Category Archives: Classic Recording

Sonny Meets Hawk!

A new post is overdue and this one, about an important inter-generational meeting between two of the greatest tenor saxophonists has been slow to materialise.

It was a remark made by Thelonious Monk that led me to seek out and listen to this recording. Whilst doing the the background reading to underpin my recent look at Monk’s Music, his comment delivered as an admonishment:- “You’re the great Coleman Hawkins, right? You’re the guy who invented the tenor saxophone, right?” caused me to reflect on how little I actually know about Hawkins, perhaps the first great exponent of the jazz solo on an instrument I used to play (very badly).

It is strange to learn that it took until Hawkins recorded a version of Body and Soul, almost as an end of session afterthought in 1939 for an improvisation on tenor saxophone to be heard widely. The version became a jukebox hit that retained its popularity into the 1950s and led to Hawkins becoming regarded as the musician who pioneered the tenor as an instrument that solos could be played on.

Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins played together for the first time at the Newport Jazz Feztival in 1963 and it is not difficult to imagine that this session was first mooted at that stage. In any event, posterity was subsequently gifted with a meeting of the two in a studio to record their interpretations of a collection of jazz standards which offers the opportunity to compare the playing of these two giants.

I’m not sure how often Coleman Hawkins is listened to these days. Perhaps many current explorers make the mistake of assuming that he belonged to an earlier era and has nothing to contribute to their appreciation of modern jazz. Certainly, as we will see from this album, there is often an underpinning element of swing to his playing style an some may regard that as archaic. However, Rollins had a very clear view of Hawkins’ playing and he stated in the sleeve notes: ‘Hawkins is timeless and what he plays is beyond style and category. In fact it’s a shame that people tend to categorise music. A fine musician can play with anyone, just as a fine person can get along with anyone.’

Only mono recordings will do for some purists, but this session lends itself to stereo, with Rollins inhabiting the right hand speaker (stage left) and Hawkins helpfully playing from the left speaker. Without further ado let’s leap into the music.

Yesterday’s opens with a trill from Rollins before Hawkins takes up the tune from the left speaker. He plays his solo in the tenor’s lower register with a full luxuriant sound. Rollins then takes over and plays with more stuttering trills. Hawkins then follows up with his own solo with his own slower trills.

All the Things You Are swings along with reedy lower register playing from Hawkins and Rollins introducing some spicy discord in the early stages before sitting out. His own solo is more freely interpretive and considerably more harsh on the ear. Indeed, Ted Gioia writing in ‘The Jazz Standards- A Guide to the Repertoire.’ states that on this recording ‘Sonny Rollins delivers some of the most avant-garde playing of his career.’

On Summertime Sonny Rollins starts with an oblique bittersweet exploration of the theme with Hawkins providing a more lyrical statement, closer to the head tune. The superb Henry Grimes adds an enjoyable plucked bass solo.

On Just Friends Hawkins opens before Rollins comes in with a lengthy exploration ahead of a short solo from Bley and a further swinging statement from Hawkins.

Lover Man presents a beautiful and sensitive statement of the theme by Hawkins before the two horns trade ideas. As perhaps we might expect, Hawkins is the more conventionally crafted voice of the two with Rollins pushing the composition’s possibilities towards rather different territory. You can listen via YouTube by clicking on the following link:-

At McKie’s is reminiscent of Rollins’ St Thomas and offers him the opportunity to play a lively solo on this closing track.

Sonny Meets Hawk is a worthy purchase which repays repeated listening and it remains available on CD at moderate cost. Although from an earlier generation, Hawkins was revered by many of the great figures of modern jazz who followed on from him and it is a shame that he is not more widely heard and praised these days.

The band etc: Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone); Coleman Hawkins (tenor saxophone); Paul Bley (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass- tracks 1,2,&5); Henry Grimes (bass- tracks 3,4 &6); Roy McCurdy (drums). Produced: George Avakian. Recorded: RCA Victor Studio B, New York City. 15 & 18 July 1963. Cover Design: Unknown. Released: 1963. Original release: RCA Victor LPM or LSP- 2712.

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Rudy Van Gelder RIP

It is as a sad matter of duty that downwithit notes the passing of the man who had oversight of the most of the greatest recordings made by Modern Jazz artists.

Rest in peace RVG.
November 2 1924 to August 25 2016.

