Hard Evidence Trio live at DIY Space For London

I was following up on a tip from London Jazz Collector when I ventured into a previously unexplored domain of former light industrial units. The blighted environment signalled that I was closer to the Rustbelt than the Ritz. Just like in Detroit, however, sprouts and shoots of regeneration may slowly be emerging in the badlands between Deptford and Old Kent Road where a new volunteer-run resource DIY Space for London is at the forefront.

I was there for A Celebration of the life and Music Of Thelonious Monk, essentially a gig and a film organised by Tome Records, a record shop based on the premises.

My mini-adventure paid off. Music was provided by Hard Evidence Trio, in the form of a fiery free-leaning interpretation of a sequence of improvised tunes that had recognisable Monk themes as their springboard. It wasn’t the dry, dusty formulaic music of the supper club or jazz brunch and it was all the better for that. It was the uncompromising sound of a mid-sixties Impulse set. Indeed, I was sure that I heard the ghost of Alber Ayler banging on the door, clamouring to be let in.

John Edwards (bass), Steve Noble (drums) and Adrian Northover (Soprano and sopranino saxes) make up Hard Evidence. They played with passion and displayed excellent musicianship. If you are open-eared enough to listen to music that ventures into that fantastic free space beyond the conventional chord changes you should seek them out. There’s a link here.

The live performance was followed by a showing of Straight No Chaser, a Monk bio-pic released by Clint Eastwood’s production company. I’d never seen this before and the glimpse it gave of the great man was, in parts, exciting, informative and occasionally sad.

Thanks to Tome Records for putting the evening on and good luck to DIY Space for London who are trying to do things differently with an eye to making a better world.

If you like what you have read, please touch or click on the ‘like’ box. Comments are also very welcome. downwithit.info contains over 150 individual posts about Modern Jazz, which can be found by using the search box at the top of this page or by making a selection of your choice from the list at the bottom of this page, where you will also find links to other blogs and websites.

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Looking ahead: A Concert for Alice and John Coltrane

This year marks 50 years since the passing of the great John Coltrane (and 10 years since that of his wife Alice Coltrane). On 18 November, a special commemorative concert is to be held at The Barbican in London.

It features a rare London appearance by Pharoah Sanders (hopefully accompanied by pianist William Henderson) with Denys Baptiste and Alina Bzhezhinska also performing on the bill.

The concert publicity says it will be:-

A three-part journey through the cosmos, celebrating the profound musical and spiritual legacy of two of the most influential figures in Western musical history: Alice and John Coltrane.

Tickets are currently available at all prices (as of 21st June 2017) at The Barbican Box Office here. At £35 or the best seats (and considerably less for others), I hope some of you will also be there.

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Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960: Thelonious Monk (Part Two- The thing itself)

Having told the story of how this fine Monk box set came my way, with only minimal embellishment (I didn’t actually see anybody buy the Diana Ross album), it is time to get down to business and write about how the recording came to be made and to express an opinion on the music and the overall package.

At the end of May 1954 Thelonious Monk, travelling alone, crossed the Atlantic, landing in Paris, where he had been booked to play in the ‘Salon du Jazz’ Festival. Kelley* records how Monk had been a Francophile since he studied French as a teenager and this was his first visit to a city that had loomed large in his imagination since those days.

The concerts were of mixed quality, partly due to the lack of familiarity with his work and performance expectations by local accompanists. However, the short Parisian sojourn, during which he first encountered and hung out with his great friend Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, also indirectly led to his involvement with the soundtrack for ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’.

Like so many visitors, Monk spent hours exploring the streets of the city on foot. He was accompanied by a local jazz fan, Marcel Romano who also enjoyed a good walk and who showed him around. He even catered for Monk’s niche interests and took him to a celebrated Parisian milliners where the hat-lover purchased a number of authentic Basque berets. Subsequently, Romano’s love for the music led to him rapidly becoming an influential figure in the French jazz world and five years later he had been engaged as musical director for Roger Vadim’s film of ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’.

Despite the friendship between Monk and Romano the realisation of the recording involved a tortuous and convoluted struggle to get Monk to contract to the project. Following the cancellation of a soundtrack recording session in Paris in the spring of 1959, Romano travelled to New York to try to make progress ahead of a deadline of 31 July.

In the sumptuous and informative 52 page booklet which accompanies the recording, Kelley explains that Monk suffered mental trauma at the end of April 1959 which led to his admission to a psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts where he was first given the anti-psychotic medication Thorazine (chlorpromazine), the start of a fifteen year period during which the powerful anti-depressant with multiple side-effects was proscribed to him. This and other distressing circumstances, outlined with understanding and eloquence by Kelley, reduced his capacity to focus on the soundtrack. Kelley also states that Monk knew that he had been cheated out of the fruits of his labours on many previous occasions and by 1959 he only really trusted his wife Nellie and his great friend and supporter Baroness Nica.

