Category Archives: Tenor Saxophone

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.

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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.

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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.

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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Looking ahead: A Concert for Alice and John Coltrane

This year marks 50 years since the passing of the great John Coltrane (and 10 years since that of his wife Alice Coltrane). On 18 November, a special commemorative concert is to be held at The Barbican in London.

It features a rare London appearance by Pharoah Sanders (hopefully accompanied by pianist William Henderson) with Denys Baptiste and Alina Bzhezhinska also performing on the bill.

The concert publicity says it will be:-

A three-part journey through the cosmos, celebrating the profound musical and spiritual legacy of two of the most influential figures in Western musical history: Alice and John Coltrane.

When I checked the Barbican Box Office on 25 August 2017, the concert had sold out.

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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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Beyond Now: Donny McCaslin

Spare a thought for the chameleon and, perhaps a little later, after reading further, some praise. Why? Because it was the chameleon that brought us here.

The changeling that I have in mind is the late David Bowie. His 2014 single release, Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) utilised a big band with Donny McCaslin to the fore on tenor saxophone. McCaslin was later to play on Bowie’s Blackstar (which contains a different rock version of Sue without much sax) where he was showcased with a solo on Dollar Days (and to a lesser extent I Can’t Give Everything Away).

Beyond Now was recorded in April 2016 following Bowie’s death in January 2016 and McCaslin states on the sleeve:-
“It was like a dream, except it was something that I could never have dreamed of. David Bowie was a visionary artist whose generosity, creative spirit, and fearlessness will stay with me the rest of my days. This recording is dedicated to him and all who loved him.”

Since the 1970s I’ve always been ready to listen to Bowie because he was a truly innovative and compelling artist. In mid-2014 I looked at a reprise of his Berlin songs recorded by Dylan Howe and it was my favourite contemporary set of the year for 2014. I’m therefore delighted that this jazz saxophonist who worked with Bowie has produced an album that he influenced. Beyond Now, which was released at the end of 2016, will be the first contemporary recording to be reviewed on downwithit.info in 2017.

Proceedings get underway with Shake Loose, a staccato funk piece that offers a great warm-up for McCaslin who covers the full range of his tenor saxophone, from high to low and back again with every stop in between. This could be a set opener as it certainly seizes the attention. I particularly enjoy the second phase, where things slow down a bit, the keyboards come in and longer notes are played.

McCaslin is content to operate as the lead accompanist on A Small Plot of Land, the first of two David Bowie tracks. Jeff Taylor supplies vocals on this ponderous version of a composition which was originally used as background to the funeral of Andy Warhol segment in the film Basquiat. The elegiac quality may possibly go some way to explaining why McCaslin chose to cover it here on an album recorded so soon after Bowie’s passing. It is a good choice, which repays repeated airings and which adds further layer of variety and texture to the album.

I need listeners to help me out on the title track, Beyond Now, as I think McCaslin is playing clarinet on the opening of this fine ballad. Jason Linder gets space to play a rather good piano solo here too.

Coelacanth 1 is a tune originally composed by Grammy Award nominated DJ and producer Deadmau5. McCaslin’s tenor paints a soundscape over long drone notes delivered from the keyboards. It is a contemplative piece in the style of so much that appears on ECM albums by the likes of Jan Gabarek.

On Bright Abyss McCaslin ranges over both the upper and lower registers of his tenor and shows that he is comfortable with the lower notes, which can often expose the limitations of lesser musicians.

McCaslin solos inventively over the increasingly frenzied straight ahead rock rhythms on FACEPLANT (uppercase sic). If Neil Cowley was to collaborate with a saxophonist, DMc would be a shoe-in for the job as this track has the same feel as some of the rockier pieces on Spacebound Apes.

With Warszawa, from Low, David Bowie and Brian Eno took us into new territory that seemed strange and somewhat challenging on a 1970’s rock album. Here, Donny McCaslin’s mournful tenor is played beautifully and this is a worthy homage to The Thin White Duke.

Glory builds slowly towards an engaging keyboard bridging section, before the saxophone comes in with overtones and sparkling upper register runs concluding with an exciting finish.

