Sunday, January 21, 2018

Eric Dolphy - 1961 - At The Five Spot

Eric Dolphy 
At The Five Spot 

01. Fire Waltz
02. Bee Vamp
03. The Prophet

Alto Saxophone, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Bass – Richard Davis
Drums – Ed Blackwell
Piano – Mal Waldron
Trumpet – Booker Little

Recorded July 16, 1961.

After having left the ensemble of Charles Mingus and upon working with John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy formed a short-lived but potent quintet with trumpeter Booker Little, who would pass away three months after this recording. Despite all of the obstacles and subsequent tragedy, this quintet became legendary over the years -- justifiably so -- and developed into a role model for all progressive jazz combos to come. The combined power of Dolphy and Little -- exploring overt but in retrospect not excessive dissonance and atonality -- made them a target for critics but admired among the burgeoning progressive post-bop scene. With the always stunning shadings of pianist Mal Waldron, the classical-cum-daring bass playing of Richard Davis, and the colorful drumming of alchemistic Ed Blackwell, there was no stopping this group. Live at the legendary Five Spot Café in New York City, this band set the Apple, and the entire jazz world on their collective ears. "Fire Waltz" demonstrates perfectly how the bonfire burns from inside the soul of these five brilliant provocateurs, as Dolphy's sour alto and Little's dour trumpet signify their new thing. Dolphy's solo is positively furious, while Blackwell nimbly switches up sounds within the steady 3/4 beat. "Bee Vamp" does not buzz so much as it roars in hard bop trim. A heavy tandem line breaks and separates in the horn parts like booster rockets. Blackwell is even more amazing, and Dolphy's ribald bass clarinet set standards that still influences players of the instrument. Where "The Prophet" is a puckery blues, it is also open armed with minor phrasings and stretched harmonics. This is where Waldron and Davis shine in their terra cotta facades of roughly hewn accompaniments to Dolphy and Little's bold flavored statements. A shorter alternate take of "Bee Vamp" is newly available, shorter by two-and-a-half minutes and with a clipped introductory melody. Most hail this first volume, and a second companion album from the same sessions, as music that changed the jazz world as much as Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane's innovative excursions of the same era. All forward thinking and challenged listeners need to own these epic club dates.

Eric Dolphy - 1961 - Out There

Eric Dolphy 
Out There

01. Out There
02. Serene
03. The Baron
04. Eclipse
05. 17 West
06. Sketch Of Melba
07. Feathers

Alto Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet [Bb], Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Bass – George Duvivier
Cello – Ron Carter
Drums – Roy Haynes

Recorded in New York City; August 15, 1960.

Eric Dolphy's first two albums as a leader could not be better named: while his debut, Outward Bound,  feels like a transitional album in the way it juxtaposes the hard bop styles he played under the tutelage of Chico Hamilton and Charles Mingus with his more avant-garde leanings in the solos, by Out There he’s completely gone to those latter conceits, delivering a record that’s as odd and unsettling as anything jazz ever produced. Even the lineup is weird – he’s maintained the great Roy Haynes on drums, but upgraded to George Duvivier on bass and brought in Ron Carter on cello on top of that. That isn't the lineup for one or two tracks – no, that's the configuration he builds a whole album around, penning four originals (one co-written with Mingus) and re-working compositions from Mingus, Hale Smith, and Randy Weston for this very strange band.

The opening, title track, the co-composition with Mingus, is a really exciting piece because in it you can so clearly hear the styles of Dolphy and his mentor coexisting beautifully, the rhythm section’s manic energy and forward momentum pure Charlie and the winding, intricate solos that Dolphy, Carter and Duvivier trade off undeniably Eric. It’s an exciting start, but the tonal experiments don’t really come in hard until “Serene,” a dark and sultry number that features a number of flights of fancy but mostly swoons in appreciation of its own deep sound: this is the song where Dolphy's bass clarinet makes its first appearance on the record, and suddenly all the action’s on the low end except when Eric wants Haynes to take the lead. That bass clarinet actually opens “The Baron” harmonizing with Carter's cello before giving way to a solo for the string instrument that’s all nervous energy, then taking the reins once again for its own showcase in which Dolphy pushes the instrument near its highest registers.

Opening the second side is the Mingus composition, “Eclipse,” here a pure tonal experiment that eases the listener back into the surreal atmosphere cultivated by the A’s final two tracks. It bleeds seamlessly into “17 West,” which plays for much of its running time like a trio piece featuring Dolphy on flute that’s only intermittently accented by Carter's cello. Then, without warning, the flute drops out completely and gives both Carter and Duvivier a chance to show off over Haynes’s muted skin-tickling; then, we get a brief drum solo and the whole band kicks back in for a reprise of the theme that bears only a passing similarity to anything we've heard before. It’s probably the most daring thing on the album, even if it’s not the most in-your-face track, and as if sensing that we slip immediately into something more low key, the slow and sensual “Sketches of Melba.” Dolphy's on clarinet for this one, and the track features some of the warmest playing of his career on top of some really brooding work from Carter. The closer, “Feathers” finds Dolphy back on alto delivering a mournful performance, Haynes riding his cymbals and Duvivier moaning to enhance the atmosphere while Carter hits the listener with staccato stabs that feel like a nightmare just barely encroaching onto reality. After just a minute or two of this, though, the band tightens up and Carter disappears to give Dolphy room to really soar, and what really strikes you about his solo is not only (again) his warmth, but the way his blowing is just filling out the sound in the studio (props to Rudy Van Gelder for that). Before you know it, though, it’s over, and whatever melancholy dream had arrested you has suddenly disappeared – and if you’re like me, the only thing you can think to do is flip the record again and start from the beginning.

Y'know those times when you're so tired that you drift in and out of dreams without even being aware that you're asleep? That's called microsleep, apparently. Out There is the soundtrack for a night of recurring microsleep. Especially if it's one of those nights when you have to walk a long way home and you're far past being merely 'sleepy' — it's the point in the night when you start to get jumpy and things are getting trippier by the second. White mod dining room, spindly-limbed chairs under spindly-limbed people. Black tutus in bird formations. Namsayin?

To get a bit more literal for a sec, this is one of those rare 'off the beaten path' jazz albums that's as fun to listen to as it is bizarre and surreal. Which is weird, because it's certainly more unsettling than any jazz quartet album I've heard from the early '60s — even the aggressively avant-garde ones. Even the lead cut, a Dolphy original that begins like one of those movies that surprises you by starting mid-scene, seems to be keeping some very different moods on the same stage; when Ron Carter's cello joins and starts whirring into a bee-like buzzing, it's like the movie's cutting back and forth between a lively party and an upstairs bedroom where a tormented guest is brooding and struggling with themselves. Listen to how Dolphy feels like he's wiggling all over the place when he's actually just staying around the same midrange phrase (excepting the brief and occasional lightbulb-flash leap): he keeps you off-balance from the get-go; it feels like you're rapidly being shown a bunch of things behind a bunch of different curtains, each revealing something more strange than the last but with no time to think back on what you just saw. "Out There", the composition, is indicative of the album's precarious balance between tranquility and brooding unease.

...And of the musicianship, which simply owns, my friends; all four players are going out on personal limbs with this album. As much as Carter's cello playing can be eerie (the title cut; the gorgeous low end of "Eclipse") or more conventionally, classically harmonic ("17 West"; the ghoulish last third of "Sketch of Melba") he consistently sounds like a rather charming eccentric no matter how somber the mood. "The Baron", for instance, is a tribute to (and gibe at) Charles Mingus, and Carter in particular nails the man's scribbly frustration and snappiness as well as his periods of lethargy. Drummer Roy Haynes, who worked with Monk on some of his best late-'50s albums, is a consistent knockout — his lightly brushed gallop on the title cut, if you focus on it, can seem maddening at first but very quickly becomes surprisingly, almost illogically entertaining; it's almost as if he's tricking you with a 'Now you see me, now you don't' routine...except he's in plain view the whole time. How does he do that? As for George Duvivier, a more conventional blues player, he basically just keeps up with the rest of 'em on side one, only to come totally out of left field on the B with some truly fascinating flights of fancy. Listen hard to the last minute of "17 West" and you'll hear him take up what sounds like a series of six-note arpeggios, or luxuriate in his guitar-like strums in "Feathers" that make the ending of the album such a beautiful one. (Seriously, those last 20 seconds are absolutely wonderful.)

Dolphy, meanwhile, is Dolphy. Meaning that you don't know what you're gonna get from moment to moment — even when he's being outwardly melodic. His bass clarinet playing in "Serene", itself a fairly conventional blues number (you can tell — Duvivier sounds more at-ease right away), feels like a young kid talking to himself in the sandbox in breathless, unpredictable blurts and whines and goofy rants. (Soon followed by Carter's solo that acts as the slightly more patient kid on the other side of the sandbox, minding his own business and listening until he gets to say his piece. And listen for 1:21, when they all decide to tease you with a more tonal and rooted melody before stirring around in frigid spurts.) The aforementioned soloing in "Out There" feels like clutching your head and rolling in your seat, knowing you need to stand up but realizing you're not ready for it as you crumple back onto the couch again and again. His chortling high flute notes on "17 West" are quite lyrical indeed - almost like the chorus of a Peggy Lee song or something - which mixes intriguingly with Carter's anxious tritone sway. And "Eclipse", a Mingus tune, is turned into a cinematic brooder — it's like watching clouds pass slowly over the moon, with Dolphy eventually warbling like an old woman singing some long-forgotten folk song as she blows out the lamps; like the part in a classic film noir where things are just starting to feel a bit askew.