As the deadline loomed Romano through amazing persistence finally got Monk to sign the contract at dawn on 26 July and on 27 July the recording session took place.

The music:-

Monk had not given himself enough time to compose any substantial bespoke pieces and so the recording session mainly draws on songs from his existing repertoire.

The set opens with a lively version of Rhythm-a-ning that contains a particularly good piano solo from Monk. Although he first recorded the tune in 1957 on an art Blakey led session, Monk had been playing the tune, based on the I Got Rhythm chord changes since his early 1940’s days in New York.

As was his habit, Crepuscule With Nellie is played note for note as a recital piece although Brian Priestly highlights some improvisation contained within the ‘pianistic textures used’ in the two versions committed to this soundtrack.

Six in One is a very fine and sensitive ballad played on solo piano by Monk. A quick look though one of the more detailed discographies indicates that this is the first release of the track under this name (although if any readers know more, please tell us). A treasure, which was not used for the final cut of the film.

The first version of Well, You Needn’t brings the band back and a fine tenor solo from Charlie Rouse explodes from the left hand channel. It echoes the impact of John Coltrane’s solo from the version that appeared on Monk’s Music but isn’t as strong.

Side Two starts with three takes of Pannonica, the first two solo and the third a quartet version with Charlie Rouse on tenor. There’s something joyous and almost playful about Monk’s piano on this version.

Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are features the full quintet with saxophone solos, first a relatively restrained effort from Rouse and then a confident 22 year old Frenchman, Wilen who acquits himself very well in such esteemed company.

Light Blue is let down by a leaden drum pattern which is too much to the fore (we’ll encounter Monk’s efforts to enable Art Taylor to get it right on Side Four).

By and By (We’ll Understand It Better By and By) is a traditional gospel hymn, which is largely solo and delightful but somewhat short.

Side Three opens up with a further visit to Rhythm-a-ning, edited from an incomplete take. The horns sound great here.

The first take of Crepuscule with Nellie follows. This involves a trio of Monk, Rouse and Taylor with Rouse lightly mirroring Monk and Taylor offering some very muted brushwork.

An alternate quintet take on Pannonica follows with bass and drums playing a slightly different accompaniment.

A further quartet version of Light Blue, with Wilen sitting out, closes the side. The drums are slightly more restrained and played with a lighter touch here making it the better of the two versions, in my opinion.

Side Four presents an unedited the perfectly enjoyable take on Well, You Needn’t. It also includes over 14 minutes tracing the making of Light Blue which largely involves a tedious rehearsal of the drum pattern and which is likely to be of only of the most marginal interest to most listeners, except for the last couple of minutes when things start to come together.

The current release can be considered as being made up of three segments. Sides One and Two are made up of selections that appeared on an edited tape annotated by Romano and containing the titles heard in the film with the addition of Six in One. The Second disc comprises alternative takes that were rejected for inclusion on the soundtrack and a third element which is a final long track on Side Four which captures the tortuous gestation of the drum phrase for Light Blue. This shows that while Monk knew what he wanted, Taylor was struggling to capture his wishes.

The soundtrack was never released as an album, probably for copyright and contractual reasons. Indeed the tapes were lost, only to be found amongst the late Marcel Romano’s archives in early 2014. In the words of the producers, Feldman, Xuan and Thomas who played the tapes labeled Thelonious Monk: ‘The most beautiful findings are often made by accident.’

I’m most definitely of the camp which believes that the world cannot have enough quality recordings made by Monk and I am delighted to have obtained a copy. However, it is an album that is a wonderful addition to the recorded works and certainly not a substitute for Brilliant Corners and Monk’s Music which contain the best known examples of most of the tracks found on the Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 soundtrack. If you are interested in Monk’s work then you really should seek this out to listen to and I also commend Kelley’s book which is referenced below.

The Vadim film is readily available and although I cannot recall having seen it I will endeavor to do so before the end of the year. I may even include a postscript when I do so.

The overall package is an item to treasure and the sound quality for this stereo release ia excellent through my Rega RP6/Naim Uniti 2/Spendor SP2 system. Once again, I’m delighted that I obtained a copy.

The band etc: Thelonious Monk (piano); Charlie Rouse (tenor sax); Barney Wilen (tenor sax); Sam Jones (bass); Art Taylor (drums ). Recorded: July 27 1959. Session Engineer: Tom Nola. Record Produced: Zev Feldman, Francois Le Xuan & Fred Thomas. Studio: Nola Penthouse Sound Studios, 111 W 57th Street, New York City. Released: 22 April 2017. Cover photo: Arnaud Boubet. Booklet notes and essays: Zev Feldman; Laurent Guenoun; Alain Tercinet; Robin D.G. Kelley; Brian Priestly. Sam Records / Saga.

