Friday, August 22, 2008

Red Garland... Jackie McLean... Rob Brown/Joe Morris... King Oliver... Count Basie/Frank Sinatra...

Red Garland leads a quintet for the long title track of his 1957 album 'Soul Junction.' A name very much of its time... The pianist leads in a slow blues with several choruses of rippling funky lines. Something always cleanly hit about Garland's technique, a finely calibrated springiness. The trademark block chords arrive later on, alternating with the single note strategy.. Coltrane enters, changing the mood into something more questing – as always, he seems to move the music into a different zone. Looking in front of the day while still secure on the back foot of the blues. Donald Byrd is secure and fleet while Art Taylor stirs sporadically behind him with some Blakey-like prodding. Garland returns for some rolling two-fisted sport to take it out.

Jackie McLean recorded the splendidly titled 'Swing Swang Swinging' in 1959 from which I have selected 'Let's face the music and dance.' Something I would have a problem with at the moment, reduced to gimp mode by the broken toe. Let's face the music anyway... Straight in at a sprightly bounce, McLean leads a solid quartet on this 1959 Blue Note date who all sound as if they are enjoying themselves. Art Taylor is on tough form, Garrison runs fast and deep, Bishop looking after the chords. Alto takes a joyous solo followed by piano - channelling Bud, slap bang in the bop tradition as is the whole of this session. Bishop had played with Bird before his death and McLean was seen as one of the heirs to Parker - this reminds me slightly of some of those later quartet sessions Bird made. Recorded 4 years after his death, something of a looking back perhaps, at a time when McLean was about to launch forwards into his own take on the coming New Thing, blown on the winds that Ornette was to send west to east.

'The music needs no further explanation. As Alfred Lyons said: “They came, swung, they split. That's why we called the album 'Swing, Swang, Swinging.' (from Ira Gitler's liner notes).

The Rob Brown/Joe Morris quartet playing 'Results.' Opens on splats, bangs and squiggles – or pointillism, mes braves. The bass starts to run free, with some stops and starts, the drums suddenly roll violently and sax and guitar spar in snatched grapples. Brown takes it up, with Morris occasionally throwing in a shard of comping and an answering or complementary line before he emerges to solo as the others pull back to let him through. The storm rises soon enough – this track never comes completetly to rest. Brown comes back to riff behind the guitar before Parker takes an arco solo. Rob Brown next, jumping across intervals with a Dolphy-esque skip across Morris's acid chording. Free for all to fall into the drums of Krall before they all return - Brown especially passionate and vocal, taking another fine section after the bass and drums indulge in a quieter interlude. Finely positioned quartet work that shows both ensemble and solo in perfect balance.

Back to the roots – King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, the avant garde of 1923 I put 'Dippermouth Blues' up some time back – but what the hell, here it is again, such a joyous piece of music. And I get the chance to riff: 'Oh play that thing!'

Another King Oliver, to make up for the repetition... 'Snake Rag.' There is a very good blog post on this track here (this blog dedicated to Louis Armstrong's life and work). By the way, this is the Gennett version. You have to make a certain leap of the imagination to really get to this music I think – disregard the fact that Baby Dodds' drums were reduced to woodblock minimalism by virtue of the early recording techniques, for example – but if you can create a channel, what joy... King Oliver in his heyday firing out the twin cornet breaks that thrilled the audiences at the Lincoln Gardens in Chicago with his protégé young Louis Armstrong, who was about to blow out the ramparts of New Orleans collective improvisation. Oliver is another tragic figure, in many ways – apparently when he was in New York a few years later he turned down the Cotton Club gig – which launched Duke Ellington and his band to greater glories...

Ring a ding ding – here's Francis Albert essaying forth on 'Hello Dolly,' backed by the mighty Basie ork. (Barbra Who?) 'This is Francis, Louie.' Some show biz fun... Recorded in 1964, a year or so after I saw Bill Basie and co at the Leicester De Montfort Hall. Ah, the memory of the messianic clenched craziness of a teenage jazz fan...

So: I came. I swung. Time to split. Man...