The Great American Songbook, that loose mishmash canon of jazz standards, is not known to have expanded to include the final track, but perhaps it should. Remain, originally written and recorded by Mutemath, is an exceptionally beautiful ballad, almost wistful in tone and the highlight of the album for me. It is just the sort of tune that Miles Davis could conceivably have chosen to cover in the twilight of his life. It is worth the price of admission to this set by itself. Although there are currently plenty of Donny McCaslin tracks on YouTube, at the time of writing, Remain was not one of them. However, you can hear a short slice of it on the album sampler:-

Treat yourself and play it now courtesy of YouTube. You won’t regret it.

To play, touch or click on the arrow

Donny McCaslin was born in 1966 in Santa Clara, California and was the son of a vibraphonist. He won a full scholarship to the world famous Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1984 before touring with Gary Burton’s band from 1987. In 1991 he replaced the eminent horn player, Michael Brecker in Steps Ahead and in 1998 he recorded the first of his 12 albums released to date. The Bowie link began when he was recommended by composer Maria Schneider and Bowie watched him and his band play in 55 Bar, New York City (which sounds like a must visit place in Greenwich Village).

downwithit.info will continue to cover selected contemporary CDs and Beyond Now has certainly got 2017 off to a great start. I wholeheartedly recommend this recording which has confirmed that David Bowie made an excellent choice of saxophonist for his last known projects. Cheers to The Chameleon for that and so much more!

The band etc.:- Donny McCaslin (tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, clarinet); Jason Linder (keyboards); Tim Lefebvre (electric bass); Mark Guiliana (drums); supported by: Jeff Taylor (vocals- track 2); David Binney (additional synths and vocals, tracks 5 & ); Nate Wood (guitar, track 2). Recorded 4-6 April 2016. Systems Two, Brooklyn, New York. Produced by: David Binney. Recording Engineer: Mike Marciano. Mixed by: Nate Wood. Cover photo: Jimmy King. Art Direction and Design: Rebecca Meek. Issued as Motema 234310.

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Johnny Griffin’s Studio Jazz Party

johnny-griffin-studio-jazz-party-1

In September 1960 Johnny Griffin led this session which sought to capture the spontaneity of a live recording in a studio environment where the sound quality could be controlled and shaped to a much greater degree than in most live venues. Johnny Griffin’s Studio Jazz Party is exactly what the title says it is. An audience was invited to the Plaza Sounds Studio in New York where they were treated to drinks and a buffet and encouraged to respond to the music as though they were in a club setting.

Writing posts for downwithit.info would be far more difficult if, like many fellow Jazz site authors, I was to confine myself to recordings that I owned in a vinyl format. Most of my posts are based on listening to FLAC sound files that I have ripped from CDs that I have purchased. I enjoy the freedom to roam that this offers and it is a freedom that I wouldn’t have if I was to only write about vinyl records. I can’t afford top quality early pressings and usually lack the time it takes to dig through crates of second hand vinyl in search of rare bargains. I’m not sure if this offends the purists but if it does then too bad.

So what has this look at Johnny Griffin’s Studio Jazz Party to do with this?

Well! It represents a rare consideration on this site of a vinyl LP. I have a regular cursory flick through the jazz section of my local music and DVD shop and once in a while I come across an affordable record that I am prepared to stump up the cash for.

Back in August 2014 I wrote about another Johnny Griffin recording:- his Big Soul Band set. By coincidence that was also a vinyl record from the same shop.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the fare that is served up here:-

After an extended introduction from Babs Gonzales, in which the invited audience are encouraged to settle in and avail themselves of the food and drinks, the session proper gets underway.

The opener is a lengthy rendition of Tad Dameron / Count Basie’s Good Bait. After a brief and moody swing-influenced head the band hit double time and Griffin is away with a lively solo before bringing in Dave Burns on trumpet. Griffin’s second solo is a little ragged as is his playing when he trades verses with Burns but overall there is little not to enjoy.

You can take a listen courtesy of ‘Umo’ at Youtube here:-

To play click or touch the arrow.

There Will Never Be Another You features Burns on the head and first solo. Simmons acquits himself well on piano. Griffin’s notes are voiced swiftly as bursts of sound, before, in conclusion Griffen and Burns again trade phrases with each other, before receiving deserved applause.

Toe-Tappin’ is a Burns composition that displays more than a nod towards Moanin’, although unlike that classic it is played at a brisk tempo. There’s space for a short bass solo from Vic Sproules which fits well.

