Street of Dreams: Grant Green

Street of Dreams Grant Green

If your name is Grant Green, this album has a great cover. Indeed if anyone can direct me to a junction of Down and Withit Streets, a small reward is on offer. Street of Dreams reunites Grant Green with Bobby Hutcherson, who had made a significant contribution to the successful Idle Moments release (which I have yet to write about).

In terms of title, ‘Music for a Siesta’ may possibly have been a more apt choice. The playing on this brief set featuring four relatively short tracks, is faultless but the overall ambience is laid back and it is a sit or lie down and enjoy recording. This is a lineup who play very well together on a well-chosen series of lesser-known tunes. Following the recent passing of Bobby Hutcherson it seemed like a good time to dust this title down and write about it.

Green’s playing on I Wish You love is a an excercise in restrained self assurance. Larry Young also plays in a subdued manner, while Hutcherson contributes variety and interest on vibes.

Lazy Afternoon is perfect music for a hot day. There’s nothing to get the blood racing, just another well-developed set of ideas.

Title track, Street of Dreams features fine interplay between vibes and the Hammond with pyrotechnics from Elvin Jones on drums. There is also some passionate playing from Green when he gets into his solo, indeed it sounds like a great flow of ideas that a student guitar player could do worse than to study if they want to learn how to build excitement on this sort of track. You can listen to it via the following YouTube upload, courtesy of rogerjazzfan:-

Somewhere in the Night is notable for a workmanlike solo from Larry Young but once again there is nothing to raise the temperature.

So there we are. I like Grant Green very much but while Street of Dreams is pleasant enough, it is not a set that I play very often as it is just a little too light with a supper club mainstream feel. You may disagree of course. Idle Moments, recorded 12 months earlier, is a far stronger and more varied set which you may want to investigate first if you are not familiar with this phase of Grant Green’s discography.

The original sleeve notes were penned by that master of the waspish dismissal, Leonard Feather. However, he must have enjoyed Street of Dreams, which he describes as ‘…this gently persuasive set.’

Just for the record, the intersection of Grant and Green is in North Beach, a particularly hip part of San Francisco and the home of cafes, bookshops and clubs frequented by the Beat Generation.

Elvin Jones (9 September 1927 to 18 May 2004) would have celebrated his 89th birthday today (09 September 2016).

The band etc.: Grant Green (guitar); Bobby Hutcherson (vibes); Elvin Jones (drums); Larry Young Organ. Recorded: 16 November 1964. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recording: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover photo: Jim Marshall. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Sleeve notes: Leonard Feather. Originally issued as Blue Note BST 84253 in 1966.


Bobby Hutcherson RIP

Vibraphone and Marimba maestro Bobby Hutcherson passed away in mid-August 2016, aged 75.

His New York Times obituary can be accessed here.

There’s an irreverent review of his Happenings set that I wrote a couple of years ago here.

London Jazz Collector has taken a look at Bobby Hutcherson’s records with recent reviews of several of his later releases.

RIP Bobby Hutcherson.


First thoughts on ‘The Epic’: Kamasi Washington

Kamasi Washington The Epic2

Readers, I’m sorry that it has taken me so long to get round to taking a look at this celebrated release from Kamasi Washington.

Every so often an artist comes along that it is important to have an opinion about. Kamasi Washington is of that ilk. His first release is a triple CD set featuring nearly three hours of music. Some of the tracks are indeed epic in scale featuring large choirs together with a 32 piece orchestra and he appeared live in concert at the BBC Proms at the end of August 2016. His tenor saxophone work is likened to that of some of the greatest musicians of all time. The album is entitled The Epic for a reason and trying to do it justice will be no easy task, so I will be doing so over the whole of August and September 2016, starting with some initial impressions before working towards some conclusions by the end of September 2016. If you want to join me and have some dialogue, get yourself a copy. There is also an opinion poll at the end of the piece that you are welcome to participate in (the current results are shown after you have voted).

Here goes:-

Volume 1: The Plan

Change of the Guard is dedicated to Austin Peralta, a musician of great talent and tremendous promise who died at the age of 22. You can read about him here.

Askim contains a long solo which builds from the mellifluous and slowly moves towards the discordant before calm returns. This track introduces us to another side of Washington’s playing. Again, I find the choir distracting.

Isabelle is played by a septet and the choir take a break. It is a gentle contemplative piece.

