Sunday, December 25, 2016

Wayne Shorter's Blue Notes

Earlier in the year I picked up a collection of Wayne Shorter's recordings for Blue Note and I have been working my way through them ever since. Note: for those that want the liner notes, this set isn't for you.... you can probably pick up all the individual reissues used for about the same price as this set.

JuJu and Speak No Evil got some heavy rotation in the early 2000s and I have returned to them on fairly regular intervals over the years. My knowledge of Night Dreamer, The Soothsayer, The All Seeing Eye, Adam's Apple and Schizophrenia came from listening sessions at the public and university library (along the way I must have missed Etcetera). Spending more time with them this year has been time well spent.

I was surprised by how many of the tunes from Night Dreamer seemed familiar to me. Either I must have listened to that album more than I realized or perhaps in the years following I've heard others playing songs like "Black Nile," "Virgo" and the title track. Or maybe the stickability of the tunes is testament to Shorter's ability as a composer. Of these, I was least familiar with The All Seeing Eye. It's an interesting work and I can think of a couple of friends who may enjoy the writing for five or six horns and rhythm (a line-up I don't really associate with Blue Note or music of this era). I remember thinking to myself, "I thought the pianist was Herbie?," then double checking the liner notes and being pleasantly surprised as I couldn't recall him playing like he does on "Chaos."

While I know some people who don't really care for Shorter's tone, I find it quite appealing (although I do prefer his Shorter's more recent soprano tone to his early years on the straight horn). There is something about his tonal inflections that remind me of the way Warne Marsh colored individual notes and I think this contributed to my initial attraction to his playing. In fact, this may even be my favorite element of his playing.

Purchasing this set was an in-the-moment decision and the motivating factor was the last three albums - Super NovaMoto Grosso Fein and Odyssey of Iska. First, because they are early examples of his soprano work and, secondly, because when people speak of Shorter's Blue Note era these albums don't get a mention (no doubt due to anti-fusion sentiments that are part of the jazz world) and this makes me curious. Someone leant Super Nova to me a while back and I had forgotten the dense quality and intensity of some of the tracks. He sticks solely to soprano here and I need to get around to comparing the tunes he recorded with Miles that also appear here. I had heard one track from Moto a few years back (thanks Paul) and I remember it sparked my attention but I never followed through checking out the album. Both Moto and Odyssey have a similar vibe with the music slowly unfolding. The unhurried, wandering, exploratory quality appeals to me. I don't listen to a lot of music of this ilk, so these last three albums have made a refreshing change of pace. For those after some adventurous and exploratory music or fans of early(ish) fusion, make sure you check out these albums.

All this talk and I haven't mentioned any of the sideman, and lets face it, they're not light-weights. Joe Chambers, Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter make regular appearances (on 4, 5 and 6 albums respectively), Freddie Hubbard is on form, Elvin Jones is superb (Joe Chambers also caught my ears) and James Spaulding contributed some fiery playing. Aside from a smattering of sideman appearances in the 60s, I've never really checked out his work.

This set is a reminder of just how much contemporary jazz (as soloists, accompanists, compositionally and the approach to ensemble playing) owes to the music from this era. I'm looking for to delving into more from Shorter when I tackle the Plugged Nickel box set in the new year.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Straight Horning - Evan Parker: As the Wind

In addition to his solo saxophone recordings, I'm a fan of Evan Parker's quieter outings such as his duo with Richard Nuns, Rangirua, and the two trio albums with Paul Bley and Barre Phillips, Time Will Tell and Sankt Gerold Variations. The recently released As the Wind, fits the bill nicely and has been getting a fair bit of airtime. [As an aside: I have never been able to get into his work with long-time collaborators Barry Guy and Paul Lytton or as part of Alexander von Schlippenbach's trio].
Toma Gouband Mark Nauseef
Evan ParkerAs the Wind (PSI Records)

I'm very happy to have stumbled upon this while browsing the shelves at Dusty Groove. It was the line-up that raised my curiosity levels -  Parker sticks to the soprano throughout nine free improvisations with Toma Gouband (Lithophones) and Mark Nauseef (Percussion). 

The music is never too busy with space playing an important role in the album. It is music that is not in a rush and has an open and airy presence. Flurries of notes punctuate periods of sustained sounds. Surges of sound retreat as quickly as they appear. At times I couldn't help but think of Gagaku or the Shakuhachi. It's a marvelous feeling to be immersed in a recording to the point, no longer aware of the specific instruments being played, you just bask in the sound.

