I was following up on a tip from London Jazz Collector when I ventured into a previously unexplored domain of former light industrial units. The blighted environment signalled that I was closer to the Rustbelt than the Ritz. Just like in Detroit, however, sprouts and shoots of regeneration may slowly be emerging in the badlands between Deptford and Old Kent Road where a new volunteer-run resource DIY Space for London is at the forefront.
I was there for A Celebration of the life and Music Of Thelonious Monk, essentially a gig and a film organised by Tome Records, a record shop based on the premises.
My mini-adventure paid off. Music was provided by Hard Evidence Trio, in the form of a fiery free-leaning interpretation of a sequence of improvised tunes that had recognisable Monk themes as their springboard. It wasn’t the dry, dusty formulaic music of the supper club or jazz brunch and it was all the better for that. It was the uncompromising sound of a mid-sixties Impulse set. Indeed, I was sure that I heard the ghost of Alber Ayler banging on the door, clamouring to be let in.
John Edwards (bass), Steve Noble (drums) and Adrian Northover (Soprano and sopranino saxes) make up Hard Evidence. They played with passion and displayed excellent musicianship. If you are open-eared enough to listen to music that ventures into that fantastic free space beyond the conventional chord changes you should seek them out. There’s a link here.
The live performance was followed by a showing of Straight No Chaser, a Monk bio-pic released by Clint Eastwood’s production company. I’d never seen this before and the glimpse it gave of the great man was, in parts, exciting, informative and occasionally sad.
Thanks to Tome Records for putting the evening on and good luck to DIY Space for London who are trying to do things differently with an eye to making a better world.
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‘It’s a funny old world’, I thought when, earlier today, I happened across a copy of a book I’d wanted to read for some time in my local library.
Val Wilmer’s ‘As Serious As Your Life’ was published in 1977 with revisions in 1992. It had been on my reading list for a while and I’d seen a reference to it in the last week. Little did I think it would appear so quickly. But appear it did, in the Black History Month section.
In her 1999 preface, Wilmer wrote: ‘And although the details have never emerged, it is generally believed that Henry Grimes died in California in the 1970’s’.
As my regular readers will recall, the truth is that Henry Grimes merely went away, only to reappear in the early years of the Millenium. Indeed, he is appearing in New York with Marc Ribot on New Year’s Eve. I’ve just enjoyed revisiting The Marc Ribot Trio’s Live At The Village Vanguard. You can read the extraordinary tale of his re-emergence at Henry Grimes’ website. There are also plenty of performance links there too.
I’m sure the excellent Wilmer is aware that Henry Grimes remains hale and hearty following his sojourn but in her 1999 edition she explained that she would not be making any further revisions and would allow her book to stand, minor blemishes and all, as a social document.
downwithit was partly inspired by Nile Rodgers. In his autobiography he writes that Chic started each project with something that he calls DHM (deep hidden meaning) to the fore. I’m not sure that there’s a unifying sense of DHM about Yusef Lateef’s Impulse album, 1984 but the title does have a hidden meaning which has nothing to do with George Orwell or the year 1984. If you stick with me all will be revealed at the end of the last paragraph.
Previous posts have confirmed that I regard Yusef Lateef as being amongst the great jazz woodwind players. I had been searching for this set on CD for some time and finally cornered it during a visit to New York last year at Frederick Cohen’sJazz Record Center (which itself takes a bit of tracking down). Mr Cohen is the author of the first comprehensive Blue Note collectors discography ‘Blue Note Records: A Guide For Identifying Original Pressings. His premises are hidden away in an office building on W26th Street but are well worth seeking out. He a nice guy who was happy to have a chat and pose for a quick photograph. I departed happy and with my Japanese release of 1984, which cost me a very reasonable $18.99(£13.34 at today’s exchange rate)
Pic shows: Mr Fred Cohen of Jazz Record Center, NYC
Anyway, on to the album. It is something of a mixed bag and, in my opinion, would have benefitted immeasurably by some disciplined editorial oversight. Of course part of the thing about Impulse was that the artists had an unprecedented degree of control over their recordings and chances were taken. The title track, billed as ‘…a mythical trip to the future’ on the sleeve, is evidence of this. The notes explain that Yusef Lateef is playing within a 12 tone system of his own creation and that he is employing a range of instruments of an exotic and self-fashioned type. However, his experimentalism on this track doesn’t do anything for me and, to my ears, almost spoils a largely excellent set with its sonic meanderings which include squeaks and sub-vocalisations (which make reappearances albeit in a more restrained context on some of his later work on Atlantic). Oh well, I’m glad the future hasn’t turned out like this yet!
