The Cat Walk: Donald Byrd


Shame on me. I’m surprised to discover that I’ve not written about a session led by the great Donald Byrd here yet. Time to put that right with this set from 1961.

I searched for this recording for several years after I first heard the title track on Gilles Peterson’s shows sometime in the 1990’s. I can remember hunting through the CD racks every time I visited a shop with a sufficiently strong Jazz presence, in the hope that it would be released, before finally obtaining an expensive Japanese import when it came out there in 2000. I suppose I could have sought out a copy on vinyl but that was in pre-EBay days. Never mind, it came my way eventually.

The Cat Walk is an audible treat which melds Donald Byrd’s trumpet, the baritone of regular band mate Art Pepper and the piano, compositional and arranging skills of Duke Pearson.

Byrd’s musical output spanned a lengthy period from the early 1950’s through hard bop and then perhaps most notably, onto jazz funk. Although, most of my listening to Byrd as a leader has centred on his wonderful Best of Donald Byrd which features tracks from his later jazz funk Blue Note albums, it is this classic 1961 outing that we will take a look at here. We will start, without further ado. with the title track playing in the background.

To play, click on or touch the arrow

Say You’re Mine is one of four tunes on this set that Duke Pearson wrote or collaborated on. Donald Byrd opens with the theme and plays a lengthy solo on his muted trumpet before giving way to the rasping woody tones of Adams’ baritone saxophone. Pearson’s short solo is both delicate and delicious.

Duke’s Mixture is infused with the blues and strikes me as a tightly arranged tune rather than being a soloists vehicle. Although Byrd, Adams and Pearson get a chorus each, this is essentially a big band number played by a quintet.

The joint Duke Pearson and Donald Byrd composition Each Time I Think Of You sounds like an old school swing tune, with some great playing including a fluent, unmuted solo from Byrd.

Byrd’s own tune, The Cat Walk was inspired by the slinky, insouciant lope of a Tomcat. It is the very sort of tune that could have formed the soundtrack for a 1960’s modern dance piece and one wonders if it ever came to the attention of Donald Byrd’s namesake, an eminent choreographer. It is perhaps an earlier, second-cousin example of a jazz dance piece pre dating Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, which will probably make some explore further, while others recoil. I like it!

Cute was written by Neal Hefti, himself a trumpeter (although this was overshadowed by his contribution as an arranger for Count Basie). Philly Joe Jones is to the fore on this pacy rendition with Byrd laying down a deft solo before Adams comes in, playing lines on his baritone of a type and fluency we are more accustomed to hearing on the much smaller alto saxophone.

The set closes with Hello Bright Sunflower a final Byrd composition. It is a light and joyful breeze of a tune that, to my ears, is vaguely reminiscent of ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon.’

During the 1970’s and 1980’s a cohort of Jazz purists of a certain type were highly critical of Donald Byrd’s later work and this left his reputation somewhat tarnished in mainstream quarters. A re-read of the late Richard Cook’s Blue Note Records, The Biography suggests that Cook viewed Byrd as one of the lesser talents on the label and his playing is given little praise. He states: ‘Byrd’s problem was that he was nearly always going to come off second-best on a label that had trumpeters of the calibre of Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Kenny Dorham.’ I’m not going to dwell on this curiously imprecise verdict, since, surely we should appreciate each of these great artists on their own merits without attempting to impose a hierarchy. For the record, I’m confident that I’ll be returning to the later works on these pages in due course.

Mention should also be made of Donald Byrd’s great contribution as a jazz educator. He continued his academic studies throughout his career before submitting his PhD and gaining his Doctorate. Dr Byrd was the first director of a new Jazz Studies course at Howard University (where, in the 1960’s, students were forbidden to play Jazz in the Music Department and were expelled for practising on campus) before teaching in other universities. In addition to his eminence as an academic he also qualified as a pilot and as a lawyer. I’m not sure if Dr Byrd is posing next to his own Jaguar on the sleeve? If I had taken the photo I think I would shot from an angle that placed a little more emphasis on Jaguar’s symbolic ‘leaper’ on the bonnet.

Finally, the original sleeve notes were written by Nat Hentoff who passed away last week. He was responsible for numerous cover commentaries and always seemed to me to have been positive, informative and fair-minded. His Wikipedia entry offers a synopsis of the full life of a remarkable man. RIP Nat.

The band etc.:- Donald Byrd (trumpet); Pepper Adams (baritone sax); Duke Pearson (piano); Laymon Jackson (bass); Philly Joe Jones (drums). Recorded 2 May 1961. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, New Jersey. Produced by: Alfred Lion. Sleeve Notes: Nat Hentoff. Cover photo: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note 84075.

