought it on first release many (many) years ago. A great live recording, evocative because of the extraneous noises, snatches of conversation, glasses chinking etc... Higgins leads it in with the rhythmic figure of the theme – one of those nagging, stabbing lines that are pure Monk. Rouse takes the first solo, always dependable but sounding quite frisky here. Joe Gordon next, warm of tone and spirit, playing well considering the nature of the music. Land is always interesting – especially here, thrown in to the maelstrom at such short notice. Some commentators have criticised their contributions because of the hurried nature in which the date was organised – Monk's music not easy to drop into etc. Precisely because of this, I find them interesting – but I'm perverse... Monk emits his perennial twists turns, sudden drops and rhythmic displacements, the usual fascinating interrogations. An oddly satisfying closing of the circle here – he was supposed to play with the musician who started this sequence, Shelly Manne, but they did not gel, apparently, so this session was hastily arranged and recorded.

In the Videodrome...

Tristano in Copenhagen – wonderful wonderful, etc...

and with the quintet at the Half Note 1964...

Warne Marsh in Berlin...with Klook...

Kenny Clarke/Bud Powell/Clark Terry in Paris 1959...

Mingus in Milan 1976...

Ornette dances in your head...

at Bonnaroo last year...

Some Johnny Shines slide...

Shelly Manne
(Shelly Manne (d) Shorty Rogers (t), Jimmy Guiffre (bs) Russ Freemn (p)
Billie's Bounce


Spontaneous Music Ensemble
John Stevens (perc, v) Trevor Watts (ss) Kent Carter (b)
Rambunctious One

(Scroll down to '2 cd sets')

Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk (p) Charlie Rouse, Harold Land (ts) Joe Gordon (t) John Orr (b) Billy Higgins (d)
Worry Later


Monday, May 19, 2008

Back tomorrow... in the meantime... Tommy Flanagan...

Back tomorrow - here's some smooth and elegant piano playing to tide things over until then - Tommy Flanagan playing 'In a sentimental mood.'

Tommy Flanagan (p) Tommy Potter (b) Roy Haynes (d)
In a sentimental mood


Friday, May 09, 2008

Art Pepper... Gerry Mulligan... Lee Konitz... Art Ensemble of Chicago...

In 1957 the Miles Davis band were out on the west coast and Lester Koenig at Contemporary Records put the group's rhythm section together with the alto player Art Pepper – one of a very select group of saxophonists who were not blatant Charlie Parker ripoffs and had forged their own style (while acknowledging the debt). In his autobiography, 'Straight Life,' Pepper tells of how he had not played for six months at the time, pieced together a battered old horn and ventured off into the jazz unknown. A nice story... although I just checked the discography and he is down as playing on three sessions between January 3, 1957 and the date for this recording – January 19 – two under his own name with different quartet personnel and one doubling on tenor and alto for a gig under Joe Morello's leadership (later to acquire much fame in Brubeck's quartet) which was also put out as a co-led band with Red Norvo later on – and under his own name much later again. A measurement of the vagaries of fame... So: print the legend... Whatever the circumstances, up against one of the great rhythm sections – Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones – he makes a pretty good fist of it, however prepared/unprepared. This is 'Star Eyes:' Red Garland leads in at a sprightly bounce before Pepper states the theme and takes the first solo honours. Piano next, the familiar joyous spring in Garland's fingers as Philly Joe rimshots here and there to keep his band partner on track. Chambers takes an arco spot over sparse comping and occasional drum prodding. Pepper returns – then Philly Joe goes for a quick batter around his kit before all return for the ending bars. There is a crisp purity to Pepper's tone, underlaid with an edge on the occasional slur and bend that became more pronounced in later years, signalling a move into a more overtly emotional music, under the sign of John Coltrane. Also: there is an influence from a previous generation of alto players that perhaps helped to balance off the the large shadow of Bird – he plays with the unruffled skill of Bennie Carter, for example. Classic modern jazz.

The Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band could be considered in the lineage of the Miles Davis Birth of the Cool band, although let us not forget that Mulligan was a founding contributor to that lineage. He had worked alongside Gil Evans in the Claude Thornhill band during the 1940s when Evans was chief arranger, an outfit that pioneered much of the instrumental colouring that was to come: 'Mulligan and Evans agree that Thornhill never has been given his due as an influence in the evolution of modern jazz writing.'(From here... ). This cross-fertilisation bore heavier fruit when in collaboration with John Lewis and Miles Davis, Evans and Mulligan wrote and arranged much of the music for the Birth of the Cool sessions. Davis took most of the credit in the history books but those other contributions were equally important - especially from Mulligan, who was to further evolve his own style with his 50's quartet to solve the evolutionary challenges of bebop's rapid, cluttered chord sequences. Based on various interpretations of counterpoint, I would submit... Here, then, is 'Come rain or come shine.' Soft footing in before Mulligan takes the theme as velvet sonorities wrap around his throaty baritone saxophone, the bottom end ticked off by the bass – nary a drum to be heard at first – then a stop-time section to take it up – eventually to drop off back into the slow tempo. Varying textures behind the leader as he fires away into increasingly complicated double time figures – sometimes just a single instrument. Another indication, perhaps, of a horizontal, linear thinking as opposed to much conventional section writing in larger groups. Going into a sombre ending. A masterpiece...

Lee Konitz plays 'I'll Remember April.' A sardonic ellipsis committed on the theme - Konitz always seems to be improvising, restating, reshuffling from the get go. Similarities with the other great white alto player above, Art Pepper, playing with a powerhouse rhythm section - here, no piano, just Sonny Dallas on bass and the mighty Elvin Jones behind the drums. How far the rhythm had come since Philly Joe, an earlier master. Konitz plays with unfettered freedom over the strong bass pulse that is the fulcrum as Jones shifts it about, offering so many possibilities to bounce off. This track is taken from a 1961 date and seems to encapsulate what had gone before while hinting at what was breaking and what was to come...

The Art Ensemble of Chicago, recorded in 1970 during their tenure in France. 'Theme: Libre.' A percussion/drum-driven clattering, wilding blowout to clear the cobwebs – outside the sun is shining and all is suddenly well in God's Little Acre... trumpet and saxes rise out of the thunder and hissing spatters of cymbals, jumping across each other in a gloriously chaotic leap-frogging (no pun intended...)... Lester Bowie sounds the charge - and also signals periods of repose among the clamour as the flutes join in for a touch of pastoral evocation to ease on out with...

Art Pepper
Art Pepper (as) Red Garland (p) Paul Chambers (b) Philly Joe Jones (d)
Star Eyes


Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band
Gerry Mulligan (arr, bs) Bob Brookmeyer (arr, tr) Al Cohn, Johnny Mandel (arr)
Don Ferrara, Nick Travis, Clark Terry (t) Willie Dennis, Alan Ralph (tr) Gene Quill (as cl) Bob Donovan (as) Jim Reider (ts) Gene Allen (bs, b-cl) Bill Crow (b) Mel Lewis (d)
Come rain or come shine


Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz (as) Sonny Dallas (b) Elvin Jones (d)
I'll Remember April


Art Ensemble of Chicago
Malachi Favors (b, perc) Don Moye (d, perc) Roscoe Mitchell (ss, as, fl perc) Joseph Jarman (ss, as, fl, perc, bass, ob) Lester Bowie (t,, flug, perc)
Theme: Libre


Late on parade...

Mucho apologies for being late on parade (again!). Combo of the arrival of summer and other pressing tasks... music coming later...