Try Love brings the listener gently back into the mainstream. Yusef plays oboe on this one and New Zealand pianist Mike Nock”s work is a delight, although some expressive drumming reminds us that this is 1966 and everything is up for grabs.
Soul Sister is a sophisticated up-town sort of a track on which Yusuf takes takes us strutting out led by his tenor saxophone. At 3.06 it is all too brief an excursion. You can have a listen courtesy of YouTube:-
To play either click on or touch the arrow.
Mike Nock’s Love Waltz closes the first side of the long playing record and it is a vehicle for his piano, with Yusef Lateef, generously giving the sideman an opportunity here and sitting out on this one.
The next track is yet another lapse in editorial judgement. One Little Indian actually opened side 2 of the original LP. It will be more familiar to UK audiences as the bewhiskered Michael Finnegan but in the USA it goes by the other title and it has attracted criticism because of racially offensive lyrics in several of its incarnations. We can be confident that Yusef Lateef was not seeking to be provocative here- but, in my view, it is a filler track at very best and probably should not have been included on the album release.
Happily, Listen to The Wind is another rather more listenable track starting with an ECMish introduction before Yusef shows he can play hard bop choruses as well as anybody. The tune then changes tempo again for a piano solo, with a reflective saxophone piece to close matters.
Duke Ellington’s Warm Fire is a delicious late-night track, played deightfully and conventionally before Gee! Sam Gee takes us back into restrained tone poem territory, with Lateef resisting temptations to take us on a sonic excursion.
The Greatest Story Ever Told is the theme tune from a then current sword, sandals and Bible epic of the same name. In 1961 Lateef had offered themes from Spartacus and The Robe on Eastern Sounds, an excellent set which I’ll take a look at here at some stage. Although this is not the greatest tune that Yusef ever recorded, it’s OK, with some pleasant flute playing.
Although I was delighted to get hold of 1984 and it is an album which has some strong playing on it, it is uneven. I rate it as an album for the completest collector rather than an essential purchase and two of the tracks disappoint massively. The sound quality is excellent throughout and although the cover does not say where 1984 was recorded, Rudy Van Gelder’s presence gives a clue- although this may be a false one, as reliable sources say that the set was recorded at Pep’s Lounge in Philadelphia, although the recording didn’t take place before a live audience. Cover photos are by Charles Taylor who I also mentioned in more detail here.
Yusef Lateef plays a King tenor sax on this set (doubtless the silver model with the under slung neck pictured on the cover). However, I have also seen another more recent picture showing his instruments featuring no less than six Selmer tenors (the Selmer Mark vi was the instrument favoured as first choice by most of the greatest players- and not so great as I owned one myself for many years).
The Band etc: Yusef Lateef (Tenor saxophone, flute, diverse wind instruments); Reggie Workman (double bass); James Black (drums); Mike Nock(piano). Recorded: 24 February 1965. Produced: Bob Thiele. Engineer: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover: Robert Flynn / Viceroy. Cover photography: Charles Stewart. Sleeve Notes: Bob Hammer. Released as Impulse AS84.
So what about the hidden meaning of the title? Well it is actually quite straightforward. This is Impulse release number 84. A is letter 1 of the alphabet and S is letter number 19- 11984- delete the first 1 and you get 1984. Simple really. Give yourself a round of applause if you stayed with things so far, and play the wonderful Soul Sister (again).
Pharoah Sanders was 75 in October 2015 and he marked the milestone with a short residency at the delightfully named Bohemian Caverns in Washington DC. There’s a very positive review by Jackson Sinnenberg here.
Also in October, Pharoah was honoured, along with Archie Shepp, Gary Burton and jazz benevolent society Director, Wendy Oxenhorn. They were recipients of The National Endowment for the Arts 2016 NEA Jazz Masters awards for their significant accomplishments in the field. You can read more about this here.
