Monday, June 24, 2013

Listening From The Past Week

Steve Lacy & Mal Waldron Live at Dreher, Paris 1981: Round Midnight Vol 1. (HatOLOGY)
Lacy & Waldron make an excellent pairing and I don't think I've heard them sounding better than on this two disc set. Waldron accompanies Lacy beautifully - I prefer his accompanying over his soloing. Wonderful versions of 'Round Midnight. I'd love to get hold of Vol.2. Great sounding live recording tops it off.

 Disposability (KCD 1965) trio with Kent Carter (b) Albert Romano (d) recorded in Italy on Lacy's first trip Europe. Though he had led groups without chordal accompaniment (The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy, Evidence, School Days) this seems to be Lacy's first session fronting a trio (please correct me if I'm wrong). Lacy contributes four compositions along with three by Monk and one each by Cecil Taylor & Carla Bley.
At times the soprano takes on an almost flute-like quality in the upper register whilst keeping it's soprano-yness(!) in the lower register.

Early Years: 1954-56 (Freshsound 2004) I find it fascinating (and a treat) to hear early recordings of my favorite players - Lee Konitz with Claude Thornhill, Lenny Popkin at Lennox School, and the two "Young Bird" discs come to mind.  I can't believe it has taken me so long to get around to listening to this two disc set.
Lacy served his apprenticeship in New York City under traditional jazz players such as Jimmy McPartland, Zutty Singleton, Rex Stewart & Cecil Scott. Along with the traditional jazz influence, his playing also shows traces of Lester Young. There are hints at bop too - these are much more evident on the second disc.
It's great to hear him play some clarinet - limited to the ensemble sections on a few tracks on disc one. Lacy focused on soprano exclusively shortly after these first recordings were made.
The overall feel of the recordings is something like "trad meets cool." The arrangements (a few are by Neal Hefti) for the quintets & sextets are nice and in some cases more interesting than the soloists. Another point of interest is the presence of Tom Stewart playing Tenor Horn - I can't think of any other recordings featuring a front line of soprano sax and tenor horn.
A must for Lacy fans, this disc would also make a nice addition to a Blindfold Test.

While I'm on the subject of early recordings - Hayden Chisholm's Circe (JazzHausMusik 1996) made this weeks playlist too. This bold debut recording shows a young artist with vision - did he go out and record an album of (average) originals plus a token standard? No, he explored the world of microtonality and split scales on soprano sax (and a bit of didgeridoo). It never seems long between listens to this album - even if it's just a track or two here and there. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Maple Leaf Rag

Earlier in the week I was reading about the early history of jazz. Ragtime was the subject and Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" was the given example. This led me to listening to the few versions that I have.

First up was "King of Ragtime Writers: from classic piano rolls." Nice hearing it in a very straight forward way even if it was a bit stiff and lacking the human touch.

Following that was Alan Lomax's 1938 recording of Jelly Roll Morton demonstrating how he would take a tune and make it his own - "In my estimation there's a vast difference." This is available of the Library of Congress Recordings - Fascinating stuff, I urge you to check it out (have a bit of time on your hands it's 8 CDs). It's a shame there aren't more recordings of the masters talking about and demonstrating their music.

Up next was Ran Blake exploring "Maple Leaf Rag" over four takes from his solo piano albums Painted Rhythms Vol. 1 & 2. (GM Recordings 1985). Just as Morton made it his own, so too does Blake - tempo shifts, sparse and light, dense and dramatic. He shows there's plenty of mileage left for improvisers to explore on the old classics.

Then I leapt back to 1932 with the New Orleans FeetwarmersSidney Bechet (soprano sax) Henry Duncan (p) Tommy Ladnier (trpt) Tommy Nixon (trb) Ernest Meyers (b/vocal) Morris Morland (d) ). Bechet really wails here (his reed almost explodes around 2 min 30 mark) and the band steams along.  This recording has a great atmosphere (shouts of encouragement during the piano feature add to it). Note to self: More Sidney Bechet.

And that exhausted my collection. Perhaps I'll jump on Spotify and look for some more.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


I lifted this questionnaire straight from bassist Ronan Guilfoyle's blog Mostly Music (he adapted it slightly from Ethan Iverson's blog Do The Math). 

It's a few years old but I thought it would fun to fill out. I tried not to spend a lot of time making my choices - here's where they stand at this time.

