Monthly Archives: September 2013

Rebirth Brass Band live at Ronnie Scott’s

A Friday gig preamble:- I know somebody who is a great storyteller (take a bow Tim).  He could spin a tale about watching the lawn grow and grip you with it.  He once told me about a live recording in which the American vocalist invited all the people in the house to shake their handkerchiefs.  Those of us listening laughed at the prospect of the seldom seen, often disgusting typical British handkerchief making an appearance in smart company.  We wondered why anybody would engage in such antics.  A couple of years later I saw the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, from New Orleans, perform at The Fillmore in San Francisco.  Not only did they have a dancer who encouraged us all to wave our handkerchiefs but he also sported a very fine umbrella, which made us all very jealous.  Apparently, it is a New Orleans thing.

Then there was Treme, an amazing, high quality American TV series from the makers of The Wire.  This was centred on New Orleans and largely seen through the lens of those involved in the music scene there as recovery from Hurricane Katrina began.  The series opens with the first street procession or ‘second line’ as the city starts to pick itself up and the band accompanying the revelers is the Rebirth Brass Band.  If you haven’t seen Treme do yourself a favour and grab the series sets.  I’d be surprised if you regret it.

I was delighted to learn that Rebirth were playing here this month and even happier when tickets for their gig at Ronnie Scott’s tonight were secured.

Rebirth Brass Band-2

The gig:-  The opening set was from The Gareth Williams Trio.  They played a short warm up performance which attempted to please the maximum possible number of viewers.  They managed to follow John Coltrane’s Giant Steps with a Cole Porter tune, after which it was time for the main act.

Featuring a tuba, two trombones, trumpet, tenor sax and two drummers, the Rebirth Brass Band played with verve and great energy.  They mixed musical tradition and old school marching band instrumentation with an earthy sense of funk.  Miles Davis’s Freddie Freeloader and I Got a Woman by Ray Charles were combined with Caravan and It’s All Over Now to transport the early Friday night crowd to the Big Easy.  Whilst I did contemplate purchasing a very fine pack of 5 blue handkerchiefs for a fiver in Brixton this lunchtime, the cash stayed in my pocket.  It didn’t matter as although this early-evening first set left few disappointed, the band seemed to be holding plenty in reserve for later.  No whirling handkerchiefs amongst the early crew!

Sadly, it was all over too quickly.  Back in the days when it was possible to see two sets from the main act at Ronnie’s, with the only extra expense being a late night, this would have been a band I would have paid that price for.  It’s just about midnight as I write this and they will be back onstage shortly-but I’m back at home.  I’m sure those celebratory handkerchiefs will be in order for this fine band after the witching hour.  As for me, it’s early to bed, to dream of imagined second lines and seeing the Rebirth Brass Band in a sweaty Crescent City club with space to dance.  I really must go to New Orleans one day!

 

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Mode For Joe: Joe Henderson

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Why should I bother with this:-  The track- Mode for Joe is wonderful.  Interesting line-up with vibes and trombone.  Amazing cover photography.  Branford Marsalis liked the album so much that he learned all of Joe Henderson’s solos by heart.  Challenging and varied; probably not recommended as an early addition to a new jazz collection- but it repays extended listening.

The band etc:- Joe Henderson (tenor sax); Lee Morgan (trumpet); Curtis Fuller (trombone); Bobby Hutcherson (vibes); Cedar Walton (piano); Ron Carter (bass); Joe Chambers(drums).  Recorded 27 January 1966.  Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Leonard Feather.  Cover photos: Francis Wolff.  Cover Design: Reid Miles.  Issued as Blue Note 4227.

The Music:-  Mode for Joe was recorded at the start of 1966 at a time of great change and dynamism, socially, politically and in jazz.  It represents Joe Henderson’s fifth and final Blue Note session as a leader in the 60’s, although he was to return with his excellent The State of The Tenor: Live at the Village Vanguard in 1985.  Written at a time when contemporaries were pushing deeply into free jazz, this one strains at the edges within clearly defined tunes.

It features an adventurous, non-standard lineup that extends to seven musicians, with vibes and trombone adding to the mix.   Some of the compositions will scare off the dinner jazz set as Henderson and Morgan veer towards free and expressive playing over complex rhythms.  Eight years earlier, Curtis Fuller had made a memorable contribution to the session which resulted in John Coltrane’s Blue Train and he is on fine form here too.

