Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Recent Passings

They say deaths come in threes, but it seems like many notable people in and out of the jazz world have passed away recently. In addition to George Russell, drummer Rashied Ali and multi-reedist Joe Maneri recently left us. Ali is probably the better known musician, due to his work with John Coltrane on Concert in Japan and, most famously, Interstellar Space shortly before Coltrane passed away in 1967. His approach to free rhythms solidified and extended what had been started by Sunny Murray, Andrew Cyrille and Milford Graves.

Joe Maneri, a Boston-area legend, was a one-of-a-kind voice who played alto, tenor, clarinet and piano. He is best-known for pioneering micro-tonal playing, which divides the octave into 72 tones rather than the 12-tone equal temperment system found in most Western music. He was a long-time faculty member of the New England Conservatory of Music and counted Matthew Shipp among his students.

Joe experienced a renewal of interest in his music starting in the 90's, based partly on the emergence of his son, Mat, as a bright new voice on violin and viola. Maneri recorded for both Leo and ECM; his albums with Mat and bassist Barre Phillips, Tales of Rohnlief and Angles of Repose, are a good place to start an exploration of his music, as is the duet album with Mat, Blessed, also on ECM. Once you immerse yourself in their world, the albums have a strange beauty to them underneath a dissonant exterior.

(Waiting For The) Flood

Right now I am righteously digging Flood, a Japanese Sony release from Herbie Hancock that contains parts of two concerts he gave in Tokyo in 1974. The set lists are from his Headhunters, Thrust and Man-Child albums, with the exception of Maiden Voyage, and the band is all-star: Bennie Maupin, Paul Jackson, Mike Clark, Bill Summers and Blackbird McKnight.

When I first got this (as a two-CD set a few years ago), I liked it OK but it didn't really get to me. For some reason I pulled it out a couple of days ago and it just burns! For me the highlights are Bennie Maupin's solos on tenor and soprano. He is one of my all-time favorites with his ability to play the blues like no other and go outside without sounding like a Trane clone. I also love the tone he gets on all his horns.

If I were to knit-pick I'd say a couple of Hancock's solos go on a little too long, but overall this band is tight and works it. If you like the best kind of fusion, then get this.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

In Praise of Sam Rivers

The Destination Out blog has a nice post about Sam Rivers, including three trio tracks from his 1975 album Hues. As a teenager in the 70's, I visited my local record store and bought Rivers' Involution, which was part of the Blue Note Reissue Series. That record and Andrew Hill's One For One, also part of the series, just blew me away. As much as I liked Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane, the intensity of Rivers' tone and his compositions just reached me like no other tenor player. The fact that he wrote his own exercises also appealed to me. 
I had a chance to see him with the University of North Texas big band about 6-7 years ago and they did a great job with his charts. As Destination Out states, Sam Rivers should be much better known than he is.

Goin' to Kansas City

Count Basie's Kansas City Suite was one of the first big band records I bought when I was starting to listen to jazz. It was one-half of a two-record set on Roulette Records (Roulette RE-124) that also featured Easin' It. At the time (the early '70's),  Roulette was making a lot of their back catalog available as part of their Echoes of an Era series. Others that I picked up along the way included a set that provided my first exposure to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Putting this on the turntable for the first time in probably 30 years really brought back the rush that I felt when I was discovering jazz. I knew that Count Basie was a big name, but I didn't know where to begin when I bought the album. Even with my limited knowledge at the time, I knew when I got it home and saw the recording date was 1960 that it wasn't from the golden era of the  big bands. Regardless, Kansas City Suite is classic, bluesy Basie. The Suite was composed and arranged by Benny Carter, who never actually played with the band. The ten tracks have a vaguely familiar feel now that I've listened to a lot of jazz, but the writing and playing are top-notch. This edition of the Orchestra included Snooky Young, Thad Jones, Marshall Royal, Frank Wess, Frank Foster and of course Freddie Green.

Listening to this as a teenager transported me to New York, to a mysterious world that I was just discovering and imagining. It was a nice way to spend part of an afternoon getting acquainted with it again.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

8/19/09 What I'm Listening To

Joseph Jarman, Song For

Roscoe Mitchell Sextet, Sound

Sidney Bechet, Master Musician

Tina Brooks, True Blue

Stetsasonic, Sally (12" single)

Eazy-E, The Boyz-N-The Hood/Fat Girl (12" single)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Some Bid'ness

I'm in the process of listening to albums that I haven't played in literally years, and I pulled Julius Hemphill's 'Coon Bid'ness (Arista Freedom) from the shelf this morning. I always liked Julius' alto, but I had forgotten how great the compositions are on this recording. They defy easy categorization, and share a fascination with timbre and a sense of occasional whimsy with the AACM membership. The line-up is pretty great too: (Black) Arthur Blythe, Hamiett Bluiett, Baikida E. J. Carroll, Abdul Wadud on the funkiest cello you'll ever hear, Barry Altschul, Philip Wilson.

The Hard Blues, indeed.

Friday, August 7, 2009

8/07/09 What I'm Listening To

Eberhard Weber, Yellow Fields

Eberhard Weber, Silent Feet

Jimmy Woods, Conflict

One Night With Blue Note Preserved, Vol. 2

Frank Lowe, Fresh

Oliver Lake, Holding Together

I Like Conflict

The album, that is. (rim shot!) I'm speaking of altoist Jimmy Woods' 1963 album Conflict, recorded for the Contemporary label and featuring an impressive lineup of Harold Land on tenor, Carmell Jones on trumpet, Andrew Hill on piano, George Tucker on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. This was only Woods' second session as a leader but it would prove to be his last, for reasons of which I'm unaware.

Conflict features six Woods originals; he also arranged all the selections. I originally bought the album used (for $35.00, gulp) when I was going through my obsessive Hill collecting phase. Hill certainly doesn't disappoint: Even though it was early in his career, his unique approach to rhythm and harmony are a positive disruption to the bop-influenced compositions. But Woods impresses as well, as he has an urgent, keening quality to his solos that set him apart from the pack. His tart tone and intervallic leaps, particularly on Apart Together and Look to Your Heart, remind me of Eric Dolphy, and in spots, mid-70s Braxton.

Doe anyone know what happened to him? Seems a shame he didn't record more.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Tribute to Tribute

There's an interesting thread over at the ECM Forum on about overlooked gems on that label, records that received little fanfare when they were first released. One of my nominations is drummer Paul Motian's Tribute (ECM 1048), issued in 1975 and featuring Carlos Ward on alto sax, Sam Brown and Paul Metzke on guitars, and Charlie Haden on bass. I bought the album new for $5.79 (!) and I love the combination of Ornette's influence and the deep but free groove that Motian and Haden set up. It's some of my favorite Haden, helped in part by the great bass sound achieved by engineer Tony May.

Fortunately, it has been reissued on CD and is available on ECM's site.

8/05/09 What I'm Listening To

Sonny Clark, Sonny's Crib

Sonny Rollins, The Bridge

Bobby Hutcherson, The Kicker

Bobby Hutcherson, Dialogue

Hancock, et al, In Concert Volume 1