The air sounds, microtones and multiphonics are not just played for show and flash. And lets not forget clean notes... Parker has a great clean soprano tone but it's something that is not often mentioned. I'm really enjoying the sound of this album. Not only does it showcase the many subtleties of the individuals but also the wonderful blend of the trio is beautifully captured. 

I don't get the feeling the trio is trying to do something new. In fact, it feels like they tap into something quite ancient, perhaps even primitive. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but it makes for compelling listening as another year rolls around.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cannonball Adderley: Two Blindfold Tests from 1965

Cannonball Adderley takes Leonard Feather's Blindfold Test for Down Beat magazine. This one was split over two issues (December 16 & 23, 1965) with tracks from Lucky Thompson, Paul Desmond, Marshall Allen, Wayne Shorter, Johnny Hodges, Sonny Rollins and more. Click on the image to view PDF of both articles. View more vintage magazine articles here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

cough cough

The last couple of days have been spent recovering from a cold/bug/whatever. While it's not the best timing (I have a busy week planned), it has given me the chance to listen to some music.

After trying (and failing) to work my way through the 2-disc sampler, "Critic's Choices & Other Voices," that came with Jazziz magazine, I listened to a selection of artists from the 1920s and 30s - Jabbo Smith, Tiny Parham, Mills Blue Rhythm Band, Lovie Austin, Mezz Mezzrow, Eddie South and Jimmy Lunceford among others. I've just wrapped up reading Allen Lowe's That Devilin' Tune which no doubt helped nudge me to revisit the 1920s and 30s. As I've made my way through the book I've been listening to some of the tracks mentioned and on Monday I created a few random playlists and hit play. A few years ago I spent a lot of time listening to jazz from the first 20 years of its recorded history but since then it has been a sporadic effort at best and it made for a refreshing change.

And while the 20s and 30s are on my mind....Charley Patton also has been getting some airtime. I picked up a 3-disc set a short while ago and I'm finally getting around to giving it a listen. The focus was on the first disc but I will make sure I get to the other two before the year is out. There will more acoustic blues added to my listening in the near future. Patton made a nice contrast to Evan Parker's As the Wind (which I'll write more on that later but I'm liking what I hear so far).

Christian Weidner's Every Hour of the Light and Dark arrived in the mail yesterday so I gave it a cursory listen this morning and again this afternoon. I'm not sure if brooding is an apt description, reflective maybe, but not overly introspective.

No blowing the horn, but I have been tapping out of various 8th notes and triplets groupings from Ed Saindon's Exploration in Rhythm. 

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Lambic Jazz Vol.11

Here we are again. Tonight was the final class of the semester, so I'm celebrating with a beer and a couple of albums of been listening to this past week.

Wayne Shorter: Odyssey of Iska (Blue Note)
Shorter (ss/ts) Dave Friedman (vibes/marimba) Gene Bertoncini (g) Ron Carter, Cecil McBee (b) Billy Hart, Al Mouton (d) Frank Cuomo (d/prec.) .... is it just me or but I think I hear some harmonica in there too?
I've enjoyed making my way through Wayne Shorter's Blue Note albums this year. This was one of the albums that was new to me and I'll post more on it soon. But for now I'll keep things brief - I enjoy Shorter's sense of economy and the way he can float over dense accompaniment yet still be rhythmically interesting.

Christian Weidner: Dream Boogie (Pirouet) 2012
Weidner (as) Achim Kaufmann (p) Henning Sieverts (b) Samuel Rohrer (d)
Back in Vol. 6 I mentioned that I was planning on picking up his last couple of quartet albums. Well, the first of those has arrived and the other is on the way. Although I've give it a couple of spins this week I'm yet to really give it a solid listen. As is the case with many European (or non-American) musicians, I don't hear Christian mentioned much here in the U.S. Like Choral, the tracks are concise with 10 of 11 tunes between 3-5 minutes and even the "long" track (the opener "Windchoral") is a reasonable 7 and half minutes. It keeps things moving - moods, feeling, tempos and textures shift at a nice rate of change while maintaining unity across the album. All involved make strong contributions. Kaufmann replacing Colin Vallon is the only change in personnel from The Inward Song and I feel it had a positive effect. This album will be in for many more listens and I'm looking forward to spinning it back to back with Every Hour of the Light and Dark when it arrives.

Tonight's music was accompanied by Lambickx (Wambeek, De Troch). And now it must be about time to tune in to the fourth test - India vs England. India are up 2-0 in the series (of 5) and it looks like England won the toss and will bat.

