Saturday, February 10, 2018

Miles Davis Quintet Prestige Sessions

Miles Davis – The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions

Maybe inspired by giving the Jimmy Giuffre 3 a or three spin a couple of weekends ago, last week I decided to revisit more music I hadn't listened to for a long time.

As an aspiring jazz musician it's pretty hard to pass by these recordings, and I definitely spent a fair amount of time with Cookin', Relaxin', Workin' and Steamin' – and of those I'm probably most familiar with Relaxin.' Over the years there's been the odd track here and there, but it's been a while that I've sit down and listened to them from start to finish. This set also includes The New Miles Davis Quintet (that I'm less familiar with) and a disc of live material (that is new to me but I only gave it a single run this week).

Phrasing, time feel, space, economy, conciseness, continuity – Miles' playing has an immediacy I find hard to resist. The way he plays the melody on “Diane” (love the sound of Philly Joe 's cymbal behind Miles), his solo break on “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” the bubbly feel of his longer lines on “Oleo” (PC is totally on here too), the swinging simplicity of “Trane's Blues” and this open horn tone on “Woody'n You.” Sometimes I feel Miles overdoes the harmon mute. Aside from his great tone on the open horn it would have been nice to hear him use other style mutes. But this could be one of the disadvantages of listening to a box set I guess.

As before, I'm not really struck by Coltrane's playing on these recordings. Dare I say that, on the earlier tracks at least, in comparison to Miles, he sounds labored (things pick up a bit on “Four” and “Salt Peanuts” “Airegin”). Although, as usually happens when I listen to Coltrane, I warm a little to his playing throughout the week. But for me, it still misses the mark. And how about his blend with Miles on the head of “Stablemates”?... the intonation gives the piece an interesting vibe. But Coltrane is the foil to Miles, and the contrast is part of what makes Miles' playing so effective. Would it work as well if it was a trio with P.C and Philly Joe? (Actually I think it would.... why didn't they do that?!)

Garland has his moments “Oleo” sounds like he's channeling Lennie Tristano (there are hints on “Well You Needn't” too). And his playing (comping and solo) on “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” is on point. I didn't remember Garland's chord solos - “There Is No Greater Love”, “Something I Dreamed Of Last Night” and “When Lights Are Low” - and in general, I preferred them to his line playing. So while he never really grabbed me as a soloist, his comping is an important component of the overall band sound and he locks in well with Chambers and Jones.

In general, during the piano and tenor solos I found my concentration moving towards the bass and drums. This week has been a reminder of how much I enjoy Philly Joe's playing (had I forgotten....?)
Philly Joe's tone enjoying it more than I remembered – the variety he gets from the cymbals and snare, and a nice deep brush sound too. And then there's the effortless flow and pop of Chambers' walking lines – they just go and go and go.

As with the Giuffre disc, I've enjoyed revisiting these recordings, and across the week it reinforced some of my earlier memories of this music. Much like before, my ear was drawn to the playing of Miles and the combination of Chambers and Philly Joe. For me, these recordings aren't ones I reach for to hear my favourite soloists (Miles being the exception), but it's the overall band sound of these recordings that hit the spot.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Nick Mazzarella Trio & Tom Rainey Trio

I thought I'd share a couple of photos from a couple of gigs I attended recently. On the 15th Nick Mazzarella's trio, with Patrick Mulcahy (bass) and Jeremy Cunningham (drums), were at Andy's. I had been up since some ridiculous hour so I only stayed for the first set (it was a long one.. almost 90 mins - a nice mix of originals and standards. I hadn't really heard Mazzarella play many standards so this made a nice change. And considering it was a freezing cold Monday night, the crowd wasn't too bad.

Last weekend Tom Rainey's trio, with Mary Halvorson (guitar) and Ingrid Laubrock (tenor/soprano), were at Constellation. I've heard both Rainey and Laubrock in the past but have managed to miss Halvorson when she's been in town, so I was keen not to miss this concert. It was the final engagement of a brief tour and the two sets of free improvised music had plenty of cohesion. There was a great turnout, with the smaller of the two rooms totally packed.

Andy's jazz club Chicago
Nick Mazzarella Trio at Andy's

Chicago Jazz Constellation
Tom Rainey Trio at Constellation

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

NZ Jazz: Jazz Concert 1950, Auckland Town Hall

The New Zealand Jazz Heritage Series: Jazz Concert 1950, Auckland Town Hall

This month's listening has been a lot of fun and deserves more than this hastily put together post. Billed as the 1st Auckland Jazz Concert (jazz for listening rather than dancing), this live recording from the Auckland Town Hall on August 7, 1950, is a great historical document. For a 1950 live recording (by way of a phone line) the fidelity is actually pretty decent. At times the balance is a bit out, but it's quite a clean sound. I have many recordings that sound far worse. From what I can tell it's the only recording in the “New Zealand Jazz Heritage Series”. If there are others, please let me know, as recordings from the 1950s (or the 60s and 70s for that matter) are like hens teeth.
Ode Records

It's great that they kept Peter Young's announcements on the release as they add some context to the events that night (and average jokes). One complaint – it would have been great to have included some liner notes providing a bit of background to the event. I've haven't had a chance to check things out yet, but I'm sure the info is out there somewhere.

