Mon, 13 April 2015
1965 was in many ways just another busy year in the life of Lee Morgan. He had established himself as a major talent in the late Fifties, lending his trumpet talents to classic albums like John Coltrane’s Blue Train, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messenger’s Moanin’, and Johnny Griffin’s A Blowing Session. He began the Sixties appearing on Wayne Shorter’s initial release, backed by the Miles Davis rhythm section; and with a number of top Hank Mobley sessions. He continued to contribute as a vibrant member of the Jazz Messengers, most notably on The Freedom Rider.
1963 was the turning point in the Philadelphia born trumpeter’s career, when he recorded the Blue Note release The Sidewinder. The memorable title track became that rarest of jazz things, a hit single, and Chrysler used it as the background for television commercials during prime World Series coverage. Lee Morgan had become a star.
But he never forgot his work ethic. He appeared on seven albums released in 1964, notably Stanley Turrentine’s Mr. Natural. And that was just the warmup for 1965, when he recorded four albums under his own name (three were released; Infinity was held back until 1972); released two more as a Jazz Messenger, and sat in, in the great Blue Note tradition, for multiple sessions with Hank Mobley and Jackie McLean.
He also participated in what is now a legendary concert, memorialized forever by the album title of the night’s recording, The Night of the Cookers. Playing at a small Brooklyn club fifty years ago today, Morgan squared off with Freddie Hubbard and James Spaulding for an outrageous blowing session. Originally released in two volumes, it stands as one of the high points of the Hard Bop sound.
Perhaps Morgan played so hard and so often because he knew his time was not long. Morgan was killed in the early hours of February 19, 1972, at Slug's Saloon, a jazz club in New York City's East Village where his band was performing. The victim of a gunshot from his common-law wife Helen, he bled to death when bad weather delayed him from arriving at a hospital. He was just 33.
Podcast 478 celebrates the body of work that the great trumpet player left behind from his performances in 1965, with a selection from some of the year’s work in chronologic order, featuring:
Freddie Hubbard Septet – “Walkin’” from The Night of the Cookers – Volume One. Lee Morgan (trumpet) Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) James Spaulding (alto saxophone, flute) Harold Mabern (piano) Larry Ridley (bass) Pete La Roca (drums) Big Black (congas). Recorded at "Club La Marchal", Brooklyn, NY, April 10, 1965.
Lee Morgan Quintet – “Speedball” from The Gigolo. Lee Morgan (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone), Harold Mabern (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Billy Higgins (drums). Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, July 1, 1965.
Lee Morgan Sextet – “Most Like Lee” from Cornbread. Lee Morgan (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Herbie Hancock (piano), Larry Ridley (bass), Billy Higgins (drums). Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 18, 1965.
Jackie McLean Sextet – “Soft Blue” from Jacknife. Lee Morgan (trumpet), Charles Tolliver (trumpet) Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Larry Willis (piano), Larry Ridley (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums). Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 24, 1965.
Hank Mobley Sextet – “Third Time Around” from A Caddy for Daddy. Lee Morgan (trumpet) Curtis Fuller (trombone) Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone) McCoy Tyner (piano) Bob Cranshaw (bass) Billy Higgins (drums). Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, December 18, 1965.
Thu, 9 April 2015
The hoopla surrounding Billie Holiday’s Birthday Centennial gives us the change to have some musicians of differing styles, fame and sexes release tribute CDs to Lady Day, each one interesting and highly listenable in its own right.
Jose James' third CD for Blue Note is entitled Yesterday I Had The Blues - The Music Of Billie Holiday, and it follows the sound he laid down so well in his debut CD a few years back. James comes across primarily as silky-smooth blues singer, and he covers tunes like “Fine and Mellow” and “Lover Man” with a strong blues approach. Tunes like “God Bless the Child”, his band, which includes Eric Harland (drums), Jason Moran (piano) and especially John Patituci (bass), come across particularly well. “Strange Fruit” is given a near-acapella performance, taking the famous song to church with great effect.
Pianist Lara Downes doesn’t usually move in jazz circles, but her solo piano work A Billie Holiday Songbook suggests that she might want to do so more often. If at times her performances are a bit too respectful, at other times – most notably on up-tempo tunes like “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” or “Them There Eyes” – she brings some down-home style to the material. Her classical chops make the ballads shimmer, with her version of Marian McPartland’s arrangement of “Willow Weep for Me” especially poignant.