*Robin D.G. Kelley’s Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original: Free Press (New York) 2009.

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Les Liaisons Dangereuses: Thelonious Monk (Part One- the thrill of the chase)

All of a sudden! Unexpected news about a long-dead, favourite artist. Never before released on record, a complete studio session recorded for the soundtrack of a little-known French film is coming out as a limited edition. The initial release on vinyl will only stretch to 5000 copies worldwide and perhaps one of them may be available close to home. The catch is that the release is one of numerous special treats being made available to lovers of popular music on Record Store Day 2017. For sale from shop opening time on 22 April, on a first-come first-served basis, there can be no pre-orders and whether it can be obtained will depend on if it has been ordered and supplied locally. Of course, with that bridge crossed, there is also the nagging worry that somebody further up infront will be wanting a copy and will benefit from the civilised democracy of the queue.

So I joined the line outside Casbah Records in Greenwich, one of my local independent record shops.

The staff in Casbah are friendly and helpful. Whenever I drop in they always have a selection of new items that catch the eye, even though they are not usually from a musical genre that I listen to. Shops like Casbah are important and they add variety amidst the seas of conformity.

I took my cursory photo of the queue and waited for opening time. Unlike some shops which opened just after the stroke of midnight Casbah was far more relaxed with a very liberal start at 10.30am.

Chatting to two queue neighbours, I discovered that both were keen vinylistas. Both were a little cagey about their objects of desire but from what they were saying I guessed that they were unlikely to be after what I was on a mission to find.

The appointed time came and the queue moved slowly forward. After about 30 minutes we reached the threshold. I saw the Monk box set that I was hoping to buy on the wall. Good, I was close and in with a chance.

Then a woman ten places in front of me and holding a clutch of other albums asked for it to be taken down and handed to her. I had come so near to success only to have my hopes dashed in a cruel way!

She added it to her pile, as I tried to convince myself that whilst it was not to be, at least I had come close.

But it was to be! The would be purchaser cast an eye over her hoard before deciding that the copy of Les Liaisons Dangereuses was one item too many. I watched in anticipation as she passed it back to the assistant. The odds were that I was going to be successful.

The next few customers had other discs in mind and records by Bowie, The Grateful Dead, Diana Ross and The Doors were selected. It was my lucky day and within two minutes the record was bagged up and copy number 422/5000 was under my arm. I was pleased to witness the excitement of my queue-mates as they also made purchases and I wished them well as I left the shop.

Now here at downwithit.info we are firmly of the opinion that the best thing to do with jazz is to enjoy it. I’ve played both discs through it their entirety three times and I’m loving what I hear. I’ll write more here in Part Two, within the next few days, after a few more plays and close listens.

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Monk’s Music: Thelonious Monk

From time to time it takes me an age to write a post. Monk’s Music is a recording that is too good to hurry over but equally two months between posts is too much of a gap to be happy with. I’ve many other things to write about (not in the least the copy of Monk’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses which I managed to purchase on Record Store Day UK 2017 and which I will write about very soon). So here goes with a look at a one of the great works from a musical genius.

Recorded sixty years ago this year (2017), in his own 40th year, Monk’s Music is a masterpiece. The album was the product of a landmark recording session for which Monk engaged that trailblazer of jazz saxophone, Coleman Hawkins, alongside John Coltrane who was in the midst of a crucial, transformative phase and was yet to emerge as one of the key figures of modern jazz.

Although 1957 was to be his finest year, things had started very badly for Monk. In his definitive biography, Robin D.G. Kelley explains that during the 1956 Christmas holiday period Monk was involved in a minor car crash in New York City. Although nobody was physically injured, the incident caused Monk to suffer a mental breakdown, reception into custody for his own safety and an immediate admission as an inpatient at New York’s notorious Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital. He was resident for between two and three weeks before being discharged without a diagnosis.

The period in hospital sharpened his desire to work, earn some money and, crucially, to put together a sextet with three horns: “…the right amount of horns”, as he told Ira Gitler in mid-January 1957. First came a six-night engagement in Philadelphia, being driven back and forth from New York each night by his firm friend and supporter, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter.

Monk spent the next couple of months with his wife and children. He countered his depression with hours of practice on the fine Steinway baby grand piano that he had rented at the end of 1956 and shoe-horned into his apartment. When he was not at home he was at the Algonquin Hotel on West 44th Street, where Pannonica had settled and held an open musical salon in her suite. It was during this period that Monk and Coltrane began to work closely together. Monk became the saxophonist’s mentor as Coltrane attempted to improve his musicianship while struggling to overcome his addiction to heroin. Surely at that stage, the two artists could not imagine the legacies that each would go on to leave for us?