The Lambic Jazz Series: Vol.10 - Vol.9 - Vol.8 - Vol.7 - Vol.6 - Vol.5 - Vol.4 - Vol.3 - Vol.2 - Vol.1

Monday, December 05, 2016

The Plugged Nickel

Miles Davis Chicago History Museum
The Plugged Nickel circa late 1960s 
(excuse the glare on my photo).
The Sigmund J. Osty collection - Chicago History Museum 
One of my fellow interns at the Chicago History Museum is working on processing a collection photographs of buildings from across Chicago. As she was working her way through them I spotted this jazz-related gem taken sometime in the late 60s/early 70s - the Plugged Nickel at 1321 N. Wells Street (a short walk from the Museum).

I've been keeping my eye out for the Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965 box set. Used copies are so expensive that sometimes I almost succumbed to getting the digital version, but I managed to hold out until I found it reasonably priced last week (although it has been put aside for a Christmas present). Many consider the recordings Miles' quintet made at the Plugged Nickel to  be classics and an essential part of any jazz collection, and it would be nice to see the box set available again in a physical format (seems more likely it will be as vinyl).
old town chicago
As it appears in September 2016

While hunting online for articles regarding the club, I came across the article below from the Chicago Tribune (May 17, 1981) in which Larry Kart ponders why Columbia haven't reissued the Plugged Nickel LP in the U.S....I know the feeling.

Larry Kart Chicago TribuneLarry Kart Chicago Tribune

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Lambic Jazz Vol.10

With Thanksgiving done and dusted classes resume as does the 10th edition of Lambic Jazz. I have a number of recordings of Third Stream - that curios blend of jazz and classical - it manages to draw me in even though not much of it really appeals to me. So following a short practice, here I am relaxing after class with a glass of Boon Ode Geuze while listening to The Modern Jazz Society Presents a Concert of Contemporary Music (Verve).

Lambic beer Chord Scale Theory
The recording dates from March 14, 1955 and of the six pieces, J.J Johnson’s “Turnpike” (which is a rehearsal take only) is the lone composition not from the pen of John Lewis with the arranging duties split between Gunther Schuller and Lewis for the remaining pieces. 

The ensemble size varies from 9-10 players consisting of J.J. Johnson (trb) Gunther Schuller (f.horn/arranger) James Politis (f) Aaron Sachs/Tony Scott (cl) Lucky Thompson/Stan Getz (ts) Manuel Zegler (bassoon) Janet Putnam (harp) John Lewis (p/arranger) Percy Heath (b) Connie Kay (d) with Thompson, Getz, Scott, Sachs and Johnson being the featured soloists. I was pleasantly surprised how nicely Lucky Thompson's tenor playing slotted in to the overall sound. 

Although I have enjoyed listening to this album this week (and tonight), it's not really my cup of tea. Overall it's a pretty mellow album and perhaps at times it's a little samey mood wise, but I wouldn't hesitate recommending it to fans of John Lewis, Gunther Schuller or the Third Stream. 

"Turnpike" (a variation on Monk's "Thelonious"?) gets things moving along. Strangely, the false start take of this song kicks off on the same track as the preceding "Sun Dance." That's not the only oddity. The original notes from John Lewis are printed on the back cover and the booklet contains notes from Gunther Schuller. However, Schuller's notes suffer from some poor copy editing - how didn't they notice that the middle third of the notes are missing only to have the first page repeated?!

While we're on the subjects of edits..... courtesy of a free subscription, a copy of Jazziz arrived in the mail yesterday. It's the first copy I have picked up in ages. Someone managed to miss that the Donny McCaslin article had a page missing.....oops. While it's pretty mainstream stuff it was refreshing to flick through a jazz magazine and not be bombarded with jazz education related articles and advertising.

And while we are on that subject...... jazz education, in a similar way to third stream music, also draws me in. Not because I'm sold by what it has become (far from it) but because I'm curious to find out what people have to say on the topic. I was exposed to the "chord scale" method during my undergraduate studies (actually, now that I think about things, it would have been slightly prior to that via some Aebersold play-alongs) and it never really agreed with me. The pervasiveness of the "chord scale" method in education is unsurprising due to it's black and white nature. And while I don't subscribe to it as a method for improvising, I picked up these two books - The Chord Scale Method & Jazz Harmony by Barrie Nettles and Richard Graf (Advance Music) and The Berklee Book of Jazz Harmony by Joe Mulholland and Tom Hojnacki (Berklee Press) - for some light entertainment and comparison. So far the newer of the two (the Berklee publication) seems a little more direct and to the point but I'm only about 20 pages into each - lets see if I can stick with them.