Cassandra Wilson brings her seemingly boundless imagination and vocal dexterity.to any project she takes on, and Coming Forth By Day is no exception. She and a tune of mostly rock musicians reimagine tunes associated with Ms. Holiday, many of them well-known standards. “The Way You Look Tonight” allows her alto voice to float over the orchestral arrangement; “You Go to My Head” has a soulful bounce that is kicked along by drummer Thomas Wydler. “Good Morning Heartache” is given an ominous arrangement, all dissonance and dread, as if the thought of another day of personal pain is too great to bear. “Strange Fruit” ends in a blast of guitar and strings cacophony, bring its message of murder home. The album’s coda, “Last Song (For Lester)” was written by Ms. Wilson in Lady Day’s voice, based on the real-life incidents that marred her attending the funeral of her longtime collaborator and friend, Lester “Prez” Young. This is great singing and great arranging - great musical performances all around.
Category:general -- posted at: 4:00 PM
Wed, 8 April 2015
"The Orphic Machine is the poem: a severed head with face turned away that sings." -- Allen Grossman
Beauty can often be found in unexpected places. On his new album, Orphic Machine, clarinetist/composer Ben Goldberg creates some of his most beautiful, lyrical – and oddly accessible - music to date. Interestingly, though the lyrics are by poet Allen Grossman, they come not from his poems, but from a book on “speculative poetics.” Goldberg was a student of the poet/professor, where he was initially exposed to Grossman’s Summa Lyrica, a collection of blunt, interwoven statements illuminating the place of poetry in human thought. Rediscovering the book a few years ago, Goldberg used the texts as a foundation to wrap his beautiful melodies and compelling grooves.
While the CD sounds different from much of his past work, a careful listener might see the evolution that has characterized Goldberg’s courageously experimental music from the beginning. That reaches back as far as the revered New Klezmer Trio, the first group to blur the boundaries between traditional klezmer music and the jazz avant-garde. Goldberg later drew on the music of his mentor Steve Lacy for his quintet album the door, the hat, the chair, the fact, which embodied the teacher-student continuum by suggesting Lacy’s music while never losing sight of Goldberg’s own identity. In addition to Lacy, Goldberg also studied with Joe Lovano and Rosario Mazzeo.
He leads or is central to, some of the most important avant-jazz bands in the business today, including his own Tin Hat(with Carla Kihlstedt, Rob Reich, and Mark Orton); Myra Medford’s Be Bread; the quartet Go Home, featuring trumpeter Ron Miles, drummer Scott Amendola, and seven-string guitar master Charlie Hunter; and in an ongoing duo format; in Nels Cline’s Andrew Hill tribute project New Monastery. His new ensemble, Invisible Guy, which features Goldberg alongside two Bay Area collaborators Michael Coleman and Hamir Atwal just completed a short tour.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Orphic Machine are the contributions of the many musicians Ben brought together, especially the ethereal vocals of Carla Kihlstedt, who adds her violin. Wilco guitarist Nels Cline lends some crackling guitar solos, and as always, there is sparkling interplay from long-time collaborators Ron Miles; tenor saxophonist Rob Sudduth and drummer Ches Smith; pianist Myra Melford; bassist Greg Cohen,; and vibraphonist Kenny Wollesen, the last of whom Goldberg’s has worked with since the New Klezmer Trio days.
Podcast 479 is my conversation with Ben Goldberg, as we talk about the making of Orphic Machine and his musical development over a prolific career. Musical selections from the new CD include the “What Was That”, “Line of Less Than Ten” and “Immortality”; plus I added a prior Goldberg track called “Evolution,” from Ben’s one-off with Joshua Redman, Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues.
Direct download: Podcast_479_-_A_Conversation_with_Ben_Goldberg.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 4:00 PM
Wed, 8 April 2015
As part of Big O's occasional "Lost Albums" series, here is a track by John and Eve McLaughlin from an unreleased 1975 double LP. The blog site reports:
Those who thought the Mahavishnu Orchestra were into frantic fusion jazz might want to do a re-think. This CD certainly came from the leftfield and is one that's ideal for meditation.
Tue, 7 April 2015
Way back in Podcast 175 I introduced my audience to Sachal Vasandani, a singer, songwriter and musician of elegance and style. Three albums later the last name is gone, and there is a new label, but that wonderful voice remains.
Now going simply by Sachal, his latest CD is entitled Slow Motion Miracles, and it takes Sachal new and different places musically. Gone is the traditional jazz sound that was presented so strongly by an acoustic trio sparked by pianist Jeb Patton, and in their place are a variety of artists, including Taylor Eigsti on keyboards and synthesizers, Gerald Clayton on piano, Ryan Scott on guitars, Buster Hemphill on electric bass, David Wong (a hold-over from the old band) on acoustic bass, Nate Smith on drums, and Mark Guiliana on drums and drum machines. With Sachal on vocals, keyboard parts, programming and electronics, these multi-talented musicians contribute short accents, subtle colors and understated grooves within the multilayered songs, many of which Sachal wrote or co-wrote.
