Thursday, May 17, 2018

Chick Corea-"Leprechaun's Dream".

It's said that classical is composers' music, jazz players'. And there is a fair amount of truth to this. But what do you do with jazz people who are both brilliant soloists and equally brilliant composer/arrangers? If you're John Ephland, the critic who wrote the CD review of Corea's 1976 album "The Leprechaun", you don't know what to do, and call an album with an excellent balance of great writing and playing "almost over-arranged".

All right, I'll acknowledge my own bias here, and say that a large part of the reason jazz lost its place in the popular music hierarchy was its de-emphasis of arrangements that non-initiates can latch on to. If you listened to the Ellington band in its heyday, at first you might not have understood what the soloists were doing, but you surely could dig Duke (and Billy Strayhorn)'s great writing. That was my own route into jazz-the big bands of Count Basie and Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich and Toshiko Akiyoshi, and more. It was a while before I got what Coltrane was doing!

This particular cut is the logical culmination of Chick's whimsical journey into a Irish musical  fairyland. (Pretty good for an Italian guy from Boston). It features a clever integration of brass, string quartet,  tasteful electronics, and Gayle Moran's wordless vocals with strong solos from Chick and reedman Joe Farrell. A delight.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Count Basie - "Good Time Blues"

This is jazz. 'Nuff said. Fun and funny. I got to see some of my heroes-Basie, Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, and more before they left this mortal coil. So grateful.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Sonny Stitt-"Tune-Up"

Stitt took a fair amount of abuse early in his career for sounding "too much" like Charlie Parker, but that never bothered me-I always thought "that's Bird with a better sound, and recorded better too". Here he is in the 70's, on tenor, absolutely crushing it. Barry Harris on piano.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Maynard Ferguson-"Slide's Derangement"

In honor of what would've been Maynard's 90th birthday, let's hear MF and crew with the classic 1958 track, "Slide's Derangement". This is by the brilliant trombonist/composer/arranger Slide Hampton,  who along with Willie Maiden, Mike Abene, Don Sebesky, Ernie Wilkins, and others, wrote much of Maynard's book of classic charts, many of which were re-recorded decades later. The cut features one of the more exciting endings in big band history. And features the best big band of the period.

This cut is from A Message from Newport-which was not recorded live, despite the name and album cover, but was given that appellation to take advantage of the splash the band had made at that year's Newport Jazz Festival.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

In style: Dionne Warwick - "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?"

Warwick's "low-emot" style stands as a refreshing contrast to what we hear all too often today. There are three modes, so to speak, in contemporary urban music (a term I use because anything else might be [even more] inflammatory).

There is rap, in which the vocalist does not sing, but rather chants often ugly (self-centered, materialistic, misogynistic) words over a crude beat. Ironically samples from real music are often pilfered and added to the "songs". Next we have songs in which young men who don't have good voices whine their way through ill-advised songs-reminiscent of  bad high school poetry material. Or you have women, often with pretty good voices, over-emoting and "over-melismaing" the hell out of trite lyrics.

This song, a Bacharach/David work from 1968 (released on the album "Dionne Warwick in Valley of the Dolls"), does none of those things, and neither does Warwick. Instead we get an amusing look at how elusive, and maybe worthless, stardom is:

L.A. is a great big freeway
Put a hundred down and buy a car
In a week, maybe two, they'll make you a star
Weeks turn into years. How quick they pass 
And all the stars that never were 
Are parking cars and pumping gas

The Bacharach/David team, at its best, rivals Lennon/McCartney for the best songwriters of the 60's. I don't think a song better than "Affie" was written in that decade.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Maynard Ferguson-"Superbone Meets the Bad Man"

"Maynard Ferguson? He's that high note trumpet freak who played those over the top arrangements of crappy pop tunes." That's the Maynard Ferguson stereotype a lot of people, including jazz critics who really should know better, have.

Granted, Maynard did play his share of over the top arrangements of crappy-or at least mediocre-pop-pop tunes. The album this cut is from, 1974's Chameleon, includes, for instance, an unlistenable treatment of Stevie Wonder's "Livin' for the City". But Maynard did 60-some albums in his own name, and the vast bulk are at least good. Some, like the ten-CD Mosaic set of Maynard's Roulette output (late 50's-mid 60's) are justifiably seen as classics, and will run you a good $500 should you like to get it on EBay.

That Roulette era band featured players such as Joe Zawinul, Don Ellis, Jaki Byard, and Joe Farrell, and included writers Slide Hampton, Ernie Wilkins, Mike Abene, Willie Maiden, and more. As much a fan as I am of "competitors" Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Woody Herman, Terry Gibbs, etc from that period, Maynard really did have the best band, for both players and writers.