Sure, some of Dolphy's more light-handed runs may cross the line into generic Bird imitation. And with the more conventional melodies (especially "Sketch of Melba") it can occasionally feel like the band are being a little too self-consciously slinky for their own good. (It's like they're calling attention to the fact that they're weirding-up a pretty tune, instead of treating it with a more subtle regularity.) But those are about the only quibbles I have for this album, which has no weak cuts and a few outright great ones; this is jazz chamber music at its most lively and visionary. If you don't believe me, listen to the bass chords at 2:02 of "Feathers", whereupon Dolphy turns into a bartender offering up one last round to the regulars...who promptly snap out of their spacey stupors and say 'sure.' Sleep, now? Ah, there's always tomorrow night.

Eric Dolphy - 1960 - Outward Bound

Eric Dolphy 
Outward Bound

01. G.W. 7:54
02. Green Dolphin Street 5:42
03. Les 5:11
04. 245 6:48
05. Glad To Be Unhappy 5:26
06. Miss Toni 5:40

Alto Saxophone, Flute, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Bass – George Tucker
Drums – Roy Haynes
Piano – Jackie Byard
Trumpet – Freddie Hubbard

Recorded in Englewood Cliffs, NJ; April 1, 1960

Outward Bound, Eric Dolphy's first album as a bandleader, is unusual for a jazz debut in that instead of being a showcase for Dolphy's songwriting it instead shines the spotlight one last time on the long-time Mingus sideman's prodigious talents on a number of woodwinds. Though Dolphy composed three of the tracks here, all of them are fairly standard hard bop compositions that serve more as a platform for the band's soloing than the rhythmically complex experiments he would become known for later; the other three tracks, such as the standard "Green Dolphin Street," also seem like they were chosen for their malleability. This, of course, is hardly a problem when you're talking about an instrumentalist as gifted as Dolphy, though, as his flighty solos here already prove he was leagues ahead of the genre trappings of his songs, with ambitions as far out as anything you were likely to hear in jazz in 1960.

Further bolstering this record is the playing of the young and ascendant Freddie Hubbard, one of the only trumpeters ever who could match Dolphy's energy (as becomes immediately apparent on the freewheeling "Les"). Hubbard is also a more intricate player than Dolphy tonally at this point, his horn providing a warmth that Dolphy's occasionally abstract and academic wanderings lack. Hubbard's sessions with John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley had prepared him well for playing with a saxophonist of this ability, and it's also interesting to look at his work here as a warm-up for Ornette Coleman's fiery Free Jazz sessions later in the year. Also of special note is the drumming of the great and vastly underrated Roy Haynes, here providing an energetic and precise anchor for the rest of the group and laying down imaginative breaks every time the band drops out. Though bassist George Tucker feels a bit outclassed when he's brought to the forefront here, his interplay with Haynes keeps the record on track whenever Dolphy or Hubbard (or even pianist Jaki Byard on the closer "Miss Toni") really take off, speaking well to the job Haynes does as the de facto leader of the rhythm section.

Though it may feel slight compared to some of his later work, Outward Bound is essential Dolphy not only because it's his debut but also because it's one of the last times the juxtaposition of his avant-garde leanings and hard bop origins is so readily apparent. There's a lot more swing and catchiness to this music than can be found in his more acclaimed work, and as a result it's a much lighter and easily enjoyable listen than most of his records.

Unlike Ornette Coleman—who wanted to blow orthodox jazz form out of the water—John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy initially worked to change the system from within, making music that fit the jazz standards of the time while injecting their own unique spin. This is why Outward Bound, Dolphy's first recording as a leader, is a not-so-distant relative of Coltrane's My Favorite Things (Atlantic, 1960).

On balance, both discs have a conventional base. While Coltrane stuck to the Great American Songbook, Dolphy penned over half the tunes on Outward Bound; even so, those originals mesh perfectly with classics like "On Green Dolphin Street and Charles Greenlea's "Miss Toni. It's the respective opening tracks that separate both discs from the norm. As Coltrane used an innocuous song from The Sound of Music to launch us into space, so does Dolphy use "G.W. to prove Coleman's theory that "you could play sharp or flat in tune. 

A fast 4/4 beat drives borderline-dissonant opening salvos from the front line. While the rest of the band lays down beats and fills that would not be out of place on any bop date, Dolphy steps out of the head to blister us with a mind-boggling, lightning-fingered alto solo that threatens to go over a cliff at any moment. Dolphy and his partners maintain this unorthodox balancing act throughout the 1960 session.

At the time, the bass clarinet was nearly unheard of as a lead instrument, but Dolphy uses it to great atonal effect on the zippy "Miss Toni. It also applies a noir-like patina to the opening of "Green Dolphin Street. Dolphy's flute on Rodgers and Hart's "Glad To Be Unhappy is flat and mournful one second, jumping and dancing (and sometimes screaming) the next, but rarely following a predictable path. Jaki Byard is Dolphy's faithful wingman, contributing Monk-laced lines that stay within "acceptable guidelines while tipping the reality a little bit further out.

George Tucker's foundation on bass is key, rooting the music so the other players can create in space. Roy Haynes displays a range as big as all outdoors, playing drums like a machine gun on the blasting "Les one minute, using brushes like an artist on "Green Dolphin Street the next. Freddie Hubbard's trumpet is as empirical as Dolphy's reedwork is existential; the 21-year old Hubbard's solos (particularly on "Les and the bluesy "245 ) show power and control beyond his years. One wonders what would have happened if he'd stayed with Dolphy and not gone off with Art Blakey.

Oliver Nelson - 1961 - The Blues and the Abstract Truth

Oliver Nelson
The Blues and the Abstract Truth

01. Stolen Moments 8:45
02. Hoe Down 4:43
03. Cascades 5:30
04. Yearnin' 6:20
05. Butch And Butch 4:35
06. Teenie's Blues 6:31

Alto Saxophone, Flute – Eric Dolphy
Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone – Oliver Nelson
Baritone Saxophone – George Barrow
Bass – Paul Chambers
Drums – Roy Haynes
Piano – Bill Evans
Trumpet – Freddie Hubbard

Recorded 23 February, 1961.

Sort of a State of the Jazz Union Address for 1961 - along with My Favorite Things, Africa / Brass, Olé Coltrane (Coltrane was a real mover and shaker, after all), and Mosaic, it gives you a great idea of just what was happening in the genre in the early '60s, where the shift towards radical expressionism the genre would undertake later was just starting to take hold. Eric Dolphy and Max Roach threw down the gauntlet with their avant-garde manifestos - the playful Free Jazz and the intense We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite, respectively, but what Trane, Blakey, and Nelson were doing was channeling this fiery, more avant-garde approach in a manner more acceptable to the average jazz fan of the time - easing people into the revolution, as it were.

Me? I love both approaches. Whether it was the highly experimental approaches to the genre that the likes of Coleman and Roach were already on and Coltrane was moving towards pretty rapidly (Africa / Brass is some of the most intense early '60s jazz you're gonna get), or the traditional but forward-thinking attitude of the Blakeys and Nelsons of the world, this was a fruitful period for the genre. Now, as a dyed in the wool fan of free, avant-garde, and generally experimental jazz, I will admit that I do lean towards the more exploratory styling of the Coltranes, Roaches, and Colemans of this world than the more traditional ones of guys like Oliver Nelson here, but the thing about transitional works is that they tend to be pretty rich. 

Because make no mistake - Nelson had some avant-garde ideas here. The "Abstract Truth" part of the title was no accident - it is not quite as abstract as The Shape of Jazz to Come, but on some songs here, the band (which hey whaddayaknow includes a guy named Eric Dolphy who might be of interest to you avant-garde jazz fans in the audience) messes around with the rules. Or breaks every single one of them, in the case of the atonal "Hoe-Down." That one basically tells the idea of jazz being pleasant dinner party music to fuck off and is a lot more interesting as a result, while "Cascades" flips back and forth between traditional hard bop (in the solos) and tossing a mind-bogglingly fast group of intricately layered notes that bounce from perfect harmony to clashing and crashing up against each other the way Dolphy and Coltrane later would during their landmark Village Vanguard dates. I am sorry I keep bringing Coltrane into a review that has nothing to do with him, but his influence seems to loom large over the proceedings here - "Cascades" in particular has a lot in common with Giant Steps as far as its melody goes, the notes just tumbling out. 

