Category Archives: Soprano Sax

Hard Evidence Trio live at DIY Space For London

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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Coltrane Plays The Blues: John Coltrane


Are you one of the many fortunate readers who has reason to visit a barber or hairdresser? If you are and they are any good, take a moment to salute them. Maria at The Clipper keeps her scissors as sharp as how I think my hairstyle looks when I walk out through her salon door. Why start with this you may wonder? Well, the reason will become clear as you read on.

John Coltrane’s life was eventful though his star burned brightly and briefly, as he passed away at the age of 41. 1960 was a particularly busy and momentous year for him though. Giant Steps was released in late January and he spent March and April touring Europe with Miles Davis. During this tour he spent hours practising soprano saxophone (some accounts say that Miles Davis bought one for him in a Paris antique store although Coltrane also said that he has bought his own instrument earlier in the year after first starting to play on one that belonged to a fellow musician).

By May 1960 he had handed his notice in to Miles Davis and his own quartet opened a 9 week residence at the Jazz Gallery in New York’s Jazz Gallery (housed in a Greenwich Village building in which Leon Trotsky had briefly lived). On the first night, Thelonious Monk and a man dressed only in a loincloth and shouting ‘Coltrane, Coltrane!’ rushed towards the stage in salutation.

He recruited McCoy Tyner in the summer and later, in September he hired Elvin Jones, who he first met in 1957. On 21 and 24 October they went into the studios to record sessions which were to yield tracks for no less than four major albums (not including compilations and retrospectives).

Amongst them was Coltrane Plays The Blues. It is often overlooked by people exploring Coltrane’s discography, perhaps because the title may make it appear to be a generic career-spanning compilation rather than as a discrete work, recorded at one particularly important time in Coltrane’s development as a leader.

Blues To Elvin is as straightforward a blues as they come, except that we are in the company of masters, with solos from Coltrane and McCoy Tyner.

Coltrane plays his soprano saxophone on Blues To Bechet, opting for a pianoless trio with Tyner sitting out. Coltrane had been working towards mastery of his soprano saxophone, a horn previously seldom heard in a modern jazz context since the late 1950s. During that period he had visited the Blue Note offices to obtain copies of Sidney Bechet recordings (you can read about this, how Blue Train came to be recorded and the strange tale of the Blue Note office cat here).

Blues To You harks back to Giant Steps with busy Coltrane solo in which he is running through the chord changes.

Delivered at a brisk tempo, Coltrane leads out on Mr Day over a piano theme tastefully played by Tyner.

The identities of the three men that Coltrane honoured in the titles of the songs on side 2 of the original vinyl release are obscured. Messrs Day and Knight may be self-explanatory (probably relating to different times of day, although if you know anything more, please let us know). Mr Syms, however, could only be linked to an actual individual and my quest to uncover who this was resulted in a long unfruitful and frustrating internet trawl. It was only when I managed to consult Porter’s excellent book that I discovered that the Mr Syms that Coltrane had in mind was his barber in Philadelphia (although Sims was also the middle name of drummer Pete La Roca). So that explains the dedication of this review to my hairdresser. The solos from Coltrane echo elements of Summertime, version of which was recorded on the same day, in the same session, and appeared on My Favorite Things.

The highlight of the set, for me, is Mr Knight, a brilliant composition on which Elvin Jones’ drumming is of particular note. It can be enjoyed on YouTube courtesy of monomotapa15

To listen touch or click on the arrow.

The CD reissue delivers five extra tracks with two alternative versions of both Blues For Elvin and Blues To You with a further number known as Untitled Original which sits in contrast to the rest of the album with its modal feel.

Coltrane Plays The Blues is a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying recording which repays repeated listening and which deserves a place in any modern jazz collection. If you haven’t sought it out, you should. Of course, if you can prove to us that Mr Day and Mr Knight were people, rather than conceptual titles, please let us know without delay.

The band etc: John Coltrane (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); McCoy Tyner (piano); Elvin Jones (drums); Steve Davis (bass). Produced: Nesuhi Ertegun. Engineer: Tom Dowd. Recorded: Rudy Atlantic Studios, New York City. 24 October 1960. Cover Design: Marty Norman- Bob Slutzky Graphics. Released: 1962. Original release: Atlantic Records 1382.

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Ed Kelly and Pharoah Sanders

Sanders Kelly

There’s great excitement and anticipation in the downwithit household. As Pharoah’s summer gig at Ronnie Scott’s approaches it seems opportune to introduce or possibly remind you of one of his lesser-known albums. I’m trying out a simple poll for visitors on this post- just to see how many of you own recordings by Pharoah, so please feel free to complete, if you so wish.

