Category Archives: The Pile

The Pile (#6): Orrin Evans, Freedom

Over the past few weeks, via Facebook, I’ve been communicating with a cohort of people, all but a few of whom are complete strangers, who share with me the singular experience of spending our childhoods and teen years  in Greenwich Village during the 1950s and (in my case) the 1960s.  Several of them are musicians, and a few among that subset, I discovered from a thread this morning,  studied with Barry Harris at various points along their timeline.

This  led me to look at a profile I wrote about the maestro in 2000 for DownBeat, which concluded with these reflections: “The more you find out about music, the more you believe in God.  This isn’t haphazardly put together.  This stuff is exact.  It’s a science, and part of the music is science.  But we think there’s something above the science part; there’s something above the logic.  There’s a freedom at both ends of the barrel, man.  There’s a freedom in anarchy, but there’s another freedom that comes from knowledge, then another freedom comes that really is the freedom we seek.  That’s what all of us want, is this freedom.”

Something like this notion is what I think the Philadelphia-based pianist Orrin Evans had in mind when he decided to give the title Freedom to his excellent new release on PosiTone. Recorded a year ago, and dedicated to Philly jazz  icons Trudy Pitts, Charles Fambrough, and Sid Simmons, each of whom had recently passed away, it’s an incisive, 9-piece recital (7 trios with Dwayne Burno on bass and either Byron Landham or Anwar Marshall on drums, 2 quartets with Larry McKenna on tenor saxophone), animated by dictates of groove and harmonic logic, which become ever more open as the proceedings unfold.  Often predisposed on prior recordings to navigate the high-wire in satisfying ways,  Evans here plays throughout with old soul concision and deep focus worthy of his dedicatees.

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The Pile (#5): “Sixty-Eight” by Billy Hart, In Residence at the Village Vanguard This week

Any Billy Hart sighting in the clubs of NYC is an event worth remarking upon, and this week’s run at the Village Vanguard with his working quartet of Ethan Iverson, Mark Turner, and Ben Street is no exception. On his current release, Sixty-Eight [Steeplechase], Hart convenes a first-class ensemble of individualistic young improvisers (Logan Richardson, alto saxophone; Jason Palmer, trumpet; Mike Pinto, vibraphone; Dan Tepfer, piano; Chris Tordini, bass) to interpret inside-outside repertoire from the first half of the ’60s by Eric Dolphy (“Number Eight,”  “Serene,” “Out There”), Sam Rivers (“Cyclic Episode,” “Beatrice”), Mal Waldron (“Fire Waltz”) and Jaki Byard (“Mrs. Parker In K.C.”) as well as Ornette Coleman’s “What Reason (could I Give)” from Science Fiction, and originals by Tepfer and Palmer.  As is Hart’s custom, his playing is consistently compositional in intent; he leads by facilitation and suggestion, creating felicitous environments for the solos, which are consistently interesting and spring organically from the ensemble.  Which makes it all the more fun when the old master does let loose, as on “Mrs. Parker” and Tepfer’s “Punctuations.”

Over the years, I had the honor of conducting several  conversations with Billy on WKCR, and in 1998 I had the opportunity to write the liner notes for an exceptional date entitled Oceans Of Time [Arabesque], with Chris Potter and John Stubblefield on saxophones; Mark Feldman, violin; David Kikoski, piano; Dave Fiuczynski, guitar; and Santi Debriano, bass.  Of the title track, I wrote: “Hart orchestrates and arranges the family whistles of his mother and father, who were from Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, respectively.  ‘When my mother wanted me to come downstairs to eat, or if she clapped her hands and I was at the playground, she had a whistle she’d use, and so did my father.  My mother was a Jimmie Lunceford-Count Basie fan, while my father was more of a Duke Ellington-John Kirby fan.  My mother always thought that the music he liked was a little too far-out for her — she liked music that really grooved.  They took me to the Howard Theater when I was little, and I remember shows by Earl Bostic, Bullmoose Jackson, Count Basie and Duke Ellington, and the singers who came through with those guys.  In the last year or so I’ve thought how interesting it is that both my parents had family whistles, and I included this as a song to remember not only my mother, father, and brother, who are all gone, but members of my drum family who have left us in the last few years, like Steve McCall, Eddie Moore, Daoud Freddie Waits, Mel Lewis, Ed Blackwell and recently Tony Williams.'”