The result, frankly, is a mixed bag. The space that his previous band left for him in the arrangements seems lost here, cluttered with electronica, perhaps due to the influence of producer Michael Leonhart. The sense of openness and freedom that resulted from that prior approach allowed Sachal to bring across both joy and angst with equal power. Here, only a few tunes, most notably “Waiting on the Roof” are enhanced by the new sound. When he returns to a stripped down approach for his cover of “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)”, his strength and presence is in full force.
I spoke with Sachal about his new CD, his musical approaches, and the many projects he has had a hand in over the past few years. Musical selections include tracks from Slow Motion Miracles such as “”Marie “Waiting on the Roof” and “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)” as well as “Doves” from the Home project to benefit victims of the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami.
Tue, 7 April 2015
Tue, 7 April 2015
Had she not succumbed from the results of a life lived hard and fast, Billie Holiday would have been 100 years old today. Born Eleanora Faganon April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia, PA, she overcame a childhood marred by neglect and abuse to become one of the seminal singers in American musical history.
By the time she was signed to Brunswick Records in 1935 by the legendary John Hammond to record current pop tunes with pianist Teddy Wilson, it was clear that her talents were immense. It didn’t take long for two of the biggest bands in the land, led by Count Basie and Artie Show to compete for her talents. Within five years she was perhaps the most in-demand singer in America, with a string of hits that became standards, including "What A Little Moonlight Can Do." "Easy Living" and "I'm Gonna Lock My Heart."
She was recording hits for Columbia Records when a dispute with the label sent her to Commodore Records to release “Strange Fruit”, the song about lynching that went on to be her biggest selling and most played hit. The 1939 record was eventually named “The Song of the Century” by Time magazine. A year later, her song “God Bless the Child” would sell over a million copies and be the number 3 song of the year on the Billboard charts.
She was at her popular and creative zenith when a drugs arrest in 1947 began a very public slide, culminating with prison time and the revocation of her New York City Cabaret Card. Holiday’s income rapidly dried up, as she could not play the lucrative city venues, and her records were increasingly out of print. By the 1950s, Holiday's drug abuse, drinking, and relationships with abusive men caused her health to deteriorate, and her voice became raspy.
While she released a number of fine recordings in the Fifties (“Lady Sings the Blues”, Songs for Distingue Lovers, Lady in Satin) and made a memorable appearance on CBS’ television special The Sound of Jazz with old friend Lester Young, it was clear to those around her that her time was nearly up. Suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, in May of 1959 she was arrested for drug possession as she lay dying, and her hospital room was raided. Holiday stayed under police guard until she died from pulmonary edema and heart failure caused by cirrhosis of the liver on July 17, 1959. In her final years, she had been progressively swindled out of her earnings, and she died with less than a dollar in the bank. She was 44 years old.
As with so many legends who died young, the sordid part of her story often eclipses the awesome talent she displayed in recordings and live performances. Her delivery makes her immediately identifiable, and she influenced almost every singer and musician who heard her. In 1958, before her death, Frank Sinatra said, “With few exceptions, every major pop singer in the US during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius. It is Billie Holiday who was, and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me. Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years.”
Podcast 421 is a musical tribute to Lady Day, an hour plus collection of many of my (and hopefully your) favorite Billie Holiday songs, including:
"What a Little Moonlight Will Do"
"Mean to Me"
"Can't Help Loving Dat Man"
"God Bless the Child"
"Crazy He Calls Me"
"I Cover the Waterfront"
"Them There Eyes"
"Fine and Mellow"
"Just One of Those Things"
"One For My Baby (and One More for the Road)"
Sun, 5 April 2015
The song of the day is Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade", performed by Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine and released on their 1957 album Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine Sing the Best of Irving Berlin. Although Vaughan had made many recordings with Eckstine, this was their only album together.
Writing a song about celebrating a Christian holiday was not an anomaly for the Jewish composer Berlin. Born in 1888 into a Russian Jewish family who came to New York City to escape religious persecution when he was five years old, Irving Berlin quickly shed his religious roots and fell in love with America. He became an American citizen when he was 29. "Patriotism was Irving Berlin's true religion," writes biographer Laurence Bergreen in As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin (1990).
Irving Berlin was "not a religious person," according to his daughter Mary Ellin. Relating the story of Irving's marriage to Ellin Mackay in 1926, whose devout father had a deep reluctance to welcome a "lower-class" Jew into the wealthy Catholic family.
Once they had children, Mrs. Berlin did try to keep up a minimal appearance of religious tradition. Mary Ellin writes that her unbelieving parents "had their first bad fight when my mother suggested raising me as a Catholic . . . ."
