Monthly Archives: January 2015

Brilliant Corners: Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk Brilliant Corners

The music of Thelonious Monk is as fresh and, for many of us, as challenging as it was when it was first brought into the world, in the middle years of the last Century. Brilliant Corners, described by some as the album on which Monk broke through from relative obscurity, is a good place to start.

The jagged genius and complexity of the time signature changes of the first piece, which gives the set its title was such that it proved extremely difficult to capture. At a time when most jazz was recorded in a single take and often with minimal rehearsal, the track was only completed after 25 takes, two of which were spliced together to make up the finished piece. The sleeve notes, written by the producer, Orrin Keepnews tell us: “These men worked hard. They struggled and concentrated and shook their heads over some passages with those half-smiles that mean: ‘Hard? this is impossible!'”

Things get more straightforward after this. If you want to listen to the epitome of Jazz-blues look no further than Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues Are. The only pity is that Charlie Parker’s untimely demise meant that he wasn’t around to cut a version of this. There’s an extraordinary dialogue between Monk and Pettiford as his bass solo commences and leads into a brief visit to Roach on drums.

Pannonica was written for Monk’s soul mate and patron, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter who played a major part in encouraging the emerging New York Modern Jazz scene. Her story is a fascinating one. Monk plays celeste (with his right hand) and piano (left hand) on an exquisite piece. I’m not quite sure about the celeste or the main horn voicings but it is certainly a distinctive track which stands out.

I Surrender Dear is Monk delivering a piano solo version of a standard tune which was largely responsible for Bing Crosby coming to prominence in the early 1930’s. This track was recorded as a filler- with Monk playing a tune that he liked. Apparently he was recorded playing a half hour version of this while resident pianist at Minton’s in the 1940’s. He loved the recording so much that he wore it out by playing the master copy over and over, so much so that the quality had diminished to the extent that it was un-salvageable for public release. Ted Gioia rightly intimates that posterity can only rue the loss of an early performance by Monk that the man himself was mesmerised by.

Bemsha Swing is wonderful, drawing on the amazing skills of the full band and creating something ever vibrant, exciting and new. Max Roach’s kettle drums add greatly to this track. Incidentally, Ted Gioia says that ‘Bemsha’ is a nickname for Barbados and is probably explained by co-composer Denzil Best’s Barbadian roots. The track is reproduced here on YouTube courtesy of Master Exelpud:

This album was featured as Classic Album Sunday’s choice in London on 1st February 2015. The first two tracks were played from the rare Analogue Productions 45 rpm audiophille pressing on their muscular high-end system (boasting a huge Audio Note Jinro power amplifier and massive Klipschorn speakers you could make a small house out of). The sound was exceptional and I was particularly impressed on this snapshot, one-off listen by the way Sonny Rollins tenor and Oscar Pettiford’s bass were reproduced. The second side was brought to us via a white label UK test pressing and that had an altogether different quality. It sounded much more compressed and muddier over the same system. I was disappointed by Max Roach’s crucial kettle drum sound on Bemsha Swing on this pressing and the Analogue Productions version easily won this head to head, to my ears at least.

I enjoyed this ClassicAlbumSundays event, which featured a brief intro from Coleen of CAS and a short interview with the proprieter of Gearbox Records who are putting together a list of previously unreleased jazz performances which may soon be further strengthened by a previously unreleased Scandinavian recording of Monk. I’m not sure it added to my appreciation of this great record but I certainly appreciated the clash of the pressings. I reckon I could just about fit the Klipschorns into my parlour.

I’m not sure about the exact date of release in 1956 or 1957, although the final session date of 9 December 1956 suggests that, given production, mastering and pressing, an April 1957 date is the most plausible.

The band etc: Thelonious Monk (piano, celeste on Pannonica); Ernie Henry (alto sax on Brilliant Corners, Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues Are & Pannonica); Sonny Rolins (tenor sax); Oscar Pettiford (bass on Brilliant Corners, Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues Are & Pannonica); Max Roach (drums *timpani on Bemsha Swing); Clark Terry (trumpet on Bemsha Swing); Paul Chambers (bass on Bemsha Swing). Recorded: Oct 9 & 15 & December 7 1956. Produced: Orrin Keepnews & Bill Grauer. Studio: Reeves Sound Released: April 1957. Cover photo: Paul Weller. Sleeve notes: Orrin Keepnews. Riverside RLP 12 226.

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Got A Good Thing Goin’: Big John Patton

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After the disappointment of the last recording I reviewed, I turned a sure-fire winner with this 1966 sixth set as leader from Big John Patton. With five of these first six already in my collection, surprisingly, it has taken me some time to write about one of them.