Final Thought is funkier with Brandon Coleman’s organ to the fore before Washington comes in with an exciting and powerful solo.

The choir are back on The Next Step. KW’s sensitive solo does not to be surrounded and this piece is over-embellished.

The Rhythm Changes is a song featuring Patrice Quinn on lead vocals, initially accompanied by the trombone of Ryan Porter. Again, I’m not convinced by this saccharine confection.

Volume 2: The Gloroius Tale

Miss Understanding. Trumpet run from Igmar Thomas

Leroy and Lanisha. A light lilting piece featuring a duet between trombone and tenor saxophone. A high point of the opus so far.

Re Run is next and the gargling choir are back on a Latin flavoured piece which turns into something special during Washington’s solo. Get out those soft jazz dance shoes, or better still, wait for the superior version of this track on the third CD, where the choir do not feature (although Washington’s solo is far less interesting).

Seven Prayers is played by a nonet with both acoustic and electric bass. Instruments are voiced in unison and guess what, they sound a little like a choir.

Henrietta Our Hero features another lead vocal from Patrice Quinn, which gives way to an enjoyable chorus on saxophone from Washington.

The Magnificent 7. Once again some great soloing from Kamasi but the choir is present to dilute the power of what he is serving up . The composition is a good one that is over developed and submerged in cloying sweetener. I could imagine this working on a big festival stage and this is stadium-sized rather than club jazz.

Volume 3: The Historic Repetition

Re Run Home is one of the most immediate tracks on the entire set. Uptempo and anthemic. However the soloing seems a little simplistic. You can have a listen courtesy of Brainfeeder on YouTube:-

Cherokee starts like a bright and bushy 1990’s Diana Brown track before the lead vocalist comes in. She doesn’t do much for me, I’m afraid.

Clair de Lune is a dreamy realisation of the Debussey piece on which the choir makes an appearance. There is a Hollywood, 30’s feel on this.

Malcolm’s Theme is a tribute to Malcolm X with extract from a speech which is liberal in its content and argues in favour of religious co-existence between Islam and Christianity and black and white. The music takes second place here on a piece that probably would not have made it onto a single CD, although KW’s solo is strong and it is a pity it is compromised by the other more indulgent aspects of this track.

The Message is a pleasant jazz funk meander which provides a springboard for a deft and exciting KW solo but is overlong.

My initial reactions are that Kamasi Washington overdoes things with this triple set. He offers up a full menu in one sitting when we would probably be better served with smaller portions featuring complimentary favours rather than a whole gargantuan blow-out. As will be clear by now, the choir doesn’t do much for me but some of you may like it. Washington clearly has at least one strong film score in the locker as there is much about The Epic that signals this to be the case.

I have added a quick single choice poll to see what you and fellow readers think of Kamasi Washington. Please feel free to complete and also to add a comment to get a lively debate going.

I’ll keep on listening and try to supplement this within the coming weeks.

First update:- Saturday 3 September:- A recording of KW’s BBC Proms performance from The Royal Albert Hall is on BBC iPlayer for the next 26 days and I have just listened to it. Unfortunately, the presence of The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and choir resulted in the aspects of KW’s work that I enjoy least being aired. The audience who saw the performance were very vocal in their appreciation and seemed to enjoy themselves.

Update: Tuesday 6 September 2016:- Six responses to the opinion poll so far and all positive, with five people wanting to hear more and one going for the even more enthusiastic ‘future of jazz’ position. Please keep the responses coming in and feel free to leave a comment.

Update: Thursday 8 September 2016 The liveliness of Final from the first CD was exciting after reviewing Grant Green’s Street of Dreams. The stripped down band can play and this was fun.

Update: Friday 9 September 2016. Miss Understanding is 8 minutes and 46 seconds long and the seven minutes that the choir sit things out for is very good. The introduction is somewhat ostentatious but after 90 seconds it settles to a fine track on which KW plays with fire and gusto.

Update: Sunday 11 September 2016. 8 votes so far, with 6 regarding KW as ‘Interesting new talent’ and one each for the other two choices

You need to vote to view the results as only the premium version of this plugin offers a preview option, although I will visit and provide a breakdown in the updates from time to time.


Rudy Van Gelder RIP

It is as a sad matter of duty that downwithit notes the passing of the man who had oversight of the most of the greatest recordings made by Modern Jazz artists.

