Fri, 31 October 2014
The Thelonious Monk Quartet with Charlie Rouse lasted eleven years when they hit the hippest club in Los Angles, “The It Club” for two dates on October 31 and November 1, 1964. Rouse had formally filled the revolving sax chair that had been held alternately by Johnny Griffin, John Coltrane and even Clark Terry, in Monk’s varying sized groups six years earlier, and was near the height of his powers as a Monk foil.
The Rhythm section, however, was new - drummer Ben Riley had joined at the beginning of the year and bassist Larry Gales had only logged in a month at the time of these dates, replacing Butch Warren (who had replaced John Ore). However, the recordings made fifty years ago today show a band mature beyond their time together. Apparently there were no formal plans to record the show for release on Columbia Records, and the name of the label engineer who recorded the evening on three-track tapes is now lost to history. What we have on Live at the It Club are highlights from the 3 sets he played on each night (the Mosaic Records reissue features the entire two night stand), a typical Monk mix of standards (“I’m Getting Sentimental over You” and “All the Things You Are” bookend the evening) and originals, including “Brilliant Mississippi” which had been released the previous year on Monk’s Dream. Fans interested in this particularly fertile period of Monk’s career should check out the album Solo Monk he recorded on the afternoons preceding and following these shows in an L.A. studio. Two days later, on November 3, the Quartet was upstate in San Francisco, where Live at the Jazz Workshop was recorded.
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00 PM
Tue, 28 October 2014
In past years I’ve done a Halloween podcast featuring songs with scary titles – check out these beauties from 2012, 2011 and 2009 – and last year I changing course a bit, and all the songs mentioned the Prince of Darkness, Ol’ Scratch, Lucifer – yes, the Devil - in the title of the song or album. For 2014, it's the return of the Spooky Song. Maybe it's the title or the track, maybe it's the sound or mood - but in any event, here is Podcast 452, the 2014 Spooky Song collection:
Rene Marie - "I'd Rather Burn as a Witch"
Medeski, Martin & Wood - "Dracula"
LaVerne Baker - "Voodoo, Voodoo"
Herbie Hancock Quartet - "The Sorcerer"
Frank Sinatra - "Witchcraft"
Glenn Miller Orchestra - "Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead"
Chet Baker Quartet - "Old Devil Moon"
Thelonious Monk - "Misterioso"
Dinah Washington - "Mean and Evil Blues"
Arthur Barron, Dave Liebman & Abel Pabon - "Slow Dance On the Killing Ground"
Incognito - "Wind Sorceress"
Mary Halvorsen - "Torturer's Reverse Delight"
Mark Guiliana - "My Blood"
Sean Jones - "Dr. Jekyll"
Stanton Moore - "Waltz for All Souls"
Sun, 26 October 2014
My wife Nancy and I will be in attendance at the Beacon Theatre in New York City Monday night when the Allman Brothers Band plays their next-to-last live performance together. After 45 years of existence, the venerable band has decided they will no longer perform as a group, and will go on to other projects.
Few rock bands are as integrally involved with jazz as the Allman Brothers Band. From their very beginning, guitarist Duane Allman was inspired and awe-struck by the music that Miles Davis and John Coltrane were playing. Read Robert Palmer's liner notes for the re-issue of Kind of Blue, and you'll learn about the effect it had on Duane. In part, he writes:
Duane was a rare melodist and a dedicated student of music who was never evasive about the sources of his inspiration. "You know," he told me one night after soaring for hours on wings of lyrical song, "that kind of playing comes from Miles and Coltrane, and particularly Kind Of Blue. I've listened to that album so many times that for the past couple of years, I haven't hardly listened to anything else.”
For a worthy essay on these topics, check out "The Serendipity of Two Musical Heroes: Duane Allman and John Coltrane" by David Gardiner, and an excerpt from Guitar Player magazine that quotes Duane on Trane and Miles. To hear the man himself at his Coltrane inspired best, listen to "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" and while you do, read this insightful Wikipedia entry on the song, where Duane's solos are compared with Coltrane's "sheets of sound" and Miles' modal recordings on Kind of Blue.
