Thursday, May 28, 2009

Introduce Your Kid To Ornette Coleman

One of my daughter's favorite albums is Ornette Coleman's Of Human Feelings. Now, obviously she didn't come to discover this brilliant album on her own, she was introduced to it by dear old Dad. But it wasn't like I had to force her...she took one listen and was interested right away. What kid wouldn't love this incredibly magical, colorful record? I've long thought that children are better judges of music than adults. They are much closer to the creative process than most of us are as we get older. And they know when something is the real deal or when it's full of shit. As adults we've learned to not understand things that come from from spontaneous places, when they're actually pretty basic and essential parts of life.

She could hear it right off the bat...Ornette's creative spirit and the way he broke the rules, or invented his own rules really. And of course, it's got a good beat and you can dance to it. Her favorite track is "Jump Street"-- she'll often run around the house singing the melody and then ask me to put it on. But I've also been playing "Air Ship" for her more recently, and that one is coincidentally a favorite of mine as well.

So for all you adults out there who haven't yet had the pleasure of enjoying this fine bit of music, I highly recommend it. I think it's one of Ornette's best records with Prime Time. An abundance of infectious grooves and imaginative playing here. Ornette soars over, under, and through the dense, funky framework created by guitarists Bern Nix & Charlie Ellerbee, drummers Denardo Coleman & Calvin Weston, and bassman extraordinaire Jamaaladeen Tacuma. For those who say that avant-garde jazz isn't accessible, I would direct them to this album. And by all means, please play it for your kids!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Byron Allen Trio

This is a group that I wish had made more records. Alto saxophonist Byron Allen was brought to the ESP label by Ornette Coleman, and he owes a debt to Coleman on a musical level as well, with a sound that is very influenced by him. In fact, this group covers similar territory to Ornette's mid-60s trio with David Izenzon and Charles Moffett. But these guys have their own sound and they have a lot to say.

Throughout the record, Allen playfully explores all routes to the end goal, sometimes stopping briefly along the way to break things apart and then rebuild them again, before heading off down a new path. This might sound very academic, but Allen's playing is firmly rooted in the blues. Maceo Gilchrist (bass) and Ted Robinson (drums) seem to have a telepathic relationship. Their elastic sense of time provides a natural ebb and flow that directs much of the music here. Robinson's drumming is surprising...he plays with the confidence of a seasoned player but brings a newness and freshness to everything he does. And the first time I heard Gilchrist's bass playing on this record it was a revelation, and he continues to inspire me with each listen. How is it possible this is his only recording? His unaccompanied solos are absolutely stunning...he has an earthy, sinewy sound and seems to be able to generate an endless supply of ideas with ease.

This is another entry in the category of great recordings that deserve wider recognition. If you're an Ornette Coleman fan, or you enjoy any of the stuff on the ESP-DISK label, you'll definitely dig this record. It appears to be out of print on CD, but is available for download at the ESP-DISK website.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sonny Rollins - East Broadway Run Down

Man, this is a bitch of a record! I haven't listened to this one in a while...just pulled out the LP tonight and remembered what a mammoth recording this is. Look, there aren't enough superlatives for this one, but just's pure communication from the very first note. Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones...does it get much better?

There's a nice thing Nat Hentoff says at the beginning of his liner notes which is right on: "Sonny Rollins combines immense authority and almost as immense unpredictability." From the beginning of his solo on the title track, he is ON. And yet you never know where he's going next. While Garrison and Jones are laying down that foundation that's a mile deep, Sonny is all over the map. He's completely free in his rhythmic and harmonic conception, while always aware and constantly communicating with what's going on underneath him. What's striking too is how different his concept is from Hubbard's...when Freddie's solo starts it's clear that he puts much greater restrictions on himself in terms of rhythm and melody. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing-- just a totally different bag. Garrison's solo is simply beautiful and full of soul. I love his concept of can really hear the layers of rhythm he has going on in his head. Elvin? Pure genius.

"Blessing in Disguise" kicks off the second side with a heavy groove. Again we should consider ourselves incredibly lucky to be able to eavesdrop on such a deep conversation. But you know what the highlight of this record has always been for me? "We Kiss in a Shadow." Quite simply one of the most beautiful things I think I've ever heard. You need to slow down for this fact, whatever you're doing while listening, the song will draw your attention away and take you to another place. But this one is best listened to late at night with all the lights out.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

National Endowment for the Arts 2010 Jazz Masters

Just received this Press Release in my inbox...

For immediate release: May 21, 2009

National Endowment for the Arts Announces the 2010 NEA Jazz Masters
Nation's highest honor in jazz is bestowed on eight living legends

, DC - The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) today announced the recipients of the 2010 NEA Jazz Masters Award -- the nation's highest honor in this distinctly American music. The eight recipients will each receive a $25,000 grant award and be publicly honored in an
awards ceremony and concert on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The eight 2010 NEA Jazz Masters are:

Muhal Richard Abrams
Pianist, Composer, Educator
Kenny Barron
Pianist, Composer, Educator
Bill Holman
Composer, Arranger, Saxophonist
Bobby Hutcherson
Vibraphonist, Marimba Player, Composer
Yusef Lateef
Saxophonist, Flutist, Oboist, Composer, Educator
Annie Ross
Cedar Walton
Pianist, Composer
George Avakian, a jazz producer, manager, critic, and educator from Riverdale, New York, will receive the 2010 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy.