With support from Grant Green’s guitar Hugh Walker’s drums and Richard Landrum’s congas, Got A Good Thing Goin’ is a soul jazz outing, based firmly on the blues.

The Yodel gets matters underway. I could see this track working very well as part of that DJ set in my mind. The cool dancer wearing sun shades on the cover shows us just what to do, the very image of a Soul Woman (London, Ready, Steady, Go! division).

I love Motown and Ain’t That Peculiar is one of countless tunes that gets my heart beating just that bit faster. Grant Green’s playing is particularly good on this track. I’m not sure who is on the tambourine but in the right place, like here, it really cuts through the other instruments to add extra zest- and it is an essential ingredient of the Motown sound.

Shake, penned by Sam Cooke but popularised by Otis Redding simmers. Let’s take a look courtesy of YouTube:

Duke Pearson’s Amanda from Wahoo (a set that I am currently chasing) brings this strong and fresh sounding session to a close. Some records need repeated plays to get into but this has an immediacy which made writing this review a pleasure. I suppose it could be described as a concept album- the plan is you put it on your system, play it through, get happy and possibly even dance. After yesterday’s woeful diversion into semi-ELP territory, even the hi-fi seems cleansed and happy. Every home should have a copy!

The band etc: John Patton (organ); Grant Green (guitar); Hugh Walker (drums); Richard Landrum (conga). Recorded: 29 April 1966. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Alan Grant. Cover photos and design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note 80731.

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Ornithophobia: Troyka

What is no secret, dear reader, is that here at downwithit.info the Hammond Organ is highly valued. What has been hidden from you, until now, is that I once went to see Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I was sixteen. Thankfully, we are all permitted a few youthful mistakes and indiscretions. Beyond harbouring Pictures In An Exhition and Tarkus in my record collection for a couple of years, that was just about the limit of my excursions into hippy prog rock. The genre turned into a circus, on ice in the case of Rick Wakeman and his tales of Tudor royalty. Then Great Punk War broke out, the right side won and the pomp rockers went off to Switzerland to spend their royalties and receipts.

When I initially heard that Troyka were a trio and included a Hammond in their instrumentation I was keen to hear them as soon as possible and got my hands on a review copy. It was only later that I discovered that Ornithophobia was a concept album that leaned towards progressive jazz-rock rather than Jimmy Smith and Big John Patton. I was dismayed. Whilst plenty of modern jazz artists wanted to play like Bird and the great Donald Byrd cut a succession of fine albums, nobody has ever delivered a set concerning the virus induced transmogrification of men into birds, until Troyka turned up with this.

However, I had promised to listen and I did. Several times in fact.

Suffice to say that there is little on the album that fits comfortably with anything else I’ve written about on downwithit.info Indeed, there are some Hammond power chords and sounds that have lain dormant since the mid-seventies when Keith Emerson used knives to sustain long notes on his Hammond and Rick Wakeman wore a silver cape.

I can’t find much that is positive to say (except that the last track, Seahouses, is a pleasant piece). So I won’t try. Next month’s contemporary Jazz album is bound to fit better here. You can bet the farm on that!

The band etc: Kit Downes (Hammond & synths); Chris Montague (guitars); Joshua Blackmore (drums). Recorded at Eton College and On The Record Studios. Produced: Peter Eidh and Troyka. Released: 26 January 2015. Naim Records.

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Soon to happen: Brilliant Corners at Brilliant Corners

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Regular visitors may have read about the visits that I made to Macclesfield Record Club last Autumn. If you want to recap, my account of my September visit is here and November is here.

Macclesfield Record Club is very enjoyable and, wanting to find out if there was anything similar in London, I did a little digging and found out about Classic Album Sundays (CAS).

CAS appears to be very different from the Macc setup. It has a presenter, a cover charge, a high-value / high-end hi-fi for playback and a requirement that people listen without talking, phoning, texting or distracting others. I missed a non-Jazz session that looked extremely interesting just before Christmas and I was keen to take a look some time, as soon as possible, this year.

I was delighted to discover that on 1st February 2015, the chosen record will be Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners. It was an inevitable selection really because the venue, a cafe bar in London’s Dalston district, is also called Brilliant Corners. Tickets have just gone on sale and you can obtain them from the Classic Album Sundays website here.

I’ll be hoping to report back about CAS in due course. I’m intrigued to find out both how Monk’s great Riverside set will come across and how it will sound on the powerful and exotic system that they are advertising. Stay tuned!

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An update: Down With It!: The Blue Mitchell Quintet.

No prizes for guessing that my first post here at downwithit.info in September 2013 took a look at the Blue Mitchell set entitled… …Down With It! You can read what I thought about this fine set here.