The 21 tracks over two CDs feature plenty of well known swing era standards (“How High the Moon”, “I Got Rhythm”, “Lady Be Good”, “Perdido” etc), and while there are hints that some players are starting to adopt some of modern developments, it's fair to say that the music is very much in the swing-era small group vein (a couple of times Jazz at the Philharmonic came to mind).

There were a lot of players that I wasn't familiar with but in general, the more known names (to me) were the standouts - Crombie Murdoch (p), Julian Lee (as) and Mavis Rivers (v). Having said that, Mark Kahl provides some nice guitar solos - “How High the Moon”, “Out of Nowhere” and “Boogie Blues” come to mind. Colin Martin (tenor) sounds ok on the slower numbers such as his ballad feature on “Don't Blame Me.” George Cambell's bass lines fly along on the rhythm section feature, “Lover.” And Murray Tanner (trumpet) is very solid throughout – nice tone and he doesn't over-do things.

Julian Lee gets plenty of space on alto. At times he's somewhat restrained (“Out of Nowhere”) but he can get pretty excitable (“Perdido”). He's not afraid of throwing some quotes in (“Laura” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” make appearances) or hamming it up (the bridge on “Perdido”). Sometimes his sound in the upper register gets a little choked. On “Messin' Around” I think he takes all the horn solos (alto, tenor, trumpet, trombone). It's bit of guess as the liner notes only state him on alto with no other soloists listed, but it doesn't sound like the other plays and Lee was known to play a bunch of instruments. Plus Peter Young only acknowledges Lee when back announcing the piece.

Crombie Murdoch has plenty of nice touches across the evening. He's a pretty busy accompanist when backing Mavis Rivers (who features on four pieces) but doesn't seem to get in the way, perhaps a little “cocktaily,” although it's pretty effective on “Dedicated to You.” He gets a nice blend behind Kahl on “Caravan” and along the rhythm section features of “Lover”, “Somebody Loves Me” and “I Know That You Know” his playing is well showcased. I have a trio album of his from almost 40 years later that I will get to.... eventually!

By way of applause, Hughie Gordon was the crowd favourite. Although bit of a novelty, his four short features on tin whistle are actually pretty swinging.

I can't believe it's taken me this long to hear this recording, and if you're interested in jazz in New Zealand be sure to check it out.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Saturday Afternoon with The Jimmy Giuffre 3

Around 20 years ago, my introduction to Jimmy Giuffre came by the way of The Jimmy Giuffre 3. I used to listen to the LP at the Wellington City Library. The sound of this group was so different to what I was used – maybe it was the lack of drums – but whatever it was, I found it refreshing. Eventually I got the CD and use to listen to it quite a bit and, naturally, it led to other recordings by Giuffre – most notably his 60s trio with Steve Swallow and Paul Bley which became one of my favorite groups....it still is. I return to 60s trio's recordings quite regularly, most recently Emanem's 2CD reissue of the live recordings from Europe (and I highly recommend checking them out if you haven't), but I can't remember the last time I listened to The Jimmy Giuffre 3 from start to end. Today it got an appropriate number of spins - three.

I surprised how well I remembered the album, in particular “Gotta Dance,” “Two Kinds of Blues,” “The Song Is You” and “The Train & The River” still seemed quite fresh in my mind. I really enjoy the balance and rapport of this trio – the weight of contributions from Giuffre, Peña and Hall and how the individual tones blend are key to the ensemble sound. It's more “organized” than I remember and probably more so than I like these days (maybe that was one of the qualities that appealed to me initially... who knows), but it does give a focus/direction to each piece. I definitely remember enjoying the tone Giuffre got from the baritone, tenor and clarinet (especially the clarinet). A lot of saxophonists and clarinetists frown upon it, but enjoy hearing the breath in the tone.

I'm not sure what had me reaching for The Jimmy Giuffre 3 this afternoon, but it's been fun.

Friday, January 05, 2018

NZ Jazz: Jim Langabeer - Secret Islands

Okay, so I'm running a little late.... maybe not the best start for 2018 but here it is.