Along the way, in mid-April, Monk recorded another of his key works, Thelonious Himself, largely a solo work but with Coltrane and bassist Wilbur Ware contributing to a version of Monk’s Mood. A couple of days later Coltrane was fired by Miles Davis, who exasperated by Coltrane’s playing in the midst of withdrawal, may also have slapped and punched his band member. Apparently, this was witnessed by Monk who tried, without success, to intercede before offering Coltrane a job.

Their live partnership could not begin immediately as Monk was still without an all-important New York Cabaret Card which prevented him from playing in NYC. His card had been cancelled following a drugs bust several years before but his manager was working hard to get him a new one.

Just before the Monk’s Music session, his wife was admitted to hospital for treatment of an acute thyroid condition and this caused Monk an overwhelming sense of distress. In keeping with the adage ‘every cloud…’, the silver lining that was his gift to posterity was the beautiful Crepuscule With Nellie, which we will get to in a while. This was the product of sleepless nights, countless revisions and Baroness Nica’s suggestion that Crepuscule (the late Middle English word for twilight) was a better and more evocative alternative to evening for the title.

The recording begins with a short yet exquisite arrangement of Abide With Me. The hymn, which has a particular resonance for anybody who has attended an FA Cup Final was written by Monk’s namesake, British organist, William Henry Monk and entitled Eventide. Indeed there is a possibility that Monk may have made a connection with his own Crepuscule. This gem is only 55 seconds long and leaves this listener wanting more but very pleased with what has been served up in a short span.

Next up, Well, You Needn’t, starts with a swing before Monk calls on John Coltrane who delivers and exceptional solo which must have sounded like something from the future when the recording was released. The take extends to just under eleven and a half minutes and all of the musicians have space to solo.

Amongst Monk’s finest ballads, the recording of Ruby, My Dear presents a beautiful dialogue between Monk’s piano and Coleman Hawkins’ mellifluous tenor. The Ruby in question was Ruby Richardson, a significant girlfriend from Monk’s teenage years, which is when he first wrote the tune.

Off Minor has a jagged beauty that is full of surprises and is played with what my lack of theoretical musicianship leads me to venture to describe as a staccato angularity. In his sleeve notes for the 2010 CD reissue, Ashley Kahn notes that Kelley states that the tune is in G minor but that it ‘…never resolves to the tonic.’ This probably explains why it leaves us expecting something extra. The version used on the original release was the 5th take and the CD provides the bonus of an alternative version, the 4th take, which features strong though slightly less fluent and ‘worked out’ tenor and trumpet solos from Coleman and Copeland. We are lucky to have both to listen to.

Epistrophy was written by Monk and drummer Kenny Clarke in the early 1940s and it was to remain as an often visited staple of Monk’s repertoire (with Ted Gioia recording in ‘The Jazz Standards’ that over 50 recordings of the tune by Monk are known to survive). On Monk’s Music the version is a seamless splice of two takes with solos from each of the musicians starting with a fluent opening statement from Coltrane, before working through Copeland, Gryce, Ware, Blakey, Hawkins and finally Monk. Hawkins’ solo draws on his tenor’s lower register and is particularly full-bodied and robust, before Monk plays briefly and then ushers in the ensemble with an insistent caterwaul.

The afore-mentioned Crepuscule with Nellie closes the original recording. Kelley explains that unique amongst his recordings, Monk always played this without improvisation or embellishment. It is rendered as though the distilled feelings that he was conveying were sacrosanct and deeply personal. You can listen courtesy of YouTube:-

To play: touch or click on the arrow

On the CD there is an extra alternate edited version, which amalgamated the best of the 4th and 5th takes and is a welcome addition. I would venture that it possibly wasn’t selected as the master take as Blakey’s brushwork sounds a little intrusive.

As mentioned, in the lead-up to the session Monk had several sleepless nights due to worries about the poor state of his wife’s health and his search for perfection in the composition of Crepuscule. On the first day Art Blakey was an hour late and then took a further hour to set up his drum kit. Although a couple of unused takes of Crepuscule were recorded, Monk was exhausted and went home to sleep, with nothing that was used in the can. With precious studio time remaining, the other musicians rapidly rehearsed and recorded an improvisation on a Count Basie influenced blues written on the spot by Gigi Gryce. Blues For Tomorrow was subsequently released on a compilation under Coleman Hawkins name. It is fascinating to compare Hawkins solo to Coltrane’s, which he follows on from. Once again, playing in the tenor’s lower register, it almost sounds (to these ears) as though Hawkins is playing a baritone sax and he really makes the piece his own.

