Category Archives: Quintet Recording

If You’re Not Part of the Solution…Joe Henderson Quintet

It is high barbecue season here in South London; indeed I’m leaving to attend one shortly. What’s the weather like? Rain is likely, of course, although it will almost inevitably be followed by blistering heat during the working week that is only hours away.

Let’s go somewhere else. To a place where warm nights give way to warmer and far sunnier days. By the seaside where the surf is always up. What we need next to the beach is one of the great Jazz rooms and one of the finest tenor saxophonists on the stand with a new and exciting band. A snap of the fingers takes us to California. To Hermosa Beach. To The Lighthouse. Joe Henderson is playing a set which ranges from his songbook classics through to a lengthy slab of jazz funk. We need somewhere to dance. Another snap of the fingers and just through the door there’s a pier (actually we’ll skip that bit as apparently it has been done recently at this very location in the film La La Land).

Hermosa Beach lies just south of Los Angeles Airport on a west facing strip of coastline that sweeps north via Venice Beach, Santa Monica towards Malibu, sort of like Morecambe Bay perhaps although Morecambe lacks a distant Hollywood sign?

Enough! Let’s get back to the music on the turntable. Despite most of the albums I look at here having been ripped from CDs, vinyl is what we’ve got today. It is a UK pressing of a Milestone album which has been licensed to Ace and the sound is good without being amazing. I grade my copy of the record as being in VG+ condition with the cover also weighing in as VG+ and I’m very pleased to have it.

By 1970 Joe Henderson had contributed to over 30 classic Blue Note sessions as a sideman and had led five of his own great recordings for the label. In 1967 he signed a recording deal with Orrin Keepnews at Milestone Records which was to result in a dozen titles bearing his name eventually being issued.

This album was the fourth of these. In late September 1970 Henderson played a short residency at the famous Lighthouse Cafe at Hermosa Beach in California. Label boss Keepnews was excited by the new band that Henderson had assembled that summer and he had a hunch that they would work particularly well as a live unit. Arrangements were made to record the gigs and the resulting album captures a strong set.

A track entitled Caribbean Fire Dance has got to be lively and this take on it features flames aplenty. Henderson and Woody Shaw spark off the lively and percussive rhythm section which fans up a conflagration. Cables on electric piano offers up a vibes-like sound reminiscent of Bobby Hutcherson. It sounds great on record and must have been splendid live.

‘Round Midnight starts with a pensive exploration of the tune from Henderson’s tenor over a light reverberating accompaniment from the electric piano. Henderson then breaks out into double time Hard Bop territory with Ron McClure racing up and down the fretboard of his bass as he keeps pace with the leader during this middle section. After a brief piano and bass duet Henderson slows the tempo and brings the track to a calm and delicate conclusion during which the appreciative audience is completely silent. Cables and Shaw were to later accompany Dexter Gordon on another version of this standard when he performed at The Village Vanguard in December 1976.

Cedar Walton’s Mode For Joe has long been a personal favourite. Henderson’s long solo is a delight to listen to on this piece which brings the first side of the album to a close.

The origin of name of the title track, If You’re Not Part of The Solution, You’re Part of The Problem is a quotation from Eldridge Cleaver and makes passing reference to Henderson’s commitment to civil rights and equality. It is a lengthy jazz funk workout in a style that would have sounded up to date at the time of release but which was soon imitated by lesser talents, though it still sounds engaging. Ron McClure delivers a solid electric bass line throughout. It is a treat to hear and you can listen to it here courtesy of YouTube:-

To play, touch or click on the arrow.

There’s a reading of his mentor, Kenny Dorham’s Blue Bossa on which Henderson’s tenor solo is tuneful and confines itself to the conventional range of the instrument before Woody Shaw takes a turn.

The very short Closing Theme runs for 47 seconds and does what it says, before the band are name checked and receive due applause.

If You’re Not Part of the Solution… is well worth tracking down if only to trace the continuing development of a great musician. It is a very a different recording to that made by the acoustic trio featured on the two excellent State of The Tenor live albums from the mid-1980’s. I’m not yet familiar with the other Milestone recordings although, over time, I will make it my business to track them down and report back here.

Henderson relocated to the West Coast in the early 1970’s, where he combined recording and live performance with teaching. Sadly, he passed away aged 64 in 2001. I never got to see him live and that is something that I regret. However, the live recordings remain and provide an opportunity to appreciate his playing. Other than learning of a brief period spent with Earth, Wind and Fire there is little readily available on the net concerning Henderson’s life in the 1970’s. However, after a search on Google Scholar an article in a journal’ The Black Perspective on Music (Vol 5, No. 1. Spring 1977) by Frank Kofsky suggested that in the mid-70’s he was probably playing less than 10 gigs a year in the San Francisco area and largely living on royalty payments, studio work and a small income from academic activities. A later triumphant return to the spotlight was to come in the 1980’s but I will leave that for another day.

