Sunday, October 15, 2017

Straight Horning: Tony Malaby at Constellation

Anthony Cox JT Bates
Due to computer error we're running a little late this week...... a week late.
The trio of Tony Malaby (ts/ss), JT Bates (d) and Anthony Cox (d) were at Constellation on Saturday night (7th) and it was during the set break that I decided to scribble (well, type on the phone) some notes for a straight horning post.

While I've been to Constellation many times, this was the first time I've been in the smaller of the two rooms. It seats about half as many people and was about 3/4 full (maybe 45 or so for the first set ....  not bad considering that there were less than 10 not long before the scheduled kick off). Acoustically it was pretty good, but maybe not quite as nice as the larger space.

I heard Malaby live a couple of times several years ago (with mixed results), and although I've heard a little from him on soprano, I've always considered him a tenor player. Still, I was excited when saw the soprano set up last night. I didn't have to wait long for him to switch horns, and as it turned out, he pretty much split time evenly between the two horns over the two sets.

The soprano wasn't treated as "tenor up an octave" (as can be the case when soprano is the secondary horn). Malaby took advantage of the sonic differences he has on the two horns - the lighter, fleetness of soprano and the robust tenor with lush subtone. He has a well balanced soprano sound with plenty of depth and a nice crisp edge. Add to that the bends, growls, altissimo, multiphonics, dynamics, air sounds and a bit of "sax can moo" (as Lacy would say) - it's a very flexible approach to the horn.

Just as his sound had variety so too did the improvisations - melodic and lyrical, dense and rapid, and textual/sound oriented playing kept things from getting bogged down. There was plenty of ebb and flow throughout the sets and the textural and dynamic elements were important factors.

I haven't followed Malaby's work that closely, and maybe he's playing soprano more these days, but it's rare that soprano as a second horn hits me the way it did on Saturday night. I could have listened to Malaby on the straight horn all night .

Friday, October 13, 2017

Pharoah's Tale

Martin Williams profiles Pharaoh Sanders for the May 16, 1968 issue of Down Beat. Click on the image to view PDF of the full article. More vintage magazine articles are available here.
Down Beat Magazine

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

New Zealand Jazz Album of the Year

I recently updated the blog to include a couple of pages regarding New Zealand Jazz (see navigation bar towards the top left of the page). The first an index of my New Zealand jazz posts - the NZ Music Month posts, the NZ Jazz series I started a couple of months ago, and a few others from the blog.

The second page lists the New Zealand Jazz Album of the Year winners and finalists, and the more recent APRA Best Jazz Composition winners and finalists. I wasn't able to find all of the winners in a single list, and I thought it could be useful to have them in one place.

It's a work in progress, but things are pretty well covered going back to 1981. I only have the winners for 1981 and 1982 (and I'm not totally confident '81 is correct). I have not been able to find anything for 1989-1991 and I'm thinking that there was no jazz award during those years. Also, I find results listing the same winners for 2010 and 2011. So I could be missing a years' results or there were no awards for one of those years (or it was a combined 2010/11 award?).

I'll try and keep the pages updated and I'm always open to suggestions, corrections and additions, so please drop me line if you have any information to share.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Straight Horning: Sam Newsome - Blue Soliloquy

Originally planned for last week, this post was placed on hold due to the Coltrane birthday postThe upshot being I was able to spent a little more time with Blue Soliloquy this week.

I’ve only heard Sam Newsome live once. It was a few years ago at Smalls along with Tim Berne, Andrew Cyrille, and Ethan Iverson - a pretty interesting lineup. I think it was a one-off gig, but I really enjoyed the two sets of free improvisation (not what you really expect at Smalls) and hoped that they would make a record together. That hasn’t happened (yet!) and Newsome has continued to focus on solo recordings. But last week he posted about his upcoming release - Magic Circle, a duo with pianist Jean-Michel Pilc - and it made me reach for Blue Soliloquy.

Life Lessons from the Horn Soprano Saxophone
The first time I heard this album I was struck by Newsome’s upper registers (3rd & 4th octaves). It had been quite a while between spins, but once again it was the upper register playing that really popped out at me. He has a really full tone, with a laser-like focus, that doesn’t thin out or get overly bright as he hits the upper reaches (“Blue Beijing” "Blue Sunday"). The evenness across the entire range of the horn is a standout and I recommend soprano players to check him out - if they haven't already (even if they aren’t investigating the upper register). An added bonus of a solo recording is that it can allow you to hear nuances that may have been hidden by an ensemble.

I like how Newsome presents techniques in way a that may be a bit more palatable to more mainstream audiences. Multiphonics (“Blue Swagger”), quartertones (“Blue Monk”), and slap tongue (“Mandela’s Blue Mbira”) are just some examples that appear in his album-long exploration of the blues. But it’s not just a string of variations of the usual 12-bar format; instead Newsome delves into various musics from around the globe as inspiration for blues exploration. Also, these techniques add plenty in terms of colour and texture, preventing the album from getting bogged down by streams of single note lines (not that this is necessarily a problem, but you have to be pretty special to pull that off of an entire solo sax album).