This music would not have been the same without him.

You can read Mr Van Gelder’s obituary from The New York Times here.

An extensive list of sessions recorded at his studios can be found here.

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Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall

Monk & Coltrane at Carnegie Hall

Reader, I have a confession. This started out as a review of Thelonious Monk Live At The It Club (in Los Angeles 1964) but ended up as a look at the Carnegie Hall Concert (November 1957), via a visit to The Five Spot in New York City (August 1958). There is an explanation. Firstly, although it is an excellent recording featuring a great performance by Monk, a review of The It Club set is a daunting prospect. The Colombia double CD runs to over 150 minutes and contains 19 separate compositions. I did think about writing about it over two or three posts but, somehow that didn’t seem satisfactory. Secondly, I came to realise the significance of a short period during an amazing year for two of the all time greats (if not the greatest). Thirdly, I wanted to write about the Carnegie Hall Concert, with its tale of the re-discovery of a lost treasure of incalculable value. So here we go.

At the end of November 1957, Monk was invited to play in two performances of a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall to raise funds for the Morningside Community Center in Harlem. The prospect of making a contribution to this local social action centre appealed to him because as a young person he had spent most of his free time at a youth centre across the road from his family home in Midtown New York. The rest of the bill was stellar and included Billie Holliday, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Zoot Simms and Sonny Rollins. Ray Charles headlined with a jazz set. Two dollars, or $3.95 for the best seats and you were in.

Monk Coltrane Carnegie Poster

In the four months before the concert, John Coltrane had been playing as part of Monk’s quartet at the Five Spot. This was the year in which Coltrane’s talents flowered. He had kicked heroin after being fired by Miles Davis in April 1957 and spent a great deal of time at Monk’s apartment, learning from the older master-musician. The superb and informative booklet which accompanies the CD release records Coltrane as saying:-
“I’d go by his apartment and get him out of bed (laughs). He’d wake up and roll over to the piano and start playing… He would stop and show me some parts that were pretty difficult, and if I had a lot of trouble, well, he’d get his portfolio out and show me the music…sometimes, we’d get through just one tune a day. Maybe.”

In ’57 Monk also had much to celebrate. Brilliant Corners had been released and earlier work on Blue Note and Riverside was re-released on the new 12″ long playing LPs. He had regained his Cabaret Card in May 1957 and was once again able to play in New York clubs that served alcohol. In July, he obtained a residency at The Five Spot, a small bar on the edge of The Bowery and on Tuesday July 16, he was joined by John Coltrane. The original piano was inadequate and in very poor repair but with an eye to the crowds lining up outside every night the club owner rapidly agreed to allow Monk to source a Baldwin baby grand.

The night at Carnegie Hall gave Monk the opportunity to perform in public on one of renowned venue’s concert grands. Monk’s Mood features a pianist taking great delight in the tone of an excellent piano and the fine acoustics of the hall (although he also had access to two baby grand Steinway pianos: his own rented instrument and one owned by his friend Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter). John Coltrane also approaches this beautiful ballad, that he made great efforts to learn and interpret, with great sensitivity, while Shadow Wilson’s drumming is sparse and complements the two soloists.

Evidence is angular and almost jagged with Monk giving Coltrane the space to develop a solo that contains fast phrases reminiscent of his work on the recently recorded Blue Train.

Crepuscule With Nellie had been written in the early summer of 1957 at a time when Monk’s beloved wife was facing a major thyroid operation. Monk laboured long and hard to produce music which captured his feelings and sought perfection in a piece that he usually played without improvisation or embellishment (on this version there is a brief reference to the ’52nd Street Theme’ just after Coltrane starts to play). ‘Crepuscule’ sounds like some type of seafood but it actually means ‘twilight’ and it was suggested that Monk should consider using the French word by his friend the Baroness.

This is followed by a jaunty version of Nutty, which features some fine percussion and great fluency from Coltrane.

Epistrophy is complex with some fine cymbal work. The quartet is really tight and this is superlative musicianship.

I understand that the final four tracks were recorded during the second set of the evening.

Bye-Ya is another vehicle for John Coltrane to shine on, although there is a short solo from Monk before the band moves straight into Sweet And Lovely, the standard favoured and recorded regularly by Monk.