Red Garland
John Coltrane (ts) Donald Byrd (t) Red Garland (p) George Joyner (b) Arthur Taylor (d)
Soul Junction


Jackie McLean
Jackie McLean (as) Walter Bishop (p) Jimmy Garrison (b) Art Taylor (d)
Let's face the music and dance


Rob Brown/Joe Morris 4
Rob Brown (as) Joe Morris (g) William Parker (b) Jackson Krall (d)


King Oliver, Louis Armstrong: (c) Johnny Dodds (cl) Honore Dutray (tr) Lil Hardin (p) Bill Johnson (b, banjo) Baby Dodds (d)
Dippermouth Blues

Snake Rag


Count Basie Orchestra plus Frank Sinatra (v)
Hello Dolly


Friday, August 15, 2008

Anthony Braxton... Phineas Newborn... Miles Davis...

Anthony Braxton and his Great Quartet playing 'No 159' from the 1991 set recorded at the Willisau Festival. Swirling, densely scampering brilliance held together with a repeated phrase that pops up like an annoying child repeatedly sticking their tongue out at you over and over again. (My dear wildboy grandson springs to mind...).

Phineas Newborn recorded the old bop/Afro-Cuban warhorse 'Manteca' out in Los Angeles, 1961, with one of the top rhythm duos of the day – Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, who had come together in the first great Miles Davis Quintet during the years 1955-8. Newborn never attained the critical heights and was dogged with illness, both mental and physical. On form, though, a scintillating player:

'In his prime, he was one of the three greatest jazz pianists of all time, right up there with Bud Powell and Art Tatum...' (Leonard Feather, quoted from here...).

Miles in 1965 with his Second Great Quintet, bristling with the youthful energies he had surrounded himself with in another gesture of artistic renewal. Taken from the live sets taped at the Plugged Nickel, this is 'Round Midnight,' Monk's famous dark blue reverie which Davis recorded many times. Thoughtful trumpet leads in with a long pause before a sudden trill then into the main theme, Miles bending and squeezing notes, wry smears, sudden flurries. Changing gear as Shorter enters, the tempo busier now. An elliptical solo, finding almost as much space as the leader. Some nice interplay between piano and tenor. Herbie Hancock next, equally sparse to match the mood. Miles returns. More 'vocalised' horn - this is not about bop speed but something different, colour and a cunning use of silence...

Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton (as) Marilyn Crispell (p) Mark Dresser (b) Gerry Hemingway (d)
No 159


Phineas Newborn Jr
Phineas Newborn Jr (p) Paul Chambers (b) Philly Joe Jones (d)


Miles Davis
Miles Davis (tp) Wayne Shorter (ts) Herbie Hancock (p) Ron Carter (b) Tony Williams (d )
Round Midnight


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Broken toes... new computers...

A weird week - breaking my toe (again) on sunday slowed me down somewhat - plus delivery of a new laptop has had me wrestling to re-network the Eagles Nest. Plus doing some recording for a friend of mine... Back on track soon...

Friday, August 01, 2008

Jon Hassell, Jimmy Giuffre/MJQ, Al Cohn/Bob Brookmeyer, Blind Joe Taggart, Bob Wills...

So here we go again... Having spent the sunny days listening to old Wolf Eyes wahoo and other assorted loud power electronics... here's...

Jon Hassell. Who sails away on 'Blues Nile.' A gag I could not resist. I'm all for cheap and easy laughs... Opens on a drone then shadowy trumpet, breathy and bending. Trumpet doubled up, a muezzin-like call across a misty landscape. The influence of his voice teacher Pandit Pran Nath comes through strongly here, it seems – a vocalised line of fragile beauty.
From his first album, 'Vernal Equinox.'

'Hassell coined the term "Fourth World" to describe his musical style, as expressed both in his trumpet playing and in his approach to composition.. This musical conception combines the philosophy and techniques of minimalism with Asian and African styles, and relies heavily on the use of electronic instruments. Critics of Hassell's style have noted its incorporation of New Age and world music styles, but have also detected the influence of Miles Davis, particularly Davis's use of electronics, modal harmony and understated lyricism . (From here...).

The comment about Miles's influence is interesting – Davis's reticence (often seen as lack of technique compared to the more flamboyant bebop trumpeters) on conventional sequences and his later jumps into the sonic unknown via electronics make him much more of a visionary than maybe is often realised. Because he could let rip when the spirit rose – check out some of the tracks with the quintet in the late sixties, where he is surrounded by young musicians and maybe wanted to lay down the odd marker. But by the time of 'Bitches Brew' and onwards, he was looking beyond 'jazz'... Hence the connection with Hassell? Who acknowledges the influence:

'After years of trying to make the case for an improvisational music which is 'not-jazz' and staying away from cliches of jazz instrumentation and style, I started to feel free enough to let more obvious elements of my respect for Miles creep in from time to time.'