The jazz connections did not die when Duane passed away in 1971. The onstage lineup of two guitars, organ/piano, bass and two drummers (and later a percussionist) presented more like a jazz band than a rock group. And their sound – deeply improvisational, often modal in approach – is pure jazz.
The last few years of the band have seen jazz musicians like saxophonist Bill Evans join the group onstage on a regular basis, and it’s not uncommon to find a cover of Miles’ “Spanish Key” finding its way into their set lists, as you will hear in the Podcast.
I’ve seen close to a dozen ABB shows, and I’ve never been disappointed. I’m sure there will be some memorable moments Monday night as Gregg, Warren, Derek, Oteil, Jaimoe, Butch and Marc leave us yelling for more. But after Tuesday, there will only be the recorded music and the memories. They won’t be “hittin’ the note” onstage again.
Podcast 451 celebrates jazz takes on the ABB songbook, plus the band, collectively and individually (including their bands, like the Jaimoe/Chuck Leavell/Lamar Williams combo Sea Level or Warren Haynes’ Gov’t Mule), tackling jazz flavored tunes and covers, including:
Joel Harrison 7 – “Whipping Post” from Search
Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band – “Melissa” from Renaissance Man
John Pizzarelli – “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” from Double Exposure
Buddy Miles – “Dreams” from Them Changes.
Derek Trucks Band – “Naima” from The Derek Trucks Band
Gov’t Mule – “Trane” from an unreleased recording February 22, 2014 at Charleston, WV
Sea Level – “Rain in Spain” from Sea Level.
Allman Brothers Band (with Bill Evans on sax and John Ginty on piano)– “Spanish Key” from an unreleased recording at the Beacon Theatre in New York, March 14, 2011
Ken Navarro – “Little Martha” from The Test of Time.
While they won’t be there Tuesday night, other musicians who I’ve seen on the bandstand holding down a guitar spot as members deserve a shout out as well – Dickey Betts, Jimmy Herring, and Jack Pearson. And as always, fans will remember Duane, Berry Oakley, Lamar Williams, Allen Woody and others who are no longer there in body, but always in spirit.
Direct download: Podcast_451_-_A_Goodbye_to_the_Allman_Brothers_Band.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 1:00 PM
Thu, 23 October 2014
Mark Elf is one of the most unsung guitar heroes in jazz today. His performance and composition abilities are outstanding, and he plays with a fire and soulfulness that many hotshot players lack. Check out any of his recordings on his own Jen Bay Records imprint, to hear someone at the height of his powers. For my money, his 1998 release, Trickynometry, is one of the finest jazz guitar albums of the past twenty years.
After making his professional debut in 1971, Elf followed in the footsteps of guitarists like George Benson and made a name for himself being a sideman for great Hammond B-3 players. He recorded his first album as a sideman with Jimmy McGriff & Groove Holmes in 1973, Giants of the Organ Come Together. In the late 1970’s Mark worked with Junior Cook and Bill Hardman in New York City and also recorded with them on the Muse Label. Since then, he has he toured Europe with Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry and other jazz luminaries, and recorded with Jon Hendricks and the Heath Brothers. All of his solo records on Jen Bay have reached the top ten on National Jazz Radio, with nine of them going to the top of the charts consecutively since 1997.
After an eight year hiatus, Elf is back with the appropriately titled Mark Elf Returns. The CD features seven originals and three covers, all played by Elf and a superior backing group, which includes David Hazeltine on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. The tunes have the same spritely bopping sound, as Elf toys with tempos and speeds to bring out the many facets of his playing. He brings out his baritone guitar for a pair of tunes, an instrument that is often neglected in recent jazz (save for a pair of Pat Metheny CDs).