Monk was back next day, rested and ready to go. It was his session and he pushed his sidemen to deliver exactly what he wanted. Gryce had been tasked with arranging the horn parts and there was a gap between what he had written and what Monk had asked for. Kelley memorably recounts Monk saying to Hawkins and Coltrane:-
“You’re the great Coleman Hawkins, right? You’re the guy who invented the tenor saxophone, right?” Hawk agreed. Then Monk said to Trane, “You’re the great John Coltrane, right?” Trane blushed, and mumbled, “Aw…I’m not so great.” Then Monk said to both of them, “You both play saxophone, right?” They nodded. “Well, the music is on the horn. Between the two of you, you should be able to find it.”
Find it, they all did and the entire issued album was taped on 26 June 1957

With the session in the bag, the producer, Orrin Keepnews and label boss Bill Grauer felt that they had captured something special. Cover art was conceived but Monk hated what was proposed and was angry with the designer. The original idea was to feature a photograph of him wearing a monk’s robe, standing in a pulpit and holding a glass of whisky but Monk rejected it out of hand. He went to another part of the studio where he rested on the photographer’s trolley. The unposed image was a striking one and surprisingly Monk was happy to be photographed, adding his briefcase, music paper and a pencil and explaining that he had previously composed while sitting outside his home on his child’s wagon.

Monk got his cabaret card back in May 1957 and was booked into New York’s Five Spot venue from 4th July for what turned into a 6 month residency. He was able to honour his commitment to John Coltrane who joined him on the stage from Tuesday 16 July 1957. The classic album that is Monk’s Music was released in early 1958 and acclaimed as one of the year’s top five albums by Downbeat. I cannot recommend that you listen to it too highly. The session that produced Monk’s Music is exceptional so don’t miss the version supplemented by the additional tracks on CD.

Robin D.G. Kelley’s Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original was first published by Free Press (New York) in 2009. I am grateful to have benefitted from Kelley’s scholarship and insights and commend it as an essential purchase and great read for those who are interested in Monk.

The band etc: Thelonious Monk (piano); Ray Copeland (trumpet); Gigi Gryce (alto sax); John Coltrane (tenor sax); Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax); Wilbur Ware (bass); Art Blakey (drums ). Recorded: June 26 1957 (Blues For Tomorrow 25.06.57). Produced: Orrin Keepnews. Studio: Reeves Sound, New York City. Released: 1958. Cover photo: Paul Weller. Sleeve notes: Orrin Keepnews. Riverside RLP 12 242. Additional sleeve notes on CD release: Ashley Kahn 2010.

If you like what you have read, please touch or click on the ‘like’ box. Comments are also very welcome. downwithit.info contains over 150 individual posts about Modern Jazz, which can be found by using the search box at the top of this page or by making a selection of your choice from the list at the bottom of this page, where you will also find links to other blogs and websites.

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Horace Parlan: 1931 to 2017

I was sorry to learn of the passing of pianist Horace Parlan on 23 February 2017, aged 86. Over the last few years, I’ve heard and enjoyed much of his work. Since writing about him in 2014, in addition to other recordings by him, I have obtained and rate highly the two albums of traditional blues and gospel songs that he recorded with Archie Shepp and released on Steeplechase in the 1970s.

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Chris Batchelor, Mark Lockheart, Liam Noble, Steve Watts & Clive Fenner: Live at East Side Jazz Club: 21 February 2017

It was astonishing! Did they really play that? You must be joking. If I hadn’t witnessed the performance given by Chris Batchelor, Mark Lockheart and their pickup rhythm section of Noble, Watts and Fenner, I wouldn’t believe the breadth of material that was covered. Although it could have been a dogs breakfast, this gig at Leytonstone’s East Side Jazz Club was a feast of many flavours, which resulted in a memorable meal with ingredients from Hollywood, New Orleans, South Africa and New York blended and served up with brilliance.

Batchelor (trumpet) and Lockheart (tenor saxophone) had played together in the 1980’s as members of the British big band Loose Tubes in a lineup that was a who’s who of emerging talents. Despite the passing of the years and involvement in multiple projects as diverse as Microgroove and Polar Bear, they demonstrate a deep understanding and connection with each other in their musical dialogue.

The band eased into the set with Angel Eyes and if they hadn’t been heard sound checking with what could have been a lively John Coltrane blues, there would be reason to fear that they would not be straying too far from well-worn standards from the 1940s and 1950s. This was followed by Fat’s Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz from 1942, the first jazz waltz to gain widespread acclaim and a ballad which could have been either Mal Waldron’s Soul Eyes or Jimmy Van Heusen’s Nancy With The Laughing Face (although it could have been something else entirely- let me know if you know what it was).