The opening track A Shade of Jade takes no prisoners with tenor sax and later trumpet delivering solos that sound like an urgent street corner dialogue of exaggerated points of view that the listener had better hear, or else!

The wonderful Mode For Joe is altogether more relaxed, a track of great beauty after an introduction to the tenor solo that verges on the sour.  Then we hear the vibes and trombone.  Pure sophistication.  I’ve Gilles Peterson (circa 1995) to thank for introducing me to this track.  Take a listen- what do you think of it?  (YouTube: courtesy of Andrew Jackson).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrTJd8lxH58

Black starts with a dramatic intro before heading off with a lively theme.  I probably would have sequenced this as the opening track for the album as it doesn’t frighten the horses.

Caribbean Fire Dance (YouTube: courtesy of 1blue1) has some great celebratory percussive rhythms driving things forward.  It is samba and more and a dancer could certainly make great use of it- must play it to a mate who is into salsa very soon (that’s you Pete).  Granted is straightforward hard bop while Free Wheelin’ closes the set with some delightful funk-tinged piano from Cedar Walton.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWdOj89hN1k

Leonard Feather provides the sleeve notes which are informative after he leaves behind his dig at Motown which was ruling the airwaves at the time.  He rejects “…the whanging guitars, adolescent lyrics and…massive accumulation of percussion” emanating from Detroit but then goes on to praise jazz alumni from Motor City, including Joe Henderson, Morgan and Curtis Fuller.  If you google Feather you will frequently find the term ‘acerbic’ in the articles you source but, because its nearly the weekend, I’m not going to be too hard on him here.

The cover:-  One of my all-time favorites.  I love the sequence of three photos of Joe Henderson: seemingly in conversation; contemplating and then taking a drag on his cigarette (sadly, Joe Henderson died of heart disease after suffering from emphysema in his final years).  Great portraiture fromFrancis Wolff though.

My copy of this album is on a CD which predates the 2003 digital remaster in the Rudy Van Gelder series, but which contains the alternative version of Black (also on the RVG collection).  CD’s of this great album cost from @£4.50 on Amazon, if you can put up with what the excellent London Jazz Collector calls ‘the evil silver disc’.  I would like a mint / near mint, vintage vinyl 1966 Blue Note first pressing-  but they seem to go for north of £90 at auction.

 

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A good excuse to write about Don Wilkerson’s ‘Preach Brother’

The pre-ramble:-  “It’s a funny old world”, as the late comedian Malcolm Hardee used to say.  After a late night getting ready to push the publish button on this blog, a mercifully quiet day at work followed.  Being within easy striking distance of Central London I was in Soho in a trice for a quick spin round the record shops on Berwick Street.  My main reason for going there was to see the pop-up shop put together to display some amazing Clash memorabilia to celebrate the launch of a new greatest hits collection.  Seeing the band’s guitars was on a par with seeing John Coltrane’s main tenor sax or Miles Davis’s original mouthpiece- although I’m sure neither of them would have scratched their names into their instruments as Mick Jones had done with his one of his guitars- a good way to get it back if it is nicked I suppose.

The gig:-  This set me up nicely for a Friday night in a nearby music pub where Chris Holland was celebrating his birthday with a gig.  By strange coincidence, yesterday’s post mentioned Billy Taylor and ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free’ (perhaps best known to most as ‘that filmnight theme tune’)and this was the second tune that I caught tonight.  The rest of the set took us from Professor Longhair and Dr John in New Orleans to Memphis and Booker T and The MG’s via Ray Charles (more of whom in a moment).  The band featured Chris Holland on electric boogie woogie funkified piano, bass, lead guitar, sax and drums played by aristocrats of the South East London music scene with Seamus Duplicate on a pared down Hammond MX3 organ.

downwithit 'Chris Holland' 'The Pelton'

It was a solo from the Hammond that lit up the venue and touched the parts that move and groove.  Highpoint for me was the Rolling Stones ‘Shine a Light on Me’, originally featuring Billy Preston.  It made me think of the night several years ago when he was due to play at The Royal Festival Hall with the remaining members of The Funk Brothers (the band that played on most of the classic Motown Hits).  He was indisposed and in a tongue in cheek manner the MC introduced a young substitute who used to play with touring soul bands in the 60’s.  It was a certain Mr Steve Winwood!  I’ve made a mental note to turn up the volume a tad when I listen to a Hammond set as it is a very fine and much maligned instrument.