Interesting list this year! I'm particularly excited to see Muhal Richard Abrams and Bobby Hutcherson on there. The thing I don't get is why the Awards Ceremony & Concert features Wynton Marsalis!?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Weather Report

I don't listen to as much fusion as I used to, but I still love Weather Report. They are one of relatively few bands from fusion's heyday that have stood the test of time, in my humble opinion.

One of their albums that tends to get neglected is their eponymous record from 1982, pictured here. (Not to be confused with their very first record, also called Weather Report...I haven't actually heard that one so I can't comment on it.) I love this disc. If the only thing on it was the opening "Volcano for Hire," frankly, that would be enough. That tune kills me every time...what a groove! Jaco's fuzz bass playing and the buildup near the end is energizing. But there is plenty more where that came from, like the dynamic, three-part "N.Y.C." or the cerebral funk of "Dara Factor Two." With the exception of the aforementioned "Volcano" a lot of these tunes take a while to build and develop so I guess they are not as immediately flashy and infectious as something like "Birdland" or "Teen Town," but I find this album a more satisfying listen than Heavy Weather*. Repeated listening is very rewarding and reveals layers of sound. In some ways this almost sounds like a prog rock record, and maybe that's why I like it. As I said, I don't think this album gets the praise it deserves. It is definitely a favorite of mine.

*Heavy Weather is fine, but I'm not sure why it's always recommended as their best album.

Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Art Farmer, Henry Grimes & Dave Bailey

This is a cool little clip I just found on YouTube. These guys sure play together well...such great interplay and empathy between the players. Nice tune too, though I don't know the title of it. I've got the Reunion CD with a similar lineup to this, except that Chet Baker replaces Art Farmer. Really beautiful stuff. This also features one of my favorite bassists ever, Henry Grimes.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Jazz Recordings That Are Out Of Print But Shouldn't Be, Part 1

Air - Air Lore
Ornette Coleman - Crisis
John Coltrane - Infinity
Stanley Cowell - Equipoise
Bobby Hutcherson - Medina and Spiral
Clifford Jordan - Inward Fire
Harold Land - Choma (Burn) and Xocia's Dance
Mtume Umoja Ensemble - Alkebu-Lan: Land of The Blacks
David Murray - Flowers for Albert
The Revolutionary Ensemble - Manhattan Cycles
Charlie Rouse - Moment's Notice
Tyrone Washington - Natural Essence

...and that's just for starters. Feel free to add some of your picks in the comments!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Henry Threadgill - You Know the Number

Henry Threadgill is a genius who speaks a unique yet instantly-recognizable language. He started as a member of Chicago's AACM and leader of the trio Air, with Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall. He is a stunning composer, and combines the best elements of densely written, structured compositions with free improvisation. This disc features a slightly unusual instrumentation by "normal" standards, though not as unusual as on some of Threadgill's other recordings. The lineup: Threadgill on bass flute and alto & tenor saxes, Rasul Sadik on trumpet, Frank Lacy on trombone, Diedre Murray on cello, Fred Hopkins on bass, and two drummers: Pheeroan Aklaff and Reggie Nicholson.

My favorite tune here is "Theme from Thomas Cole." It's a brilliantly written piece with a couple of quirky melody lines that play off each other. After the fanfare intro, the trombone and cello play the first line. The second line (played by sax and bass) falls on top of the first and fits into the spaces like puzzle pieces. "Good Times" is a gas-- it's fun to an almost embarrasing extreme. The final cut, "Those Who Eat Cookies" sounds like some kind of demented marching band, and illustrates another trademark of Threadgill's writing: thoroughly modern sounding music that has deep historical roots.

The playing on this disc is equally as brilliant as the compositions. Threadgill's solos are masterpieces of freedom within structure, Frank Lacy's trombone punches through walls, and the interplay between Diedre Murray and Fred Hopkins is telepathic. Sadik's trumpet cuts through the upper airways with pointed clusters of notes. And the two drummers, Nicholson and Aklaff, form a senstive yet powerful foundation.

This disc is one of my absolute favorite jazz CDs that I own. For some time it has been hard to track down the original RCA/Novus CD, but now I understand that Threadgill himself has reissued it himself on CD-Rs available directly from him or through Downtown Music Gallery. Grab it!!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ira Sullivan (with Johnny Griffin) - Blue Stroll

I picked up this recording in Chicago a few years back at the famous Jazz Record Mart. The Jazz Record Mart is also home of the Delmark record label, one of my favorite record labels and also the folks who released this fine session.

Multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan is joined here by saxophone legend Johnny Griffin and the sturdy rhythm section of Jodie Christian on piano, Victor Sproles on bass, and Wilbur Campbell on drums on this classic album of Chicago jazz. From the hard bop of "Wilbur's Tune" to the thoughtful "My Old Flame" (where Griffin lays out and Sullivan plays baritone sax with the rhythm section), this album is loaded with tasty improvisation. The real standout track for me is the lengthy blues jam "Bluzinbee," which swings like a motherf---er and boasts a staggering back-and-forth tradeoff of solos between Sullivan and Griffin on no less than six different instruments. I thought trumpet was Sullivan's main instrument, but he plays killer solos on baritone and alto saxes, as well as peck horn! His lines are well constructed and full of energy. Add to this the brilliant soloing and comping by the other four men and you have one hell of an album. Highly recommended.