Sometimes I feel that Newsome’s playing is a little too “arranged.” And while it could be viewed as weakness, I’ve come to view it as adding strength to his solo recordings. It brings focus to the pieces and cuts down on the possibility of them drifting (for what it’s worth… I didn’t have this “arranged” feeling when I heard him live). The length of the pieces, 15 tracks running between 2 and 5 minutes (with only “Blue Sunday” clocking in at 7:45), makes for a program of tunes that remain on the move, and again makes the pieces quite approachable to listeners that may not be accustomed to solo recordings or the “exotic” sounds employed by Newsome.

Also on the cards last week was re-reading various chapters of Newsome's book. I tend to prefer books on jazz from the artists point of view (such as Art Taylor’s Notes and Tones, Ran Blake’s Primacy of the Ear, the Arcana series, Lacy’s Findings and some of Liebman’s books). Life Lessons from the Horn, pulls together short essays on his approach and philosophy of practicing and playing makes for some interesting reading in a very digestible form (adapted from his blog posts).

In a music where everyone struggles to “find” his or her voice, Sam Newsome definitely has one that is his own (and Life Lessons details some of that journey). If anything, Blue Soliloquy has reminded me I need to listen to more Sam Newsome. Eventually, I would like to work through some of his earlier soprano albums (such as his pre-solo work on Steeplechase), but the newly released Magic Circle will likely be my next stop.

Friday, September 29, 2017

NZ Jazz: Space Case - Retrospective

Space Case - Retrospective (ALMA/CDMANU)

One of the things I like about this series is that it will lead me to albums I may normally pass by. I can’t say I’m much of a fusion fan, but if I skipped Space Case while undertaking this listening project I would be missing out on a significant group comprised of some the veterans of the New Zealand jazz scene - Murray McNabb (keyboards) Frank Gibson Jr. (d/perc) Kim Paterson (trpt/flugel) Brian Smith (ts/ss) Bruce Lynch (b). Andy Brown replaces Lynch after the first album. No doubt I will be encountering these names again (and again!) as the series continues. They weren't strangers to fusion - Brian Smith was a founding member of Ian Carr's group Nucleus, while Kim Paterson and Murray McNabb were part of the Frank Gibson Jr. led Dr. Tree (I plan to get to that eventually). Also, trumpeter Claudio Roditi bassist Ron McClure appear on two tracks on the second album.
Frank Gibson Jr Murray McNabb Brian Smith Kim Paterson Andy BrownThis 2-disc set combines Space Case One (1981), Space Case Two (1983), and Space Case Three (1985). The fusion of Space Case comes from the meeting of funk, latin, and jazz streams, with little in the way of the rock. It’s quite a clean, slick sound rather than some of the raw, exploratory examples from the beginnings of fusion. About half of the tunes are by McNabb and Smith with the rest from the other members of the group (although none from Paterson). The exception is the final track of the set - Wayne Shorter’s “Delores.” Production aesthetics aside, some of the tracks sound a bit dated ("Knight," "Funk City"), but I find this less of a problem on the more hardbop-esque pieces (such as “Paratutu,” “Beaver Fever,” “J.C.A,” “Number Two” etc.). Hanging with the album this month has caused a few of the tunes to stick in my mind and I‘ve caught myself singing "Recurring Dream," "Brothers," "Southern Excursion" and "Number Two" on a number of occasions.

I may been displaying my saxophone bias, but initially I felt Brian Smith was the standout soloist (“Knight,” “Boat People,” “Paratutu”). His soprano tone is a bit nasal on the first album but it fills out later on, with the tone on "Beaver Fever" being a more pleasing to my tastes. The nasal quality is something I hear in many soprano tones from this period (and earlier in the 70s) - I'm not sure how much this was to do with conception, if it was a by-product of the recording process, or a combination of both. 

Kim Paterson has some nice moments too - lyrical at times, more fiery at others. I particularly enjoyed his flugel playing in duo with Gibson on “Delores,” his fleetness on "Albert," and the fire on "Southern Excursion" (all from the final album). Side note: Brian Smith recorded the album Southern Excursion around that same time. I'm not sure if it has been reissued but I’ve added it to the list.

I had heard a bit about Murray McNabb but wasn't very familiar with his work. I found his playing as a soloist somewhat underwhelming, lacking the assertiveness of his bandmates. I dug his sneaky "Miles"/Milestones" quote during Paterson's solo on “Paratutu.” A few years later “Recurring Dream” would reappear on Song for the Dream Weaver, McNabb’s trio album with Ron McLure and Adam Nussbaum, and I'm interested to hear how he fares in that setting (I will get to it eventually).    

Frank Gibson’s playing is creative, high energy and on the money throughout the set. It’s that busy approach common in fusion that I don’t really care for, but he does it really well. In fact, from an instrumental standpoint, Gibson is the dominant voice on these three albums. As this series progresses I will be hearing a lot more of the Gibson-Andy Brown pairing.

