Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Harold Land - Choma (Burn)

Harold Land is one of my favorite tenor sax players, and really one of my favorite musicians, period. You may know him from his fiery hard bop recordings with legendary trumpeter Clifford Brown, or from one of the wonderful bop albums he released under his own leadership in the 50s. But this is Harold Land 70s style-- intense, free, and funky!

He's joined on this recording by a good sized group: Bobby Hutcherson on vibes & marimba, Bill Henderson and Harold Land, Jr. on piano & electric piano (yes, both playing at the same time), Woody Theus and Ndugu on drums (both drummers play simultaneously also), and Reggie Johnson on bass. This group creates a real wall of sound with many different tonal colors. The title track "Choma (Burn)," features Land on flute, and it opens with a mysterious rubato theme before Reggie Johnson's sinewy bass introduces a sinister ostinato figure. Once the drummers come in, the groove is pretty open and nebulous-- even more so as each soloist pushes the group further out. Ndugu and Theus push and pull the time, building to incredible intensity and then reining it back in. "Our Home" is a solid, soulful 70s groove tune written by pianist Bill Henderson (all the other tunes are written by Land). "Black Caucus" is my personal favorite-- it's an all-out jam in B flat with a simple, bluesy head, similar in nature to Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance." The dense rhythmic interplay of Ndugu and Woody Theus again provides a muscular foundation for majestic solos from Land, Hutcherson, and the pianists. The final track, "Up and Down" is Trane-like in its harmonic structure and is the most straight-ahead jazz track on the album.

This album hasn't received nearly the attention of much of Harold Land's other work (perhaps due to the fact that it was released on Mainstream Records, a fairly small label even in its day), but in my mind it's a must-have. In fact, it may be my favorite album of his. Sadly, it's out of print, but should be easy to find on ebay.

Elmo Hope Trio

Elmo Hope's music is full of twists and turns that take the listener to wonderful and unexpected places. He's joined on this recording by bassist Jimmy Bond and the great West Coast drummer Frank Butler. Hope's piano playing and compositional style fit each other perfectly. All of the tunes on this album are his with the exception of a beautiful version of "Like Someone in Love."

On "B's A Plenty," Hope's solo is miraculous, with new discoveries every step of the way. You can almost hear him thinking-- taking ideas and playing with them until they dissolve into new ones. The melody of "Boa" winds snakelike through the uneven form of the tune. "Barfly" is introspective and the mood is tangible— lonely and brooding. In Hope's compositions, chords resolve to surprising places and melodic ideas are unpredictable as well.

Jimmy Bond and Frank Butler offer excellent support throughout. Butler's drumming in particular is responsive and creative, as I've grown to expect from him. This is a perfect place to start for anyone who has yet to experience Elmo Hope's world. I'm not sure whether this CD is still in print, after Concord Music Group's takeover of the Original Jazz Classics label, but it should still be fairly easy to track down.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Candid reissues rare albums from the Why Not label

Earlier this spring, I was excited to stumble upon a CD reissue of Air's first record Air Song in my local record shop. Previously this was only available as a Japanese import here in the US. If you are a fan of Air, Henry Threadgill, or any of the music coming out of the AACM and haven't heard this, do yourself a favor and pick it up. What a fantastic recording it is.

Next time I went back I was even more surprised to find this Chico Freeman CD reissue called Morning Prayer, from the same series. I had read about this one online (I think I found it through a search for Douglas Ewart, who plays on this) and I really wanted to hear it. This disc is really growing on me the more I play it. It's got a great vibe to it, somewhere between the freeness of the AACM and the soulfulness of Strata-East. The selection of tunes is diverse and the playing from everyone is outstanding. I was only slightly familiar with Freeman's playing, from a stunning India Navigation CD of ballads called Spirit Sensitive. This one is completely different, but extremely rewarding. Freeman is an interesting writer (all of the compositions here are his) and a dynamic player. And what a supporting cast! Henry Threadgill on saxophones, flute & percussion, Muhal Richard Abrams on piano, Cecil McBee on bass & cello, Steve McCall on percussion, Ben Montgomery on drums & percussion, and Douglas Ewart on flutes & percussion.

Some of the highlights here for me are Freeman's muscular tenor playing on "The In Between" and the quirky melody of "Conversations," which, as offbeat as it is, is incredibly catchy and will get stuck in your head after a few listens. Threadgill delivers an epic bari sax solo on this tune as well. The title track "Morning Prayer" is beautifully meditative and leads nicely into the upbeat closer "Pepe's Samba," and we also get an additional extended, previously unreleased version of this last one as well.

At this point there are two more reissues available in the Why Not series, Walt Dickerson's Tell Us Only the Beautiful Things and George Cables' Why Not?. I'm going to keep my eye out for these, particularly the Walt Dickerson as he is a personal favorite. More info on this series from Candid records can be found here.


Hello everyone in internet-land and welcome to my new blog about jazz. The word "jazz" has different meanings to different people, but to me it encompasses everything from bebop to fusion to the avant-garde...anything that is improvised and that "swings" (and there are lots of ways to define the word "swing" as well...I'm not just talking traditional jazz here).

There will probably be a heavy focus on reissues here as a lot of the jazz I listen to regularly is pre-1990s. I will also spend a fair amount of space discussing artists and scenes that are not as widely known. There is a ton of music out there that deserves wider recognition. Really this blog is just about sharing some music I like with you. Please feel free to join in the discussion and share your opinions!