(From a fascinating interview here...).

Colour and timbre – here's Jimmy Giuffre and the Modern Jazz Quartet from 1956, playing a Giuffre composition 'Fun.' I took a slight swipe at Connie Kay in a previous post but in this context you can understand his role in the MJQ. Percy Heath and Milt could carry the band with no problem – effortless swing as and when required.

Al Cohn and Bob Brookmeyer play an oblique, somewhat gruff restatement of the theme of 'Lady is a tramp.' An arrangement which, in its own quiet way, re-encapsulates the essence of how jazz deals with melody in a dynamic, elastic manner. Cohn solos first, swinging solidly. Brookmeyer next, looping nicely through the changes. Always an appealing player. They hook up for a double runthrough, a neatly arranged section taking the track out. Mainstream fun...

To a different area of emotion, experience and spirituality - Blind Joe Taggart sounds as if he is ripping chunks out of a hard reality and vocalising them through the filters of his culture and religion... 'When I stand before the King.' In 1926 '...Taggart became the first full-time guitar evangelist to cut a side [for Vocalion].' (From here).
A scuffling guitar backs up the beautifully raw vocals, Blind Joe backed by Emma Taggart (presumably his wife).

'If one ever ran into Blind Joe Taggart in a dark alley, the only possible protection would be to have Blind John Henry Arnold with you. According to the famous folk singer and blues artist Josh White, there was only one man on earth who was meaner than Taggart, and that was Arnold. White obviously knew what he was talking about, having been abused and kicked around by both men, as well as the even more famous Blind Lemon Jefferson.' (Ibid).

Given the nature of his life, perhaps one should balance up this quote with the following:

'Performers trying to survive in such a lifestyle can hardly be blamed for developing what can be best described as street-hardened personalities.' (Ibid).

As an ex street musician myself in another incarnation (albeit in much more benign circumstances) I have a little understanding of what the sentence means - especially with regard to a lot of the old boys I met down the road...

Thinking about going to Texas on my next trip to the States... here's old Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, one of my favourite groups, playing 'Basin Street Blues.' Saxophone, steel guitar, over a rock solid rhythm section. Echoes of Big T in the Tommy Duncan vocal perhaps - or just a shared timbral inheritance. 'Aw, Basin Street, yes yes...' as Mr Wills leads it in... Interesting to remember that Bob W outdrew the Glen Miller and Bennie Goodman bands in 1945... And a great story from here, just to go out on:

'By 1945, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys had achieved enough notoriety that they were invited to play at the prestigious home of country music a little farther east. Bob unknowingly created quite a stir at his Grand Ole Opry performance. A drum set was a natural, integral part of the Playboys' music, but it was unheard of in the world of country music back then. When the Opry staff told Bob that his drummer couldn't play, he angrily declared that he would not leave a band member out. It was all the Texas Playboys or none. Bob did agree, however, to let the drums be set up behind the curtains. That is, until time to play, when he hollered, 'Move those things out on stage!' In that moment, Bob Wills had left a permanent mark: there would forever be a beat in country music. (He and the Texas Playboys, by the way, were not invited back.) '

Jon Hassell
Jon Hassell (trumpet, Fender Rhodes (specially tuned and altered by Buchla and Arp Synthesizers))
Nana Vasconçelos (congas, shakers, ocean, talking drum, bells, tropical birds)
David Rosenboom (mbira, rattles, tabla, dumbek) Miguel Frasconi (claves, bells)
Nicolas Kilbourn (talking drum, mbira) William Winant (kanjira, rattles) Drone (Serge Synthesizer, Motorola Scalatron) Night Creatures of Altamira Perrasita—distant barking...
Blues Niles


Jimmy Giuffre/MJQ
Jimmy Giuffre (cl) John Lewis (p) Milt Jackson (vib) Percy Heath (b) Connie Kay (d)


Al Cohn/Bob Brookmeyer
Al Cohn (ts) Bob Brookmeyer (tr) Mose Allison (p) Teddy Kotick (b) Nick Stabulas (d)
Lady is a tramp


Blind Joe Taggart (g, v)
When I stand before the king


Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys
Basin Street Blues