That was 1997. Circa 2011 Hart  has produced yet another date that evokes what I described then as his “uncanny ability to look steadfastly to the future while forgetting nothing of what he’s learned during four decades [now five decades] in the Jazz business.”

* * *

I wrote:

As an eminent pianist put it to me the other day, “Who doesn’t like Billy Hart?”  He’s just one of the hundreds of musicians who value the 56-year-old drummer’s penchant for finding an idiomatic tone to suit any function without cliche, his ability to play the trap drums across the entire spectrum of contemporary improvisation with authority, sensitivity and invention, earning him first-call status for a wide array of  live gigs and recordings.  To wit: Between 1962 and 1980 Hart served lengthy tours of duty with Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, Eddie Harris, Pharaoh Sanders, Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band, McCoy Tyner, Stan Getz; a partial list of credits during the past twenty years includes the large and small ensembles of Frank Foster, Gerry Mulligan and Clark Terry, with Mingus Dynasty, the collective group Quest (Dave Liebman, Richie Beirach, Ron McClure), and the working bands of diverse progressive improvisers like James Newton, Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell and Charles Lloyd.  As I write, he’s working with Toots Thielemans for a week at New York’s Blue Note, and he’ll join the Ray Drummond Quintet at the Village Vanguard in a few weeks.

Hart’s visibility and importance as a sideman could overshadow the sophisticated aesthetic he displays when he has time to lead a band, how strong a compositional drummer he is.  These qualities are fully apparent on Oceans of Time, his fifth recording which, like the previous four, sounds unlike anything recorded contemporaneous to it.  As on the previous sessions, Hart employs an all-star group of individualistic, virtuosic musicians who probably would not play together otherwise, meshing their distinctive personalities through the intense dialogue he creates.  The compositions reflect Hart’s predisposition to play beautiful melodies within elaborate, contemporary structures; on each performance he functions as an idea-generator, a rhythmic fulcrum, developing thematically an intricate web of patterns and timbral relationships.

Hart hasn’t had a liner note since the 1976 Enchance (*****, Downbeat), so here’s a mini-biography for those who’d like to know how he got from there to here.

William W. (“Jabali”) Hart, born November 29, 1940, grew up with the ethos of versatility in a Washington, D.C. abrim with music.  He studied some piano as a child, and took up drums in a local drum-and-bugle corps at around 11. “Being from a Black community,” he recalls, “when you played in a drum corps, right away it had to swing.  Instead of having a book of Sousa marches, these cadences, as they were called, were passed down to me from the elders who had been in the corps before me — and they all had this kind of swing.  When rehearsals started, the kids came out and began to dance behind this marching band stuff; I immediately began to relate to the drums like that.”  Soon he had a drum set, and at 15 years old, “when all I knew how to play was these marching rhythms,” he met Buck Hill, who lived next door to his grandmother. “Just by fate I happened to meet him.  He saw me with my drumsticks in my pocket, and he handed me two 78 rpm Charlie Parker records.  They consumed me immediately.”

Not long after the chance meeting, Hart began playing for real at rehearsal sessions led by Eddie Warren, father of bassist Butch Warren, elder brother of guitarist Quentin Warren.  The latter, best known for his Blue Note recordings with Jimmy Smith, “used to come and listen to me practice outside of the basement without letting me know.  He suggested me for a rehearsal gig at Eddie’s house with the violinist Stuff Smith.  Once I took the drums out of the basement, it seemed like I could hardly ever get them back in.”  During high school, Hart served a comprehensive apprenticeship with rhythm-and-blues bands in local dancehalls and cabarets; later on, in the Howard Theater house band under Charles Hampton’s leadership, he backed the likes of Otis Redding, Joe Tex, Smokey Robinson and numerous others.  He and fellow McKinley High School graduates Reuben Brown and Butch Warren were the house trio at a local room called Abe-Art’s for nine months, backing Buck Hill on weekends; later he worked with singer-pianist Shirley Horn’s trio, and played Brazilian rhythms at Charlie Byrd’s club with people like Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto and Bola Sete.