The pattern of alternating between newer and older releases continued in December with Jim Langabeer's Secret Islands, released in mid-2017.
New Zealand Jazz Rattle Records
All 11 pieces are by Langabeer. They stand alone really well and combine make a great album with a lot of variety yet there is a unified thread running through the work making for a superb album. The choice of personnel is crucial and Langabeer made great choices and the instrumentation provides plenty of textural/color variety too. 

Jim Langabeer (tenor sax/flute/alto flute/putorino) Roger Manins (alto sax) Rosie Langabeer (piano/fender rhodes, organ) Neil Watson (guitar/pedal steel) Eamon Edmundson-Welles (b) Chris O'Connor (d)

Rosie was one of the more creative musicians during my time at music school but I haven't heard too over the past several years so her inclusion is a welcome one for me. Roger is the foil to Langabeer's stripped bare approach – reminded me a bit of the contrast between Miles and his saxophonists. It's nice to hear him on alto too.

When he was based in Wellington I regularly heard Chris O'Connor and he's one of my favourite drummers on the NZ scene. His versatile and creative playing is somewhat understated here but integral to the overall sound of the album.

Neil Watson was in some ways the surprise package (most likely due to me not really keeping tabs on his work). He combining jazz/rock/blues/country to great affect. His pedal steel playing is an important part of the sonic make-up of the album.

Eamon Edmundson-Welles was the only player I wasn't familiar with. He slots in really well. Nice arco tone. Sometimes the bass is a little muddied in the mix but when it's not it pops. He hooks up well with Chris.

I never really heard much of Jim's music but I was aware of his position as a veteran of the New Zealand jazz scene. His recordings are few and far between - the Superbrew album is on the shelf waiting for a spin but I'm not aware of others (suggestions and recommendations welcome!).
His playing is unhurried, sparse and the importance of tone as an expressive device comes through.  It's not ego driven, leader centric music. He's not dominating in any way as an individual (and often takes a backseat to proceedings) but still his conception comes through clearly.

“Bad Call” eases the listener in and is nice introduction for the things to come. The piece simmers as the collective improvisation builds.

The lounge-y “Rata Flowers” features a dreamy padding of pedal steel and mellow fender rhodes with melodic tenor floating above.

The melody of “What If” features multiphonics from the saxophones over a slinky swing feel. Rosie digs into the blues with unexpected twists and turns. Her rhythmic strength holds things together. Watson opens with staccato playing before moving onto the slide with plenty of off-kilter blues swagger (much like Rosie but with different outcomes). And Roger gets slippery on alto before the out head. For whatever reason I couldn't help but think of film noir and Neil Young's Tonight's the Night.

The collective improvisation, shifting tempos and hits of “The Big Smoke” keeps your ears primed for surprises. Provides a nice example of contrast between the saxes – Roger follows Jim's lead but with busier approach. Roger may be a more slick or conventionally virtuosic, but he is not lacking in fire or feeling.

“Tangi” is well placed following the more hectic “Big Smoke.” No one overstates their case and it's a wonderfully paced piece. The droning guitar and arco bass lay the foundation. The two saxes have a cry to their tone (with Roger drawing on some influences from India). One of the highlights of the album is the Rosie's solo piano stretch that ends the piece.

“Out Of Harm's Way” gives Chris some room to solo with backing from the rest of the band. There'a nice angular and jagged dialogue between bass and piano and plenty of exuberant saxophonic wailing as Jim and Roger ride tandem on the way home.

The Unhurried and well placed “Hinemoa and Tutanekai” makes great use of minimalism. Featuring the saxes playing octaves, multiphonics, and sustained notes. There's very subtle background tinkling (what is that... organ/guitar/bass? - great texture) with percussion eventually added to the mix. Space is a key ingredient.

Alto sax, flute, and piano improvisations are underpinned with textural drums and sparse bass lines until an explosion of distorted guitar really starts ramping things up for just a moment on “Orakei Karoako.” “Freequency” flows in from the previous piece with dense distorted guitar and rolling percussion.

Again there's some Indian allusions on “Central Plateau” with lyrical flute, drone-ish guitar and mallet percussion opening the piece. It kicks into some solid swing for Rog and Watson to blow over. Rosie's comping behind the alto solo grabbed my ear. Things settle as the flute re-enters but the piece doesn't lose urgency.

“Waiata o te Taniwha,” a lullaby-like tenor feature, seems like the perfect way to sign off.

Secret Islands made great listening during December and feel it is an album I will keep returning to. For me, the two key ingredients are fun and mystery. Highly recommended.