There’s only one place to start this post: with a plea of Guilty as charged. I thought I was familiar with all of the great albums by John Coltrane up to the time that I assumed that he forsook beautiful and comprehensible playing for the outer limits exemplified by the likes of Interstellar Space, an album that I struggle with.
I was wrong. To my ears, Crescent should be ranked amongst Coltrane’s finest releases. Many tag this as Coltrane’s darkest and most sombre set. I prefer to think of it as the product of an artist going through a contemplative and reflective period of composition and recording. Entirely overshadowed by his next release, A Love Supreme, Crescent should be better known and far more celebrated than is currently the case.
The opening number which gives the set its title starts out with Coltrane laying down his theme in ballad form. Then the rhythm section and piano come in and Coltrane starts an improvisation that is at first leisurely but which grows in complexity. McCoy Tyner’s subtle and melodic boundaries are matched by Garrison and Elvin Jones and Coltrane’s freer and more phonic playing is contained within a structure that keeps things entirely, in my opinion, intelligible. Take a listen courtesy of YouTube:-
To play, touch or click on the arrow.
Wise One is one of the great Coltrane ballads. It is reflective rather than joyous and none the worse for that- some would say it is spiritual. Again Tyner is superb. I’ve long been familiar with this performance as it features on the excellent Gentle Side of John Coltrane compilation, which I also wholeheartedly recommend.
Bessie’s Blues is a short hard bop excursion, which hits the spot in a straight-ahead 4/4 style.
Lonnie’s Lament offers sophisticated listening, perhaps best heard at the end of a day when the listener is open to reap the rich rewards of a track which is evocative of whatever deeper thoughts one wants to evoke but which does not strike me as a sad lament (perhaps You may perceive it as such though). Garrison gets a good opportunity to show his talent on a lengthy bass solo that he plucks from heart and soul.
Drum Thing doesn’t surprise as it contains a fine drum solo from the great Elvin Jones. Coltrane’s contribution sounds very Northern European and, to my way of hearing, would not be out of place on an ECM release (which, to clarify, I consider to be a very good thing, though in moderation).
There is a belief that at Coltrane may have written about his intentions and subject matter for some of these compositions and others, including Alabama, in prose or poetry but any evidence of this remains missing, perhaps lost for ever. The tunes themselves are strong enough, alone, to stand the tests of time.
So there we have it. Crescent is a brilliant album that you should not miss. Coltrane plays wonderfully on a set where his great quartet are at the height of their powers and all members receive time and space to solo impressively. I can’t recommend this set too highly.
The band etc: John Coltrane (tenor saxophone); McCoy Tyner (piano); Elvin Jones (drums); Jimmyy Garrison (bass). Produced: Bob Thiele. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs. 27 April & 1 June 1964. Cover Design: Freddie Paloma. Cover Photography: Charles Stewart. Released: 1964. Original release: Impulse AS-66.
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.
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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.
Time for another look at a Pharoah Sanders set. In late November 1966, Pharoah was ready to lead the first Impulse session to go out under his own name and Tauhid was the result. Having already come to notice alongside John Coltrane, where his tenor saxophone added heat and fire he was in the driving seat. What were listeners to experience on hearing his first album for what I’m tempted to refer to as the label that enabled?
Upper and Lower Egypt represents Pharoah’s attempts to create an image of how his extensive reading about that part of the world made him feel and the resonances that it created in him. The slower portentous Upper Egypt introduction gives way to a repetition of the theme that is very close to the later You’ve Got To Have Freedom. We are some 12 minutes into the piece before Pharoah’s tenor takes pride of place, sounding as though he wants to blow it apart. A brief scat vocal follows
Henry Grimes, who we met playing alongside Marc Ribot here, adds double bass throughout and a very impressive contribution he makes too!
Japan is a delightful short tune that Pharoah wrote While reflecting on a trip that he took there with John Coltrane in the summer of 1966. There’s a bit of improvised vocalise and it is enjoyable.