Each number was given new life by the energy transfused into it by the two front men, before the fourth selection introduced a real element of surprise with Batchelor venturing back to the era of trad jazz with a Louis Armstrong tune. It wasn’t simply a case of getting away with an interesting anomaly as these musicians brought freshness to a style that I associate with a ancient breed of men playing on Sunday afternoons in dingy pubs, sometimes with banjos! (I may be unfair here). Any remaining sense of a set overly dependent on tired icons was well and truly smashed into clast fragments with an audacious version of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman. I’m not regular enough at East Side to state categorically that free jazz has never featured there but I’ll wager that Batchelor, Lockheart et al took us as close to the territory favoured at Dalston’s Cafe Oto as the Leytonstone Ex-Servicemen’s club may have ever been.

After the interval expectations were further confounded with two Thelonious Monk tunes, Bemsha Swing from Brilliant Corners and the later Ugly Beauty from 1968s Underground. The band tackled these with skill and aplomb before Batchelor introduced Ages Of Mali, a township jazz tune composed by the great Dudu Pukwana who he played with in Zila when he was 17. This brought back many memories of those stalwarts of the 1980’s London scene (from the audience response, I was not alone in my enjoyment) and a dedication to Zila’s singer, the late Pinise Saul who passed away in October 2016 followed.

A further shift in mood and tempo was crafted with Jobim’s smooth I You Ever Come To Me before Harry Beckett’s Harambee was chosen as the penultimate piece. Although I did not know Harry Beckett personally I gained the deepest respect for him as, despite his eminence as an artist, he worked with and shared his love of music with the rawest of raw beginners at the much-missed Lewisham Academy Of Music, a community project which worked with all-comers walking in from 1980 to 2000. Finally, the gig concluded with Come Ye Disconsolate, a traditional gospel anthem recorded by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, which you can listen to courtesy of Youtube:-

To play click on or touch the arrow

Once again, East Side Jazz Club presented the cream of British Jazz to spice up this quiet and unpretentious part of town and Clive Fenner and his crew are to be commended for their consistent hard work to ensure that the flag is kept flying. We’ll be back there again very soon.

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The Blackbyrds: Ronnie Scott’s 15 February 2017

Although 2017 is not a leap year, here at downwithit we’ve sprung like a feisty feline on the hunt. The great Donald Byrd has led us from The Catwalk to a sellout first night of a residency at Ronnie Scott’s, costing me more of a song than sixpence and featuring The Blackbyrds as the main course.

While working on my consideration of The Catwalk and explaining how I had first started to listen to Donald Byrd when his Best Of compilation was released in 1992, I noticed that his protégés, The Blackbyrds, were playing in London in mid-February. It took seconds to hit the club website and reserve a couple of tickets. A month passed quickly and a night on the town came along to add a bit of sparkle to a late winter’s evening.

There’s always a bit of a gamble involved in going to see bands that have reformed. The Blackbyrds did so in 2012 and feature three original members in the form of powerhouse vocalist and drummer, Keith Killgo, the mighty Joe Hall on six string electric bass and Orville Saunders playing a very funky guitar.

Any misgivings were left behind at the door and a satisfying starter was served up by saxophonist Christian Brewer and his band, Brewer’s Crew. Their lively jazz funk was well received by an appreciative audience out to enjoy themselves.

After a quick rearrangement of the small stage, the main course was delivered by an octet who paved the way with their anthem, Black Byrd, which you can listen to (in the form of the original featuring Donald Byrd) courtesy of Youtube:

To play click on or touch the arrow

After a great opener, one of my personal favourites, Dominoes, followed. It led onto a delicious smorgasbord of hits including Think Twice, Time is Movin’, the inevitable Walking in Rhythm, Do It Fluid and Happy Music, not forgetting the well-loved Rock Creek Park.

There isn’t a weak link in the current Blackbyrds line-up and it is very much in keeping with Donald Byrd’s legacy as a great and inspirational music educator, that they include young talent. Paul Spires on lead vocal has a unique voice that the smart money says we will hear more of, while the sax and flute duties were delivered without fault by Elijah Balbed, a recent graduate of Washington’s Howard University, where Donald Byrd formed the band in 1973.

As the set progressed, a trickle of members of the audience began to dance and that rapidly turned into a flood as The Blackbyrds infectious and tightly delivered songbook worked its magic. Although this is their first residency there, this will surely not be the last engagement at Ronnie Scott’s for The Blackbyrds.

The gig also offered the opportunity for me to say hello to Carl Hyde, the in-house photographer at Ronnie Scott’s. I have been aware of Carl’s work for some time and you can see a sample of it for yourself on his website.

All in all, another great night at Ronnie’s!

If you like what you have read, please touch or click on the ‘like’ box. Comments are also very welcome. downwithit.info contains over 150 individual posts about Modern Jazz, which can be found by using the search box at the top of this page or by making a selection of your choice from the list at the bottom of this page, where you will also find links to other blogs and websites.