You’ve Changed is introduced by Gonzalves in basic French as a version of the ballad associated with Billie Holiday. Burns plays beautifully on this.

Low Gravy is a strolling blues number written for the session by Gonzales, which closes the recording.

My copy is a Japanese pressing and this initially made me think twice about the purchase. Any doubts were set aside when I examined the back cover and discovered that the copy on sale had been previously owned by ‘Schmidt’ a well-known British jazz collector (London Jazz Collector owns several records from the same source). As you will see he had the habit of adding his name in his distinctive script. Although embellishments to the sleeve usually reduce its value, an exception can be made for him.

I pointed the signature out to the extremely knowledgeable shopkeeper who said that he remembered meeting Schmidt and thought that he had something to do with the audio or hifi business. I intend to have a chat with him to try to get some more information when I next see him and the shop is not busy.

Although I admire Johnny Griffin for being adventurous with the concept of this release, Studio Jazz Party is not the greatest album with a live feel to it but it is worth a listen and I am pleased to have added a first ‘Schmidt’ to my collection.

The band etc: Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone); Norman Simmons (piano); Dave Burns (trumpet); Vic Sproules (bass); Ben Riley (drums). Recorded: September 27 1960. Plaza Sounds Studio, New York City. Produced: Orrin Keepnews. Sleeve Notes: Chris Albertson. Cover photos: Lawrence Shustak. Cover Design: Ken Deardoff. Original Stereo copy issued as Riverside 9338.

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The Epic: Kamasi Washington

Kamasi Washington The Epic2

Readers, I’m sorry that it has taken me so long to get round to taking a look at this celebrated release from Kamasi Washington.

Every so often an artist comes along that it is important to have an opinion about. Kamasi Washington is of that ilk. His first release is a triple CD set featuring nearly three hours of music. Some of the tracks are indeed epic in scale featuring large choirs together with a 32 piece orchestra and he appeared live in concert at the BBC Proms at the end of August 2016. His tenor saxophone work is likened to that of some of the greatest musicians of all time. The album is entitled The Epic for a reason and trying to do it justice will be no easy task, so I will be doing so over the whole of August and September 2016, starting with some initial impressions before working towards some conclusions by the end of September 2016. If you want to join me and have some dialogue, get yourself a copy. There is also an opinion poll at the end of the piece that you are welcome to participate in (the current results are shown after you have voted).

Here goes:-

Volume 1: The Plan

Change of the Guard is dedicated to Austin Peralta, a musician of great talent and tremendous promise who died at the age of 22. You can read about him here.

Askim contains a long solo which builds from the mellifluous and slowly moves towards the discordant before calm returns. This track introduces us to another side of Washington’s playing. Again, I find the choir distracting.

Isabelle is played by a septet and the choir take a break. It is a gentle contemplative piece.

Final Thought is funkier with Brandon Coleman’s organ to the fore before Washington comes in with an exciting and powerful solo.

The choir are back on The Next Step. KW’s sensitive solo does not to be surrounded and this piece is over-embellished.

The Rhythm Changes is a song featuring Patrice Quinn on lead vocals, initially accompanied by the trombone of Ryan Porter. Again, I’m not convinced by this saccharine confection.

Volume 2: The Gloroius Tale

Miss Understanding. Trumpet run from Igmar Thomas

Leroy and Lanisha. A light lilting piece featuring a duet between trombone and tenor saxophone. A high point of the opus so far.

Re Run is next and the gargling choir are back on a Latin flavoured piece which turns into something special during Washington’s solo. Get out those soft jazz dance shoes, or better still, wait for the superior version of this track on the third CD, where the choir do not feature (although Washington’s solo is far less interesting).

Seven Prayers is played by a nonet with both acoustic and electric bass. Instruments are voiced in unison and guess what, they sound a little like a choir.

Henrietta Our Hero features another lead vocal from Patrice Quinn, which gives way to an enjoyable chorus on saxophone from Washington.

The Magnificent 7. Once again some great soloing from Kamasi but the choir is present to dilute the power of what he is serving up . The composition is a good one that is over developed and submerged in cloying sweetener. I could imagine this working on a big festival stage and this is stadium-sized rather than club jazz.