Although I had watched a video on youtube of Space Case performing on "Nock on Jazz," I was expecting things to be a bit more fusion-y than they ended up being. And while many jazz projects can be short lived or one-offs, it's nice to hear the same group (pretty much) develop over three albums. I would put down Space Case 1 as the most fusion-y. Space Case 2 straddles the first and third albums and in 1983 it was a finalist for jazz album of the year - they lost out to Rodger Fox (I'm currently compiling a list of the winners and finalists - stay tuned for more). Space Case 3 is less fusion-y than the previous two albums. Could this be a reflection of the "Young Lions" thing that was happening in the 80s with acoustic jazz becoming fashionable again?

It’s great that these albums have been reissued but it would have been even better had they included facsimiles of the original covers and notes too. Now someone needs to put together Fourth Way and Sustenance retrospectives ASAP!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Mike Nock - Pacific Way feature, 1993

Recently I’ve have been listening to a couple of Mike Nock albums - Vicissitudes from 2016 (which I picked up while I was back in New Zealand) and Climbing from 1979. Climbing was recorded during a fertile time for Nock - In, Out and Around (1978), Talisman (1979), Ondas (1981), although I don’t rate it as highly as those… plus there’s Magic Mansions and Succubus from which I’ve only heard the odd track or two on youtube - all very different albums. But variety is something I associate with Mike. More recently there’s the 2014 Suite SIMA (octet), Two-Out (duo playing standards) and Beginning and End of Knowing (duo playing free improvisations) from 2015, and now the trio plus string trio of Vicissitudes (that I wrote about earlier this month).

Those of you who took a trip on Air New Zealand during November 1993 may have stumbled upon this article as you perused the airline’s Pacific Way magazine. More vintage magazine articles can be found here.
New Zealand Jazz

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Straight Horning: John Coltrane - 1961 Village Vanguard

soprano saxophone
This week I had been listening to some Sam Newsome and an album of his was planned for this post. Then, as it was Coltrane’s 91st birthday yesterday, I decided to get out of the apartment and listen to some Coltrane and make that the subject of today’s post. It was all going to plan until I placed the disc into the computer and my CD player decided to stop working (I tried the old faithful “turn it off and back on” to not avail). So there was no Coltrane on soprano yesterday - but there is today.  

I came to the Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings around mid-1999, and it’s a recording I can clearly remember listening to for the first time (the library strikes again!). It was a period when I was listening to a lot of Eric Dolphy, that’s what led me to it, and that was where my focus was directed. But today it’s the straight horn that has my attention.

If you are interested in Coltrane but haven't got around to these recordings, you are missing out. 
It's an early incarnation of the "Classic" quartet with Reggie Workman on bass. But Jimmy Garrison is there also (and would soon take over the bass spot), plus there's the addition of Eric Dolphy (as/b.cl) along with Ahmed Abdul-Malik (tanpura) and Garvin Bushell (cor anglais and contrabassoon) - although the latter two only appear on a couple of tracks each, they add a different color to the ensemble sound. [side note: in addition to this recording with Coltrane, Bushell looks to have recorded with a range of artists including Mamie Smith, Gil Evans, Jelly Roll Morton, Chick Webb, Slim Gaillarrd and more.]

Usually when it comes to Coltrane, it’s just a few tracks here and there - rarely an entire album. The last time I pulled out this set was to listen to the 3 versions of “Chasin’ the Trane,” and before that it was a handful of the soprano tracks. Today, I listened to more than my normal fill of Coltrane in a single seating - all of the soprano tracks, and make up half of the 22 tracks in the box set:
Disc One: “India” and “Spiritual”
Disc Two: “India,” “Spiritual” and “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise”
Disc Three: “Greensleeves” and “Spiritual”
Disc Four: “India,” “Greensleeves,” “India” and “Spiritual”

If only there were soprano versions of “Chasin’ the Trane” and/or “Impressions” from this gig, but he seemed pretty set on using certain horns for certain tunes. On all but the first version of “Spiritual” he plays the opening theme and first solo on tenor, then switches to soprano to solo again and take the song out. Maybe one day I’ll spent some time hanging with “Spiritual” for some tenor/soprano contrasts and comparisons.

Recorded more than a year after My Favourite Things and his first studio session on soprano, The Avant Garde, he’s more confident on soprano on the Vanguard recordings and (almost) pushes it to breaking point. “Greensleeves” seems pretty tame when listening to the versions of “India” from either side of it on disc four. And maybe it's “India” that opens disc four that is my favourite of the soprano tracks from this collection. The jury is still out because I haven’t heard his entire soprano output, but so far I would pick “Chim Chim Cheree” from The John Coltrane Quartet Plays as my favourite Coltrane on soprano with the Vanguard recordings running a close second. Although, I’m not sure that it is based solely on his soprano playing - the live energy, and a slightly unpolished quality of the Vanguard performances are also contributing factors.

I definitely prefer Coltrane in small doses, but I’m open to recommendations, in particular recordings that feature his soprano playing. I’ll get to Sam Newsome next week, and in the meantime .....I hope he doesn't mind being bumped by Coltrane.