Sunday, November 28, 2010

Check Please

Call it a privileged moment; a brief segment of time that, in this gorgeous case, stands outside the official body of the song. For a musical minute and a half that acquires the weight and beauty of a full concerto, Art Pepper delays his entry to Legrandland to spin his own story. Not exactly an introduction, this brief but sumptuous improvised fragment is typical of the concentrated power that Pepper regularly summoned in the last decade of his out of control merry-go-round of an existence. If "The Summer Knows" ended right there, I'd walk away fully satiated. But then I'd miss the dessert.
Mainly a feature for bassist Williams, this performance still reveals much of the legendary Pepper magic. Legrand's wispy melody doesn't seem to engage him nearly as much as his own filigrees and bookending statements. Starting at 5:54, the saxophonist digs in again, pulling extemporized morsels of melody from the air, giving himself the well deserved last word.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oscar Takes a Chill Pill

Gary Giddins recently mentioned to me that his favorite piano duet recordings were the Pablo albums pairing Count Basie and Oscar Peterson because each of the two participants could be so easily identified. Have two players ever had such diametrically opposed styles? Oscar never met a note he couldn't jackhammer into a two bar phrase, while Bill Basie seemed reticent to touch a key for fear of disturbing it. Yes, it doesn't take a listener with Giddins's attuned ears to tell them apart.
In this charming get together Basie takes to slow blues as if to the manor born; the big surprise is that the loquacious Canadian also dons the cloak of the kid from Red Bank, New Jersey. Has Peterson ever played so sparely? And why didn't he bask in effective simplicity more often? Restraint may have been the greatest tribute that Peterson bestowed on the older master.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Idea of North

There are few pleasures of the aesthetic variety that match the personal discovery of an artist hitherto unknown to you. Lars Gullin was a superb baritone saxophonist from Sweden who was nothing more to me than a name that invariably popped up in references to Scandinavian jazz of the pre-ECM era. I can't exactly recall how I stumbled across this clip, but I'm just glad I did; Gullin had a rare gift that was hidden from me for too long. His mellifluous tone and lyrical leanings have much in common with peak-period Gerry Mulligan, but Gullin's extraordinary composure lends him distinction. In the second part of this too brief clip he's joined by (presumably, as per posting ID) saxophonist Rolf Billberg, another mystery to me. And he too makes an immediate first impression in the handful of seconds that he's featured. Billberg's also been influenced by American cool school players of the 1959s -- in his case Lee Konitz -- but like Gullin, he transcends mere imitation through musicianly focus. Their duet is brief but glorious.
Now to find more of their work and move on to other (to me) shadowy figures like pianist Bengt Hallberg, a favorite of Miles Davis. Just what I need in my life, a new jazz obsession...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Getting Misty

If I never hear "Misty" again it will be too soon, but when there are interpretations like this...The young Warren Vache sounds so poised and inventive (as he still does), while bassist Slam Stewart steals the show with lovely melodic turns that demonstrate how expressive his simultaneous bowing and humming technique could be. (To hear him display his wares at ballad tempo rather than swing time is a special treat.) Trading eights between trumpet and bass was also an inspired move, nudging Vache and Stewart to give it their best shots in the limited time available. Today Slam is missed; Vache is perpetually underrated and Wein needs a new sponsor for his New York fest.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tradition In Transition

Miles Davis was striding between two worlds in 1970 and an invaluable clip like this is all you need to be convinced that the on-the-cusp tension brought out some of the great trumpeter's most invigorating playing. "Sanctuary" has him first intoning in "Sketches of Spain" fashion, the vaunted lyricism of the previous two decades fully intact. As things heat up and "Spanish Key" moves into funky overdrive, Davis, determined to match his plugged-in sidemen in intensity, unleashes glorious coils of rip snorting lines and jagged bursts of sound.
With intimations of the past still in plain sight, while being elbowed by visions of the fusion future, Davis's music, circa the start of the new decade, laid out his intentions clearly. Change was imminent, but old school beauty was not to be lost just yet.

Thank You!

If It's Not Asking Too Much

Dear Powers That Be: Please reissue Ornette Coleman's 1972 Impulse! album "Crisis" in the U.S. Please.
Drawn from a 1969 New York concert, this sorely missed album features a Coleman quintet that gathered together familiar faces including bassist Charlie Haden, trumpeter Don Cherry, tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman and drummer Denardo Coleman, Ornette's 23- year-old son. Although the other horns are heard only during the melody reading on this track, it's obvious from Coleman's impassioned improvisation, as well as composer Haden's typically burrowing solo, that the band was in grand form that night. The album's absence particularly hurts because there's precious little recorded work from the late 60s-early 70's period when Coleman still led acoustic bands prior to plugging in with Prime Time.
And if it's still not asking too much: Please post more album tracks onto YouTube. Please.

All The Things He Is

Jim Hall turns 80 next month. The recent years have been rough on the master, but he can take consolation in the fact that he remains the premier jazz guitarist. Not to slight contemporaries ranging from Wes Montgomery to John McLaughlin, but no jazz plectrist has yet to match Hall's extraordinary touch, harmonic imagination, lyrical bent or economical approach. His sound is instantly recognizable and consistently beautiful. Equally munificent is his craving for new musical experiences. If ever there was a man who could safely luxuriate in his own comfort zone it's Hall, but something keeps pushing him to rattle the cage. His openness and generosity is clearly illustrated when he goes head-to-head with younger players who have been influenced by him. The stealthy Bill Frisell wears his Hall credentials more openly than the dashing Pat Metheny, but Hall himself takes both stylists in stride. It's the old man who makes the young bucks sweat.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How Cool Was T-Bone Walker?

Answer: very.
In doing some research on basic T-Bone info, what do we find? It's a centenary year for the immortal musician, a brilliant guitarist, singer and songwriter ( "Stormy Monday Blues" anyone?) who was as comfortable in a jazz setting as he was in the blues. Here, fronting an A-list J.A.T.P band, Walker is his old unflappable self, pealing off silken guitar runs touched by characteristically eccentric touches and singing so smooth it gives you the tingles. With T-Bone you hear those that he obviously listened to for inspiration -- Charlie Christian, Eddie Durham -- as well as later giants who turned to him for guidance: B.B. King, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix.
And speaking of eccentricities... Walker may have held his guitar like a keyboard at times, but he still played a recognizable instrument. Clark Terry, on the other hand, leaves his horns behind for his solo, tooting the blues on a mouthpiece. Not surprisingly, T-Bone seems to get a kick out of it. As Dizzy and company likewise feel for this Texas titan.

Eric Edits

The wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am force of this brief but telling performance is a perfect example of how a focused artist can assert his individuality in a relative blink of an eye. From the first cymbal blast on, "G.W." practically explodes like water from a busted hydrant. Barrelling through the boppish head in no time at all, Dolphy is then out of the gate and charging through a compact solo that decisively announces his unmistakeable sound and approach. And much like a studio improvisation from another alto deity, Charlie Parker, it's over before you know it, leaving the desired paradoxical afterglow:You're left satiated yet wanting more.(I love how trumpeter Benny Bailey is on Dolphy's tail practically before his solo concludes; these guys are laying down the jazz equivalent of a three minute single and leaving not a second unaccounted for.)
Dolphy's work here reminds me of some of his equally brief yet satisfying statements on Oliver Nelson's classic "Blues and the Abstract Truth." Assessing just how much space he had, Dolphy would tumble in, grab your collar with a burst of weird intervals and jolting rhythms, and jump ship before you knew what had hit you. Be they miserly in length or expansive, a Dolphy solo --whether on alto, bass clarinet or flute -- had its maker's name on every note.