But in other moments, this is blues, plain and simple. And you know? He does the blues as well as he does the abstract truth. Take "Stolen Moments," far and away the most famous song on the album and one of the best jazz songs of the '60s. It is centered around an unforgettable melody, which is in turn focused on those same basic rules of harmony that Kind of Blue laid out. And it makes a pretty strong case for something that had quickly become a well-established jazz tradition despite only being two years old at the time - "Stolen Moments" is the masterpiece of the album, and it can definitely go toe to toe with anything off Kind of Blue except "Flamenco Sketches." It is seriously that good, people. Along with "The Sidewinder," "So What," and "Moanin'," it is the sort of jazz song that knows of nothing but swag, this kick-ass embodiment of smoky cool, with Freddie Hubbard leading the band down the road to Pimptopia. "Yearnin'" cannot hope to beat "Stolen Moments" at its own game, but it has that same "walking around town like you own the place" atmosphere, and on top of that, an interesting solo from Dolph where he pushes this sort of thing as far into experimental territory as it had ever been pushed.

The last two songs present odd cases, not fitting well into either category. "Butch and Butch" might seem like traditional bop at first, but unless you're listening to Blakey - and honestly, you have no excuse NOT to be listening to Blakey - you probably are not going to find anyone playing it this hard, and you are certainly not going to hear the kind of badass atonal wackiness Dolphy threw into his solo on any of Blakey's records - I cannot think of any saxophonist who looked at the instrument quite like Dolphy did, and since my attempts to explain it would probably prove fruitless, I am going to toss recommendations for Out to Lunch and Iron Man your way instead. "Teenie's Blues," the closer, is just as odd - I cannot help but think of Thelonious Monk stricken by a bad case of paranoia when I hear that melody, and as you would expect, Dolphy's solo is jarring and delightful, playing a fun contrast to Nelson's smoothness. Imagine if David Byrne and Marvin Gaye sang a duet. And is it just me, or is there something slightly wrong with the rhythm?

So this is an interesting case, and given the radically different directions Hubbard, Dolphy, and Bill Evans (Oliver Nelson himself did not make any other albums anywhere near as famous as this one afterwards) would pursue as time went on - Evans' classical influence, which you do not really hear here; Dolphy's avant-garde leanings and Freddie Hubbard's gutbucket, funky approach to it, which you certainly do - I imagine these sessions were rather tense. But they made the best of it, and they gave their listeners a great example of what happens when a bunch of musicians from radically different backgrounds (hell, Paul Chambers played just about every type of jazz, didn't he?) get together in the midst of the jazz revolution and make something that both the traditionalists and the revolutionaries can enjoy. Basically, if you enjoy any sort of jazz, this will appeal to you - even big band purists will probably be able to appreciate the harmonies of "Stolen Moments."

Oliver Nelson with Eric Dolphy - 1961 - Straight Ahead

Oliver Nelson with Eric Dolphy 
Straight Ahead 

01. Images
02. Six And Four
03. Mama Lou
04. Ralph's New Blues
05. Straight Ahead
06. 111-44

Oliver Nelson - alto & tenor saxophones, clarinet
Eric Dolphy - alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute
Richard Wyands - piano
George Duvivier - bass
Roy Haynes - drums

Recorded at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on March 1, 1961

Oliver Nelson's fame as an arranger often overshadows his work as a leader, which is a shame considering the quality of his albums. A classic hard-bop date from 1961, STRAIGHT AHEAD displays the best of Nelson's skills--his writing (he composed five of the six numbers here), his fine command of the sax (his bright, open tone and clean, lyrical approach), and his excellent taste in personnel. The latter is of particular note here. In addition to Roy Haynes (drums), George Duvivier (bass), and Richard Wyands (piano), the enormously talented Eric Dolphy is also on board, posing a triple threat on alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and flute. Nelson bravely goes toe to toe with Dolphy, and while Nelson's playing is smart and accomplished, he is buried beneath the avalanche of Dolphy's invention (the multi-instrumentalist's knotty, springy lines, always full of surprise and humor, are nearly impossible to top). Everyone gets to stretch out on Milt Jackson's "Ralph's New Blues," Nelson's lilting "Images," and the frantic title cut, among others, making STRAIGHT AHEAD a magnificent showcase for all of these remarkably talented musicians.

Recorded less than a month after his most popular album, The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Oliver Nelson's follow-up, the inaccurately titled Straight Ahead, is probably a more enjoyable listen, though it is less varied. Nelson plays with five musicians here as opposed to seven on Abstract Truth, which (perhaps intentionally) limits Nelson's options as an arranger. Most of the focus is on Nelson and sideman extraordinaire Eric Dolphy, who deliver the bulk of the solos. Nelson's sturdy solos set up the pyrotechnical Dolphy, whose flute, bass clarinet, and alto sax solos assure that this album is anything but "straight ahead" (even if tracks like "Six and Four" and "Mama Lou" are fairly conventional, compositionally). Though Straight Ahead may not be as sonically panoramic as The Blues and the Abstract Truth, it is a record that hums along and really purrs, especially on Side Two (as "Ralph's New Blues" and "Straight Ahead" are the album's best cuts). Definitely recommended for all fans of jazz, especially fans of Eric Dolphy.

Contrast is everything. Think of food for example: A big salty hunk of mature cheese is nicely offset by a couple of sweet grapes. Gastronomes would never dream of eating a rich foie-gras without the accompaniment of the honeyed sweetness of a glass of Sauternes. 

The same is true with music; a whole album of fast-paced music quickly becomes draining. Likewise, an hour of chilled-out dub can send you to sleep. The saxophonist and composer Oliver Nelson was obviously acutely aware of this when choosing his musical sparring partners. Nelson's decision to share the frontline on three albums with the multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy is often described as brave. I believe that Nelson knew exactly what he was doing. Dolphy, a hero of the avant-garde, has a style so diametrically opposed to Oliver Nelson’s that the two just can’t help but complement each other. 

This synergy is beautifully demonstrated on the 1961 recording Straight Ahead. Both soloists play a number of instruments, with Nelson on alto/tenor saxophone and clarinet and Dolphy on bass clarinet, alto saxophone and flute. Oliver Nelson was a jazz composer par excellence, and this album does not disappoint. It contains a number of memorable themes, such as “Six and Four,” “Mama Lou” and “Straight Ahead.” Best of all: the soloing. The high-speed elasticity of Dolphy’s runs contrast perfectly with the pure, soaring tone of Nelson. The two horn players spark each other and generate music of genuine intensity. 

It is worth noting that Oliver Nelson and Eric Dolphy played together on a number of other albums, the highlight of which must be the classic chamber-jazz of The Blues and the Abstract Truth. Pass the grapes...

Oliver Nelson Sextet - 1960 - Screamin' The Blues

Oliver Nelson Sextet 
Screamin' The Blues

01. Screamin' The Blues
02. March On, March On
03. The Drive
04. The Meetin'
05. Three Seconds
06. Alto-Itis

Alto Saxophone, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Bass – George Duvivier
Drums – Roy Haynes
Piano – Richard Wyands
Tenor Saxophone, Alto Saxophone – Oliver Nelson
Trumpet – Richard Williams

Recorded May 27, 1960, New York.

Screamin' the Blues is an apt description of the soloists' approach on this 1960 session, here reissued as an RVG remaster, the first of three matching leader Oliver Nelson with avant-gardist Eric Dolphy. Although not as well-known as Nelson's masterpiece, Blues and the Abstract Truth (1961), the date is characterized, above all, by "generosity" on the part of all three principals, including the underrated trumpeter Richard Williams.
Nelson's tenor solo on the title tune is the equivalent of an operatic tenor aria—full-throated, dramatic, played to the back row. It alone is testimony to the remarkable player he was before putting the horn aside and arranging for everyone from Ringo Starr to Thelonious Monk to opera diva Rise Stevens. Add to these activities his film scores for Last Tango in Paris, Lady Sings the Blues, and Alfie, with a sound-track featuring Sonny Rollins, and you begin to wonder less at why he died so young than how he accomplished so much in his forty-three years.

On both tenor and alto Nelson favored a pure but powerful sound. His vibrato spins tightly and he's forward on the beat, but otherwise the decisiveness and absolute assurance with which he "sticks" every note is prime-time Dexter Gordon. Moreover, he thinks like a composer—constructing solos with a beginning, middle, and end, each musical narrative culminating in a majestic but hard-earned climax. As harmonically grounded as he is, no player is more averse to "running the changes"; in fact, Nelson incorporates the principle of tension and release practically to the extreme. He will repeat an identical phrase derived from a chord's "extension notes" to the point of discomfort before relinquishing it to the harmonic mainstream. Especially striking examples are his solos on "Perdido (Soul Battle, 1960) and "Mainstem (Mainstem, 1961).

Following the stentorian statements of Nelson's tenor and Williams' trumpet on the title tune, Dolphy's squawking bass clarinet sounds like an odd duck. But once moving to alto for "March On, March On" he reveals the aggressive technique and bold harmonies that caused Nelson, a harmonic experimenter and virtuoso player in his own right, to see in Dolphy an adventurous musical soul and kindred spirit, someone capable of pushing the leader to greater risks and potentially greater rewards.

Dolphy remains on alto for the next five tunes, frequently raising the bar for Nelson, whose musical-emotional rhetoric, fueled by Dolphy's range-busting top tones and volcanic technique, is not about to give an inch. After a particularly blistering solo by the guest alto player on the leader's "Alto-itis," Nelson starts his solo tenuously, as though planning his attack carefully before executing with breathtaking surgical precision, leaving the "screamin'" to the entire ensemble on the out chorus. Sounding no less eruptive than the Count Basie band—from the Wyands-Duvivier-Haynes power plant to the three explosive horns each impersonating an entire section—it's a fitting finale by musicians for whom feeling blue is an occasion for celebrating.