The recording:-  All of that leads me on to the record under consideration.  I was going for something lower key.  However, a night of maximum RnB was missing only one key element- jazz tambourine- which appears with aplomb on Don Wilkerson’s ‘Preach Brother’.  Don Wilkerson was the tenor sax soloist on Ray Charles classics including: I Got a Woman and This Little Girl of Mine.  He was encouraged by Ike Quebec to record the first of three Blue Note sessions, of which “Preach Brother!’ was second.

I’ve never heard a Blue Note track quite like the opener of Side 2: ‘Camp Meetin’.  A rolling piano accompanied by tambourine is joined by a vocalist, whose ‘Weeeeeeeeeell at that old camp meetin…’ leads us in to a gutsy RnB tenor solo and Grant Green’s finger picking good guitar (there will be much more about Grant Green in future posts).

There’s a YouTube link to “Camp Meetin’ posted by groove addict here:-

The closing track on Side 1 ‘Dem Tambourines’ is another stormer but probably not for those of immobile feet and a gentle jazz disposition- who may like Sonny Clark’s wonderful piano on Pigeon Peas.  The link to ‘Dem Tambourines’ posted on YouTube by retrospeko follows:-

The band etc:-  Don Wilkerson (tenor sax); Grant Green (guitar) Sonny Clark (piano); Butch Warren (bass) Billy Higgins (drums).  Recorded: 18 June 1962.  Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Dudley Williams.  Cover photo: Reid Miles.  Issued as Blue Note 4107.

What a graphically strong cover, by the way!

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The Sound of Soul- Phyl Garland

The Sound of Soul was published in 1969.  It was written at a point when Stax and Motown had broken through and were well established in the charts.  Phyl Garland questions how deeply ‘…soul music has penetrated the core of modern America and how did it all come about?’

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The first half of this short and very readable book is concerned with the origins of the soul sound.  Phyl Garland is explicit in stating that she is not presenting a ‘…scholarly treatise in sociology or musicology’.  Rather, she seeks to entertain and inform those who like soul music and who want to know more of where it emerged from and of the ‘… gifted people who create and perform it.’  As a black woman, she states that she is not attempting to achieve ‘Olympian Objectivity’ but that she writes from a black perspective and concentrates on the work of black musicians because she views them as ‘the most vital factor’ in the development of the music.  She is well aware that many white and British groups drew heavily from soul but makes a strong case for concentrating on the originators rather than the partial popularisers.

The second half of the book presents contemporary late 60’s examples of a living and developing music with longer feature pieces on BB King; a fascinating visit to the Stax Studio in Memphis on a working day; an in-depth and illuminating interview with Nina Simone and an appraisal of Aretha Franklin.  Garland then turns to soul in jazz, interviewing Billy Taylor (perhaps best known as the composer of ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free’ but also as a prolific jazz pianist and educator) before offering an appreciation and requiem for John Coltrane.

Published in Chicago by Regenery, The Sound of Soul is long out of print but you will be able to obtain a copy from AbeBooks or Amazon without breaking the bank.

I first came across Phyl Garland earlier this year when I started to think about this blog.  Having selected Down With It! for the first posting (and blog title) I read the sleeve notes.  I wasn’t expecting much.  Blue Note sleeve notes are a mixed bag.  Leonard Feather’s musings on the back of Lee Morgan’s ‘The Sidewinder’ are informative if you are into musicianly technicalities but are bone-dry and out of keeping with the excitement of the album contained within.  So it was without any great expectation that I started to read her clarion call to listen carefully and enjoy but not to over-analyze or seek to confine jazz to an exclusive cerebral gated community.

Further research confirmed that Professor Phyllis Garland was a remarkable and inspirational person.  She was the first woman and the first African American to gain tenure at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.  This followed on from a distinguished career as a journalist and writer with Ebony Magazine and as a reporter and editor on The Pittsburgh Courier from 1958 to 1965.  She was also a participant activist in the civil rights movement.  There’s a full obituary at: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/obituaries/obituary-phyllis-garland-journalism-professor-at-columbia-university-458744/  and her enthusiasm for the music was indicated by her annual listening parties, held for her students at her Eighth Avenue apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village where she played music from her massive collection of jazz and other genres.

Phyl Garland also wrote sleeve notes for Let ‘Em Roll by Big John Patton and Jackie McLean’s Right Now which were both released on Blue Note and for Booker T and the MGs 1969 album- The T Set. In addition, I understand that a Phil Garland may have written the notes for a Smokey Robinson set that Freddie Roach may have contributed one of his last recordings on. I must check that one out in due course.