Podcast 450 is my conversation with Mark, as he talks about the new CD, how he chooses cover tunes, the state of jazz education, and his affinity for the drumming of Lewis Nash. Songs from Mark Elf Returns include “Jacky’s Jaunt” and “Low Blow”, along with a tune from previous releases, including “Dot Com Blues” from Trickynometry,
Thu, 16 October 2014
A rising star gets her chance to shine tonight when Alicia Olatuja celebrates the release of her solo debut CD Timeless with a performance at the BRIC Ballroom in Brooklyn, New York. Ms. Olatuja and her pure, shimmering voice have been on the fringes of the music scene for the past few years. It was her voice, rising through the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, which moved so many people during President Obama’s inauguration in 2013. And her stage performances in productions on stages from The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.to Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival have garnered universally positive reviews.
The aptly named Timeless may move her into a different musical level. Backed by her core band of her husband Michael Olatuja on bass, Jon Cowherd on piano, David Rosenthal on guitar and first-call jazz drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr on percussion, she has put together a collection of songs that showcase her wonderful soprano voice. In tunes as diverse as a lively “Serrado” to a moving “In the Dark”, she gives performances that remind us what great singers sounded like before the world became infected with “American Idol” over-singing and “The Voice” over-emoting.
I hesitate to call this a “jazz album” in the classic form. There is no scatting, no unusual settings or vocal improvisation and pyrotechnics that one expects from an album by, say, Diane Reeves or Karrin Allyson. However, as with the likes of Lizz Wright and Gretchen Parlato, there is a wonderful understatement in her delivery that allows her to shine. It doesn’t hurt that she has brought in some of today’s top jazz stars for guest shots. Gregoire Maret’s harmonica gives Wonder-ish warmth to the cover of “Stay Gold”, and Christian Sands’ piano accompaniment to a moving “Over the Rainbow” gives the tune some needed stability. Best of all is a gorgeously staged duet with Christian McBride, the spare and moving “Speak the Words”. Here’s hoping her stage performance tonight allows her to continue to build musical momentum.
Category:general -- posted at: 1:42 PM
Wed, 15 October 2014
It’s always a pleasure to see jazz musicians who have performed and recorded as sidemen for years get the chance to step up and be leaders on their own recording projects. Otis Brown III is the latest such musician – the top-flight drummer, with dozens of credits and work on Grammy nominated albums, releases The Thought of You earlier this month.
Brown’s maiden voyage features an impressive roll call of artists including a core band consisting of artists with whom he either attended school or broke into the scene with. These names include pianist Robert Glasper, trumpeter Keyon Harrold, saxophonist John Ellis, and bassist Ben Williams (most recently of the Pat Metheny Unity Band). Organist Shedrick Mitchell and guitarist Nir Felder making special appearances, as do singers Bilal, Gretchen Parlato, and Nikki Ross.
You may already be familiar with Mr. Brown’s dexterity as the drummer in a number of Joe Lovano’s projects, most notably his Us Five quintet, recording three albums with that band, including the Grammy-nominated Bird Songs.
Brown has been on a number of top-flight releases this year. He was a key member of the rhythm section to deliver Afrobeat inflections to The Lagos Music Salon by Somi, and joined John Ellis is making as members of Anne Mette Iversen's Double Life for her Brooklyn Jazz Underground release So Many Roads.
I spoke with Otis as The Thought of You was getting ready to drop, and we discussed the song selection for the CD, including the multi-part title track, whether he has difficulties playing drums for vocalists, and how a Shania Twain country-pop hit came to be a key song on the CD. Podcast 449 is our conversation featuring music from The Thought of You and other Brown recordings including:
Otis Brown III – “The Thought of You (Part II)” and “You’re Still the One (featuring Gretchen Parlato)” from The Thought of You.
Somi – "Four Women” from The Lagos Music Salon.
Joe Lovano – “Drum Song” from Folk Art.