Blue Monk is taken at a brisk pace. This tune is a classic which has become a staple of the young jazz musician’s repertoire, which means that it is regularly put through the mangle. I recently heard a sax player in a local pub who should never play this again until he can aspire to get within a million miles of how Coltrane plays here (not playing flat would be a start). You can listen courtesy of Praguedive on Youtube by touching or clicking on the arrow below:-

Finally a second truncated reprise of Epistrophy from the second set closes the recording.

Although Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane worked together during an intense period of about six months, very little was recorded by the great quartet. There were three studio tracks and a further live recording made by Coltrane’s first wife on a portable tape machine. There was an awareness that the Carnegie Hall concerts had been recorded by Voice of America and Coltrane biographer Lewis Porter had made enquiries at the Library of Congress, which was believed to be where they had been consigned to, but the tapes were lost. Then, in February 2005, Larry Appelbaum, a recording lab supervisor, found several tapes labelled ‘Carnegie Hall Jazz 1957’ and one had a box with a note labelled T Monk. A treasure had been discovered and within six months this resulting album was released. It is available on vinyl- with the Mosaic recording being the one to seek out. However, I’m delighted with the CD which comes complete with a brilliant booklet. This is a recording that I recommend without reservation and which I hope you will enjoy. Happy listening.

The band etc: Thelonious Monk (piano); John Coltrane (tenor sax); Ahmed Abdul-Malik (bass); Shadow Wilson (drums). Recorded: 29 November 1957. Produced for release: T.S. Monk and Michael Cuscuna. Cover illustration: Felix Sockwell. Sleeve notes: Amiri Baraka; Ira Gitler; Ashley Kahn; Stanley Crouch; Robin D.G. Kelley; Lewis Porter and Larry Appelbaum. Released as Blue Note 35173 on September 27, 2005.

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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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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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The Gigolo: Lee Morgan

Gigolo Lee Morgan

It’s a warm spring evening and the new ‘downwithit Lounge’ in Hoxditch Hill is about to open for business. You know the sort of place and area. No children or old people (over 25s) for miles, hard won full beards will have to be shaved off by mid-April 2015 because they’ve been spotted in the provinces (Highgate and Deptford), the only pets allowed are pugs- specially dressed for the occasion and the door password is ‘Beyond Ice Cool’.
A conversation takes place which goes something like this:-
“Hey DJ, I’m opening the doors. Let’s have something to pack our clientele in!”
“OK boss. What’s it to be?”
“Hit ’em hard with the first track on this set, ‘Yes I Can. No You Can’t’ and guests and good times will surely follow.”

Have a listen to the original on YouTube.

To play, click or touch the arrow

So here we go, back to 1965, a shade under 50 years ago. Lee’s flying high and there’s a young lad on piano, one Harold Mabern Jr. On this opener he’s playing soul Jazz at a very high level. If you like this vibe and don’t already possess this recording, kick yourself and get out and get it. By the way, right here and right now in April 2015, Harry is just releasing a new album (Afro Blue), live from Smoke in NYC and featuring some young vocalists including Gregory Porter and Norah Jones

Next up, and the mythical downwithit Lounge has got ’em in and they are Trapped by the music. This is a Wayne Shorter composition. Didn’t I tell that Wayne’s on tenor saxophone duties on this set. Well, he is!

Speedball, a tune that remained as a staple within Lee Morgan’s repertoire, makes its first appearance here. It’s a fine hard bop tune. The band is really tight and Lee is at his very best.

Title track, The Gigolo, is a fast heady Jazz waltz tune- although perhaps my understanding of the time signature is mistaken. It is exciting and enjoyable with a worthy contribution from Wayne Shorter.

The album closes with Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Actually, that’s not true, it is You Go To My Head – but there is a link and your starter for 500 in any quiz. The link is that both songs were written by Coots and Gillespie. Morgan’s take here is wonderful, pure caberetsville and is probably recorded because Bill Evans and Freddie Hubbard cut a well-regarded version in 1962 (thanks to Ted Gioia‘s magisterial The Jazz Standards for this snippet).