After coming to notice as a trusted sideman during John Coltrane’s final years, recording a string of his own sets on Impulse and accompanying Alice Coltrane and Don Cherry, the mid-1970’s arrived. To state things simply, this was a difficult, transitional time for the music. Free Jazz and the New Thing had exploded into difficult territory and many of those at the vanguard had turned back towards a hybrid fusion, funk and R & B sound (as exemplified by the late work of Albert Ayler- I will take a look at New Grass sometime perhaps) and the eclecticism of Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues.

Pharoah Sanders seemed to have lost his way and in 1978 he released a soul jazz album on Arista, Love Will Find A Way, which I have yet to hear. I understand this featured a vocal track from Phyllis Hymen and a poor cover of Marvin Gaye as the title track.

Fortunately, in 1978 Pharoah went into the studio with pianist, Ed Kelly, who was an important figure in the local San Francisco and Oakland jazz scene. The two of them recorded six tracks which ranged from covers of standards, through soul jazz through to two real gems. The album was originally released as Ed Kelly and Friend due to Pharoah being contracted to Arista Records at the time. Indeed, as you can see, the cover shows Kelly playing next to Pharoah’s hat, shoes and Selmer tenor saxophone. Let’s explore:-

Heavens above! Smooth Jazz alert! Rainbow Song, a Kelly composition, opens matters in a manner far removed from Pharoah’s work on his Impulse albums (although there had been a dramatic change of course when he signed with Arista and recorded). This is firmly in Grover Washington Junior territory with a liberal sprinkling of oh so tasteful strings. The Master’s sound is full and mighty as ever, but the overall confection is too tame.

Thankfully, with the radio track out of the way it is business as hoped for and Newborn is a Sanders composition that burns with intensity. The power of his solo is as good as anything he has produced and he runs over the full span of the tenor’s range and onwards into territory lesser known or explored by 99% of sax players. You can take a listen, courtesy of zigett at YouTube:-

To play, touch or click on the arrow (or you may even be able to command Siri to do something).

Sam Cooke’s You Send Me is treated with reverence and respect, with Pharoah delivering a sensitive and heartfelt rendition and ending with some extraordinary phonics, which we will meet again on later albums. Kelly’s accompaniment complements Sander’s playing before he receives his own space for a shimmering yet restrained solo which discloses what this non-pianist assumes to be an agile right hand.

Pippin is another Ed Kelly composition, based firmly on the 1980″s soul sound and only merits passing attention.

Answer Me My Love is an early 50’s ballad with a fascinating back story. On its initial release in post-war Britain, covers of this this fine melody stirred sufficient controversy for the song to be banned by the BBC. What led to it being barred from broadcast on the Light Programme and treated like Anarchy For The UK, Wet Dream and Give Ireland Back To The Irish? I can reveal that the reason for this draconian action was that the original version was entitled ‘Answer Me, My Lord’. In the olden days, it seems that a direct appeal to God was considered to be blasphemous- especially if set in a secular or selfish context (I can’t understand how hymns got around this though). Further research indicates that Nat King Cole made the most celebrated recording and that Bob Dylan used to sing it live in the 1990’s, presumably during his overtly Christian phase- which I didn’t know until now was so risky. Anyway, it is a grand tune, played very well but listen with care and don’t attempt to Google the lyrics. Here at downwithit.info we have to warn you that too much of that sort of thing may place your mortal soul in peril (to those unfamiliar with English humour, I am joking here).

Pharoah went on to record at least three studio versions of his great anthem You’ve Got To Have Freedom but the one here is the earliest incarnation that I am aware of. It is also the most restrained treatment of the theme, although Pharoah’s solo shows his ability to play with fire and power over the entire range of the horn. There’s plenty of space for Kelly’s piano too and he provides an elegant setting for Sanders’ exploratory work. The version on Africa (recorded 1987) is taken at a faster pace and features an equally fine piano solo from John Hicks.

These six tracks made up the selections released on the original album on Theresa Records. From this point on, Pharoah’s work on the CD is complete and the final five recordings are from 1992 and feature Ed Kelly with a quintet on the first two and on solo piano for the last three. They are well worth a listen and my notes follow:-

Song For The Street People endeavours to create an aural representation of day to day life in Oakland. Like the next track it has that jaunty mainstream sort of feel that makes you feel all is good in the world.