Ken McIntyre and Eric Dolphy - 1960 - Looking Ahead

Ken McIntyre and Eric Dolphy 
Looking Ahead

01. Lautir
02. Curtsy
03. Geo's Tune
04. They All Laughed
05. Head Shakin'
06. Dianna

Alto Saxophone, Flute – Ken McIntyre
Alto Saxophone, Flute, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Bass – Sam Jones
Cover – Esmond Edwards
Drums – Arthur Taylor
Piano – Walter Bishop, Jr.

Recorded in Englewood Cliffs, NJ; June 28, 1960.

It was quite fitting that Ken McIntyre had an opportunity to record in a quintet with Eric Dolphy, for his multi-instrumental approach was similar to Dolphy's, although he always had a very different sound. On this CD reissue, McIntyre plays alto on four tunes and flute on two others (his work on bassoon, oboe, and bass clarinet would come slightly later), while Dolphy mostly plays alto but doubles on flute on one number and switches to bass clarinet for "Dianna." With pianist Walter Bishop, Jr., bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Art Taylor offering concise solos and swinging support, McIntyre somehow almost holds his own with Dolphy on a variety of originals and George Gershwin's "They All Laughed." A very interesting date.

We have here a meeting of two great multi-instrumentalists, Eric Dolphy and Ken McIntyre. Dolphy is of course the one we all know and love and for everyone who loves him, this is a classic, quite little known but fantastic session well worth picking up. And he is in great, cutting form as usual, mostly on alto (3 tracks) and flute and bass clarinet.
Ken McIntyre is more of an unknown. Also a giant multi-instrumentalist, McIntyre plays only alto sax and flute here, but later on would pick up the bass clarinet, oboe, and bassoon. His solos graced Cecil Taylor's brilliant, Unit Structures some years later. To his credit here, he sounds nothing like Dolphy though! You know, sometimes on Johnny Griffin's A Blowing Session, it's hard to distinguish between Griffin and Trane (and sometimes even Mobley! ) But not here... these two are very different, and together they sound great on the ensemble sections.
Five of the six songs are McIntyre originals. Most of them are nice, and surprisingly quirky and memorable. They're all medium to fast tempo, with a nice light swing thanks to the top rhythm section of Walter Bishop (piano), Sam Jones (bass) and Art Taylor (drums). and of course Dolphy and McIntyre just cut things up!
McIntyre is slower, dryer, and more careful that Dolphy who spins and jumps all over with his unique, loopy, bee-buzzing-in-a-jar style. But, McIntyre does some interesting things, and takes some tricky chances. One shouldn't downplay his contribution to this disk at all. Check out his solo on the last song, Dianna. His playing is gritty and experimental before giving way to Dolphy who rolls and sings notes on the flute.
Overall, it's a great album. McIntyre is a very underrecorded voice so this album is somewhat essential. He sounds fresh and different throughout. And for Dolphy fans, this is of course essential. It won't be in constant rotation on your record player, but it's a good find.

Jazz Artists Guild - 1960 - Newport Rebels

Jazz Artists Guild 
Newport Rebels

01. Mysterious Blues 8:35
02. Cliff Walk 9:37
03. Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams 3:47
04. Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do 7:11
05. Me And You 9:46

Alto Saxophone – Eric Dolphy (tracks: A1, B2)
Bass – Charles Mingus (tracks: A1, B1, B3), John "Peck" Morrison* (tracks: A2, B2)
Drums – Jo Jones, Max Roach (tracks: A2)
Piano – Kenny Dorham (tracks: B2), Tommy Flanagan (tracks: A1, B1, B3)
Tenor Saxophone – Walter Benton (tracks: A2)
Trombone – Jimmy Knepper (tracks: A1), Julian Priester (tracks: A2)
Trumpet – Benny Bailey (tracks: B2), Booker Little (tracks: A2), Roy Eldridge (tracks: A1, B1, B3)
Vocals – Abbey Lincoln (tracks: B2)

A1, B1, and B3 were recorded November 11, 1960; A2 and B2 were recorded November 1, 1960.

The (now) famous Newport Jazz Festival was inaugurated in 1954 as a nonprofit organization by George Wein and Lorraine Lorillard in Newport, Rhode Island. It quickly became a huge success attracting bigger and bigger crowds and with the success came problems and finally in 1960 the bubble burst. In that year, not only were the crowds getting unmanageable but also there had developed a resentment towards the festival by a significant number of (mainly) black musicians who left that the organizers were discriminating against them personally and black jazz-new and old. Max Roach and Charles Mingus, both displaying great fortitude, decided to organize their own 'Rebel' Festival adjacent to the Main event. Participating were the new 'lions' Ornette Coleman, Mingus, Max and Abbey Lincoln alongside Kenny Dorham, Jimmy Knepper, Roy Eldridge and Jo Jones. Sadly the Rebel Festival went unrecorded but Candid producer Nat Hentoff gathered many of the participants at a Studio in New York on November 11, 1960 and this album is both a tribute to everyone involved and reminder of a most significant happening in American Jazz History.

In 1960 bassist Charles Mingus helped to organize an alternative Newport Jazz Festival in protest of Newport's conservative and increasingly commercial booking policy. The music on this LP (which has been reissued on CD) features some of the musicians who participated in Mingus's worthy if short-lived venture. Trumpeter Roy Eldridge performs three numbers with pianist Tommy Flanagan, Mingus and drummer Jo Jones; of greatest interest is "Mysterious Blues" for it adds trombonist Jimmy Knepper and the unique altoist Eric Dolphy successfully to the group. The other selections match up drummers Max Roach and Jo Jones with Roach's quintet (featuring trumpeter Booker Little) on "Cliff Walk" and feature singer Abbey Lincoln on "Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do."

Mingus never ceases to both surprise and delight me. He also does a masterful job of repackaging his work (one of many examples: Mingus Revisited was also released as Pre-Bird.) He is true to form here because four of the six tracks on this album are also on a five track album titled Reincarnation Of A Love Bird.

There is a back story to this album. Mingus and Max Roach, among others, had grown disenchanted with that they considered to be poor treatment of black musicians by the Newport Jazz Festival organization. Mingus and Roach were always strong personalities and leaders, so they put on a parallel concert in 1960. It wasn't recorded, but this album and the Reincarnation Of A Love Bird one were recorded in the studio shortly afterwards, produced by Nat Hentoff.

What sets this (and that) album apart from much of Mingus' work during the period (1960) is the line-up. Mingus' regulars, such as Eric Dolphy and Booker Ervin are here (especially Mingus' musical soulmate Dannie Richmond on drums). However, they are also joined by Roy Eldridge on the last four tracks. He adds a - for lack of a better term - nostalgic anchor to the songs. That not to say his playing is outmoded because it's anything but that. It's just that there is a certain energy and familiarity that he brings to those tracks.

If you love Mingus, then you won't be able to help smiling when you listen to this album. I would love to say that it's an unexpected pleasure, but, then, when Mingus the unexpected is always expected.

Latin Jazz Quintet - 1961 - Latin Jazz Quintet

Latin Jazz Quintet 
Latin Jazz Quintet

01. You're The Cutest One
02. Speak Low
03. I Got Rhythm
04. Night And Day
05. Cha Cha King
06. I Wish I Were In Love Again
07. You Don't Know What Love Is
08. Lover
09. Mangolina
10. April Rain

Recorded in 1961.

Felipe Díaz — leader, vibes
Eric Dolphy — alto sax, flute, bass clarinet
Arthur Jenkins — piano
Bobby Rodríguez — bass
Tommy López — conga drums
Louie Ramírez — timbales

A extremely rare album that Eric Dolphy recorded with the Latin Jazz Quintet – a rare Latin-based side of Dolphy's career, and a set that's a bit different than the Prestige album by the same pairing! This set features a slightly different lineup of the LJQ – one that includes Louie Ramirez on timbales, Felipe Diaz on vibes, and Art Jenkins on piano – all grooving very hard, and very tight next to Dolphy's work on alto, flute, and bass clarinet! His work here still has a bit of a modern edge, but not nearly as much so as on his work as a leader – mostly content to settle into the groove with the rest of the group, but then bursting out boldly with some really inventive solo moments!

The Latin Jazz Quintet + Eric Dolphy - 1960 - Caribe

The Latin Jazz Quintet + Eric Dolphy 

01. Caribé 10:05
02. Blues In 6/8 5:46
03. First Bass Line 4:04
04. Mambo Ricci 6:54
05. Spring Is Here 5:00
06. Sunday Go Meetin' 5:48

Recorded in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, August 19, 1960.