Always the serious listener, Hart heard and emulated the numerous drummers who passed through town with Pop acts, particularly New Orleans Second Line extenders like Idris Muhammad with the Impressions, Clayton Filliard with James Brown, and Ed Blackwell and Earl Palmer with the Ray Charles band.  He’d see Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, Art Blakey and Louis Hayes when they were resident, and checked out accomplished Washington drummers like Charlie Buck (who preceded Art Blakey in Billy Eckstine’s first big band), Harry “Stump” Saunders, (“many guys would come to town without a rhythm section; Stump was the guy who would play with them”), Ben Dixon (“the epitome of one of those D.C. guys who could play with anybody; he was a composer who took solos in odd time signatures”), Jimmy Cobb (“I used to try to play just like him”), Buddy Mack Simpkins and Grady Tate, as well as contemporaries like Jimmy Hopps, Joe Chambers, Eric Gravatt, Bernard Sweetney, Hugh Walker, and Mike Smith.

Is there a Washington, D.C. style of drumming?  Hart thinks so.  “There was a definite dramatic way of swinging, where the music must swing and groove, be funky and soulful at all costs, or whatever word or emotion you want to use,” he asserts.  “Washington drummers tend to almost overemphasize that; they have a certain shuffle rhythm in their playing.”

Whatever the case, Hart’s impeccable backbeat drumming led to consecutive steady jobs with Jimmy Smith’s and Wes Montgomery’s crossover-oriented groups of the mid-’60s.  Throughout that time, he was looking for ways to extend improvisation.  “My grandmother was a concert pianist, Marion Anderson’s first accompanist; she had turned me on enough to the standard European repertoire for me to be attracted to the next contemporary step, like Stravinsky, Bartok and Messaien, and even Stockhausen and John Cage.  I’d be walking around listening to the stuff, while everybody is sort of thinking, ‘Boy, he’s pretty strange’ — particularly for a drummer.  Also, by the time I’m hitting the scene, remember that Ornette has already hit, and Coltrane, and Cecil Taylor.  I had gone to Howard University with Marion Brown, who went to New York, and comes back dressing differently, talking about, ‘Look, man, there’s different stuff going on’ — which he knows I’ll be interested in.  He said, ‘I know you like Elvin and Tony, but there’s a cat there named Sonny Murray that you really want to know about.’  Later, going through Chicago with Jimmy and Wes, I encountered Gerald Donovan, known as Ajaramu, a drummer associated with the AACM, who turned me on to Thurman Barker, Steve McCall, and Alvin Fielder, who were working with textural, timbral approaches — what Rashied Ali told me Coltrane called ‘multidimensional’ playing.”

After Montgomery’s death, Hart played a couple of years with the late Chicago reedman-sound scientist Eddie Harris, who encouraged stretching out within the groove. “Eddie liked an advanced Pop-rhythm concept, and helped me be more authentic with it.  His Bebop concept was clear and powerful, and his swing was so smooth, funky and soulful.  He sort of reminded you somewhere between Lester Young and Miles Davis on the saxophone.  He really helped me.”  Next was Pharaoh Sanders, where “for the first time I was able to really use the things I had learned from my relations with the AACM, and get into so-called ‘free playing,’ the new vocabulary that came from drummers like Rashied, Sonny Murray, Milford Graves and Andrew Cyrille.  I brought a lot of my experimental intentions into the Mwandishi band.  I think Herbie Hancock was one of the beginners of playing something I think will end up being called ‘World Music,’ expanding Jazz to be a World Classical Music, a concept starting with Jazz.  That band demanded some knowledge of African music, some knowledge of Indian music, and of course, all the American traditions, as much as I could have known at that time.  With McCoy I had to learn how to articulate in a clear, definite way the textural stuff I had put together with Pharaoh combined with the advanced grooves I developed with Herbie.  With Stan Getz I had to project that kind of intensity just as clearly at a much softer volume and get my traditional swing (or Bebop) vocabulary fully together.”