Shortly after writing the post I bought what at the time I thought was an original first stereo pressing of the LP. It didn’t break the bank and I was a little dissatisfied with the sound quality. It was good but I was expecting a lot more. Then a little research confirmed that what I had was indeed an early issue- but not a first pressing. There was no Plastylite ‘ear’ for a start. I was disappointed but determined to obtain a good quality mono first pressing without paying silly money.

Over the last year or so I’ve bid for a number of copies on eBay, without success. I took another look on New Year’s Day, not particularly expecting to find what I wanted.

Oh me of little faith! I was wrong. An American dealer was auctioning a copy which he advertised as a conservatively graded VG+/Ex stereo copy, but which clearly had the mono serial number (BLP 4214, not the BST 84214 that a stereo copy would have on the label) in the accompanying photo. Everything else indicted that this was the first pressing that I was after.

The entry price was moderate and the cover was fully intact but a bit discoloured (I’d grade it as VG).

I was successful and paid well under the not over-large sum that I had set my snipe at. It arrived today and I’m delighted. It has all of the presence and clarity that I’d hoped for first time round and an independent listener confirmed in a blind test that it sounded better than my stereo copy. Indeed, things may get even better as it is off to the vinyl shop for a spin on their high-quality disc washing machine tomorrow.

So there’s much rejoicing tonight in the land of downwithit.info and as there’s currently a version of the excellent Hi-Heel Sneakers from the set on youtube (courtesy of Antonio Jiminez) you can have a listen (until it gets removed from youtube again):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAoLPw-Fh0c

To listen, touch or click on the arrow.

I really should add that March On Selma and Alone, Alone and Alone are superb tracks which you really should make time to listen to.

In 2014 I took a look at 26 classic Jazz albums. There’s a shortcut to a summary page here.

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Blue Spirits: Freddie Hubbard

Blue Spirits Freddie Hubbard

Recorded over two sessions in early 1965 and on CD supplemented by a further two tracks from early 1966, Blue Spirits was Freddie Hubbard’s last studio release on Blue Note and it wasn’t an album that I had come across very often in the shops. However, some good came out of a trip to a football match in Manchester, when I picked this up at Vinyl Exchange.

It then languished unplayed and neglected in my workbag until Christmas. This was a mistake as it is a very fine album. Without further ado, take a listen to the opening track, Soul Surge from YouTube, courtesy of Rogerjazzfan.

To play touch or click on the arrow

There’s a division in fans of Blue Note between those who enjoy Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder and those who speak dismissively of the number of similar tracks that opened subsequent albums by a host of other artists in the hope that they could replicate its success. Soul Surge is one of those tracks, but it is a wonderful piece of music in its own right. Indeed it is one of those pieces that should probably have gained standard’ status but never quite made it. Harold Mabern on piano and Joe Henderson make their mark and conga drummer, Big Black combines delightfully with bassist Larry Ridley.

The same lineup play on the fourth track, Cunga Black. This has a Latin feel and Hubbard stated that he was looking for a dark sound, although I wouldn’t characterise it with that quality.

The second session from late February 1965 yielded the title track, Blue Spirits, which seems to open like a subdued version of Silent Night, before lightening up with the introduction of James Spaulding on flute.

Outer Forces strikes on with a lively feel and pace, while Jodo (‘pure land’ in Japanese) also swings along in a funky way. All fit well with the two tracks from earlier in the month, despite a change of rhythm section and tenor saxophonist with Hank Mobley sitting in here.

The original vinyl release was made up of the five tracks above. However the CD offers a further two tracks from a session in early March 1966, where Joe Henderson returns on tenor, with pianist, Herbie Hancock and Elvin Jones, joined by Reggie Workman on bass and the lesser known Hosea Taylor (alto sax and bassoon). The Melting Pot is more of a modal piece than its predecessors from the previous year. True Colors has a freer, more experimental feel, especially in the solos, and interesting use is made of Hancock’s celeste and it is very different from the rest of the CD. However, both tracks retain a strong sense of cohesion and, in the playing is restrained and confined to the normal range of each instrument.

Bob Blumenthal’s notes accompanying the RVG CD release state: ‘While often overlooked, Blue Spirits is one of the greatest albums in Freddie Hubbard’s voluminous discography.’
It is an album that I’m enjoying very much and one on which the talents of an array of great Blue Note artists are deployed in a wondrous way. All in all, yet another fantastic Blue Note set that is well worth tracking down.

