Monthly Archives: August 2015

True Blue: Tina Brooks

Tina Brooks True Blue

I’m surprised that I have not written about True Blue before now. My recent acquisition of an excellent Music Matters copy on vinyl presents me with an opportunity to put that right though.

In 2001 in Blue Note Records: The Biography, Richard Cook wrote: ‘This is one of the forgotten masterpieces of the Blue Note catalogue.’ Thankfully, diligent work from Michael Cuscuna and a series of reissues has made this gem readily available.

Tina Brooks was one of a select group of female artists who played on the New York scene and were recorded by Blue Note.

No he wasn’t! His actual name was Harold and Tina was a childhood nickname, deriving from ‘tiny’ or ‘teeny’. Although he recorded four self-led sessions with Blue Note between 1958 and 1961, True Blue was the only recording issued with him as leader in his lifetime. He played on notable sessions with Jimmy Smith and Kenny Burrell but it has been suggested that, with a reserved and shy demeanour, he didn’t push his own case sufficiently well with Blue Note for the label to issue strong sets including Minor Move and Back to The Tracks (which are both in my collection). He never recorded again after 1961 and played local gigs in The Bronx. TB died in obscurity in 1974 after a life marred by drug-related illness. He was a contender who, perhaps, could have been a king. There’s a piece entitled ‘Who killed Tina Brooks’ which you can find if you want to know more- but I’ve not linked to it here as those in the know have suggested that it is unjust in its criticism of TB’s treatment by Blue Note.

Good Old Soul is the first of five Tina Brooks compositions here. It has a slinky feel about it and an extended solo from TB which shows his command of his tenor. A 22 year old Freddie Hubbard is also on fine form here too, as is Duke Jordan on piano.

Up Tight’s Creek bops and bustles along and after a bright trumpet solo from Hubbard, features a fluent tenor contribution. Duke Jordan’s piano is also worth pausing to listen to.

Theme for Doris is a mid-paced piece that is pleasing and again showcases TB’s inventiveness as a soloist.

True Blue opens the second side of the set. To these ears there’s something that conjures images of Sixties city architecture, all concrete, glass and straight lines- in the most unlikely event that I produce a TV documentary about The Barbican, you now know part of the soundtrack. What do you think (courtesy of YouTube)?

To play touch or click on the arrow

Miss Hazel is a conventional hard bop piece with another flowing tenor solo followed by Hubbard and Jordan.

Nothing Ever Changes My Love for You is the only standard tune here. Written by Jack Segal and Marvin Fisher, it had been a hit for Nat King Cole in 1956.

There is a collection of Tina Brooks complete works available on Mosaic. When compiling this Michael Cuscuna went to Freddie Hubbard, whose career had flourished. His memories of Tina Brooks were warm ones and he recalled TB’s talent and strengths as a musician.

The sound quality of the Music Matters pressing of True Blue is excellent on my Rega RP6/Naim/Spendor system. If you don’t have any of his recordings you should consider seeking some out. True Blue particularly benefits from working as a showcase for TB’s musicianship and compositional skills. It is an album where the tunes fit well together and has a greater sense of unity than some Blue Note sessions where the artist seems to want to cover too much ground by including a distracting variety of styles. Often a straight ahead tune will be followed by a snippet of Bossa, a sprinkle of standard and a slice of ballad with the sum total lacking a true centre. That’s not the case here though.

The RVG series CD has alternate takes of True Blue and Good Old Soul from the same session. The version of True Blue which omits the piano for the first eight bars of the intro is of particular interest.

The band etc: Tina Brooks (tenor saxophone); Freddie Hubbard (trumpet); Duke Jordan (piano); Sam Jones (bass); Art Taylor (drums). Recorded: 25 June 1960. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Ira Gitler. Cover design: Reid Miles. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Issued as Blue Note 84041.

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Ptah, The El Daoud: Alice Coltrane

Ptah The El Daud Cover

What an awful front cover was my first reaction after the excitement of happening across the burnt orange and black spine that meant another Impulse recording had crossed my path. Oh well! Let’s check out who was playing on the session with Alice Coltrane, before I re-shelve it, I thought. It was my good fortune that I did, as I discovered that two of my favourite tenor saxophonists were on duty here: Pharoah Sanders, who I was half-expecting anyway and Joe Henderson, who I wasn’t.