The band etc.:- Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone); Woody Shaw (trumpet & flugelhorn); George Cables (electric piano); Ron McClure (bass & electric bass track 4); Lenny White (drums); Tony Waters (percussion). Recorded live September 25, 25 & 26 1970 at The Lighthouse Cafe, Hermosa Beach, California. Produced by: Orrin Keepnews. Recording Engineer: Bernie Grundman. Photographs: Philip Melnick. Design: John Murello. Issued in 1970: Fantasy Records Milestone MX 9028.

If you like what you have read, please touch or click on the ‘like’ box. Comments are also very welcome. downwithit.info contains over 160 individual posts about Modern Jazz, which can be found by using the search box at the top of this page or by making a selection of your choice from the list at the bottom of this page, where you will also find links to other blogs and websites.

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Now is the Time (Live at The Knitting Factory): The Alex Blake Quintet

So here’s a little teaser for the brain cells. We’re looking for the year that this record was made.

Here in the UK we were out of step with our neighbours (the Euro was introduced), there were terrorist incidents in Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho (2 killed and over 90 other victims) and Tracey Emin’s bed was displayed as part of her Turner Prize submission.

In the States, a President (Clinton) was impeached but acquitted, a drugs cheat won his first Tour de France and a legal case was brought to shut down Napster file sharing.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose as the French folk have been heard to say.

Prince offers another clue:-
“I was dreamin’ when I wrote this, so sue me if I go too fast
But life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last.”

I think you’ve probably got it and Prince will confirm:-

“Say say two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time
So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s nineteen ninety-nine.”

It is estimated that in 1999 only 1/5 of the population of the United Kingdom had access to the Internet.

By December 1999 the TriBeCa district of New Yok City was no longer a down at heel home for aspiring artists and musicians. The big money had squeezed most of them out. It was still the location of The Knitting Factory, a celebrated performance venue and it was there that bassist, Alex Blake recorded this fine set with Pharoah Sanders sitting in on tenor saxophone.

As you will guess, it was the prospect of hearing Sanders play live that led me to seek out this recording. Blake was not a musician that I was familiar with but, bearing in mind that a stranger is a potential friend that you have not met yet, I ordered my copy.

So let’s settle back at our table for this performance.

On the Spot opens with a drum prelude before the tune is introduced. It is a close relative of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and it offers a springboard for Pharoah to take off from. In 1999 he was 59 years old and playing with brilliance as the first soloist. John Hicks, Sanders’ regular accompanist sparkles on piano before Victor Jones is given a drum solo.

A further percussion intro leads into The Chief, a second Blake composition. Hicks demonstrates his creativity over a a solid progression with Blake’s bass to the fore. He offers up an impressive solo as the piece moves along briskly with a sense of excitement that still sounds contemporary.

Blake shifts to electric bass for Little Help, a solo based on Lennon and McCartney’s With a Little Help From My Friends. It is novel to hear the bass as the lead guitar and this is a track which is not to be missed and which should be better known than it is.

Blake plays a solo introduction on his acoustic bass (with some vocalisation- omitted from the selection below) to the title track Now is the Time. This is another bustling theme, well suited to an exciting live performance. Hicks entrances and Pharoah offers up a solo played towards the acidic edge of the tenor saxophone. There is also some more very impressive bass from Alex Blake. You can take a listen courtesy of Supajazz on YouTube:-

To play either touch or click on the arrow

Finally, the album closes with Mystery of Love, a tune with a ballad at its heart by Guy Warren, a Ghanaian musician and social activist who was influential through his encouragement of black Americians seeking to make positive links with Africa.

This is the only relatively readily available album led by Alex Blake. He continues to perform in 2017 as a member of Randy Weston’s band. He was born in Pamama in 1951 and grew up in Brooklyn, NY. He started his career as a musician with Sun Ra’s Arkestra before playing Fusion with Lenny White and Billy Cobham and playing on recordings by Pharoah Sanders, Yusef Lateef. He also had a lengthy stint with Manhattan Transfer.

Pharoah Sanders and John Hicks sparkle without dominating and since Now is the Time still sounds great my suggestion is that it should be purchased if you come across it.

The band etc.:- Alex Blake (acoustic bass, electric bass track 4, Percussion, vocals); Pharoah Sanders(tenor saxophone); John Hicks (piano); Victor Jones (drums); Neil Clark (percussion); Chris Hunter (additional alto saxophone). Recorded live 6 December 1999 at The Knitting Factory, New York City. Produced by: Alex Blake. Recording Engineers: Peter Katis &Sascha Van Oetzen. Cover photo / booklet: Eric Decker. Art Direction and Design: Rudi Reitberg. Issued in 2000: Bubble Core Records BC030.