Here's part one & two from Ronan's blog.

Give us an example or two of an especially good or interesting:
1. Melody: 

J.S Bach: St. Matthew Passion - "Aus Liebe Will Mein Heiland Sterben" The recording I know best has beautiful ensemble playing with Barbara Schlick's soprano voice.
Early Lee Konitz (as a leader and with Tristano Sextet/Birth of the Cool/with Kenton etc) 

2. Harmonic language: 
Connie Crothers
Hayden Chisholm: saxophone works such as "Love In Numbers" & "Auto Poetica."

3. Rhythmic feel: 

Jo Jones/Walter Page/Freddie Green
Billie Holiday/Lester Young - individually & together
Ken Filiano/Roger Mancuso - great pairing I've hear live a few times. There are a couple of recordings here & here that feature them.

4. Classical piece: 

Bach Two Part Inventions
Bartok String Quartets

5. Jazz album: 

Lennie Tristano: Intuition (Capitol)
Billie Holiday: Columbia Recordings

6. Book on music: 

Steve Lacy: Findings

7. Name a great recording by someone that has influenced you:

Bill Payne & Connie Crothers: Conversations (now part of the 2cd package - The Stone Set).
Lester Young: Kansas City Sessions. The first 10 tracks (from 1938) are gems.

8. Name someone whose music has influenced you, but that people who know your music would probably be surprised by: 

Evan Parker.
Many seem surprised when I tell them how much I enjoy Frank Sinatra.

9. Name a player on your instrument whom you think is very underrated: 
Hayden Chisholm (as/ss)
Richard Tabnik (as) 
Lenny Popkin(ts)
Steve Lacy (!) Ok, so this one may be a bit contentious - but I feel he is. Most people focus on the sidebars of the soprano (it's still a novelty to many) and his embrace of Monk's music and forget the original approach he brought to the music.

Feel free to send in your answers.

In the original, Ethan Iverson threw in a few more: 
- Movie Score
- T.V Theme
- Hip-Hop Track
- Smash Hit
- Non-American Folkloric Group
- Name and Rock or Pop album that you'd wish had been a commercial smash hit
- Name a favorite drummer, and an album to hear why you love that drummer:  

Some of these make me wonder if he was looking for Bad Plus repertoire ideas ;-)

Monday, June 17, 2013

listening june

It has been refreshing to listen to a number of alternate takes from the Billie Holiday Columbia box set. This led me to give back to back listens of Lester Young's solo on the two takes of "Back In Your Own Backyard." Lester's solo on "Easy Does It" with the Basie Orchestra had a few spins too.

Steve Lacy is still getting plenty of airtime. The Holy La (Free Lance) - a solid trio outing from the late 90's with Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass & kalimba) John Betsch (d) There's plenty of variety throughout the album (old and new tunes plus one from Monk). The addition of Irene Aebi's vocals the group expands to a quartet for two of the nine tracks. On 'Cliches', Avenel puts down the bass to play kalimba (thumb piano). Lacy had very solid rhythm sections over the years - Buell Neidlinger/Dennis Charles, Kent Carter/Oliver Johnson or Avenel/Betsch - they may not have got the acclaim of other bass & drum pairings but they were vital in bringing Lacy's music to life.

It had been some time since I listened to Weal & Woe (Emanem). I skipped the first half of the disc (it's part of the "Avignon and After" reissue that I've listened to a bit lately) and jumped straight to the four pieces that make up "The Woe" by Lacy (ss) Steve Potts (as) Irene Aebi (cello/voice) Kent Carter (b) Oliver Johnson (d) from 1973.  I believe the last time I heard it was when my friend John lent me the album - six or seven years ago. I had forgotten about the recordings of gun fire and explosions. Full on.

I've been looking back to my jazz soprano roots and that means Sidney Bechet has shared some of my time this week. While I can't say I'm into the vibrato, his tone is so bold and distinctive. I don't have that much of his work, just one disc on which he plays soprano as well as clarinet. I would like to get some more where his focus is purely on the soprano. Any suggestions?

