Category Archives: Art Taylor

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 is 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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Bass On Top- Paul Chambers

Bass On Top 2

‘Play the one with the man on the cello’ is a frequent request in my home. No matter how many times I answer by saying ‘Not again! And it’s a double bass ffs!’ Bass On Top remains number one choice when something that isn’t too strident is called for. Time to take a look at this wonderful album and if you read to the end there’s a tale of crime involving a sculpture of a beautiful German woman.

The great double bassist, Paul Chambers recorded this album on July 14 1957. It was his fourth set as a leader and the third to be released on Blue Note. A member of Miles Davis’s first great quintet/sextet, Paul Chambers drew on early classical training in Detroit and became one of the first jazz bassists to play bowed (arco) sections live and on recordings. He featured on numerous key sessions with a pantheon of modern jazz greats (over 300 sessions between 1955 and 1962), including contributions to Monk’s Brilliant Corners, Oliver Nelson’s The Blues And The Abstract Truth, Coltrane’s Blue Train, Sonny Clark’s Cool Struttin’ and Art Pepper Meets The Rhythmn Section and of course Miles Davis. There were fourteen releases of sessions led by John Coltrane and seven led by Hank Mobley. Indeed, his work on Kind Of Blue has been praised as one of the great jazz bass performances by some people who like to quantify things like that.

The opening track here, Yesterdays, opens with three choruses that strike a subdued tone of wistfulness, or saudade as the Potuguese would say, before the tempo changes (and if I’m not mistaken, which is very likely, the key moves from minor to major). The bow is used throughout. Blue without being a blues track, Yesterday’s is a unique and much covered jazz composition both by instrumentalists and vocalists. The full lyrics are here– but these will suffice now:

Then gay youth was mine, truth was mine
Joyous free in flame and life
Then sooth was mine
Sad am I, glad am I
For today I’m dreamin’ of yesterdays.

The sense of saudade in a nutshell!

You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To follows. It is a jaunty Cole Porter number played finger-style this time (pizzicato). There is lots of space for PC to develop solo ideas as Kenny Burrell reverses conventional roles to keep time on rhythm guitar before getting his own Hot Clubesque solo as PC walks the tune towards a tasteful contribution from Hank Jones on piano.

Chasin’ the Bird by Charlie Parker offers up a neat intro on the tune’s head from Kenny Burrell (not that we’d expect anything less) before PC gets to work again. His bass solo is fluent and creative with the second solo from Jones’ piano providing another perfect element here. Burrell gets a solo too before sticksmanship from Art Taylor and a re-statement of the head, which brings this fine rendition to a close.

Dear Old Stockholm flows down deliciously in a well-ordered mainstream sort of way that is very satisfying. This is the selection from YouTube that I’ve chosen to accompany this post:

To play either touch or click on the arrow.

PC then plays Miles Davis’ The Theme. He was on the original recording in 1955 and this bebop workout sees his bow produced and used to great effect again.

Finally on the original release, Confessin’ is a lively tour de force take on the much covered standard with PC’s bass to the fore delivering a compelling interpretation until Hank Jones has a brief solo.

My copy of Bass On Top is the RVG CD version as the original Blue Note vinyl pressing is a rare find and priced well beyond what I can afford. The RVG edition has its bonuses though. Chamber Mates was not on the original release but it is an uptempo number that sounds like great fun, especially for jazz dancers. There are the usual excellent additional notes from Bob Blumenthal and three Francis Wolff photos from the hallowed Mosaic Collection. These were taken at the actual session and one of them, copied below, prompted me to undertake some additional research.

PC Bass Head 2

You will note that a youthful Paul Chambers (amazingly only 22 years old when the session was recorded) is playing, supervised by the sculpture of a female face on the bass head, which is as remarkable as it is unusual. I’d never seen its like before, although the power of the Internet soon introduced me to a wide range of ornate bass heads and the following:-

“Well, in growing up in New York with Bass in hand in the mid-late 60s, I just missed Paul Chambers. He died about when I joined the Union. I did however see his Bass in pictures and asked one Luthier about that carved Ladies Head on the top of the Neck/Scroll. The Bass was a Germanic Shop type Bass from the late 19th-early 20th century or so. The Head was added by him I heard but in either case, it was not part of that Bass.” (Ken Smith- see here)

There’s another story about the bass with the woman’s head possibly, apocryphal, but well worth the telling. It is said that the maestro and Doug Watkins, another great bass player and close friend (and some say, cousin) of PC were on tour in Italy in the 60’s when they saw the bass, unattended in a car belonging to a member of a classical orchestra. They helped themselves to it and subsequently shared the instrument back in the States. Then, one dark and stormy night, as they usually are in the best tales, the original owner of the bass walked into the club where PC was playing it. What happened next… …Well, he listened and listened some more before confronting PC at the interval, when he told him that he’d never heard the instrument sound so great and that he would like to give it to PC with his blessing. As somebody famous once wrote ‘The bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar.’

Now I don’t know it this is true, or not. If it isn’t, I hope that the spirits or descendants of PC and Doug Watkins will not be offended by my repetition of scurrilous tittle-tattle. In any event it’s a story too good to miss. Who knows, the bass with the woman’s head may still be out there and one dear reader may actually be its custodian as I type this? If you have it, please let us know, we’d love to hear. Was the mysterious woman ever given a name? Someone may still know. Unless I hear differently, for personal reasons, I’ll settle for Gwladys.

Part of the reason I haven’t been blogging is that it is a bit dull to just trot out my impressions of albums. I like to add a bit of extra information that’s a bit harder to find for the reader and sometimes sourcing anything new is a bit of a struggle. Hopefully, my musings about PC and Bass On Top have achieved that this time round.

If you are interested in an analysis of Paul Chambers bass style, there’s a very fine essay written by Brian Casey, which you can read here.

The band etc: Paul Chambers (double bass);Kenny Burrell guitar); Hank Jones (piano); Art Taylor (drums). Recorded: 14 July 1957. Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Robert Levin. Cover design: Reid Miles. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Issued as Blue Note 1569 in 1957.

RIP Paul Chambers, Jr (April 22, 1935 – January 4, 1969).

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