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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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Johnny Griffin’s Studio Jazz Party

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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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Whatever happened to Freddie Roach?

freddie-roach-portrait

Here at downwithit.info I’ve always attempted to explode the notion that ‘jazz’ is music that listeners have to have a special understanding of before they can listen to it. It is most definitely not the case that the music is a monolithic block that you have to either fully appreciate or fully reject. You don’t have to devote yourself to the study of music and artist biographies to actually listen and decide whether you like or dislike what you hear. How you respond is up to you, the listener.

Alongside this great tide of music, however, there are lots of interesting anecdotes and stories that deserve to be known about. I wanted to learn more about Freddie Roach because it seemed that there was a risk that a remarkable man was slowly being forgotten. It was an unsatisfactory biography that set me off down the track.

As of February 2014, Freddie Roach’s Wikipedia entry still stated that, after abandoning his recording career at the end of the 1960’s, he had moved to France and was never heard of again.

This left me wondering how a recording artist of Freddie Roach’s stature could disappear, seemingly without trace, and I set out to try to find the answer. You can read about some of the information that I uncovered in my posts about FR’s work.

My internet searches led me to several places on both sides of the Atlantic. I followed a promising lead about a mystery Hammond organist, which took me to the South of France and Barcelona, before I learned that it was Lou Bennett and not FR.

The French link took us to The American Centre for Students and Artists in Paris and a 1974 performance which almost certainly featured our main man FR. You can read a little more about this information here.

My investigation returned to New Jersey, where FR had lived and I sought out information about FR’s band mates and local clubs in the hope of finding some answers. I found out that FR had a rehearsal space and studio theatre in his former home in Newark and Internet mapping and images enabled me to take a virtual walk through a neighbourhood that has now changed significantly.

Then, suddenly, the biggest breakthrough in my search happened. Somebody else had uncovered and reported the answer! Jazz broadcaster, podcaster and historian, Pete Fallico had spoken to friends of FR and had discovered that he had actually moved to California where he had suffered a fatal heart attack and died in 1980.

As Pete Fallico’s excellent piece (which he has kindly given me permission to publish here) explains, there was far more to say than that. It is with great pleasure that I have been able to publish downwithit’s first guest contributor. A mystery becomes less mysterious- what a way to start!

Earlier this week (in November 2016) there was more news. A fellow writer, the excellent Francois from FlophouseMagazine had kept his eye on the ball when mine had strayed. He informed me that Pete Fallico had recently posted a podcast which featured an interview with one of FR’s sons, Gregory Payton Roach. In an superb broadcast which runs for nearly an hour, Mr Roach graciously tells us about his father’s last years. Mr Roach confirms that FR spent time working in France and Japan before moving to California, where, by the time of his death he had established links with Smokey Robinson and others in the musical community.

I have also discovered that FR’s grandson has been in touch with downwithit recently and I will invite him to add any further information that he may be willing to share with us, provided he is willing to forgive my regrettably slow response to his message.

I’m delighted that I can inform readers of what I hope you will view as a more satisfactory account of the mysterious later years of Freddie Roach’s life, although the really hard work was completed by Pete Fallico and the willingness of Mr Roach to tell the nub of the story through the podcast.

In addition to the story as outlined above on this static page, I have posted the information above as a regular blog entry on 25 November 2016.

Perhaps one day there may be a reissue and overdue revaluation of Freddie Roach’s music or perhaps even more? For that we will have to wait, since, as Joe Strummer once said: ‘The future remains unwritten.’

To play us out, here’s a link to Freddie Roach playing One Track Mind from The Freddie Roach Soul Book set:-

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The re-emergence of Henry Grimes

‘It’s a funny old world’, I thought when, earlier today, I happened across a copy of a book I’d wanted to read for some time in my local library.

Val Wilmer’s ‘As Serious As Your Life’ was published in 1977 with revisions in 1992. It had been on my reading list for a while and I’d seen a reference to it in the last week. Little did I think it would appear so quickly. But appear it did, in the Black History Month section.

In her 1999 preface, Wilmer wrote: ‘And although the details have never emerged, it is generally believed that Henry Grimes died in California in the 1970’s’.

As my regular readers will recall, the truth is that Henry Grimes merely went away, only to reappear in the early years of the Millenium. Indeed, he is appearing in New York with Marc Ribot on New Year’s Eve. I’ve just enjoyed revisiting The Marc Ribot Trio’s Live At The Village Vanguard. You can read the extraordinary tale of his re-emergence at Henry Grimes’ website. There are also plenty of performance links there too.