Every so often a little research around a review reveals an interesting sidetrack to explore. Although Blue Note covers are generally strong and visually appealing, especially if Reid Miles and Francis Wolff were involved, this one isn’t particularly wonderful. The tight cropping of a picture of Morgan playing his trumpet provides us with an engaging image with a classic rule of thirds leading our eyes to Morgan’s embouchure- but I’m not at all keen on the use of full colour for the final print. Black and white or an overlay of a single colour over the image worked well on numerous classic Blue Note sleeves, especially when coupled with well-chosen typefaces. The later designs, using a colour picture of the artist or, of a model seem to me to be less powerful and following the retirement of Alfred Lion as a producer and the sale of Blue Note to Liberty, Reid Miles design work association with the label ended.

Incidentally, Wikipedia records that:- Miles wasn’t particularly interested in jazz, professing to have much more of an interest in classical music; he received several copies of each Blue Note album he designed but gave most of them to friends or sold them to used record shops. Miles used the descriptions of the sessions relayed to him by producer Alfred Lion to create the artwork.

This album cover was designed by Forlenza Venosa Associates, who went on to deliver over 50 covers. They are typified by full colour pictures featuring the artist or a model and are often rather boring head and shoulder shots, in my opinion. The late Robert Venosa went on to work as a successful member of the Fantastic Realism school of artists and apparently his pictures are represented in major museum collections and in the private collections of ‘…rock stars and European aristocracy.’ I don’t covet any of them. He also designed Santana’s Abraxas album cover, although he was not responsible for the cover painting.

The Gigolo is well worthy of your attention, despite the cover. If you see a copy, get it. You are unlikely to be disappointed. Lee Morgan and the band are in great form. Nat Hentoff summed it up in the original sleeve notes, writing: ‘It’s the kind of set you know- by the way you feel- will never be dated.’ The CD copy has a slightly longer alternate take of title track as a bonus.

S.Mos delivered a mash up version and mixed in Tupac Shakur. There’s a link here for your enjoyment. It’s a bit 2011 for downwithits Hoxditch Hill lounge, but you may enjoy it. The bass is more to the fore on this one.

To play, click or touch the arrow

The band etc:- Lee Morgan (Trumpet); Wayne Shorter (tenor sax); Harold Mabern (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass); Billy Higgins (drums). Recorded: June 25 and July 1 1965. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Sleeve Notes: Nat Hentoff. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Forlenza Venosa Associates. Issued as Blue Note 84212.

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Classic albums reissued on high-quality vinyl

Regular readers will be aware that I write about modern jazz, much on CD, that has found its way into my music collection. Delivering a point of view on the music is my goal and I don’t worry too much that I am not normally writing about an early pressing on vinyl.

That’s not to suggest that I don’t appreciate a great vinyl copy of a set and there are some classics that I know I will love and thus will seek to obtain. Via the excellent London Jazz Collector site I learned of high quality modern pressings of classic albums and what follows is a reply from me on that site as part of a huge body of correspondence about modern reissues and obtaining sonically satisfying copies of hard to obtain originals without paying high prices.

My first order from Music Matters arrived from California, mid-week. The service was excellent and I’m delighted with my new pristine 33 1/3 copies of Blue Train and Cool Struttin’. They sound superb on my upgraded system and I intend to buy more of their reissues. Having attended a shootout between an Analogue productions and white label pressing of Brilliant Corners last weekend, I can now appreciate that the treble on some original pressings of some discs may sound more ‘brittle’ and that some of the low end bass may be compressed or absent. I am perhaps fortunate to prefer the fuller sound of the modern re-masters over the authenticity of a shrill original, where that is the case (but I know I may be waving a red rag amongst some of the bulls here).

In relation to collecting music to play, rather than collecting objects of value, simply to own, the MM reissues offer me an ideal upgrade path. If a recording is not available other than in a less sonically pleasing version, I will obtain that copy and hope, perhaps, to upgrade in the future unless something else uses up my disposable money. Back in the olden days in the North of England, the only way to get hold of some great Northern Soul singles was to buy ‘pressings’ (essentially greatly inferior bootleg copies of originals). I’ve still got quite a few and although I know they are not quite the real thing, I still treasure them but have no desire to upgrade. In the case of some Jazz reissues we get the dual benefit of great sound, packaged with great care at a fraction of the probable cost of a scratchy dog-earred copy of early pressing obtained via the collectors market.

But each to their own path, provided it actually involves listening to and engaging with the music.

I’m aware that some settle for nothing less than original first pressings, often preferably in mono. However, their pockets are likely to be far better lined than my own. For the time being it will be MM and similar pressings for me when I’m looking for a vinyl edition.

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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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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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