(Roulette, by the way, was very possibly a Mafia front-"roulette"-gambling, get it?), but Maynard and Count Basie both recorded there, and the sound quality was most excellent for its era. Ferguson supposedly was not paid for his output but likely was not inclined to protest vehemently.

All that said, to the track at hand. This, as noted, is from 1974's Chameleon album ("Chameleon" being the hit tune from the pen of Herbie Hancock). It was at this point that the record label (Columbia-now Sony) pushed Ferguson to go commercial in a way that was far less successful artistically than the earlier MF Horn albums. The remaining Columbia albums (Maynard allowed his contract with the label to expire around 1980) were typically half good cuts with Maynard and his band, bad ones with MF and a whole crapload of studio guys. On more than a few of these, Ferguson wasn't even mixed prominently, which he may've been thankful for.

On "Superbone..." Maynard plays his own-design valve-slide trombone opposite Bruce "Bad Man" Johnstone on baritone sax. Here Ferguson belies his high note trumpet player image and gives us some very swinging playing on that superbone. Great stuff.

One day a good biography of Ferguson will be produced, covering his whole career-teen aged bandleader in Montreal, the Kenton years, his tenure as Principal Trumpet at Paramount studios, the years in Europe, etc. One of the most important bandleaders in jazz and one of the 20th century's great multi-instrumentalists deserves no less. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Just for fun: Arturo Sandoval and Paul the Trombonist - "Peanut Vendor (El manisero)"

The Cuban-American trumpet virtuoso Arturo Sandoval and Paul the Trombonist give us an entertaining reading of "El Manisero" (The Peanut Vendor). Arturo does a McCartney here, laying down brass, keyboard, percussion, and vocal tracks. It's important to note that Sandoval is no dilettante as a piano player-hear this, por ejemplo (as Arturo would say)-he really can play. If you go back far enough (actually I don't go back THAT far, myself), you may remember Stan Kenton's hit version of The Peanut Vendor.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Tine Thing Helseth-"In the Bleak Midwinter"

Still nearly winter here, so I thought of this.  Heartbreakingly beautiful reading of an old hymn.  Helseth (say it "Tina Ting") is a 30 year old Norwegian who, along with Briton Alison Balsom, is one of the great young trumpeters on the classical scene.

Perfection: Miles Davis-"Seven Steps to Heaven"

Not much needs to be said about this one...although what I will say may be somewhat controversial. This is peak Miles, to me-the 50's-early 60's Miles. This is before the outish Plugged Nickel-period stuff, and well before the electric era (though I do like some of that, especially "Aura" and "In a Silent Way").

This is the "other group" from the "Seven Steps to Heaven" sessions-Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and 17-year old (!) Tony Williams piano/bass/drums respectively, rather than Victor Feldman on piano and Frank Butler on drums. George Coleman on tenor sax. Ironically Feldman wrote this tune (Miles is co-credited-you know what that's worth), but isn't on this May 1963 session.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Raymond Scott-"Space Mystery"

A fascinating cut from the great innovator in electronic music, Raymond Scott. Space, it seems, is a scary but intriguing place.  You may not have heard of Scott (nee' Harry Warnow), but his music was much imitated for cartoons and much more. Scott's official website.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Dexter Gordon - "Stairway To The Stars"

First cut here on JazzTracks-the great Dexter Gordon with the lovely ballad Stairway to the Stars. I've always thought of Dexter as the Joe DiMaggio of the tenor sax-he makes it all seem so easy. This is from the Our Man in Paris album (1963). This album got a 4 star (maximum) rating from The Penguin Guide to Jazz, and TPGTJ's people call it a "classic". No argument here.

Dexter had moved to Europe, as so many jazz guys ultimately did in the 60's, from Phil Woods to Maynard Ferguson. The Beatles, though they themselves produced good music, wrecked the market for more grown-up, sophisticated pop music and jazz. When Gordon moved back to the US in the 70's (after, somewhat ironically, jazz-rock fusion had revived the market for acoustic jazz) it was a very big deal.

Dexter often said that on ballads a jazz musician should think of the lyrics, not just the melody and the changes. Quite obviously Gordon is well aware of the lyrics of this classic standard, with words by Mitchell Parish.

This track features the great Bud Powell on piano, in his best ballad mode. You tend to think of Bud as the ultimate bebop guy, romping through changes at breakneck speed, but he's in perfect form for the romantic mood here.