Volume 3: The Historic Repetition

Re Run Home is one of the most immediate tracks on the entire set. Uptempo and anthemic. However the soloing seems a little simplistic. You can have a listen courtesy of Brainfeeder on YouTube:-

Cherokee starts like a bright and bushy 1990’s Diana Brown track before the lead vocalist comes in. She doesn’t do much for me, I’m afraid.

Clair de Lune is a dreamy realisation of the Debussey piece on which the choir makes an appearance. There is a Hollywood, 30’s feel on this.

Malcolm’s Theme is a tribute to Malcolm X with extract from a speech which is liberal in its content and argues in favour of religious co-existence between Islam and Christianity and black and white. The music takes second place here on a piece that probably would not have made it onto a single CD, although KW’s solo is strong and it is a pity it is compromised by the other more indulgent aspects of this track.

The Message is a pleasant jazz funk meander which provides a springboard for a deft and exciting KW solo but is overlong.

My initial reactions are that Kamasi Washington overdoes things with this triple set. He offers up a full menu in one sitting when we would probably be better served with smaller portions featuring complimentary favours rather than a whole gargantuan blow-out. As will be clear by now, the choir doesn’t do much for me but some of you may like it. Washington clearly has at least one strong film score in the locker as there is much about The Epic that signals this to be the case.

I have added a quick single choice poll to see what you and fellow readers think of Kamasi Washington. Please feel free to complete and also to add a comment to get a lively debate going.

I’ll keep on listening and try to supplement this within the coming weeks.

First update:- Saturday 3 September:- A recording of KW’s BBC Proms performance from The Royal Albert Hall is on BBC iPlayer for the next 26 days and I have just listened to it. Unfortunately, the presence of The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and choir resulted in the aspects of KW’s work that I enjoy least being aired. The audience who saw the performance were very vocal in their appreciation and seemed to enjoy themselves.

Update: Tuesday 6 September 2016:- Six responses to the opinion poll so far and all positive, with five people wanting to hear more and one going for the even more enthusiastic ‘future of jazz’ position. Please keep the responses coming in and feel free to leave a comment.

Update: Thursday 8 September 2016 The liveliness of Final from the first CD was exciting after reviewing Grant Green’s Street of Dreams. The stripped down band can play and this was fun.

Update: Friday 9 September 2016. Miss Understanding is 8 minutes and 46 seconds long and the seven minutes that the choir sit things out for is very good. The introduction is somewhat ostentatious but after 90 seconds it settles to a fine track on which KW plays with fire and gusto.

Update: Sunday 11 September 2016. 8 votes so far, with 6 regarding KW as ‘Interesting new talent’ and one each for the other two choices

Update: Tuesday 16 November 2016. 77% of voters, so far, regard KW as ‘Interesting new talent’; 8% agree that KW is ‘the future of jazz’ while 15% go for’over-rated and unlikely to listen to again’.

Update: Monday 2 January 2017.
I’ve not felt inclined to re-listen to’The Epic’. Eventually I will get round to a selective re-listen concentrating on the tracks that I do like. I’ll also watch out for Kamasi Washington’s next release in the hope that he veers in the direction of work with small bands without choral arrangements and vocals. Just in case you are unable to read the poll on your machine or phone, as of today 15 readers had voted in the poll:- 67% of voters, as of 2/1/17, regarded KW as ‘Interesting new talent’; 20% agreed that KW is ‘the future of jazz’ while 13% went for’over-rated and unlikely to listen to again’. Thanks for taking part- I will leave the poll open until KW releases another set.

You need to vote to view the results as only the premium version of this plugin offers a preview option, although I will visit and provide a breakdown in the updates from time to time.

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Simon Spillett, Ted Beament, Simon Thorpe & Clive Fenner: Live at East Side Jazz Club: 12 July 2016

Simon Spillett 120716

Simon Spillett has been on my ‘to hear list’ of tenor saxophonists for a while now and the East Side Jazz Club offered an opportunity to catch up with him. Tubby Hayes has been a particular influence on his playing and last night’s set was largely made up of tunes that Hayes had covered. Opening with a lively Royal Ascot, the set moved through Like Someone in Love and Alone Together through to Miles Davis’ Vierd Blues, Polkadots and Moonbeams and The Theme.