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Coltrane Plays The Blues: John Coltrane


Are you one of the many fortunate readers who has reason to visit a barber or hairdresser? If you are and they are any good, take a moment to salute them. Maria at The Clipper keeps her scissors as sharp as how I think my hairstyle looks when I walk out through her salon door. Why start with this you may wonder? Well, the reason will become clear as you read on.

John Coltrane’s life was eventful though his star burned brightly and briefly, as he passed away at the age of 41. 1960 was a particularly busy and momentous year for him though. Giant Steps was released in late January and he spent March and April touring Europe with Miles Davis. During this tour he spent hours practising soprano saxophone (some accounts say that Miles Davis bought one for him in a Paris antique store although Coltrane also said that he has bought his own instrument earlier in the year after first starting to play on one that belonged to a fellow musician).

By May 1960 he had handed his notice in to Miles Davis and his own quartet opened a 9 week residence at the Jazz Gallery in New York’s Jazz Gallery (housed in a Greenwich Village building in which Leon Trotsky had briefly lived). On the first night, Thelonious Monk and a man dressed only in a loincloth and shouting ‘Coltrane, Coltrane!’ rushed towards the stage in salutation.

He recruited McCoy Tyner in the summer and later, in September he hired Elvin Jones, who he first met in 1957. On 21 and 24 October they went into the studios to record sessions which were to yield tracks for no less than four major albums (not including compilations and retrospectives).

Amongst them was Coltrane Plays The Blues. It is often overlooked by people exploring Coltrane’s discography, perhaps because the title may make it appear to be a generic career-spanning compilation rather than as a discrete work, recorded at one particularly important time in Coltrane’s development as a leader.

Blues To Elvin is as straightforward a blues as they come, except that we are in the company of masters, with solos from Coltrane and McCoy Tyner.

Coltrane plays his soprano saxophone on Blues To Bechet, opting for a pianoless trio with Tyner sitting out. Coltrane had been working towards mastery of his soprano saxophone, a horn previously seldom heard in a modern jazz context since the late 1950s. During that period he had visited the Blue Note offices to obtain copies of Sidney Bechet recordings (you can read about this, how Blue Train came to be recorded and the strange tale of the Blue Note office cat here).

Blues To You harks back to Giant Steps with busy Coltrane solo in which he is running through the chord changes.

Delivered at a brisk tempo, Coltrane leads out on Mr Day over a piano theme tastefully played by Tyner.

The identities of the three men that Coltrane honoured in the titles of the songs on side 2 of the original vinyl release are obscured. Messrs Day and Knight may be self-explanatory (probably relating to different times of day, although if you know anything more, please let us know). Mr Syms, however, could only be linked to an actual individual and my quest to uncover who this was resulted in a long unfruitful and frustrating internet trawl. It was only when I managed to consult Porter’s excellent book that I discovered that the Mr Syms that Coltrane had in mind was his barber in Philadelphia (although Sims was also the middle name of drummer Pete La Roca). So that explains the dedication of this review to my hairdresser. The solos from Coltrane echo elements of Summertime, version of which was recorded on the same day, in the same session, and appeared on My Favorite Things.

The highlight of the set, for me, is Mr Knight, a brilliant composition on which Elvin Jones’ drumming is of particular note. It can be enjoyed on YouTube courtesy of monomotapa15

To listen touch or click on the arrow.

The CD reissue delivers five extra tracks with two alternative versions of both Blues For Elvin and Blues To You with a further number known as Untitled Original which sits in contrast to the rest of the album with its modal feel.

Coltrane Plays The Blues is a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying recording which repays repeated listening and which deserves a place in any modern jazz collection. If you haven’t sought it out, you should. Of course, if you can prove to us that Mr Day and Mr Knight were people, rather than conceptual titles, please let us know without delay.

The band etc: John Coltrane (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); McCoy Tyner (piano); Elvin Jones (drums); Steve Davis (bass). Produced: Nesuhi Ertegun. Engineer: Tom Dowd. Recorded: Rudy Atlantic Studios, New York City. 24 October 1960. Cover Design: Marty Norman- Bob Slutzky Graphics. Released: 1962. Original release: Atlantic Records 1382.

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Beyond Now: Donny McCaslin

Spare a thought for the chameleon and, perhaps a little later, after reading further, some praise. Why? Because it was the chameleon that brought us here.

The changeling that I have in mind is the late David Bowie. His 2014 single release, Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) utilised a big band with Donny McCaslin to the fore on tenor saxophone. McCaslin was later to play on Bowie’s Blackstar (which contains a different rock version of Sue without much sax) where he was showcased with a solo on Dollar Days (and to a lesser extent I Can’t Give Everything Away).