Final words.... more Jim Langabeer please!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

NZ Jazz: Jason Jones – Subspace

Jason Jones – Subspace (Scoop de Loop)
This month I've been catching up for lost time. Jason Jones' Subspace was the winner of NZ jazz album of the year in 2000, but I'm sorry to say that when this album was released I was completely unaware of its existence. I've mentioned this before (and likely will again...sorry) that around the time this album was released I wasn't very aware of the NZ jazz scene outside my immediate vicinity. When I got to music school you would hear some names of people from the Auckland or Christchurch scenes (let alone anywhere else) but hearing their music was another matter. During my time at school there was little emphasis on NZ jazz or NZ saxophonists (but perhaps that was my responsibility to seek it/them out). Good news is that lack of awareness seems to have changed (although my understanding is NZ jazz still doesn't feature much at school). My first exposure to Jones' playing was probably 6 or 7 years after the release of Subspace via the 1994 album Urbanism.

New Zealand Jazz
Aside from Subspace and Urbanism plus his sideman work on Kim Paterson's Impending Journey, I haven't heard his name mentioned much over the years. Oh... and I think he's on Jazz in the Present Tense but it's almost impossible tracking down those albums on Tap Records. A quick search led me to the Jazzlocal32 blog where you can watch a video of Jones playing “Everything Happens to Me” with Dixon Nacey from a 2013 gig (keep up the good work John!).

All seven tunes come from Jones and the stylistic/feel variety keeps things moving - uptempo swing, laid back pieces, funk(ish), waltz, and straight 8ths. There is some nice textural variety too – electric and acoustic bass, the addition of flugel horn for two tracks and percussion (with Kojo Owusu added to the ensemble) on two others. Just a few little things that help keep the ears fresh. Another nice touch is the solo tenor intro on “Banyan Tree” and then changing it up to have percussion and sax take the out head. But I can't say I'm a fan of the fade-outs on three of the tracks.

Although the he's leader, Jones leaves plenty of room for his bandmates. Piano duties are split between Kevin Field and Aron Ottignon. Field sounds more confident and rhythmically more assured of the two pianist - not all that surprising considering Ottignon must have only been 16 or 17 when the album was recorded. These days Ottignon is based in Europe and this recording was a nice reminder of someone I had completely forgotten about. The piano tuning in the upper register is a bit off and it grated on me during the initial few listens but then subsided. However every now and then it really sticks out (I've been listening to a bit of Monk lately and a piano with questionable tuning in that context doesn't bother me nearly as much as it does here).

McBride and Gruebner are very solid throughout. “Reflections” features the only bass solo on the album while McBride gets some solo space with bass/piano accompaniment on “Crystal Cave” and “Subspace.” The latter features subtle shifts and variations from McBride and Gruebner during the horn/piano solos that keep things interesting without overplaying. Although the solos and accompaniment on this track largely follow the same arc with the building up and dropping back down (not uncommon by any means) becoming a little predictable.

Kim Paterson makes a welcome appearance on “Mandela” and the title track. I do enjoy the sound of flugel horn (particularly in the upper register), and there is a nice blend between the tenor and flugel horn when they come together for the melody statements. His playing didn't strike me at first but as the month progressed I got into it. There's plenty of spark on “Mandela.”  The hard bop(ish) intro to the title track had me thinking  there was going to be more of the same, but the tunes turns into a light funk thing that isn't really my thing, even if his playing (and the others) is solid throughout. However, the tune just bring variety to the set. I have some more from Kim Paterson lined up for this series and I'm looking forward to it.

Jones' tone is warm throughout the range with some brightness in the upper register and there's a pinched quality to the tone in the upper register (more so than I remember from Urbanism). There are some “Brecker-isms” - mostly in the upper register and a mandatory false fingering lick. But at his core Jones seems to have melodic concept with lyrical/melodic phrases dispersed throughout his solos.The opening of his solo on “Dolphin Girl” keeps in the vein of the melody without really stating or paraphrasing it. He doesn't rely solely on strings of notes and isn't afraid of a little space to let his lines breath. “Mandala” is a nicely paced solo and at times, like on “Crystal Cave,” he can generate quite an up beat feeling.

A little digging around on Sounz led me to leadsheets for three tunes featured on Subspace available for free download - “Reflections,” Cloud Nine” and Dolphin Girl” (I caught myself humming the latter a number of times lately).

I was happy giving Subspace some airtime this month and as this series continues I hope to lay my ears on plenty more music that I missed along the way or is not really music I would normally reach for all that often. Up next there's a new release lined up for my December listening.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Paul Bley: Being Together

Here we have Michael Cuscuna's profile of Paul Bley for the October 17, 1968 issue of Down Beat. Do yourself a favor and be sure to check out his trio recordings from this era (Footloose, Closer, Touching, Ramblin'). Most recently I have been listening to Plays Carla Bley, a 1991 trio recording for Steeplechase with Marc Johnson and Jeff Williams. 

I have some articles in the pipeline to post in March and May but for now, this brings to an end the regular postings. In the meantime you can browse the list of magazine article uploads here.
Michael Cuscuna Down Beat Magazine