West Oakland Strut wouldn’t be out of place on Donald Byrd / Mizell brothers production. AJ Johnson’s muted trumpet sounds fine but overall the piece is slightly too light for me.

The CD concludes with three solo piano pieces. Lift Every Voice has been referred to as the Black American national anthem and Kelly’s piano offers a reflection on a tune of great cultural significance. Just The Two Of Us is the popular MacDonald, Salter, Bill Withers number, which was recorded by Withers and Grover Washington Jr. on Winelight. Stripped of strings and over-embellishment it is most listenable.

Finally, Kelly takes a look at Thelonious Monk’s Well You Needn’t, which he interprets wonderfully and which shows what a talented pianist he was.

I came across this CD a couple of months ago and was surprised as I had never heard of it before. It represents a satisfying bridge from the free-fire of the Impulse recordings to the later more melodic Sanders. You should be able to track it down on CD, but expect to pay over £15.00 (which is small change for collectors of first pressings).

As I have said elsewhere, Pharoah Sanders seems to be somewhat ignored by many lovers of jazz. Some of his work on Impulse can be abrasive and difficult and, since he emerged in the mid-1960’s he doesn’t have the hard bop pedigree that some insist on. That is their loss. Ed Kelly and Pharoah Sanders has been a great find and if you want a good introduction to this great saxophonist it may be a suitable springboard for you.

Ed Kelly shows a talent that could have enabled him to have made his name on the international stage. However, he chose family life on the West Coast over potential fame in New York and was a professor of Music at Laney College, Oakland for 27 years before his untimely death aged 69 in 2005. There is an obituary here.

The bands etc:
Tracks 1-6 (the Pharoah Sanders collaborations from 1978).
Ed Kelly (Piano); Pharoah Sanders (Tenor and Soprano Saxophone); Peter Barshay (Bass); Eddie Marshall (Drums).
Recorded: Bear West Studios, San Francisco. December 1978.
Tracks 7 and 8 (quintet selections from 1992).
Ed Kelly (Piano); Robert Steward (Tenor Saxophone); AJ Johnston (Trumpet); Harley White (Bass); Mark Lignell (Drums).
Tracks 9-11 (solo piano from 1992).
Ed Kelly (Solo Piano).
Recorded: Hyde Street Studios, San Francisco. 8 December, 1978.
Produced by Allen Pittman and Al Evers. recording and Mixing Engineer: Mark Needham. Premastering: Dave Shirk. Cover design Imageworks. Cover photos: Tom Copi. CD released 1993. Evidence ECD 22056-2.

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Moon Germs: Joe Farrell

Joe Farrell Moon Germs cover

In late March last year (2014) I posted a comment on London Jazz Collector’s site in response to a piece he had written about an album produced by Creed Taylor here. I was asking if anybody could recommend any Creed Taylor productions that avoided over-orchestration and fellow regular LJC contributor, Eduard Linshalm pointed me in the direction of Joe Farrell’s Moon Germs.

Although I purchased a copy almost immediately, it has taken a year to get round to presenting a consideration of this set here. Over the last year I’ve looked at classic recordings, broadened the site’s scope to look at new releases and also tried to take in a few live performances. Sets like this one, produced in the early 1970’s and veering towards jazz-rock fusion have been overlooked here because I’ve wanted to alternate between classic and contemporary recordings.

So here we go. Great Gorge starts off with a well-crafted tune played on soprano sax over a heavy duty funk background. It then moves on to a post-hard bop improvisation. Herbie Hancock delivers a fast, dexterous solo on keyboards while Stanley Clarke on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums add an intricate texture in the background, before we return to the tune and it’s funky background in a brief reprise.

The title track, Moon Germs, follows. It has a busy feel with a superb bass line delivered by Stanley Clarke and, to my ears, is vaguely similar to Freedom Jazz Dance. You can hear it courtesy of YouTube:-

To play either click on or touch the arrow

Times Lies is a Chick Corea tune which starts out as a waltz, albeit with a very pronounced bass line, before Farrell pays respects to John Coltrane’s Chasing The Train in his solo.

Bass Folk Song sees Farrell pick up his flute on a tune which has something of a calypso feel to it.

Creed Taylor is in the producers chair and the album was recorded at the Englewood Cliffs Studio with Rudy Van Gelder as engineer.