Beyond Now was recorded in April 2016 following Bowie’s death in January 2016 and McCaslin states on the sleeve:-
“It was like a dream, except it was something that I could never have dreamed of. David Bowie was a visionary artist whose generosity, creative spirit, and fearlessness will stay with me the rest of my days. This recording is dedicated to him and all who loved him.”

Since the 1970s I’ve always been ready to listen to Bowie because he was a truly innovative and compelling artist. In mid-2014 I looked at a reprise of his Berlin songs recorded by Dylan Howe and it was my favourite contemporary set of the year for 2014. I’m therefore delighted that this jazz saxophonist who worked with Bowie has produced an album that he influenced. Beyond Now, which was released at the end of 2016, will be the first contemporary recording to be reviewed on downwithit.info in 2017.

Proceedings get underway with Shake Loose, a staccato funk piece that offers a great warm-up for McCaslin who covers the full range of his tenor saxophone, from high to low and back again with every stop in between. This could be a set opener as it certainly seizes the attention. I particularly enjoy the second phase, where things slow down a bit, the keyboards come in and longer notes are played.

McCaslin is content to operate as the lead accompanist on A Small Plot of Land, the first of two David Bowie tracks. Jeff Taylor supplies vocals on this ponderous version of a composition which was originally used as background to the funeral of Andy Warhol segment in the film Basquiat. The elegiac quality may possibly go some way to explaining why McCaslin chose to cover it here on an album recorded so soon after Bowie’s passing. It is a good choice, which repays repeated airings and which adds further layer of variety and texture to the album.

I need listeners to help me out on the title track, Beyond Now, as I think McCaslin is playing clarinet on the opening of this fine ballad. Jason Linder gets space to play a rather good piano solo here too.

Coelacanth 1 is a tune originally composed by Grammy Award nominated DJ and producer Deadmau5. McCaslin’s tenor paints a soundscape over long drone notes delivered from the keyboards. It is a contemplative piece in the style of so much that appears on ECM albums by the likes of Jan Gabarek.

On Bright Abyss McCaslin ranges over both the upper and lower registers of his tenor and shows that he is comfortable with the lower notes, which can often expose the limitations of lesser musicians.

McCaslin solos inventively over the increasingly frenzied straight ahead rock rhythms on FACEPLANT (uppercase sic). If Neil Cowley was to collaborate with a saxophonist, DMc would be a shoe-in for the job as this track has the same feel as some of the rockier pieces on Spacebound Apes.

With Warszawa, from Low, David Bowie and Brian Eno took us into new territory that seemed strange and somewhat challenging on a 1970’s rock album. Here, Donny McCaslin’s mournful tenor is played beautifully and this is a worthy homage to The Thin White Duke.

Glory builds slowly towards an engaging keyboard bridging section, before the saxophone comes in with overtones and sparkling upper register runs concluding with an exciting finish.

The Great American Songbook, that loose mishmash canon of jazz standards, is not known to have expanded to include the final track, but perhaps it should. Remain, originally written and recorded by Mutemath, is an exceptionally beautiful ballad, almost wistful in tone and the highlight of the album for me. It is just the sort of tune that Miles Davis could conceivably have chosen to cover in the twilight of his life. It is worth the price of admission to this set by itself. Although there are currently plenty of Donny McCaslin tracks on YouTube, at the time of writing, Remain was not one of them. However, you can hear a short slice of it on the album sampler:-

Treat yourself and play it now courtesy of YouTube. You won’t regret it.

To play, touch or click on the arrow

Donny McCaslin was born in 1966 in Santa Clara, California and was the son of a vibraphonist. He won a full scholarship to the world famous Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1984 before touring with Gary Burton’s band from 1987. In 1991 he replaced the eminent horn player, Michael Brecker in Steps Ahead and in 1998 he recorded the first of his 12 albums released to date. The Bowie link began when he was recommended by composer Maria Schneider and Bowie watched him and his band play in 55 Bar, New York City (which sounds like a must visit place in Greenwich Village).

downwithit.info will continue to cover selected contemporary CDs and Beyond Now has certainly got 2017 off to a great start. I wholeheartedly recommend this recording which has confirmed that David Bowie made an excellent choice of saxophonist for his last known projects. Cheers to The Chameleon for that and so much more!

The band etc.:- Donny McCaslin (tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, clarinet); Jason Linder (keyboards); Tim Lefebvre (electric bass); Mark Guiliana (drums); supported by: Jeff Taylor (vocals- track 2); David Binney (additional synths and vocals, tracks 5 & ); Nate Wood (guitar, track 2). Recorded 4-6 April 2016. Systems Two, Brooklyn, New York. Produced by: David Binney. Recording Engineer: Mike Marciano. Mixed by: Nate Wood. Cover photo: Jimmy King. Art Direction and Design: Rebecca Meek. Issued as Motema 234310.

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