The Berlins had three daughters. "Both our parents," Mary Ellin recalls, "would pass down to their children the moral and ethical values common to all great religions; give us a sense of what was right and what was wrong; raise us not to be good Jews or good Catholics or good whatever else you might care to cite, but to be good (or try to be) human beings. . . . When we grew up, she said, we would be free to choose--if we knew what was best for us, the religion of our husband. . . . It wouldn't quite work out, when we 'grew up,' as my mother hoped. All three of us would share our father's agnosticism and sidestep our husband's faiths."
The man who wrote "White Christmas" actually hated Christmas. "Many years later," Mary Ellin writes, "when Christmas was celebrated irregularly in my parents' house, if at all, my mother said, almost casually, 'Oh, you know, I hated Christmas, we both hated Christmas. We only did it for you children.' "
Christmas, for Irving Berlin, was not a religious holiday: it was an American holiday. He simply needed a melody in 1940 for a show called Holiday Inn, an escapist "American way of life" musical (when all hell was breaking loose in Europe) which called for a song for each holiday. The words to "White Christmas" are not about the birth of a savior-god: they are about winter, the real reason for the season.
Read more about Irving Berlin, religion and patriotism here.
Sat, 4 April 2015
Jazz only has a few great crooners these days, and few are blessed with the soul of Allan Harris. He has been described by the Miami Herald as an artist blessed with, “the warmth of Tony Bennett, the bite and rhythmic sense of Sinatra, and the sly elegance of Nat ‘King’ Cole,” and his ten recordings as a leader showcase the wide variety of tunes he can interpret. His lives shows in New York have met with great reviews, leading to awards like the New York Nightlife Award for “Outstanding Jazz Vocalist” – which he won three times – the Backstage Bistro Award for “Ongoing Achievement in Jazz,” and the Harlem Speaks “Jazz Museum of Harlem Award.”
Harris’ new album, Black Bar Jukebox, is produced by Grammy winning producer Brian Bacchus, who helped shape the sounds of Norah Jones and Gregory Porter. He has moved Harris’ voice front and center, letting his warm bari-tenor tones lead the way. The result is a highly listenable set of tunes, highlighted by the selection of a number of lesser-known and non-jazz numbers.
Harris handles John Mayer’s “Daughters” and Elton John’s “Take Me to the Pilot” as if they were classic ballads and blues tunes, respectively. His smoothness on “Stranger on the Shore” is contrasted with the vibrant virtuosity of “I’ve Got the Blues,” a jazzy reworking of “Lester Leaps In” with lyrics by the renowned Eddie Jefferson. Harris’ band is tight, and guitarist Yotam Silberstein is a particularly valuable asset, ably laying down fills on “Stranger on the Shore.”
Podcast 476 is my conversation with Allan Harris, featuring musical selections from Black Bar Jukebox, including “Miami”, “I’ve Got the Blues,” “Daughters” and “Stranger On the Shore” and “But Beautiful” from Convergence, his duo CD with pianist Takana Miyamoto paying tribute to the classic collaboration of Tony Bennett and Bill Evans in the mid-Seventies.
Direct download: Podcast_476_-_A_Conversation_with_Allan_Harris.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 4:00 PM
Fri, 3 April 2015
Christian Holy Week includes the Jewish holiday of Passover again this year, so this week has featured jazz music of a spiritual nature. As the first Seder is tonight, celebrating the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of the prophet Moses, I've gone into the category of music that was called "Negro Spirituals" when I was in school, and picked "Go Down Moses"
Versions of the song seem to go back to 1862, when it was called "Oh! Let My People Go (The Song of the Contrabands)". The openign verse was published by the Jubilee Singers in 1872. It's easy to see the coded message in the lyrics - "Israel" in the lyrics stands in for African-Americans oppressed by slavery and recism, and "Egypt" as their oppressors. The seminal recording of the song is likely Paul Robeson's version from 1958, which became a rallying cry for those fighting for civil rights in the American South.
Click here to listen to Louis Armstrong's version of the spiritual, taken from his Louis and the Good Book album. Armstrong recorded the song in February 1959 with Sy Oliver's Orchestra. Armstrong had jsut finished his popular Porgy & Bess album with Ella Fitzgerald, and entered the studio to record a series of spirituals and religious-tinged music. Among those in the band were Trummy Young on trombone, Hank D'Amico and Nicky Tagg on clarinet, Billy Kyle on piano and Barrett Deems on drums.
In Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong biographer Terry Teachout quotes an outspoken Armstrong as being a great friend of the Jewish people, who he felt gave him a break in his youth when his fellow African-Americans would not. He wore a Star of David around his neck for most of his life.
Category:general -- posted at: 4:00 PM