If you like what you have read, please touch or click on the ‘like’ box. Comments are also very welcome. downwithit.info contains over 150 individual posts about Modern Jazz, which can be found by using the search box at the top of this page or by making a selection of your choice from the list at the bottom of this page, where you will also find links to other blogs and websites.

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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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A Man With A Horn: Lou Donaldson

2017 has dawned. The World is still spinning. I’m delighted to declare that after an abstemious Festive Season, my head isn’t. So, Happy New Year everybody and let’s hope it turns out to be much less ‘interesting’ (in the sense of the Chinese curse) than 2016. Here’s a fresh post to get matters underway at downwithit.

Over the last two months A Man With a Horn has been the most played album on my system and it has led me to an even greater respect for Lou Donaldson.

It is not one of Donaldson’s better-known albums, mainly because it was not released in the early sixties. The two sessions that make up this recording were from 1961 and 1963 and they remained in the vaults until 1999. It was over 35 years before they were dusted down as part of the Blue Note Connoisseur CD series, a conduit for rare and previously unissued material. As far as I am aware, this set has never been issued on vinyl but that does not mean it should not merit attention.

Both sessions featured guitarist Grant Green who was encouraged to move to New York and introduced to the Blue Note label by Donaldson. The earlier session utilises Jack McDuff on Hammond organ in a rare Blue Note outing, whilst John Patton, another Donaldson protege, plays the keyboard on the 1963 date. McDuff is used as an accompaniest, playing understated swirling chords on the five ballads from ’61, while John Patton is given more space to solo.

The CD alternates between songs from each of the sessions and I have marked 1961 tunes with a single asterix (*) and 1963 with double asterixes (**). I initially wondered why the set had been sequenced in this way. I eventually grouped and played through the tracks in the two discrete sessions. This leads me to the conclusion that while the 1961 session, which consists of mellifluous ballads is strong, the tunes benefit from being interspersed with the more uptempo offerings from 1963. As presented there is the variety and texture to turn this CD into a more rewarding listening experience.

The Errol Garner standard Misty* is given a lush rendition as opener. The purity of tone from Lou Donaldson’s alto sax is exceptional and is well-matched by the sensitive contributions from the other three musicians, especially Grant Green. It is currently on Youtube courtesy of Zateuz and you can watch here:-

To play, touch or click on the arrow

Hipity Hop** starts off in the manner of a 1950’s swing tune before John Patton plays an incredible solo starting with a Morse code like trill held for a full 24 bars. It certainly catches the attention. This Donaldson composition is an uptempo and funky toe-tapper and he plays an assertive and exemplary alto sax solo before Grant Green and Patton contribute to a rich confection flavoured by Irvin Stoke’s wah-wah muted trumpet.

It is then back to 1961 for Please*, a second delicate romantic ballad on which all four musicians acquit themselves well.

On My Melancholy Baby** Lou Donaldson builds on riffs that owe much to Charlie Parker’s school of soloing, with an engaging contribution delivered from the trumpet of Stokes.

Man With A Horn* features more delectable and sensitive playing from the 1961 quartet in a track that is a bit of a smoocher.

Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White** is delivered over a playful cha cha rhythm and contains a solid portion of Grant Green’s ever-tasteful guitar.

Prisoner Of Love* is a standard which was in the charts courtesy of James Brown and The Famous Flames (If still on YouTube this is too good to miss) when this was recorded.

Then it is off to the church of funk with Soul Meetin’**, the second Donaldson composition here and one of those great finger-snapping ‘Baptist Beat’ numbers. I’m very fond of them when they occasionally appear on Blue Note sets. As a New Year bonus this is the second YouTube post courtesy of The Nada73

To play, touch or click on the arrow

The set closes with Star Dust*, a fifth ballad that maintains the high standards of the other four. In his excellent and informative ‘The Jazz Standards’ Ted Gioia refers to it as’…the song to which their parents and grandparents courted, romanced and wed’ and traces the history of this formally much-loved song which is slowly fading into obscurity (in the way of all things).

If you come across this set on CD (and it is relatively rare) don’t hesitate to purchase it as it captures Lou Donaldson playing on the ballads with a very clear and intense tone and also includes a good balance of more uptempo tunes from the 1963 date. Grant Green is on great form, as is John Patton on this very worthwhile jewel from the vaults.

The band etc: Tracks marked * Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone); Grant Green (guitar); Jack McDuff (organ); Joe Dukes (drums). Recorded: 25 September 1961
Tracks marked ** Irvin Stokes (trumpet); Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone); Grant Green (guitar); John Patton (organ); Ben Dixon (drums). Recorded: 7 June 1963.
Both session recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Ed Hamilton. Cover design: Patrick Roques. Cover photo: Francis Wolff. Issued as Blue Note 21436.

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