Spillett’s playing combined fluent dexterity with fleeting references to a veritable history of jazz riffs and it was good to hear fine controlled mainstream soloing. Simon Thorpe, last seen a couple of weeks ago at the same venue with Vasilis Xenopoulis had gigged with Spillett in the previous week. The live sound from his double bass was a joy to listen to and his solos and runs added to the programme, rather than merely filling it out. I don’t think I’ve encountered Bob Beament’s piano before but he impressed on East Side’s trusty upright, combining delicate softly played single notes with great percussive chords and leading this non-pianist to ponder the mysteries of effective pedal work. The guests excelled, as did Clive Fenner on drums, who was given more space than usual with plenty of ‘fours’ and longer fills afforded by Spillett’s benign leadership. Spillett told us that Beament had last played at East Side 18 years ago and it never ceases to astound how four musicians can meet up without rehearsal and deliver such an engaging performance. That’s the essence of what good professional live jazz is about, I guess.

The second set featured There is No Greater Love, Misty, It Could Happen To You and Caravan, before Beament and Spillett produced Blue Monk, which was of particular interest as I am currently reading Robin D.G. Kelley’s excellent ‘Thelonious Monk: The life and times of an American Original’.

Throughout the performance Spillett interspersed the music with tales that displayed a wry, self-deprecating sense of humour and I look forward to reading his acclaimed recent book on Tubby Hayes when funds allow.

The East Side Jazz Club is closed until 20 September 2016 but downwithit will be back there in the autumn to catch a selection of the consistently high standard performances.

By using the search box at the top of this page you will be able to look at content from over 140 separate posts for views and reviews of work by numerous modern jazz artists.

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Pharoah Sanders live at Ronnie Scott’s: First set- 9 July 2016

Pharoah Journey To The One

You know what? Those of us who enjoy this music are very fortunate. It is possible to see musicians from the simply great to absolutely world-class standard perform in small venues. Saturday night offered a long awaited opportunity to see Pharoah Sanders perform live again, this time in the comfortable, indeed salubrious surroundings of Ronnie Scott’s.

Regular readers will be aware of my enjoyment of Pharoah’s music and may have noticed that I have posted links to reviews of a number of his recent American gigs. You may even have noted an underlying wistfulness as time passed without news of a UK gig. Eventually though this evening, almost on my doorstep in London, was announced.

Pharoah was accompanied by his regular pianist William Henderson and his European rhythmn section. Gene Calderazzo on drums is an alumni of Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where a roommate was none other than Branford Marsalis, while bass player Oli Hayhurst was a founder member of Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble.

Pharoah played Origin, which first appeared as a septet version featuring scat vocals on the 1981 Rejoice set and again six years later in an earthier stripped down quartet context on Africa. Set like a diamond in the precious metal setting of his superb accompanists it seemed unlikely that we would witness the extensive explorations reliant on circular breathing but the tone was there and Pharoah’s spirit will never waiver.

John Coltrane’s beautiful love song for his first wife, Naima, was delivered with great sensitivity before Pharoah, ramped up the passion with a powerful rendition of Highlife, another selection from Rejoice. His expressive chants were matched with an equally strong saxophone part.

The band were of the highest calibre, although I am puzzled by why William Henderson doesn’t seem to have recorded as a leader as his playing has merited this for years. A trio performance featuring himself, Calderazzo and Hayhurst, perhaps on a small label like Smoke Sessions could be brilliant.

My evening was made when Pharoah graciously signed a couple of CD booklets that I had brought with me on the off chance (which is why this article has a picture of my CD copy of Journey To The One at the head). Even if you were to offer me three John Coltrane’s, four Monk’s or ten Miles Davis signed items these are momentos that I will never part with.

Evenings like this are gems to be stored up in the memory, treasured and returned to when times get tough. Unfortunately, the set was a short club sized morsal and all too soon it was time for the attentive staff to turn us out to the bright lights and crowds of an early Soho night. Oh for the old days when you could watch the early set at Ronnie’s and stay on for the second performance! Still, I also have memories of longer free-blowing sets at Dingwalls and The Jazz Cafe from the distant past to recall. I understand that Pharoah may have played other songs from his repertoire including You’ve Got To Have Freedom in his second set (if you were there, please leave a comment and let us know).

By using the search box at the top of this page you will be able to look at content from over 140 separate posts for views and reviews of work by numerous modern jazz artists.

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