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


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