 

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Down With It!: The Blue Mitchell Quintet

Why should I bother with this?  There’s the great trumpet playing of Blue Mitchell; engaging piano from a young Chick Corea; a varied set from hot jukebox to cool Latin and bossa, and a fine ballad.  The whole package is complemented by exceptional sleeve notes from Phyl Garland, who offers up a counterblast to elitist critics and writers who seek to confine the music to a cerebral ghetto (and who ain’t got an iota of funk in ’em).

The band etc:-  Blue Mitchell (trumpet); Junior Cook (tenor sax); Chick Corea (piano); Gene Taylor (bass); AlFoster (drums).  Recorded 14 July 1965.  Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Phyl Garland.  Cover photo: Reid Miles.  Issued as Blue Note 4214.

This was Blue Mitchell’s second session to be released on Blue Note (although his earliest Blue Note session as leader, from 1963, was released in 1980 as ‘Step Lightly’).  Junior Cook and Gene Taylor has previously been in Horace Silver’s Quintet with BM.

The music:-  ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers’ was originally recorded by Tommy Tucker.  To date it has been recorded by over 1,000 bands and artists and it is hard to imagine a better version (though Grant Green and Ramsay Lewis both come close with slightly different stylings).  Blue Mitchell heard it being performed by an RnB group in a Pittsburgh club and decided to give it a soul jazz makeover.  Junior Cook solos first before Blue takes things on over a tight rhythmic background.  Chick Corea plays a delightfully restrained solo before the band return to the head.  ‘Perception’ exudes Latin-tinged cool with Chick Corea getting space and time after BM and Cook.  ‘Alone, Alone and Alone’ was written by a Japanese trumpet player, Terumasa Hino who gave the tune to BM when he was playing in Tokyo.  For me it inhabits the same territory as ‘After The Rain’ and ‘Central Park West’ and conjures up images of a lazy Sunday in Manhattan.

Side Two opens with ‘March on Selma’.  Phyl Garland noted that this was not directly linked to the civil rights movement and this intrigued me.  Her comment led me to Google because I thought this striding theme may have been about a sassy 60’s metropolitan woman.  I was wrong.  The three civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama represented a watershed in the fight for black voter registration in the southern states.  The first march was broken up with great viciousness on ‘Bloody Sunday’ 7 March 1965 by State Troopers deploying tear-gas and truncheons.  Within 48 hours solidarity demonstrations took place in 80 American cities and Dr Martin Luther King flew to Selma to lead a second and finally third successful march to Montgomery.  The resulting Voting Rights Bill became law within a month of this recording session.  Linked or not, the tune has an irrepressible sense of optimism and momentum.  ‘One Shirt’ is a gently paced Latin workout ahead of the closing Bossa Nova of ‘Samba de Stacy’, both tunes written by William Boone, an old friend of Blue Mitchell’s from his hometown of Miami.

I was delighted to get my hands on a near mint stereo early pressing of this LP on 25 October 2013, for a fair auction price from a nice American who sells records on eBay. The absence of a Plastylite ‘ear’ confirmed that I do not have a first pressing and I was expecting the sound to have a little more presence and brightness. Given the title of the blog I had to get it and I may even seek out a mono version in due course (see post dated 8 January 2015 here).

Sadly, the YouTube link to ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers’ has been blocked (however, you may find a working link with my update on this post here). However, as of 4 Sept 2014 the link to ‘March on Selma’ posted by on YouTube by Roger rogerjazzfan is still available.

Phyl Garland’s sleeve notes really spell out where I will attempt to go in this blog, so no apologies for closing with an extensive quote:-

 “Of late, a certain dangerous myth has sprung up around this country’s most original and underrated art form.  It is that jazz, in order to be good, must be separate, exclusive and decidedly inaccessible, except for those few who approach it with a mystic’s vague abstraction.  This brand of thinking has been perpetuated by a cerebral cult that has all but analyzed the life out of the music and has tended to downgrade a musician once he has made the mistake of becoming too popular… …Fortunately the music has continued to thrive, far from the hue and cry created around it; and there remain enough eager listeners who refuse to be frightened away by all the bugaboo, selecting their sounds with open minds and uncluttered ears.

 Yes, its about time someone started extolling those whose music CAN readily reach a great many people, easily enveloping them in its warm spirit, inciting them to spells of foot-tapping and finger-popping.”

 

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