Direct download: Podcast_449_-_A_Conversation_with_Otis_Brown_III.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:30 PM
Tue, 14 October 2014
"My aim here was to make a record with my friends. Every single recording session was nothing but fun. Surrounding myself with people I enjoy being with made the sessions effortless. Everyone came prepared and ready to play. All were great musicians and they came to the studio to give everything they had." – Stanley Clarke
The inclusion of young players in a new band a few years back gave Stanley Clarke a needed spark of creativity. Stanley Clarke Band was praised on this blog, and the CD won a Grammy® Award. Since that recording, Clarke has kept the youthful infusion of talent going, adding teenagers like pianist Beka Gochiashvili and drummer Mike Mitchell to his touring band.
Rather than release an all-new project, Clarke has led his protégés though his songbook – much of which was first written and recorded before they were born. The results, called Up can be mixed. “School Days” has nothing new to offer, even though guest Jimmy Herring (Widespread Panic, Allman Brothers Band, Jazz is Dead) lends a credible solo. “Brazilian Love Affair” serves as a moving tribute to the late George Duke, a long-time Clarke friend and collaborator, but again, opens no new ground.
Instead, it’s the melodic group of tunes called “Bass Folk Songs” and the delightful closing duet with Chick Corea of “La Cancion de Sofia” that shine on this collection. Again a revisit, the latter tune is touching in its straight forward presentation, and wonderful in its reimagination. Guest shots from stars like Herring, Joe Walsh, and Stewart Copeland are nice, but it’s when Clarke makes it personal that he is now at his finest.
Category:general -- posted at: 1:00 PM
Mon, 13 October 2014
Columbus Day has become a deeply divisive event in the US. What once was the naive celebration of the "discovery of America" - take that Amerigo Vespucci and the Native Americans - is now marled with protests, given the start of the genocide his arrival in the New World began.
But let's go back to a simpler time, like May 1936, when Fats Waller and his Rhythm appeared on a popular radio show, The Magic Key Show, which originated from New York. That day, he performed two tunes - the well-known "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter", and the lesser known "Christopher Columbus". The lyrics?
Mr.Christopher Columbus/Sailed the sea without a compass/Well, when his men began a rumpus/Up spoke Christopher Columbus
He said: "There is land somewhere/So until we get there we will not go wrong/If we sing a swing song/Since the world is round, we'll be safe and sound/'Till our goal is found we'll just keep the rhythm bound
Soon the crew was makin' merry/Then came a yell, let's drink to Isabella/Bring on the rum/A music in that all the rumpus/That wise old Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus/Christopher Columbus
Maybe not a Shakespearean sonnet, but you get the idea. And as always, Fats knew how to swing.
Category:general -- posted at: 2:07 PM
Wed, 1 October 2014
One of the most criminally overlooked vocalists in jazz may just be ready to get some overdue attention. Although she was featured on the Grammy winning CD The Mosaic Project by Terri Lyne Carrington, Carmen Lundy is often left off the list of top female performers of today.
Backed by a myriad of special guests Including Patrice Rushen, Geri Allen, Randy Brecker, Simphiwe Dana, Bennie Maupin, Carol Robbins, and Warren Wolf, she is releasing Soul To Soul, a passionate new song cycle on Afrasia Productions on September 22nd. Soul To Soul is Ms. Lundy’s 14th album, and in many ways is the next chapter in her critically-acclaimed career as a singer, songwriter, and producer; and a visual artist. Call it a return to her roots, but also an exploration of these roots
The journey to make the CD found Carmen literally composing, co-composing and arranging eleven of the thirteen tracks and then playing and recording all the instruments - including bass, drums, piano, guitar and percussion - in her home studio to get a working “feel” for how the music might sound. She then “sweetened” the songs by adding string sounds and other software instruments to elaborate and experiment with the aural mood of each track, interpreting and identifying with each track’s sound individually as well as part of the overall song sequence. On the final CD, Lundy plays guitar on all tracks, piano and Rhodes on many tracks, and drums on two.
Podcast 448 is our conversation, featuring musical selections from Soul to Soul, including "Grateful, Pt.1", "Kindred Spirits", "Daybreak" and "Sardwgna".