I still felt a sense of trepidation as I prepared to listen. How ‘out there’ would it turn out to be? Would it be some sort of strange concept album exploring arcane spiritual myths with music that was near unlistenable.

As things turned out, I needn’t have worried at all. The set is an absolute treat that deserves to be much better known. Essentially, it is Alice Coltrane’s first recording as leader of a quintet featuring horns (although the sleeve notes point out that Pharoah played bass clarinet on A Monastic Trio, AC’s first release following John Coltrane’s untimely passing). It was recorded at the home studio in the Coltrane house at Dix Hills, Long Island, which adds a certain cachet too.

The title track has a remorseless march-like jauntiness about it and it is a most engaging piece of music that benefits from an ever-present sense of motion and direction.

Turiya and Ramakrishna starts with over four minutes of the most beautiful piano playing before Ron Carter takes a restrained bass solo. Alice Coltrane returns with more wonderous piano on this masterpiece of playing. I don’t know exactly what she is doing, but I’ve asked a piano playing colleague to take a listen to see if he can enlighten me. He tells me that the pianist is playing the black keys and the improvisation is centred on Eb Minor, which gives it the delicate and sophisticated bluesy feel (thanks Mark). If you want a treat you can listen on the link below- either touch or click on the arrow to play.

Blue Nile brings the return of Henderson and Sanders who have exchanged their tenor saxophones for alto flutes with which to accompany Alice Coltrane who plays harp.

Finally, Mantra offers a platform for the two tenors. The sleeve notes helpfully identify that Pharoah is to be heard through the right channel, while the left belongs to Joe Henderson. The first solo is Joe’s and he does reference Mode For Joe briefly in it. Pharoah gets plenty of space and plays with great skill and control before introducing some of his special phonic techniques.

The presence of Alice on piano keeps things grounded around an extremely listenable modal centre.

A further surprise was discovering that the original sleeve notes were written by Leonard Feather. If ever a critic had the capacity to wound with razor honed stiletto words, Lennie was that man. You know what though? He enjoyed this set.

So there you have it. downwithit.info loves it and so does Leonard Feather. You might like it too. My pristine CD copy cost me £4.00, which is significantly less than the pint of Meantime Brewery’s Yakima Red that I’ve just enjoyed. There seemed to be lots of copies available on vinyl on eBay last week. Don’t be put off either by the iffy cover or the Arabic title (incidentally, Ptah is an Egyptian god (highly placed in the pantheon, I understand) and ‘the El Daoud’ means the beloved).

This is an unreserved recommendation. Buy this beautiful recording at your first opportunity! Let us know what you think. I doubt if you will be disappointed.

If you have enjoyed what you’ve just read, please click or touch on the thumbs up/like button. If you don’t like it please select the thumbs down.

The band etc: Alice Coltrane (Piano, harp); Pharoah Sanders (tenor saxophone, alto flute, bells. Right channel); Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone, alto flute. Left channel); Ron Carter (bass); Ben Riley (drums). Produced: Ed Michel. Recorded: The Coltrane home studio, Dix Hills, New York. 26 January 1970. Graphic Design: Jason Claibourne. Cover Photography (and occasional bells). Charles Stewart. Released: 1970. Original release: Impulse AS 9196.

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Good Gracious: Lou Donaldson

Good Gracious Lou Donaldson cover

Stuff happens and time has flown by since the last post on downwithit.info but it is anticipated that the site will benefit from more frequent updates from now on. I’ll kick off, on the first day of August 2015, with a quick look at this relatively straightforward set from Lou Donaldson. At 18.30 on 1st August 2015, just under two years after starting downwithit.info, I’ve finally received 10,000 visits to the site, so I’ll drink to that later.

I haven’t posted about one of Lou’s albums before, mainly because I’m not the greatest fan of alto sax. Without trotting out a whole series of prejudices, suffice to say that my introduction to playing tenor sax was in a Jazz workshop where all the other sax players were on alto and the tunes that we were handed were frequently Charlie Parker classics, most of which start with fast and fluent phrases, requiring the altoist to play with both alacrity and dexterity. Of course, they were in the key of E Flat and since tenor is in the key of B Flat and my transposing skills were poor, I was onto a loser (or a very steep learning curve, if you like) from the b of the bang.