A few different recordings of Bela Bartok's String Quartet #1 have been on throughout the week. A nice way to break up the jazz.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Jennie's Soup

Thought it was time to mix things up a little. I enjoy cooking and this recipe came via my friend Jennie who made it when I was staying at her place in NYC. As soon as I tried it I knew my wife would love it too. Feel free to use whatever beans you have on hand. Meat eaters can use regular sausage. This weekend I made it with chicken stock & chicken sausages and it turned out nicely. Enjoy.

Black-Eyed Pea and Sweet Potato Soup

This variation included Chicken Stock & Sausage
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups low-sodium vegetarian broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
3 cups cooked or 2 cans (15 oz each) black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained (or use whatever beans you have)
2 tablespoons vegetarian bacon bits or a few dashes of liquid smoke (I use liquid smoke)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 oz kale, collards, or other dark greens, cleaned, trimmed, and thinly sliced
1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 vegetarian Italian sausages, cut into 1/4" slices

Steam-fry the onion and garlic in a heavy, nonstick skillet over medium heat until soft, adding very small amounts of water as needed to prevent sticking and burning. (Or place in a microwaveable dish, cover, and microwave on high for 5 minutes.)

Place the broth, tomato paste, black-eyed peas, bacon bits or liquid smoke, oregano, bay leaf, salt, red pepper, greens, sweet potatoes, and sausage in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and simmer for 30 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are tender. Remove the bay leaf and serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Thumb Blues

Well, the frustration continues.
I've got back into doing some playing after a two week break (aided by six days out of town visiting the rellies). It's baby steps once again - 15 minutes at a time. I am barely warmed up and it's time to stop. Yesterday afternoon/evening the arm felt pretty heavy - ice provided some relief. Today things seem pretty good. In fact, there's no thumb pain to speak off at all.

Last years visa application and relocation no doubt added quite a bit of stress into the mix that I'm sure contributed to the tendonitis problems earlier in the year. It came as a real set-back for me as I felt I had made some solid progress in the previous six months. The trick is trying not to have that on my mind and not clock watching when I play. I have decided to turn the clock around and set the kitchen timer to avoid clock watching. Clearing the mind is proving to be difficult - the injury related anxiety kicks in with a lot of "What was that?" - "Is that tight?" - "Does it usually feel this way?"

Relaxation was a common thread that ran through my studies with Hayden Chisholm, Richard Tabnik, and Connie Crothers. Breathing exercises, stretches etc that were part of my lessons I continue with today.

My plan is to slow things down and try to remove any comparisons I making with myself from before the injury. Relax and enjoy playing. Yesterday I played some J.S Bach, today I checked out a Lacour Etude.

Off to the doctors next week.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Impact Records: Billie Holiday & Lester Young

Slight change from the regular edition: Instead of focusing on a particular album I'm looking back at a couple of artists. Earlier entries can be found here: Kings Of Swing - Kind Of Blue - Charlie Parker
During my teens I picked up a number of 'Best Of' cds. Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Coleman Hawkins, Ella Fitzgerald, and Charlie Parker were among the featured artists in a series called "Jazz Greats." The three discs that grabbed me were those by Count Basie, Lester Young, and Billie Holiday - with Billie & Pres quickly becoming my favorites.
There is something in this music. What was it that left a teenager from New Zealand captivated?

The discs contained tracks from Lester Young such as: 'Taxi War Dance', 'Shoe Shine Boy', 'Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie', 'Tickle Toe', 'Lester Leaps In' ('Lady Be Good' came along a few years later)
And Billie Holiday: 'Pennies From Heaven' 'What A Little Moonlight Can Do', 'These Foolish Things', 'Miss Brown to You', 'God Bless The Child'
And Billie & Pres together: 'Me, Myself & I', 'This Years Kisses', 'When You're Smiling', 'Foolin' Myself', 'All of Me'
Gems, all of them!

The ensembles contained some of the greatest artists in jazz - Teddy Wilson, Buck Clayton, Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Walter Page, Freddie Green, Jo Jones, Cozy Cole, and Kenny Clarke.

Everyone contributes. There's no star on show, just great music.

More than any other this is the music I return to. At the top of my listening list are the Columbia Recordings of Billie Holiday and the 1930's - early 40's Lester Young. As cliched as it is to like the early stuff, to me, this is their best work. Great Jazz Music. If you are interested learning jazz improvisation, check out these two artists - they unlocked so many secrets!

And remember, this was the pop music of the day.... It happened once it can happen again! (as Connie would say).