Direct download: Podcast_448_-_A_Conversation_with_Carmen_Lundy.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 2:00 PM
Fri, 26 September 2014
Kenny Wheeler, one of the giants of British jazz, died last week at the age of 84.
Born in Canada in 1930, the trumpeter and composer joined the London jazz scene after moving to Britain in 1952. He played in groups alongside the likes of Ronnie Scott, John Dankworth and Tubby Hayes as well becoming part of the free-improvisation movement.
In later life, he was the founding patron of the Junior Jazz programme at the Royal Academy of Music and was the subject of a year-long exhibition by the Academy Museum. He was honored by the Annual Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT) in 2011, and made a rare New York appearance at that time.
Podcast 447 celebrates the musical vision of Kenny Wheeler, concentrating mainly on his body of work released on ECM Records, where he recorded right albums from 1975 to 1990. He guested on at least three other ECM releases during this period.
My favorite Wheeler recording is his 1968 debut on Fontana Records with the John Dankworth Orchestra, Windmill Tilter: The Story of Don Quixote. His take on the timeless Cervantes novel, the recording was long considered the “holy grail of British jazz” since it inexplicably went out of print and was not released on CD until 2010. A nine-part suite, it featured strong ensemble playing, along with two quintet tracks featuring pre-Miles Dave Holland on bass and John McLaughlin on electric guitar. If you haven’t heard it, check it out immediately, and see why singer Norma Winstone once called Wheeler “the Duke Ellington of our times.”
New England Conservatory's Jazz Studies Department Chair Ken Schaphorst remembers Kenny Wheeler talking about composition at a master class at the school.
The process I go through to write or compose a new melody is this-I get up about 7:00 and don't wash or shave or anything, but put on a bathrobe or dressing gown and take a couple of biscuits, a tea, and sit at the piano which is an old slightly out of tune upright. Then I play through some 4-part Bach Chorales. After that I try, with my limited technique to play through some Bach 2 or 3 part Inventions or maybe Preludes. Then I fumble through some more modern music such as Ravel, Debussy, Hindemith, Bartok or maybe the English Peter Warlock.
And then begins the serious business of trying to compose something. This consists of improvising at the piano for anywhere from 1/2 hour to 3 or 4 hours or even more. What I think I'm looking for during this time is something I'm not looking for. That is, I'm trying to arrive at some semi-trance-like state where the improvising I'm doing at the piano is kind of just flowing through me or flowing past me. I don't mean at all that this is any kind of a religious state but more of a dream-like state. And then, if I do manage to arrive at this state, then I might play something that catches the nondream-like part of me by surprise. It may only be 3 or 4 notes. But it's like the dream-like part of me managed to escape for a second or two from the awake part of me and decided to play something of its own choice. But the awake part of me hears that little phrase and says "What was that? That's something I didn't expect to hear, and I like it." And that could be the beginning of your new melody.
But there is no guarantee that you will reach this semi-dream-like state. After many hours you may not get there. But you might take a break, or you might have a little argument with your wife, and go back to the piano a little bit angry and bang out a phrase in anger which makes you say "Wait a minute! What was that?" There doesn't seem to be any sure way of reaching this state of mind where you play something that surprises yourself. I just know that I can't start the day all fresh at the piano at 7:00 and say to myself "And now I will compose a melody." It seems I have to go through this process which I described.
Song selections for the Podcast include:
Kenny Wheeler Quintet – “Everybody’s Song But My Own” from Flutter By, Butterfly.
Kenny Wheeler – “Peace For Five” from Deer Wan.
Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone and the London Vocal Project – “Humpty Dumpty” from Mirrors.
Kenny Wheeler Quintet – “Hotel Le Hot” from The Widow in the Window.
Kenny Wheeler, Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette – “Smatter” from Gnu High.
Kenny Wheeler, Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell and Dave Holland – “Kind of Gentle” from Angel Song.
Kenny Wheeler with the John Dankworth Orchestra – “Don No More” from Windmill Tilter: The Story of Don Quixote.