The final suite was written as three individual pieces which flowed together when recorded. Sanders plays alto saxophone on Aum, which features a series of scales and phrases played extremely fast in a manner reminiscent of Coltrane’s sheets of sound. The sleeve notes record how for Pharoah, the word holds a kind of magical quality and:- ‘It means God. It means peace. It means the beginning of things.’ Sanders was certainly aiming for something miles away from easy melody when he started to blow on this and Grimes adds to the challenging cacophony with sharp notes he finds and plucks from his four strings.
I assume the transformation into the Venus section is the point where we return to conventional tune and melody. Venus was written with Sanders star sign in mind, as was Capricorn Rising which, he informs us, is also part of his horoscope. It is both sweet and sour, seemingly without form but improvised around a beautiful tune. If a tune can frighten the horses while soothing the savage breast it is this one.
A bass passage (coda?) leads us into Capricorn Rising. This piece is an angry sounding, instrument testing taster for the lyricism which came to the fore in Phroah’s playing on his much later A Prayer Before Dawn set (which we will visit at some stage).
Tauhid is an album where Pharoah doesn’t seek to hog the limelight and where he sought to convey feelings and impressions. He speaks about what he is trying to do: ‘…it’s not that I’m trying to scream on my horn. I’m just trying to put all my feelings into the horn. And when you do that the notes go away’. So Tauhid is not an album of dinner jazz or one for a first date. Those chained to a classical sense of what is musical and what isn’t will run away making dismissive comments, but the open-minded will reap rich rewards here. Why not give it a try courtesy of YouTube:-
To play, touch or click on the arrow
Pharoah Sanders (Tenor and Alto saxophones, Piccolo, Voice); Sonny Sharrock (Guitar); Dave Burrell (Piano); Henry Grimes (Bass); Roger Blank (Drums); Nat Bettis (Percussion). Recorded: 15 November 1966. Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Produced: Bob Thiele. Recording engineer: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover notes: Nat Hentoff. Cover photography: Charles Stewart. Originally issued in 1967 as Impulse AS9138.
Back in April I got my tickets for a key performance in James Lavelle’s Meltdown season on the. South Bank. Lavelle contributed to Straight No Chaser Magazine, an adventurous magazine published in the early 1990’s, which I used to get every so often- especially as it featured some exceptionally good musical tips and was closely linked to the, then current, jazz revival. He invited Editor, Paul Bradshaw to curate a performance and the result is Enlightenment, a ‘Re-envisioning of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.
Coltrane wrote A Love Supreme in August 1964 at a time of turmoil and great change in the USA. Living in a tranquil new suburban home in Long Island and following the birth of his first son through his relationship with his second wife, Alice, he took himself off into his studio and worked solidly for several days. His wife, famously, described his return as follows:-
“It was like Moses coming down from the mountain, it was so beautiful. He walked down and there was that joy, there was peace in his face, tranquility. So I said, ‘Tell me everything, we didn’t really see you for four or five days.’ He said, ‘This is the first time that I have received all the music for what I wanted to record, in a suite. This is the first time I have everything, everything ready.”
50 years later, for this London performance Rowland Sutherland has added to the original score and extended beyond the original quartet setting with and arrangement for a fifteen piece band which brought together British, Indian and African musicians.
So how did it all work out?
The first half of the concert comprised of three pieces. Byron Wallen came on stage with a Tibetan horn, which turned out to be a telescopic instrument which extended about three metres. I’d never seen or heard one before. He swung this around and made great use of several of the onstage microphones before reverting to trumpet, which he payed in dialogue with Neil Charles on double bass.
This was followed by a trio featuring harp, flute and Japanese flutes and a tribute to Sun Ra which, to my ears, captured the mixed strengths and weaknesses of a very strange individual, who would have been 100 years old this month, had he lived that long. I saw him once and enjoyed but I’m really not keen on his Space Is The Place Blue Thumb/Impulse set.
Whether presenting some key influences or showing the appreciation of diversity that helped to make Straight No Chaser such a good read, the scene was set.
Paul Bradshaw’s introduction to the re-envisioning of A Love Supreme offered a few clues about what followed. He spoke of the original piece and the treatments and embellishments that Alice Coltrane had made following John Coltrane’s untimely death in 1966. Perhaps most tellingly he referred to Coltrane’s sole live performance of the suite, at The Antibes Jazz Festival (a recording I’m not familiar with).