Couple my own nonsense with the standard response to Lou Donaldson, which is that his music is generally light, unsophisticated with little technical adventurousness and there is a case explaining why I’ve not given his recordings much of a listen. However, over the next year or so, I will attempt to give him a fair hearing.

Donaldson joined the New York jazz scene in the late 1940’s. Although his love of blues and pre-bop stylings was never lost and was to serve him well throughout his career, Charlie Parker was a very strong influence. He played alongside his idol and had many conversations about music with him. He is quoted in Kenny Mathieson’s ‘Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954-65′ as saying: “He made a big, big impression on me, at least in a musical sense”. His next statement, a sober comment on Parker’s heroin addiction, suggests that he successfully avoided the then common fallacy that abuse of narcotics was what gave Parker his edge as a musician and the route to be followed if he was to be emulated.

Joe Goldberg’s sleeve notes offer some explanation of the musical course that Donaldson was charting at this stage. He notes the importance of the club circuit ‘… where patrons are laughing, talking, drinking; enjoying themselves rather than listening to the music with solemnly exclusive attention.’ He then says that Donaldson has attempted to offer something different in the social lounge setting: ‘His playing evidences more reserve and control than the emotion-dispensers whose honking and shrieking has tended to label anyone who works in this format.’ So LD was seeking the middle ground between the club and the concert hall and perhaps that captures the dilemma. By being neither in one genre or the other, he is easy for the critic to pass over ((for example Richard Cook barely mentioned this stage of LD’s career in ‘Blue Note Records: The Biography’). LD, however, was candid in his view that he was happy with regular live work and steady album sales and that he had not wish to be a starving, though unheard and unrewarded, cutting-edge genius.

Good Gracious was recorded on 24 January 1963. It finds Lou Donaldson presiding on alto over a trio of Hammond organ, guitar and drums, featuring early appearances in the careers of Patton and Green, who, as well we know were to become Blue Note stalwarts.

Bad John sets a bright opening fast blues tempo. Although Donaldson starts off with a light intro, the piece becomes a vehicle for first, John Patton on Hammond and then Grant Green’s guitar. Lou’s own solo is fluent, yet unchallenging, though easy on the ear.

The sanctified organ on the slow gospel blues The Holy Ghost takes us off to the land where it is perpetually Sunday morning. Lou’s alto sound here is melodic, shading towards the saccharine.

Cherry, a Don Redman tune harks back to an earlier era of 30’s swing and Donaldson’s solo quotes but does not launch into detailed exploration of a series of bebop phrases.

Caracas is, as the name suggests, a nod to bossa nova. LD had recorded an earlier version, years earlier, in the mid-50s during his well-regarded sextet date with Kenny Dorham and Art Blakey from 1954. I’m not familiar with that incarnation, yet, so I can’t currently comment on it.

Good Gracious is finger-snapping jump jazz featuring some gorgeous guitar from Grant Green. If ever a tune was calling out for a blistering solo from a saxophonist, this is one. LD’s is fast and fluid but again a little thin on excitement. What do you think?

Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me, a ballad made famous as part of Billy Holliday’s songbook and written by Rube Bloom and Ted Koehler (incidentally, Koehler wrote the lyrics to the great standard song, Stormy Weather). Once again, Grant Green takes a memorable solo, played with exquisite restraint that is matched by Lou Donaldson’s own contribution.

As our quick tour through Good Gracious has shown, the set is one of those Blue Notes which attempts to cover all bases and on a cursory listen fails to impress as it shifts from juke box to standard to Bossa to ballad, although the six tracks do include four LD original compositions. Despite that it is an album which you may consider to repay a little extended listening, in which the variety it offers eventually becomes a virtue. That said, it is probably one for the seasoned collector rather than a stand-alone purchase for somebody new to the genre. As I’ve said above, well return to consider other Lou Donaldson sets in the not too distant future.

Cover photography was by Ronnie Braithwaite, brother of Strich specialist George Braith. Some will view it as an image, which is inexcusably sexist, while others may chose to interpret it differently. While a full consideration of its semiotics would perhaps be of interest, I’ve got to get this blog post out now and I’ll not offer up my tuppence worth now.

The band etc: Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone); Grant Green (guitar); John Patton (organ); Ben Dixon (drums). Recorded: 23 January 1963. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Joe Goldberg. Cover design: Reid Miles. Cover photos: Ronnie Braithwaite. Model: Rose Nelmes (Grandasssa Models). Issued as Blue Note 84125.

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