Sunday, July 23, 2017

Steve Lacy and his Poly-Free Bag

One of my long-time favorites, Steve Lacy, is featured in the May, 1980 issue of Down Beat. This article appeared the shortly after NY Capers & Quirks was recorded (the trio with Charles and Boykins can be seen below). Although it is a favorite album of mine, I hadn't given it a listen for a while so it got a spin as I prepared this post (and a few more since). I've heard a fair bit of Lacy's vast discography, and I would place NY Capers & Quirks right up there. There's a different energy here than with the later trio recordings with Jean-Jacques Avenel on bass and John Betch or Oliver Johnson on drums. There is a fiery, surging, free-wheeling quality that I enjoy and isn't as present in the later trio works. I had the melody of "We Don't" rolling around my mind as I went for a stroll this morning. Highly recommended! Click on the image to view PDF of the full article. More vintage magazine articles are available here.

Down Beat Magazine

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Some Weekend Listening - Duke & Mingus

This weekend I finally made the trek up to Bob's Blues and Jazz Mart. The store is fantastically chaotic. There's stuff everywhere and you feel like you're on a treasure hunt (I was enjoying browsing so much that it never occurred to me to snap a couple of photos). Bob was spinning Johnny Cash the whole time I was there (and answering the phone.... "Bob's Blues, Jazz and Johnny Cash Mart").
Charles Mingus Tijuana Moods The Clown

Although it was very tempting to splash out, I restricted myself to one album - Duke Ellington: Piano in the Foreground (Columbia). The 1961 date with Duke's rhythm section - Sam Woodyard (d) Aaron Bell (b) (Bell is replaced by Jimmy Woode on the bonus tracks recorded at a 1957 session) - features the trio playing some lesser-known originals (at least to me) along with a few standards.

The pace throughout is ballad to medium with nothing racing along but there is still plenty to keep the ears engaged. One thing that stood out was Duke's use of space, the pacing, and general economy of his playing. Of the six bonus tracks from the earlier session I found the two takes of "All the Things You Are" a little flowery but the four tracks "Piano Improvisation" (no. 1-4) kicked things along to round things out.

Aside from Money Jungle, I really wasn't familiar with any other Duke piano trio recordings. And due to the scarcity of his trio work it's worth while picking up....  actually "Summertime" is worth the price of admission alone and "Springtime in Africa" hits the spot on a quiet evening in.

Perhaps due to listening to Ellington put Charles Mingus on my mind, so I pulled out Tijuana Moods to be I was reminded I haven't listened to this album nearly enough. Compositionally it's interesting (which shouldn't come as a surprise) and the soloists are on form too. It seems Mingus had a knack for drawing out something a bit extra from those who played with him. Although I have the expanded edition with various takes etc, I concentrated on the 5 tracks that formed the original release.

During one of Hadi's heated solos it dawned on me that I am unaware of work outside of that with Mingus. I'm not sure I'll go seeking it out, but the realization made me a little curious. The same is true with Bobby Few. I know his playing alongside Steve Lacy, but other than that.... nothing. I may need to track down some of Few's albums.

While listening to "Tijuana Gift Shop" something reminded me of The Clown, so I gave that a spin too (just the title track which was recorded a few months before Tijuana Moods). The late 50s was a fertile time for Mingus (and it would continue into the 60s). Considering how much Mingus I have listened to (and enjoyed) over the past 18 years, I don't really feel that much has been absorbed into my own playing.... or if it has it's on a level that I'm unaware of.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Solid Fun: Gunter Hampel & Christian Weidner

I started listening to Christian Weidner shortly before meeting him in Greece during my 2009 travels. As I picked up his albums over the years since, I ran into a mention of Solid Fun - a duo with vibraphonist/bass clarinetist Gunter Hampel. I added it a few watch lists and kept an eye out for it in record stores (when I remembered). I finally ran across it (along with a couple more Lacy albums) in early June while browsing the Jazz Record Center. I was particularly curious about this release as it was recorded when he was about 19 years old, with 7 of the 8 tracks coming from a single concert in 1995 and the last piece is from a live performance the following year. There's almost ten years between this recording and his first date as a leader, the 2004 trio album Choral. 

Solid FunEarly Bird, Coltrane in the navy, Konitz with Claude Thornhill, Warne with the Canteen Kids etc....it's always fascinating hearing recordings of players earlier on in their development. What's similar, what's different, and would I pick them if I didn't know?

Although I consider myself pretty familiar with Weidner's recordings and quite confident in picking his playing, Solid Fun would have had me stumped. The tone is full but brighter, more conventional with a buoyant touch. The playing is busier - put it down to youthful energy - without the sense of space and pacing that I enjoy in his playing. There's an exuberant blues element that maybe somewhat overdone and I don't really hear in his playing these days.

There are a couple of spots that hint at his more mature sound - the way that he plays some notes, the phrasing and with that the tone I associate with him became more present (if just for a fleeting moment) - but even with repeated listening it is pretty well buried.

And I almost forgot to mention that in addition to alto, he plays tenor on a couple of tracks. It's not a horn I associate with him and although I had seen some live videos of Weidner on tenor with Kurt Rosenwinkel (I think), I do not remember them well enough to make any comparisons. I'm not sure if it's because I'm used to him on alto, but I feel that the smaller horn is a more natural voice for him.

While I don't place Solid Fun up there with his more mature works as a leader (or sideman), its been an enjoyable and fascinating listen. If there are other recordings between this and Choral I would be keen to give them a listen too.