The introduction, on Indian harp was in the style of the Alice Coltrane version from 1971, which I first encountered on the Stolen Moments Red Hot + Cool 1994 release. Although it took me a while to appreciate it, I eventually came to quite like it, with its spiritual invocations from the guru, Satchidananda.
John Coltrane had a close working relationship with Eric Dolphy, who died in June 1964. Had he lived, there is a strong probability that he would have played on A Love Supreme and that’s perhaps why this version included ample bass clarinet contributions from Shabaka Hutchings. It was great to see Steve Williamson again but although he played some blistering tenor saxophone, he seemed remarkably underused, especially given that the original composition was conceived by a saxophonist.
The vocals and spiritual invocations were in keeping with Coltrane’s concept,and Coltrane’s whole meditation, printed on the original album sleeve was spoken in full by vocalist Cleeveland Watkiss. I can’t reasonably complain about them but I really missed the iconic double bass introduction and the whole feel of Acknowledgement from the original album. I’ll look forward to hearing the recording on Jazz On Three- it was optimistically stated that it would be presented the following night- but after I’d reported that on Twitter I was told by R3 that it will be broadcast in the New Year. I’ll be in the market for a CD too, if one gets released.
The arrangement was enthralling without being totally satisfying and rates as a 7/10 performance for my money.
For some time now I’ve felt that I should have a better appreciation of Sonny Rollins and his music than I do. I used to play tenor saxophone (very badly, I hasten to add) and Saxophone Colossus was amongst the first CDs that I purchased when I bought an early CD player. I listened to it avidly, alongside a couple of his Blue Note recordings which I borrowed from the local library and copied onto cassette tape.
Aside from that, it has only been in the last couple of years that I bought and listened to Way Out West and The Bridge- and I have yet to hear Freedom Suite (I’m putting that right next week).
Sadly, I’ve never yet seen Sonny Rollins perform live, although I had tickets for the Royal Albert Hall concert last year that he was forced to withdraw from due to ill health.
Over the last six months I’ve been listening to Sonny Rollins On Impulse. When I initially came across it in a Manchester record shop, I thought it was a compilation and wasn’t that interested. However, it was in near mint condition and that made me take a closer look.
When he recorded it in 1965, Sonny Rollins was at the end of a recording contract with RCA which had yielded six albums. He followed John Coltrane to Impulse, hoping to benefit from the sort of creative ethos that had worked so well for the other great saxophonist. His association with Impulse was to last for three albums and as Ashley Kahn reveals in The House That Trane Built, it was not recalled by Sonny Rollins as the great experience he had hoped for as he felt that he had been ripped off and exploited by people associated with the label.
What of his first LP with them then? On Impulse is a set of five standard tunes, opening with On Green Dolphin Street. Rollins treats this track in a strange way. The head is impressionistic and offers a only passing reference to the tune. Later he is content to inhabit the margins of the performance in a manner which seems to mimic the irritating buzzing of an insect. Not my favourite version of this fine tune!
Everything Happens To Me is rather more conventional and mainstream. Initially, Sonny’s playing doesn’t exactly set fire to the immediate environment and it is quite restrained but there is some very fine supporting work from piano, bass and drums (with a wonderful contribution from the double bass). However, his concluding solo is an absolute masterclass in the art of playing a ballad on tenor.
Hold ‘Em Joe is the first track on the second side of the vinyl version of this set. It is a calypso, which is full of joy and life and which makes me smile every time I hear it. You can hear and form a view of it too courtesy of khimerak on Youtube:-
To play, touch or click on the arrow
Blue Room is a lush Rodgers and Hart ballad that is sophisticated without losing a light and uplifting quality and featuring silky piano.
Three Little Words is the closest this album gets to straight ahead hard bop. It remains lyrical and Sonny’s saxophone is notably fluent, ending an excellent album on a high note.
It has taken me a while to get round to Sonny Rollins here at downwithit but I’m delighted to have done so via one of his less well known albums, which, nonetheless is well worthy of your attention.
The band etc: Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone); Ray Bryant (piano); Mickeys Roker (drums); Walter Booker (bass). Produced: Bob Thiele. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs. 8 July 1965. Cover Design: Joe Lebow. Cover Photography: Charles Stewart. Released: 1968. Original release: AS-91.