Alto Saxophone, Flute, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Bass – Bill Ellington
Congas – Juan Amalbert
Drums, Timbales – Manny Ramos
Piano – Gene Casey
Vibraphone – Charlie Simons

This record is the equivalent of throwing a stick of dynamite into a sedate, well-ordered dinner party, having the dynamite go off with a bang, and somehow leaving everything in its place. Such is the volatile Eric Dolphy, a serious wailer on the alto sax and even more idiosyncratic and radical on the bass clarinet, who barges into the lair of Juan Amalbert's Latin Jazz Quintet and doesn't perturb them in the least. The title track is sheer schizophrenia, the LJQ ambling along in a conga-accented blues walk while Dolphy fires all over the place on alto sax. Even the more animated "Mambo Ricci" has the same kind of group dynamic; Dolphy on fire, Gene Casey calm and deliberate on piano. Only on "Spring Is Here," where Dolphy switches to a contemplative-toned flute, do we find a balanced meeting ground, though his flute solo on "Sunday Go Meetin'" goes back out on a limb. Not an ideal match, then, but fascinating without a doubt.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Teddy Charles - 1964 - Russia Goes Jazz

Teddy Charles
Russia Goes Jazz - Swinging Themes From The Great Russian Composers

01. Sheherazade Blue 3:45
02. Lullaby Of The Firebird 5:02
03. Love For Three Oranges March 2:21
04. Borodin Bossa Nova 3:37
05. Dance Arabe 2:49
06. Lullaby Russe 4:25
07. Etude 3:11
08. Princess Sheherazade 4:45

Baritone Saxophone – Pepper Adams (tracks: A1, A3, A4, B1 to B3)
Bass – Ted Kotick
Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy (tracks: A1, A3, A4), Tommy Newsom (tracks: B1 to B3)
Clarinet – Jimmy Giuffre (tracks: A2, B)
Drums – Osie Johnson
Flute, Tenor Saxophone – Jerome Richardson (tracks: A1, A3, A4, B1 to B3)
Guitar – Jim Hall (tracks: A2, B), Jimmy Raney (tracks: A1, A3, A4)
Piano – Hank Jones (tracks: B1 to B3)
Tenor Saxophone – Jimmy Giuffre (tracks: B1 to B3), Zoot Sims (tracks: A1, A3, A4)
Trumpet – Howard McGhee (tracks: A2, B4)
Vibraphone – Teddy Charles

Jazz artists have long been drawn to classical composers as a source of inspiration for arrangements. These sessions led by vibraphonist Teddy Charles with several different all-star groups adapts the music of several Russian composers. Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade" is rearranged by Charles into the loping, bluesy "Scheherazade Blue," featuring Zoot Sims and flautist Jerome Richardson, along with the leader. Even better is "Lullaby of the Firebird," taken from Stravinsky's famous ballet, an ominous but swinging take showcasing Jim Hall and clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre with Charles. The swinging "Borodin Bossa Nova" was not the first reworking of this Russian master's works, this theme had already been popularized in American music by the pop song "Stranger in Paradise." In fact, all of the arrangements are interesting and have held up well over the decades. The rather brief total time of under a half-hour makes one wish that additional material had been recorded and included, as neither bass clarinetist (Eric Dolphy and Tommy Newsom) is given an opportunity to solo. Veteran jazz critic Ira Gitler's humorous liner notes, which have Russians like the fictitious Meade Lux Lenin taking credit for various jazz innovations, are an added bonus. Long out of print, this United Artists LP will be difficult to track down.

Pony Poindexter - 1962 - Pony's Express

Pony Poindexter
Pony's Express

01. Catin Latin 4:10
02. Salt Peanuts 3:35
03. Skylark 3:40
04. Struttin' With Some Barbecue 5:28
05. Blue 5:26
06. "B" Frequency 1:39
07. Mickey Mouse March 3:02
08. Basin Street Blues 3:40
09. Pony's Express 2:16
10. Lanyop 9:34
11. Artistry In Rhythm 2:14

Bass – Ron Carter, Bill Yancy
Drums – Charlie Persip, Elvin Jones
Piano – Guido Mahones, Tommy Flanagan
Saxophone [Alto] – Eric Dolphy, Gene Quill, Phil Woods, Pony Poindexter, Sonny Red
Saxophone [Baritone] – Pepper Adams
Saxophone [Soprano] – Pony Poindexter
Saxophone [Tenor] – Billy Mitchell, Clifford Jordan, Dexter Gordon, Jimmy Heath, Sal Nistico

Pony Poindexter was a sporadically recorded bop saxophonist who played on sessions by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross as well as Wes Montgomery; his long unavailable 1962 debut as a leader, originally on Epic, finally was reissued as a Koch CD in 2001. With arrangements by Gene Kee, Poindexter leads several all-star ensembles, which include Phil Woods, Gene Quill, Sonny Red, Eric Dolphy, Dexter Gordon, Clifford Jordan, Jimmy Heath, Sal Nistico, Billy Mitchell, and Pepper Adams. The rhythm sections are also first rate: either Gildo Mahones or Tommy Flanagan play piano, with Ron Carter or Bill Yancey on bass, and Charli Persip or Elvin Jones on drums. Poindexter is a convincing ballad player with the rich reed section backing him on "Skylark," while he trades choruses with Gordon's big-toned tenor on a snappy and decidedly nontraditional take of "Struttin' With Some Barbecue." His originals include the smoking opener "Catin' Latin," with the leader on soprano sax (and almost getting buried by the backing saxophone section at times), the brisk blues "Pony's Express," and the loping blues "Lanyop," which also features a typically daredevil alto solo by Dolphy. Sadly an alternate take of "Lanyop," which appeared on the LP anthology Almost Forgotten, was not licensed for this Koch CD reissue and omitted. It's a shame that Pony Poindexter didn't get many more opportunities to record as a leader, as this release demonstrates his considerable promise.

Max Roach - 1961 - Percussion Bitter Sweet

Max Roach 
Percussion Bitter Sweet

01. Garvey's Ghost 7:55
02. Mama 4:50
03. Tender Warriors 6:54
04. Praise For A Martyr 7:13
05. Mendacity 8:56
06. Man From South Africa 5:15

Bass – Art Davis
Congas – Carlos "Patato" Valeler
Cowbell – Carlos "Totico" Eugenio
Drums – Max Roach
Flute, Alto Saxophone, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Piano – Mal Waldron
Tenor Saxophone – Clifford Jordan
Trombone – Julian Priester
Trumpet – Booker Little
Vocals – Abbey Lincoln (tracks: A1, B2)

From the get-go the message is clear: Hang on, there’s no looking back. The ’60s have arrived.
This 1961 Impulse Records session is explosive, iconoclastic, and seminally political, radiating both rage and transcendent elation. Those who still thought of Max as a bopper awoke to find the master penning and playing tunes on the cutting edge. Max is brilliant here at breaking the rules because he helped write them.

A previous LP, Freedom Now Suite, more commonly recognized as a classic, employed a similar direction, also with a political edge and themes of black empowerment. But Bitter Sweet survives the test of time as a more fully realized, focused work. It’s an under-recognized classic featuring peak work from a tremendous lineup.

“Garvey’s Ghost” opens with Max’s African 6/8 groove. The crunchy, bouncing-off-the-wall live sound totters on distortion. Thick chord clusters burst in, topped by Abbey Lincoln’s eerie wordless vocals. The harmonic tension makes neck hairs bristle, and that intensity never wanes. Throughout the disc, Max delivers inspired solos of mini-structural statements that—much like a sax solo—build between paused “breaths.”

The soulful, defiant ballad “Mendacity” comments on crooked politicos along with images of denied civil rights and lynching. Eric Dolphy’s dam-bursting alto solo is a plaintive, bluesy cry that’s one of his best on record.

“Man From South Africa” is essentially a 7/4 blues, but Max and bassist Art Davis liberate the groove, alternating between outlining the 1-2/1-2/1-2-3 theme and riding straight through. Max and soloists phrase with effortless freedom, making the odd meter almost superfluous. Everything here is torridly “in the moment.”

This album comprises forty minutes of strong personal vision—and represents some of Max’s best post-bop drumming. And Max’s musical foreshadowing was correct: The new decade was to be both tumultuous and inspiring.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

John Lewis - 1962 - Essence

John Lewis 
Essence - John Lewis Plays The Compositions & Arrangements Of Gary McFarland

01. Hopeful Encounter 4:47
02. Tillamook Two 7:11
03. Night Float 4:14
04. Notions 3:57
05. Another Encounter 5:09
06. Wish Me Well 7:45

Alto Saxophone – Eric Dolphy (tracks: A3)
Baritone Saxophone – Gene Allen (tracks: A2, B2), Jimmy Giuffre (tracks: A3)
Bass – George Duvivier (tracks: A3), Richard Davis (2) (tracks: A1, A2, B1 to B3)
Basset Horn – Don Stewart (3) (tracks: A2, B2)
Bassoon – Loren Glickman (tracks: A2, B2)
Clarinet – Phil Woods (tracks: A2, B2)
Drums – Connie Kay
Flute – Harold Jones (2) (tracks: A2, B2)
Flute [Alto] – Eric Dolphy (tracks: A2, B2)
French Horn – Gunther Schuller (tracks: A3), Bob Northern (tracks: A1, B1, B3), Robert Swisshelm (tracks: A1, B1, B3)
Guitar – Billy Bean (tracks: A1, B1, B3), Jim Hall (tracks: A2, A3, B2)
Oboe – William Arrowsmith (tracks: A2, B2)
Piano – John Lewis (2)
Tenor Saxophone – Benny Golson (tracks: A3)
Trombone – Mike Zwerin (tracks: A1, B1, B3)
Trumpet – Freddie Hubbard (tracks: A1, B1, B3), Herb Pomeroy (tracks: A3), Louis Mucci*\ (tracks: A1, B1, B3), Nick Travis (tracks: A1, B1, B3)
Tuba – Don Butterfield (tracks: A1, B1, B3)

"John Lewis plays the compositions & arrangements of Gary McFarland"

A3 recorded September 9, 1960.
A1,B1,B3 recorded May 25, 1962.
A2,B2 recorded October 5, 1962.