Bob Perkins, America's greatest DJ, played this on WRTI yesterday, and I thought it would be a good opener for my re-configured blog.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Thoughts on recent movies seen-one "old", one "new".

Recent movies seen: 1) "East of Eden", 1955. Julie Harris, James Dean, Raymond Massey. 4 stars (out of 5). I've tended to avoid James Dean movies becuse the whole Dean phenomenon is so depressing (including the fact that the car accident that killed him wasn't his fault, despite popular belief), but I've read the book (Steinbeck) so I did want to see the flick. It's a pretty heavy melodrama. You may know it's a modern telling of the Cain and Abel story, but the best scenes in... the movie are those between Cal (Dean) and his mother (Jo Van Fleet), who he'd been told was dead. She's now running a bordello in a nearby town.
She's cold to him at first, but comes to see him as a like-minded rebel against Cal's father and his religious convictions. She eventually develops something close to motherly affection for him. The performance by Van Fleet is in many ways the highlight of the movie, and for once the deserving person actually got the Oscar (Best Supporting Actress). So-what would Dean's career have been like? Would he have been able to graduate to truly adult roles? Paul Newman was at his best when he played punks, such as in Hud and Cool Hand Luke. He was never quite as good again. Maybe the same for Dean. I don't know.

2) "No Country for Old Men", 2007. Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin. 4 1/2 stars. This is a Coen Brothers movie-screenplay/directing. Llewelyn Moss (Brolin) is shooting deer in the West Texas bush country. He misses the deer, but stumbles upon what's left of a drug deal gone gruesomely wrong. There are bodies everywhere, one guy barely alive begging for agua, and $1.5 million in cash-which Moss takes. Big mistake. (You need to overlook the fact that whoever killed most everybody left all that money behind).

Anyway, Moss later feels guilty over leaving the guy begging for water, goes back, and his truck gives him away. Javier Bardem is the psychopath who chases Moss and kills people with an ususual method best not detailed. Tommy Lee Jones is one of the old men of the title, those not prepared for a world where dozens are killed over a suitcase full of money. All the performances are fantastic, the dialogue is crisp and often funny, and despite the brutality the movie is, as they say, compulsively watchable.

Monday, March 12, 2018

What friendship is worth-the BBC's "Martin Chuzzlewit"

Just finished watching "Martin Chuzzlewit", the 1994 BBC treatment of the Dickens novel, on DVD. Highly recommended. Paul Scofield stars as Old Martin Chuzzlewit. If you've seen other BBC productions you'll recognize Pete Postlethwaite as Mr. Montague/Mr. Tigg. You might also recognize Graham Stark, who played Clouseau's underling in "A Shot in the Dark".

The story centers on Old Martin Chuzzlewit's vast fortune, his disinherited grandson of the same name, and the conniving attempts of others, including the boundlesly hypocritical Mr. Pecksniff, to win that fortune. Since it's Dickens, most of the characters are either pretty much all good or all bad. Two exceptions are Pecksniff's mostly good daughters Mercy and Charity, who are unwitting victims of their father's plot to get the loot.

Also, since it's Dickens, and since it's the 19th Century, friendship is at least as important a theme as romantic love, and this tale's focus on greed. In fact, friendship among the various male characters is more central to the story than who will marry whom. This was an era when men would write letters to each other and mention their love for each other, and nobody looked askance at it. (Actual homosexuals would've been more discreet-remember what happened to Oscar Wilde).

And so the hero of the story is Tom Pinch, who (spoiler alerts) is loyal to a fault (quite literally) to his friends, but who doesn't get the girl (Mary) he loves in the end-she marries young Martin Chuzzlewit. Who gets most of the money.

Major tear-jerker scene at the end, as Tom's sister comforts him, but he says to her that his getting Mary would have been how things work in books-the "justice", as he puts it, of real life is different.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Este u oeste?

"Este u oeste"? The first words that popped into my head, as the day began. East or west, in Spanish.

My Spanish skills are not great, but somehow certain thoughts pop into my head, from some place deep in my unconscious, in that language (I had three years of Spanish in school and have tried to maintain my "abilities" to some degree). The thoughts always seem to be especially important. It's a very strange thing. Sometimes it's bits of prayers, sometimes one-word adjectives describing how I feel about myself at a given moment.

Este u oeste. East or west. Opposites. Where will I go? What will become of me? What kind of person am I? As I thought about this earlier I realized these are all Lenten thoughts.

This is a good time for self-reflection. Do not think merely in terms of what you're "giving up" for Lent.

Chick Corea-"Leprechaun's Dream".

It's said that classical is composers' music, jazz players'. And there is a fair amount of truth to this. But what do you do ...