The band etc:-
19 February 1965: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet); James Spaulding (alto sax & flute); Joe Henderson (tenor sax); Kiane Zawadi (euphonium); Harold Mabern (piano); Larry Ridley (bass); Clifford Jarvis (drums); Big Black (congas). On: Soul Surge & Cunga Black (tracks 1 & 4)
26 February 1965: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet); James Spaulding (alto sax & flute); Hank Mobley (tenor sax); Kiane Zawadi (euphonium); McCoy Tyner (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass); Pete La Roca (drums). On: Blue Spirits, Outer Forces, Jodo (tracks 2-5)
5 March 1966: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet); Joe Henderson (tenor sax); Hosea Taylor (alto sax & bassoon); Herbie Hancock (piano, celeste); Reggie Workman (bass); Elvin Jones (drums). On: The Melting Pot, True Colors (tracks 6-7)
Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded 19, 26 February and 5 March 1966. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Sleeve Notes: Nat Hentoff. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Design Reid Miles. Tracks 1-5 Originally issued as Blue Note BST 84196

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Classic Albums on downwithit.info in 2014

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Happy New Year to all visitors, new and old. Here’s my 100th post on downwithit.

I still have an unfinished task from 2014 which is to look back at all the classic sets that I reviewed here in 2014. By classic I mean anything other than a new release so there are one or two sets from the present millennium included here. A quick count indicates that I wrote about 26 of these albums in 2014, so I think I can conclude that I wasn’t idle, especially given that I also wrote about a number of contemporary sets and offered up some live reviews.

What follows may be a bit of a trudge through a list, but I have linked to all the reviews and if any catch your interest, please click and take a look.

On NYD 2014 I started with a bang by taking a look at John Coltrane’s Blue Train, one of my all-time favorites that I urged everyone to obtain and listen to if they hadn’t done so already.

This was followed up by Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and a track that inspired numerous imitations.

My January postings dipped into dinner jazz in the form of Grover Washington Jr’s All The King’s Horses and British hard bop from the 1980’s UK jazz revival via Tommy Chase and Groove Merchant.

Thoughts of Tommy Chase led downwithit.info into fresh territory and I decided to devote some time to exploring the current scene, which was something that I really enjoyed during the course of 2014. If you want a recap of the newly released albums that I reviewed last year, they can be found here and my trawl of live performances is referred to here. I’m not sure if my ramblings have encouraged the purchase of a single album or attendance at any gigs but if they have, please leave a comment and let me know.

I wrote five reviews in February 2014 opening with Horace Parlan’s piano trio set Movin’ And Groovin’. I followed this up with Johnny Griffin’s Big Soul Band. I wavered about posting on that one because I thought that it was something of a departure from the classic small band context and that it would not fit- but it seemed to be OK and remains a popular review according to my stats.

Fred Jackson’s great Hootin”N Tootin’ was next up. At the time, I checked Wikipedia which did not give a date of death. Hopefully Fred still is with us and is enjoying a peaceful retirement at the grand age of 85 years old. If anybody knows more, please tell us.

A further less well-known Blue Note set, John Jenkins With Kenny Burrell was placed in the spotlight, before I took a look at Thembi by my favourite living saxophonist, Pharoah Sanders.

March 2014 saw me take an overdue look at Yusef Lateef (more to come in 2015) and Jazz Mood, his first set as a leader from 1957. The Cats, a fine session featuring John Coltrane followed and I made my first visit to a Grant Green recording on these pages with Grant’s First Stand.

In April, I brought news a a real gem: Heavy Sounds by Elvin Jones and Richard Davis, another set to listen to even if you have to beg steal or borrow. A slow journey north up the motorway system led me to grapple with Bobby Hutcherson’s Happenings. The same trip north gave me time to take a look at The Hot Club Of San Francisco’s Veronica and I got hold of a copy of Jimmy Smith’s lacklustre a less then incredible Softly As A Summer Breeze.

In May Sonny Clark’s Sonny Clark Trio was followed by another Sonny in the form of Sonny Rollins On Impulse, which sounds like a compilation album but isn’t. Later in the month, my local second-hand record store yielded up a copy of John Coltrane’s Ole.

I took another look at Grant Green with his lesser known Iron City, featuring a strong version of Hi-Heeled Sneakers, before returning to Blue Note and Harold Vick’s Steppin’ Out and later in September with Joe Henderson and Inner Urge.

I took the view that Archie Shepp and Dollar Brand’s Duet was slightly spoiled by Shepp’s poor sax technique on a couple of tracks, but I enjoyed Hank Mobley’s great Roll Call, Grant Green’s Green Street and Freddie Hubbard’s Ready For Freddie.

2014 was the year in which a bit of research yielded some more answers about Freddie Roach’s later years and I shelled out for a first pressing of All That’s Good which turned out to be much better than a shocking review suggested it would be.

I’ve already got a the first few reviews for 2015 in mind, so please come back soon and see what I’ve been listening to and remember that comments are most welcome.

One New Year’s Resolution– the quality of the photography at downwithit must improve. No excuses!

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