John Lewis takes on the music of Gary McFarland – working here in a very cool set of McFarland compositions and arrangements – often with a lot more tone, color, and feeling than usual for a Lewis album! John often punctuates his piano notes, almost as if he's using vibes – and the larger backings have this way of being quite spacious – as in some of McFarland's more modern recordings for Impulse from the same time – very open, and quite revolutionary for the time!

John Lewis - 1960 - The Wonderful World of Jazz

John Lewis 
The Wonderful World of Jazz

01. Body And Soul 15:24
02. I Should Care 4:50
03. Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West 5:35
04. Afternoon In Paris 9:55
05. I Remember Clifford 3:25

Alto Saxophone – Eric Dolphy (tracks: B2)
Baritone Saxophone – James Rivers (2) (tracks: B2)
Bass – George Duvivier
Drums – Connie Kay
French Horn – Gunther Schuller (tracks: B2)
Guitar – Jim Hall
Piano, Arranged By – John Lewis (2)
Tenor Saxophone – Benny Golson (tracks: B2), Paul Gonsalves (tracks: A1)
Trumpet – Herb Pomeroy (tracks: A1, B2)

A2,B1,B3 recorded July 29, 1960.
A1 recorded September 8, 1960.
B2 recorded September 9, 1960.

This is one of pianist John Lewis' most rewarding albums outside of his work with the Modern Jazz Quartet. Three numbers (including a remake of "Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West") showcase his piano in a quartet with guitarist Jim Hall, bassist George Duvivier, and drummer Connie Kay. A 15-and-a-half-minute rendition of "Body and Soul" has one of tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves' finest solos, while "Afternoon in Paris" features a diverse cast with trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, Gunther Schuller on French horn, tenor man Benny Golson, baritonist Jimmy Giuffre, and guitarist Jim Hall; altoist Eric Dolphy cuts everyone.

The pianist John Lewis, who died in 2001 at the age of 79, is best known as the leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet, but throughout that group's long life (1952–1992), he also composed, conducted, and played music for many other ensembles, large and small, tinged with influences from swing and the blues to Baroque, Renaissance, and Third Stream avant-garde. The Wonderful World of Jazz, recorded in 1960 on the Atlantic label, is one of his more obscure albums, but it's also one of his freshest.
I'd never heard it, until I received this new 180gm stereo LP, reissued by Pure Pleasure Recordings, and now it's among my treasures. A cool, breeze-swaying album, consisting of two Lewis originals ("Afternoon in Paris," "Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West"), two standards ("Body and Soul," "I Should Care"), and Benny Golson's "I Remember Clifford," it was set down in three sessions. The first, on July 29, featured a trio of Lewis, MJQ drummer Connie Kay, and bassist George Duvivier. The second, on September 8, expanded to a quintet with tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves and trumpeter Herb Pomeroy. The third, a day later, replaced Gonsalves with Benny Golson and added Gunther Schuller on French horn, James Rivers on baritone sax, and—the shocker—Eric Dolphy on alto.

Dolphy's shining moment comes on "Afternoon in Paris," the album's highlight in every way, a gorgeous tune, the octet shimmering through several choruses in rich five-horn harmony, then Dolphy rips the canvas with a bracing solo—brash in tone, Parker-meets-Coltrane in style—yet he fits right in, Duvivier and Kay stepping up the beat but just subtly, Lewis and the other horns sustaining their lushness: the clashing colors intensify the beauty. There's very little like it anywhere in jazz.

Despite his reputation as a classicist, Lewis championed Dolphy, and this was no aberration. Around the same time, he also put Ornette Coleman on the map, urging Atlantic, his long-time label, to sign him up and to book his quartet at the Five Spot in New York. A few months after The Wonderful World of Jazz, he produced Jazz Abstractions: John Lewis Presents Contemporary Music Compositions by Gunther Schuller and Jim Hall, which featured Dolphy and Coleman, among others ranging from Bill Evans to Eddie Costa. (Good luck finding that one; there is no US pressing, on vinyl or polycarbonate, in print.)

The sound quality of The Wonderful World varies a bit (three engineers are credited, one for each session), but generally it's excellent. Pomeroy's trumpet blares with a golden palpability; all the saxes exude a warm brassiness; the bass plucks; the cymbals sizzle. I received two pressings. The first was quiet except for a swarm of ticks on "Afternoon in Paris" (disaster). The second was dead quiet except for a few ticks on "I Should Care" (I didn't care much). Were these anomalies? I don't know. Get this for "Afternoon in Paris" alone—and if that track is noisy, send it back.

There is nothing hurried about this disc. That said, the music is focused and will stretch your mind. Lewis employed masterful melodic improvisers here : Paul Gonsalves, Eric Dolphy, Jimmy Giuffre, Jim Hall among others. Listen to "Body and Soul" as it builds powerfully and the soloists explore every possible melodic theme, where the quiet power of these master musicians is almost too much to take. Listen to "I Remember Clifford" where the players are essentially the MJQ with Jim Hall replacing Milt Jackson. Listen to "The Stranger" (written by a young Arif Mardin) with that harmonious-yet-discordant brass. This set swings, but oh-so-elegantly. Just like Mr. Lewis.
Steven C. Berry

John Lewis - 1960 - John Lewis Presents Contemporary Music: Jazz Abstractions

John Lewis 
John Lewis Presents Contemporary Music: Jazz Abstractions

01. Abstraction 4:06
02. Piece For Guitar & Strings 6:22
03. Variants On A Theme Of John Lewis (Django) (10:15)
Variant I 5:27
Variant II 1:38
Variant III 3:10
04. Variants On A Theme Of Thelonious Monk (Criss-Cross) (15:23)
Variant I 6:22
Variant II 1:49
Variant III 4:12
Variant IV 3:00

Alto Saxophone – Ornette Coleman (tracks: A1, B)
Alto Saxophone, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy (tracks: B)
Bass – Alvin Brehm (tracks: A1), George Duvivier (tracks: A3, B), Scott LaFaro
Cello – Joseph Tekula
Drums – Stick Evans (tracks: A1, A3, B)
Flute – Eric Dolphy (tracks: A3, B), Robert DiDomenica (tracks: A3, B)
Guitar – Jim Hall
Piano – Bill Evans (tracks: A3, B)
Vibraphone [Vibes] – Eddie Costa (tracks: A3, B)
Viola – Alfred Brown (tracks: A2), Harry Zaratzian
Violin – Charles Libove, Roland Vamos

The Modern Jazz Quartet managed that rarest feat of all: to make great art that pleased the serious listener as well as it did the general public. The M.J.Q., as they were known, featured vibraphone, bass, drums, and piano, and yet had the breadth of an orchestra and the intimacy of the most delicate chamber ensemble. Even when they played music written by others, it sounded as though it had been written for them, but they played mostly original compositions by musical director John Lewis, about whom too much can never be said. His was one of those quintessentially American lives a tale of someone who truly invented a life based on a love of music.

John Lewis is certainly a unique figure in American music. Born in 1920, he grew up in New Mexico, graduating from Albuquerque High School in 1937, and from the University of New Mexico in 1941 with a degree in anthropology. Before he joined the army, Lewis encountered both tenor saxophonist Lester Young and composer, bandleader, and pianist Duke Ellington. They were to be formative influences”Young for showing how improvisation can have all the hallmarks of great composition, and Ellington in terms of how to set the music down on manuscript paper without sacrificing its spontaneity. Both these men also reveled in musical counterpoint. And throughout his life, Lewis thrived on the frisson that one good idea engendered. In fact, many of his achievements can be viewed through a prism of action and reaction. Lewis was an avid student and admirer of European music, and used it as a model from which to launch his own penchant for variations. He managed to retain the flavor of some these influences, yet created an idiom that was intrinsically American. Lewis could made a quartet sound like an orchestra, and knew how to make an orchestra swing and move on a dime like the best small jazz groups.

He collaborated with many of the prime innovators of his time, and was a major force in bringing the savant of “free” jazz, Ornette Coleman, to the fore at a time when the jazz establishment was skeptical, to say the least. Yet Lewis's own music always had a traditional feeling to it. He relied heavily on the blues and the indigenous forms of jazz, but brought them into a wide variety of progressive contexts where they always sounded fresh. Lewis remembered times past, but always created in the present tense. Like many original artists, he had an aura. On the surface a shy, gentle man, Lewis had a will of iron, yet he exuded for the most part a feeling of calm.