Moon Germs has been rated as one of the stronger jazz recordings on CTI and, in my opinion, it benefits from just being a quartet recording on which the strings and and orchestration of many other CTI recordings are absent and the production is restrained. Farrell displays a mastery of the soprano saxophone, which is not easy to play well and this recording makes me want to hear what he was like on tenor. Stanley Clarke’s bass playing is at the heart of this set and I will also listen out for other recordings by him. Thanks for the recommendation, Eduard.

Chicago born Joe Farrell recorded four albums on CTI and sat in with many other jazz, fusion and rock artists ranging from Elvin Jones and Charles Mingus to Hall and Oates and Laura Nyro. He was also an early member of Chick Corea’s Return To Forever. He died of a blood disorder in 1986, aged 48.

The band etc.: Joe Farrell (soprano saxophone, flute); Herbie Hancock (piano); Stanley Clarke (bass); Jack DeJohnette (drums). Recorded: 21 November 1972. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Creed Taylor. Engineer: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover photos: Pete Turner. Cover Design: Bob Ciano. Reissue sleeve notes: James Isaacs. Originally issued on CTI in 1973.

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Pocket Compass: Trish Clowes

Trish Clowes Pocket Compass cover

Just when I was wondering which CD to select as my March contemporary review, I received a copy of this offering from this young British saxophonist. It fits the bill perfectly- although it has been out since November 2014, so I’m not writing about the newest of new releases for you here today.

The set features three tracks recorded with the BBC Concert Orchestra and a further five from a quintet session. Since the quintet tracks were recorded exactly a year ago and this (4th March 2015) is the first birthday for some of them, I have no excuse other than to listen and enjoy immediately.

This is Trish Clowes third album and it is a work which exudes confidence and maturity, with all of the tracks being self-written and arranged. It is adventurous without losing sight of being melodious so let’s have a run through the tracks.

Radiation is the first of the three collaborations with the Concert Orchestra. Starting out with a rich and plaintiff saxophone phrase over a lush orchestral arrangement the tempo first speeds and then alternates featuring great dialogue between guitar, piano, sax and orchestra.

Question Mark is a tone poem that has a decidedly modern feel to it.

Porcupine is jangly and angular without being extreme, culminating in an interesting extended tenor solo from Clowes, which leads into a hard bop accompaniment from the rhythm section

Symphony In Yellow was inspired by an Oscar Wilde poem. The piano playing from Gwilym Simcock is particularly deft and sensitive and Chris Montague paves the way for a short lyrical interlude from Trish Clowes leading to a finale

The BBC Concert Orchestra is back for Balloon, which features the oboe of Lauren Weavers and more fine electric guitar from Montague.

Pfeiffer and the Whales was inspired by a trip that Clowes made to Monterey and Big Sur in California. It is enormously relaxing- the very sort of piece to accompany a short morning meditation for those that are into that, apparently very rewarding, sort of thing. Great stuff.

Wayne’s Waltz is dedicated to Wayne Shorter, following a meeting between the saxophone giant and Clowes. The soprano sax and piano enjoy an exchange before the voice of Calum Gourlay’s bass is heard. This track is currently available on YouTube and you can take a look here:-

To listen click or touch the arrow.

Chorale reunites Clowes with the orchestra. She explains in her brief but informative sleeve notes that she encouraged them to improvise over two chords on this piece, which strikes me as capturing a certain sophisticated London Jazz sound. It is very enjoyable.

The recorded sound is excellent and the production by Curtis Schwartz and Neil Varley (orchestral tracks) captures the instrumentation to fine effect. Two of photographs by Kira Doherty were taken on an atmospheric reach of the Thames in a bit of South-East London that I know really well, but which is getting built up really quickly. An unexpected bonus from this review is the encouragement for me to don my running shoes and get out there again very soon.

Thanks to my industry contact Christine for the review copy of this complex yet accessible set and for introducing me to this great young British talent. She informed me that she had enjoyed a recent performance by ‘…this charming saxophonist’ in London last week. If Chris enjoyed the show that’s a good enough recommendation for me!

The band etc: Trish Clowes (tenor & soprano saxophone); Gwilym Simcock (piano); Chris Montague (electric guitar); Calum Gourlay (double bass); James Maddren (drums). Small band tracks recorded at Curtis Schwartz Studios, W. Sussex on 3 & 4 March 2014. Radiation, Balloon and Chorale recorded at Air Studios, London on 22 January 2014. Produced by Curtis Schwartz and Neil Varley (orchestral tracks). Mixing and mastering by Curtis Schwartz. Photography: Kira Doherty. Issued on Basho Records, SRCD 45-2. November 2014.

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