I’m sure the excellent Wilmer is aware that Henry Grimes remains hale and hearty following his sojourn but in her 1999 edition she explained that she would not be making any further revisions and would allow her book to stand, minor blemishes and all, as a social document.

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Month of May: Neil Cowley Trio

I was lukewarm in my review of Spacebound Apes by the Neil Cowley Trio earlier this week but I’m delighted to report that they have released an excellent cover of Month of May (an Arcade Fire song, I understand).

This was recorded as part of the Torch Song initiative, a ‘campaign against living miserably’, to promote awareness of factors that can lead to suicide.

We can all benefit from positive tunes that cheer us up, or in the immortal words of Robbie Burns make us ‘Cock up your beaver!’ (I know what you may be thinking- but it actually means something like ‘cheer yourself up!).

You can listen to Month of May on this link.

Well played the Neil Cowley Trio.

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Candy: Lee Morgan

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Imagine. You are 19 years old and already a highly respected musician playing live and on recordings with the brightest and the best. You have already led six sessions which will be issued in your name and you are about to record your seventh. You are a trumpet player of prodigious ability and your name is Lee Morgan.

In November 1957 and February 1958 Morgan visited Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack studio to record Candy. This was the sole quartet date in his lengthy discography and the only time he was recorded without another horn in the line up.

This was Morgan’s final Blue Note recording as a leader (of a first series of six, with one outing ‘Introducing Lee Morgan’ on Savoy) before a period away from the label during which he served as a member of the Jazz Messengers before returning to Philadelphia to struggle with addiction.

The tunes chosen for the session were a range of popular crowd pleasers from the charts, Hollywood and then-current musicals. They would have been well-known at the time and would probably have tempted the wallet of the casual record store browser but nearly sixty years later most can only be regarded as lesser known entries in the list of standard tunes. That said, it was interesting to check the origins of most of the songs that make up this set.

A jaunty version of Candy opens the set. The style of trumpet playing here is somewhat reminiscent of Clifford Brown, from whom Morgan took a number of lessons while Brown was living in Philadelphia. Originally a hit in the 40’s, Big Maybelle had also belted this one out in 1956. This track has an audible flaw which has been attributed to a squeaky hi-hat pedal. I initially thought it was signalling the beginnings of a problem with my system but the well-documented fault lies on the original master recording. Many choose to try to ignore it, as I did when this review was originally published, thinking that it would be analysed to death by more extensively visited writers. On reflection, it is a comment that needs to be made about a sub-standard take that should have been scrapped and re-recorded.

Since I Fell For You is a slow and melancholy blues ballad and I have included a link below. It was later recorded by Stanley Turrentine and the Three Sounds on Blue Hour and that is the Blue Note version that I prefer. There is also a cover by Nina Simone, while a Van Morrison version from the 1974 Montreux Jazz Festival is also worth seeking out, partly for his impassioned response to a heckler when the song is introduced.

To watch, click on or touch the arrow.

C.T.A. ups the tempo and takes us into bebop territory.

All The Way is a Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen number which was a current hit at the time of the recording, having been popularised by Frank Sinatra before being covered by a spectrum of artists extending from Billie Holliday via James Brown to Bob Dylan and beyond. In 1957 it received an Accademy Award for: ‘Best Original Song’, which meant that its inclusion on this album would have caught the eye and helped to boost sales. Whilst it is a pleasant enough ballad, for me, it will never rank in the pantheon of Blue Note’s finest covers.

Who Do You Love. I Hope is an Irving Berlin show tune from Annie Get Your Gun. I’m not fond of the rather trite chorus, but once Lee Morgan gets going into his solo it becomes well-worth a listen.

Personality featured in Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s ‘Road to Utopia’, a perennial TV film during my childhood and one of my favourites. Although it was filmed in colour, we had a black and white telly in those days and I can’t imagine it any other way. Dorothy Lamour performs the song in the movie

All At Once You Love Her is a bonus track on the CD release. It is the Rodgers and Hammerstein number from the musical ‘Pipe Dream’, which later became a hit for Perry Como.

The LP cover represents a sole Blue Note outing for Emerick Bronson. I assume that label stalwart, Francis Wolff was responsible for the overall image, which places a portrait of Lee Morgan, shot by Bronson, amongst an arrangement of sweet jars. It is not one of the better Blue Note sleeves and Bronson’s talents were deployed to greater effect through his career as a photographer with Vogue and Cosmopolitan. His pictures have featured in themed exhibitions in New York’s Museum of Modern Art and since he died at a fair old age in the bijoux Long Island hamlet of Sag Harbor, which was also a home from home for John Steinbeck I assume his career was a relatively lucrative one.