Emerging from the army in 1946, Lewis came to New York and met Dizzy Gillespie, who quickly recruited him to join his big band as composer, arranger, and pianist, replacing Thelonious Monk. Gillespie's music was so punishing on the brass players that they had to rest frequently, spelled by the rhythm section. Lewis, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Kenny Clarke, with whom Lewis had served overseas, evinced a natural affinity for each other. This led to the formation several years later of the Modern Jazz Quartet. The intervening years found Lewis freelancing with Charlie Parker, Young, Miles Davis (including the seminal Nonet recordings), and Ella Fitzgerald. Ever the student, Lewis managed to combine his nighttime jazz life with studies at Manhattan School of Music, where he received his M.A. in 1953.

Lewis's piano playing was one of jazz's greatest treasures, though it has been overshadowed by his reputation as a composer, arranger, and musical director. From his first recordings with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in 1947, however, it was clear that Lewis brought something new and challenging to the idiom of jazz piano. At a time when young pianists were scuffling to play as fast as they could, and to sound like Parker on the keyboard, Lewis championed a more orchestral/contrapuntal style. His piano frequently functioned behind soloists in the same way that the Ellington or Basie bands did. Lewis's solos were spare and pithy. It was not for nothing that he was sometimes compared to Count Basie for his mastery of space and depth of accompaniment. Both Parker and Lester Young made some of their most inspired recordings with Lewis at the piano. They will become friends for life. Lewis's playing is nothing short of brilliant in its epigrammatic way, which should come as no surprise given his encyclopedic knowledge of the jazz tradition in general, and the Kansas City blues idiom in particular.

John Lewis ranks with Ellington, Mingus, Monk, and Morton as one of the great jazz composers. As an educator, he was a prime mover in the Lenox School of Jazz in the 1950s, and spent many years at the City College of New York in the '70s and '80s in addition to lecturing at Harvard. There were also workshops and residencies all over the world. Largely and unfairly forgotten today is his pioneering Orchestra U.S.A., which was decades ahead of its time in Lewis's desire to cross the musical borders between jazz and classical music at will.

At the center of Lewis's musical life was the aforementioned Modern Jazz Quartet, and it might have very well been the ultimate expression of his love of counterpoint. Lewis sought out a varied group of guests to join the quartet in special projects and this led to a plethora of brilliant music. Among the most notable M.J.Q. pairings were the ones with Jim Hall, the Beaux Art String Quartet, Sonny Rollins, and Laurindo Almeda. As a unit, the group made for a wonderful contrast with the bulk of their peers in the jazz world. No long solos, no endless repetitions of basic form; indeed, Lewis went way out of his way to ensure that every tune sounded different from another. Keys were varied, as were textures and the lengths of the pieces themselves.

These four jazz giants Lewis, Jackson, bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Connie Kay (who replaced Clarke in 1955) were as different as individuals as they were instrumentally when deep in some extended Lewis composition. They meshed perfectly and kept perfect (and swinging) time. They were also a family, with all that implies. Suffice it to say that as individuals they never sounded better than when they played together. The aura is still there”inside the fugues, the counterpoint, the blues, the abhorrence of cant and cliché that was John Lewis and that remains alive in his music.

John Lewis died aged 80 on March 31, 2001, in his last years he recorded a pair of albums for Atlantic, “Evolution,” and “Evolution II,” (1999-2000) which were a beautiful summary of his career. Fittingly, his final concert appearance came in a lavish gala at Lincoln Center in New York, when he played in settings ranging from solo piano to big band.

Although John Lewis is listed as the leader (this album's alternate title is "John Lewis Presents Contemporary Music"), the pianist does not actually appear on this record and only contributed one piece ("Django"). On what is very much a Gunther Schuller project, Schuller composed "Abstraction" and was responsible for the adventurous three-part "Variants on a Theme of John Lewis (Django)" and the four-part "Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk (Criss-Cross)"; Jim Hall contributed "Piece for Guitar & Strings." One of the most successful third stream efforts, this LP combines avant-garde jazz with aspects of classical music. Among the more notable stars, altoist Ornette Coleman is on "Abstraction" and "Criss Cross" (both of which have been reissued in his Rhino CD box) and multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy is on both of the "Variants." Other musicians in the eclectic cast include guitarist Hall, bassist Scott LaFaro, pianist Bill Evans, and several classical string players. This is very interesting music.

Gil Evans - 1964 - The Individualism of Gil Evans

Gil Evans 
The Individualism of Gil Evans

01. The Barbara Song 9:55
02. Las Vegas Tango 6:13
03. The Flute Song 12:25
04. Hotel Me
05. El Toreador 3:30

Conductor, Piano – Gil Evans
Bass – Ben Tucker (tracks: B1a), Gary Peacock (tracks: A1), Milt Hinton (tracks: B2), Paul Chambers (3) (tracks: B1a to B2), Richard Davis (2) (tracks: B1a, B2), Ron Carter (tracks: A2, B1b)
Drums – Elvin Jones (tracks: A1, B1a, B1b), Ozzie Johnson (tracks: B2)
French Horn – Don Corrado (tracks: B1a), Gil Cohen (2) (tracks: B1a), Jimmy Buffington (tracks: B2), Julius Watkins (tracks: A1, B1a), Ray Alonge (tracks: A1, B1b), Bob Northern (tracks: B2)
Guitar – Barry Galbraith (tracks: B1a), Kenny Burrell (tracks: B1b)
Harp – Bob Maxwell (tracks: A1), Margaret Ross (tracks: B1a)
Reeds, Woodwind – Al Block (tracks: A1, B1a), Andy Fitzgerald (tracks: A1), Bob Tricarico (tracks: A1, B1a to B2), Eric Dolphy (tracks: B1a, B1b), Eric Dolphy (tracks: B2), Garvin Bushell (tracks: B1b), George Marge (tracks: A1), Jerome Richardson (tracks: B2), Steve Lacy (tracks: B1a to B2), Wayne Shorter (tracks: A1)
Trombone – Frank Rehak (tracks: A1), Jimmy Cleveland (tracks: B1a to B2), Tony Studd (tracks: B1b, B2)
Trumpet – Bernie Glow (tracks: B1b), Ernie Royal (tracks: B2), Johnny Coles (tracks: B1b, B2), Louis Mucci (tracks: B2)
Tuba – Bill Barber (tracks: A1, B1b)

B1a, B2 Recorded September, 1963 at A&R Studios, New York City
Released in a gatefold cover.

A2 & B1b Recorded April 6, 1964 at Webster Hall, New York City
A1 Recorded July 9, 1964 at Van Gelders Recording Studio, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

“Born with the Victorian-sounding name Ian Ernest Gilmore Green, and first marketed by major record labels in the 1960’s as a middle-aged hipster in a business suit, Gil Evans … was a unique American artist who rebelled against stereotypes of class and race. Born in Canada of Australian parentage in 1912, Evans was raised mainly in California.   He seemed to live with a spirit that was marked by the Californian dream in its purest form: to create the impossible in everyday life, through means that are both peaceful and sensual. It was this humble fire, expressed through an unpretentious demeanor and relentless musical curiosity, which fueled Evans' works and won him the respect of such younger rebels of the 1940’s Jazz scene as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan and Max Roach.”
- Eliot Bratton

As Richard Cook and Brian Morton observe in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.: “Evans’ name is famously an anagram of Svengali and Gil spent much of his career shaping the sounds and musical philosophies of younger musicians. … His peerless voicings are instantly recognizable.”

Beginning with New Bottle, Old Wine with its very revealing subtitle - “The Great Jazz Composers Interpreted by Gil Evans - and continuing with his orchestrations for Miles Davis on their Columbia epochal associations including Miles Ahead and Porgy and Bess, my repeated listening to Gil’s arrangements revealed a relaxed sophistication, use of very simple materials, and lots of open measures and other forms of space that created a texture in his music that was unlike any other that I’d ever heard before - and with the rare exception - since.

“Texture” joins with melody, harmony and rhythm [meter] as a fourth building block used to create a musical composition? Ironically, of the four basic musical atoms, the most indefinable yet the one we first notice is – “texture.”

“Texture” is the word that is used to refer to the actual sound of the music. This encompasses the instruments with which it is played; its tonal colors; its dynamics; its sparseness or its complexity.

Texture involves anything to do with the sound experience and it is the word that is used to describe the overall impression that a piece of music creates in our emotional imagination.

Often our first and most lasting impression of a composition is usually based on that work’s texture, even though we are not aware of it. Generally, we receive strong musical impressions from the physical sound of any music and these then determine our emotional reaction to the work.

By the time of its issuance in 1964 The Individualism of Gil Evans represented a major step away from the close Columbia collaboration that Gil had formed with Miles and a major step into his own music on Verve [and later Impulse!] which allowed the sonority [texture] of Evans’ arrangements to become even more pronounced.

As Stephanie Stein Crease explains in her definitive biography Gil Evans Out of the Cool: His Life and Music:

“ … Gil held his own first recording session for Verve with Creed Taylor as producer in September 1963. Gil lucked out with Taylor (founder of the Impulse! label and producer of Out of the Cool). Arriving at Verve not long before, Taylor made an immediate splash as producer of the first wildly successful bossa nova records (with Stan Getz, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Joao and Astrud Gilberto), including "The Girl from Ipanema." Verve gave Taylor carte blanche, which he passed along to Gil. Gil was allowed the number of musicians and recording time he wanted. He was even able to record some sketches on studio time—an unheard-of luxury for a composer/arranger. Gil was also allowed to record one or two pieces at a time, whenever he had something ready, instead of conceiving of an entire album beforehand. Taylor was confident that an album would eventually materialize if he gave Gil free reign.