Rest in peace RVG.
November 2 1924 to August 25 2016.

This music would not have been the same without him.

You can read Mr Van Gelder’s obituary from The New York Times here.

An extensive list of sessions recorded at his studios can be found here.


Nippon Soul: Cannonball Adderley Sextet

CA Nippon Soul

Japanese audio equipment and studios have earned an enviable reputation and a multitude of artists have recorded there. However, the first American jazz artist to make a live recording in the Land of the Rising Sun is believed to be Cannonball Adderley, as recently as the summer of 1963. Orrin Keepnews, obviously unaware of the sonic standards aspired to in Japan when he penned his original sleeve notes, writes: ‘Through the cooperation of Philips Records of Japan, obviously the possessors of equipment and engineering skills fully up to American standards, Sankei Hall became the scene of what is probably the first recording of American jazz artists in that country.’

These Tokyo concerts feature Cannonball and his brother Nat appearing with an excellent sextet alongside Yusef Lateef and Joe Zawinul with Sam Jones and Louis Hayes on bass and drums.

The performance opens with the title track, Nippon Soul, a fresh strolling blues composition written for the Japanese by Cannonball, who is on fine form on alto. Yusef Lateef then comes in on flute, which is overblown to great effect as his solo ends. Joe Zawinul offers a neat piano solo before the band reprise the head of the piece.

Easy to Love is an uptempo reading of the Cole Porter standard played hard bop style. Porter originally wrote the song for the hit musical Anything Goes but it was dropped due to the high notes which were difficult for male artists to hit. It was recycled into the 1936 film Born To Dance, where it was sung by Jimmy Stewart and Eleanor Powell. The original lyrics contained a couplet involving “…sweet to waken” and “sit down to eggs and bacon” but the likely implications of breakfast shared by an unmarried couple was too rich for the Hollywood censor and it was struck out to prevent outrage in middle-America. Billie Holliday recorded a notable version and it also appears on Charlie Parker with Strings.

The Weaver is the first of two Yusef Lateef compositions. The track is a blues dedicated to Lee Weaver, a close childhood friend of the Adderley’s. To these ears, this has a very early-60’s New York City feel and it is hard to imagine it having been written without that location in mind. By July 1963 Lateef had been working in Adderley’s band for nearly two years, a period which he later wrote of as allowing him the necessary time to aspire to lead in his own right again and to further develop his own musicianship.

The concise driving jazz tango that is Tengo Tango was recorded prior to the release of the album as a single and the sleeve confirms that the band liked to play it as a short piece without lengthy solos.

Come Sunday is a section from Duke Ellington’s seminal Black, Brown and Beige suite arranged by Joe Zawinul and it is a sensitive and relaxed number featuring a delicate duet between the pianist and bass player Sam Jones.

Finally on the original album version, Brother John is dedicated to John Coltrane and features composer Lateef on an Oboe played in a free sounding manner which melds sweet with sour flavours. The following YouTube file was uploaded by Brother John:-

To play, touch or click on the arrow.

My vinyl copy has the appearance of an original first pressing but closer examination of the sleeve and label reveal that it is actually a release made and sold by Fontana records. The guide to Riverside pressings on the London Jazz Collector website confirms that my copy was made at Philips’ Dutch plant and may well be of lower audio quality than one pressed in the UK. Caveat emptor as those crafty old Latin linguists used to write. I wonder how many original American pressings were imported to the UK prior to local release. Not a massive number, one would suppose?

CD copies also includes a brisk live version of Nat Adderley’s Worksong, which Cannonball introduces as a tune in the set by popular demand in acknowledgement of its local popularity.

Nippon Soul is a live recording that is well worth seeking out. The sextet are caught in the delivery of two excellent sets with both Lateef and Zawinul provided with a showcase for their talents courtesy of a very generous leader, whose own contribution is outshone by those of these two band members.

The band etc: Julian ‘Cannonball Adderley (alto sax); Nat Adderley (cornet); Yusef Lateef (flute, oboe & tenor sax); Joe Zawinuul (piano); Sam Jones (double bass); Louis Hayes (drums). Recorded: 14 & 15 July 1963. Live in Sankei Hall, Tokyo. Produced & recorded: Junat Productions. Sleeve Notes: Orrin Keepnews. Cover painting: Tom Daly. Cover design: Ken Deardoff. Issued as Riverside RLP 477 in 1963.

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