Candy is a snapshot of a confident young leader flexing his talents with just a rhythm section to support him and, in the additional sleeve notes which were added to the RVG series CD release, Bob Blumenthal rightly commends Lee Morgan for daring to be bold. Whilst it is interesting to hear him in this context, it seems a shame that the choice of material here draws so heavily on a mainstream popular songbook and it is an album that I listen to from time to time rather than a staple on my playlist.

Candy is currently available as 45 and 33rpm high-quality vinyl pressings from MusicMatters Jazz, but, as the above review suggests, this is not a title that I’ll be rushing to purchase.

The band etc:- Lee Morgan (Trumpet); Sonny Clark (piano); Doug Watkins (bass); Art Taylor (drums). Recorded: 18 November 1957 and 2 February 1958. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey. Produced: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Robert Levin. Cover Image of Lee Morgan: Francis Wolff. Cover photo: Emerick Bronson. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Originally issued as Blue Note 1590.

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Spacebound Apes: Neil Cowley Trio

spacebound-apes

Spacebound Apes is one of those releases that I had very high expectations of. In 2014 I took a look at Neil Cowley’s last album Touch and Flee. At the time I wondered whether it would survive the test of time as a set that I would return to. It did and I have enjoyed revisiting it occasionally over the last two years.

I was delighted when I received a copy of the current set to listen to and I said I would try to review it immediately.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to turn this around quite as quickly as I had anticipated and well over a month has passed by.

I’ve finally got there after some difficulty and it is time to publish, if only to mark this down as ‘done’ and move on towards other projects.

Spacebound Apes is a concept album and this sets the alarm bells ringing for me. The 1970’s and 80’s saw the release of numerous musical extravaganzas in which rock musicians, who had often delivered strong earlier recordings, were allowed to develop themed albums where absurdity was often a highly visible passenger in the stagecoach of grandiosity. Thank heavens for honest to goodness soul, pub rock and punk which provided an alternative and eventually sluiced out the Augean Stables of pomp rock. Sorry if this offends but you can keep Topographic Oceans, Tommy, Tarkus, Olias of Sunhillow and each and every one of Henry VIII’S six wives and don’t expect me to start work on a musical interpretation of The Labours of Hercules any time soon.

Does music benefit from an associated comic book, animations, short films, costumed performers and other embellishments? I suppose it can do but, in live performance, a short verbal introduction from the artist can take us into the world of our own imagination that can be even more powerful than an unwanted and superfluous picture or projection.

While struggling with Spacebound Apes I wanted to make sure I was giving the piece a fair hearing and I went to see a live performance by Neil Cowley and his band. Introducing his show, Cowley was engaging and unpretentious. All three musicians were very talented and were listening intently to each other. The first section offered the current album in its entirety, with an accompanying slide show which helped to set the scene for the track that was being played.

The second half dispensed with the visuals, without losing anything. Tracks included Bluster and His Nibs. When Cowley announced that the last song was called She Eats Flies the title led me to assume that we were in for something that would disappoint. However, he disclosed that the ‘she’ in question was a spider the size of a Labrador dog that lives at the bottom of his garden. That simple explanation conjured up an image and added to what we heard without needing its own comic strip, back projection or articulated arachnid prop.

Time to take a look at the album, which concerns a 43 year old male who is having a mid-life crisis. I don’t know about you (and this excludes all younger and female readers), but I’ve been there, done that and, over time, the scars slowly healed. If you want to know more about the concept under consideration you can google the Spacebound Apes website. As for me, I’ll just follow my usual format of offering a brief listening note for each of the tracks on the CD:

Weightless ia a piece on which the piano trio are supplemented by electronics. I particularly enjoyed the bass playing here.

Hubris Major starts with a further electronic phase before Cowley’s piano and the bass drum move us through another of his delightful numbers on which Cowley really conjures a sense of space.

Governance is a track with a staccato feel seemingly conveying an image of monotony and stultification. It is definitely not something to jump out of bed to in the morning.

The City and the Stars, a dynamic track. On the video, Rex Horan plays an electric bass hung down low in a stance reminiscent of Peter Hook.

The next track, Grace, is a beautiful tune that has a hymn-like quality. It is the high point of the set for me. Take a look at the accompanying images:-

Echo Nebula presents us with another dreamy soundscape.

The Sharks of Competition led me to imagine a frenetic combination of Devo and Joy Division, which is OK in its place.