At the first session, Gil recorded two of his own compositions, "Flute Song" and "El Toreador," It wasn't until April 1964 that he recorded another two arrangements; then, in the following six months he recorded six new arrangements for large ensembles and several sketches with a quartet. The resulting album became The Individualism of Gil Evans, released in late 1964.

The album contains some of Gil's best music on record. Selections include Kurt Weill's "The Barbara Song" and four Evans originals: "Las Vegas Tango," "Flute Song," "Hotel Me," and "El Toreador." Several of the musicians, including Johnny Coles, Steve Lacy, Al Block, Jimmy Cleveland, Tony Studd, Bill Barber, Elvin Jones, and Paul Chambers, played on all the sessions, preserving a consistency in the textures, mood, and overall sound. Other stellar personnel—Eric Dolphy on various woodwinds, Wayne Shorter on tenor, Phil Woods on alto, and Kenny Burrell on guitar—were on hand for some sessions and recorded with Gil for the first time. Gil plays piano on every track, and his performance, particularly on "The Barbara Song," functions as an indicator of his conceptual direction. On the Weill song, the mood is full of pathos, with Wayne Shorter's tenor sax taking up the cry. "El Toreador," built on one chord, sounds like a development of one of the Barracuda cues; Johnny Coles's plaintive trumpet is the foremost voice, cutting through the rumblings of the low brass and three acoustic basses and a whirring tremolo in the high reeds.

The musicianship on all the Verve sessions is of the highest order. The musicians dig deeply into the music, both as soloists and as ensemble players. Again there is an Ellingtonian parallel; the musical personalities are so strong on these recordings that horn voicings and ensemble passages are characterized by the collective sound of the people playing them.”

And here are excerpts from Gene Lees’ original liner notes to  The Individualism of Gil Evans:

“The gifted young composer, arranger, and critic Bill Mathieu once wrote of Gil Evans: "The mind reels at the intricacy of his orchestral and developmental techniques. His scores are so careful, so formally well-constructed, so mindful of tradition that you feel the originals should be preserved under glass in a Florentine museum."

Mathieu's feelings about Evans are not unusual. Without doubt the most individualistic and personal jazz composer since Duke Ellington, Evans is held in near-reverence by a wide range of composers, arrangers, instrumentalists, and critics. This feeling is only intensified by the fact that he is a rather inaccessible man — not unfriendly, or anti-social; just politely, quietly inaccessible — whose output has been small, and all of it is indeed remarkable.

What is it that makes Evans' work unique? This is impossible to say in mere words, but with your indulgence, I'm going to try to clarify some of it. What I want to say is not for the professional musician but the layman; the pros are invited to skip the new few paragraphs.

Every "song" is built of two primary components: its melody and its harmony. Rhythm is the third major factor, but I want to confine myself to the first two.

As the melody is played, a certain sequence of chords occurs beneath it. Now the bottom note of these chords sets up a sort of melody of its own. This is referred to as the "bass line" and it has great importance to the texture and flavor of the music. As a first step to the appreciation of Gil Evans, try not hearing the melody but listening to the bass line on some of these tracks.

Between the bass note and the melody note fall the other notes of the chord. You can put them down in a slap-dash fashion, so that you've got merely chords occurring in sequence like a line of telephone poles holding up the wire of melody; or you can link the inner notes of one chord to the inner notes of the next one, setting up still other melodies within the music. These new lines are called the "inner voices" of the harmonization. How well he handles inner voices is one of the measures of a composer's or an arranger's writing skill.

Gil's handling of them is often astonishing. His original melody, his bass line, and his inner lines are always exquisite. The result is that one of Gil's scores is faintly analogous to a crossword puzzle: it can be "read" both vertically (up through the chords) or horizontally in the form of ihe various melodies he sets up. Heard both ways simultaneously, his music can be breathtaking.

That's part of it.

Another and important part is his use of unusual instrumentations. Evans has virtually abandoned the standard jazz instrumentation of trumpets - trombones - saxes. He uses flutes, oboes, English horns (the standard classical woodwinds), along with French horns and a few of the conventional jazz instruments to extend the scope of the jazz orchestra. Evans was one of the first to use French horns in jazz, in the days when he was chief arranger for the celebrated Claude Thornhill orchestra. Not only does Gil use "non-jazz" instruments (usually played by jazz players, however), but he puts them together in startling ways, to create unearthly and fresh lovely sounds.

Finally, there's his sense of form, of logical construction. Everything he writes builds to sound and aesthetically satisfying climaxes, beautifully developing the previously-stated material. I know of no one in jazz with a more highly-developed sense of form than Gil Evans.

Yet, with all his gifts, Gil is oddly down-to-earth about his music. Once, when I told him that some people were having trouble deciding whether an album he had done with Miles Davis was classical music or jazz, he said, "That's a merchandiser's problem, not mine." Another time he said, "I write popular music." What he meant, of course, is that he wanted no part of pointless debates about musical categorizations; that he was making no claims on behalf of his music; and that since that music grew out of the traditions of American popular music, he was content to call it that.

On another occasion he said, "I'm just an arranger" This comment I reject. Even when Gil is working with other people's thematic material, what he does to it constitutes composition. …

To say that this album has been long-awaited is no cliche. It is the first Gil Evans recording in three years. "I stayed away from music for two years!' he said. "I wanted to look around and see what was happening in the world outside of music."

My favourite Gil Evans CD…even without the bonus tracks that more than double its playing time. 13m 46s of Spoonful is enough for me to up its rating by ½ a star! It’s consistently the most soulful of all the Gil Evans recordings I own.
   The opening Time Of The Barracudas is the first of the bonus tracks and is simply hilarious. Elvin Jones is relentless in his attempt to drive the band – but the band can only dip and dabble in such a way as refuses to be driven: a most incongruous match that works wonderfully. At the close, Elvin Jones just drifts to a halt satisfied that he’s done his job even if none of the band seemed to take any notice of him – not even the bass player! Wayne Shorter and Kenny Burrel solo and are always dependable (I love the occasional echo on the guitar). but it’s Elvin Jones who is ever present. The harp at the end is a nice touch.
   What a moody opener The Barbara Song must have made if this is now the correct running order. Evans plays his plinkety plonk piano against some of his most mournful arrangements. (The low-register flute-vibrato sounds like an old sound modulator and reminds me of side two of Bowie’s Low album). Jones could have busied himself like he did on the previous number but plays super-minimalistic brushes instead.
   I was familiar with Robert Wyatt’s version of Las Vegas Tango before I’d ever heard this one. (His has to be heard to be believed!) This is as mournful as the previous one but is buoyed up by Jones’ Latin tango. The upward theme played on the oboe (or is it a bassoon?) and echoed by the piano, is the most memorable part of the piece. The pep section is a little grating – even more so the fanfares that follow the edit, making the final result a little uneven.
  The sombre mood returns where Flute Song begins but soon gives way to a backbeat blues with a ridiculous fluttering accompaniment over which Evans bashes his piano. It’s almost a bad joke but weaving in and out are the flutes and somewhere at the back; Dolphy’s bass clarinet. It doesn’t work perfectly but it’s unusual and has some soul though slightly too long, perhaps. (At one point Evans piano is cut off by an edit suggesting his parts have been added later). 
   At 3m 30s, El Toreador is never given the chance to go anywhere and sounds like an intro to something that failed to happen. But it fits well into the general mood as Thad Jones playful trumpet seems to mock its grim orchestration. Only Gil Evans could think up something like this. It’s followed by Proclamation; only slightly longer and a companion piece. This time Shorter noodles and Evans rounds things off. These mood pieces wouldn’t bear being extended but make interesting little interludes instead.
   Nothing Like You seems a little out of place here: To be generous, it’s a welcome change but is less interesting than most of what has gone before. It ups the tempo but only as fast as the tempo gets anywhere on Miles give you an idea. Anyway Shorter solos and it’s all over in 2 and a ½  minutes. 
   I’ve never heard MJQ play John Lewis’ Concorde but this arrangement is a minor miracle. Evans exploits the melody to the full, passing it around amongst the instruments - fugue like - and venturing into some ferocious polyphony. Although the trumpet, sax and bass all contribute solos, it’s this rich tapestry that holds the attention. 
   Alluded to earlier; Spoonful is perhaps my favourite Gil Evan's arrangement. According to the liner notes he had his doubts about it but was persuaded to release it in its full, unedited glory. It’s a slow downbeat blues that restrains itself to the point of cruelty before finally releasing itself orgasmic like with a walking trombone and a two note theme so understated as to conquer all. Kenny Burrel, Thad Jones and Wayne Shorter all play with elegant poise inspired by Evans magnificent scoring. Burrel is so far behind the beat he’s a lost soul: Thad Jones doesn’t need a fancy technique as less is more and Shorter with no extraneous elaboration takes it to the climax. Evans interpretation of the blues reaches its apotheosis here in the way his harmonies treat the simplest of two not phrases over and over without ever sounding bland. When it’s over he skits up and down the keyboard as if to say; “nowhere else to go, let’s call it a day”.