Duty To The Last. Brooding sense of menace gives way to the solemnity of an elegy.

Garden Of Love. Conjuring images of passing through something and marvelling without engaging.

Death of Amygdala. The Amygdala lies deep within the brain and, according to Wikipedia, ‘…performs a primary role in the processing of memory, decision-making and emotional reactions.’ A dreamy track, which has a classical feel about it and while pleasant enough could possibly do with more development to turn it into something a little more special.

Finally, The Return of Lincoln is a short closing track.

Overall, I was disappointed by Spacebound Apes. As stated, I’ve liked some of Cowley’s earlier work and the band delivered a fine live performance at Islington’s Union Chapel at the end of October 2016. I feel somewhat churlish in my reaction, as a great deal of thought and effort has obviously gone into the making of this. But I also have a deep suspicion, verging on aversion to ‘concept albums’. This one offers up a series of moods and soundscapes, as they all do with varying degrees of success, but, for me, the overall dish doesn’t work.

I’m not giving up on Neil Cowley and will return to tracks like Grace and Weightless whilst hoping that he navigates away from grand concepts in the future. It really isn’t what the World needs, while a great piano player and composer will always be in demand. The Neil Cowley Trio are well worth catching live and play with great energy so don’t ignore them if they are in a venue near you.

The band etc:- Neil Cowley (piano); Evan Jenkins (drums); Rex Horan (bass); Leo Abrahams (guitar, FX). Produced: Dom Monks. Recorded: RAK Studios, London. Released September 2016. HideInside Records.

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Street of Dreams: Grant Green

Street of Dreams Grant Green

If your name is Grant Green, this album has a great cover. Indeed if anyone can direct me to a junction of Down and Withit Streets, a small reward is on offer. Street of Dreams reunites Grant Green with Bobby Hutcherson, who had made a significant contribution to the successful Idle Moments release (which I have yet to write about).

In terms of title, ‘Music for a Siesta’ may possibly have been a more apt choice. The playing on this brief set featuring four relatively short tracks, is faultless but the overall ambience is laid back and it is a sit or lie down and enjoy recording. This is a lineup who play very well together on a well-chosen series of lesser-known tunes. Following the recent passing of Bobby Hutcherson it seemed like a good time to dust this title down and write about it.

Green’s playing on I Wish You love is a an excercise in restrained self assurance. Larry Young also plays in a subdued manner, while Hutcherson contributes variety and interest on vibes.

Lazy Afternoon is perfect music for a hot day. There’s nothing to get the blood racing, just another well-developed set of ideas.

Title track, Street of Dreams features fine interplay between vibes and the Hammond with pyrotechnics from Elvin Jones on drums. There is also some passionate playing from Green when he gets into his solo, indeed it sounds like a great flow of ideas that a student guitar player could do worse than to study if they want to learn how to build excitement on this sort of track. You can listen to it via the following YouTube upload, courtesy of rogerjazzfan:-

Somewhere in the Night is notable for a workmanlike solo from Larry Young but once again there is nothing to raise the temperature.

So there we are. I like Grant Green very much but while Street of Dreams is pleasant enough, it is not a set that I play very often as it is just a little too light with a supper club mainstream feel. You may disagree of course. Idle Moments, recorded 12 months earlier, is a far stronger and more varied set which you may want to investigate first if you are not familiar with this phase of Grant Green’s discography.

The original sleeve notes were penned by that master of the waspish dismissal, Leonard Feather. However, he must have enjoyed Street of Dreams, which he describes as ‘…this gently persuasive set.’

Just for the record, the intersection of Grant and Green is in North Beach, a particularly hip part of San Francisco and the home of cafes, bookshops and clubs frequented by the Beat Generation.

Elvin Jones (9 September 1927 to 18 May 2004) would have celebrated his 89th birthday today (09 September 2016).

The band etc.: Grant Green (guitar); Bobby Hutcherson (vibes); Elvin Jones (drums); Larry Young Organ. Recorded: 16 November 1964. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recording: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover photo: Jim Marshall. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Sleeve notes: Leonard Feather. Originally issued as Blue Note BST 84253 in 1966.

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Bobby Hutcherson RIP

Vibraphone and Marimba maestro Bobby Hutcherson passed away in mid-August 2016, aged 75.

His New York Times obituary can be accessed here.

There’s an irreverent review of his Happenings set that I wrote a couple of years ago here.

London Jazz Collector has taken a look at Bobby Hutcherson’s records with recent reviews of several of his later releases.

RIP Bobby Hutcherson.

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