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The Pile (#4), and raw copy of Karrin Allyson’s Blindfold Test from About Ten Years Ago

Coming in from several weeks on the road to back a new Concord release (her 13th on the label), entitled Round Midnight, singer Karrin Allyson enters Birdland tonight for a Tuesday-Saturday run.  I’m a fan. Like her idol, Carmen McRae, Allyson plays piano with more than an arranger’s touch, as she demonstrates throughout the date (bassist Ed Howard and drummer Matt Wilson join her long-time guitarist Rod Fleeman in an impeccable rhythm section). Perhaps this is one reason for her uncanny, sodium-pentothal like phrasing, which certainly serves the repertoire on Round Midnight, comprised of blue ballads and reflective, elegiac songs. Allyson  conveys the oceanic emotions with minimal artifice and a complete absence of mannerism or excess or bathos; her husky, lived-in, pitch-perfect contralto conveys a starkness that’s an aural analog to her  Great Plains (Great Bend, Kansas; Omaha, Nebraska; Minneapolis; Kansas City) background. Along with Gretchen Parlato’s The Lost And Found, it’s my favorite recording this year by a female vocalist. All the more interesting that, when coming up, Allyson was known for the cyborg chops she displayed when scatting at fast tempos (to hear what I mean, listen to Footprints, from 2006, on which she displays those skills with Jon Hendricks and Nancy King).

In 2001, in conjunction with Allyson’s release Ballads, on which she sang down the repertoire from the iconic John Coltrane-Johnny Hartman collaboration of that name, I had an opportunity to conduct a DownBeat Blindfold Test with Allyson. Here’s the unedited version.

* * *

1.    Kurt Elling, “Say It” (from FLIRTING WITH TWILIGHT, Blue Note, 2001) (4 stars)

I don’t recognize the voice.  It sounds a little like Mark Murphy, but I know it’s not Mark Murphy. [LAUGHS] I like it.  It sounds good.  It’s a very focused version of “Say It Over and Over Again.”  Cool little horn things behind it.  I’ll give it 4 stars.  I don’t know who it is, though.  Unh-oh, this is Kurt Elling.  But it sounds older than Kurt; I don’t think it’s him.  Maybe it is Kurt.  I’ll bet it is Kurt.  Interesting.  I didn’t even know he’d recorded this.  I like it. [AFTER] As I said at the beginning, it’s a very focused thing.  It’s not terribly romantic…but at the same time it is.  It’s not the typical romantic sound.  You don’t hear many singers do this song.  That’s what turned me on about Trane’s ballad album, because it’s not a typically romantic sound.  Like I said in the liner notes, it’s a deeper thing than simply romance.

2.    Luciana Souza, “Embraceable You” (from AN ANSWER TO YOUR SILENCE, NYC, 1999) – (2 stars)

Sounds like a Cassandra Wilson disciple.  I don’t know about disciple; that might be a little strong.  But she sounds influenced by Cassandra Wilson.  It’s kind of a cool arrangement.  Her pitch is a little off for my taste, so I give it a 2.  I really don’t know who it is.  But it’s creative, and I like that. [AFTER] Many Brazilian singers do have that trait about bending the pitch a little bit, and I do like her feel very much.  But for me, if you’re singing an American standard, maybe I’m just a snot, but it seems like maybe paying a bit more attention to the pitch would be a good thing.

3.    Billy Eckstine, “I Want To Talk About You” (from COMPACT JAZZ: BILLY ECKSTINE, Verve, 1962/1989) – (5 stars)

Is it Arthur Prysock?  No?  Do I get another guess?  Is it Grady Tate? [LAUGHS] It’s not Billy Eckstine.  Is it?  Yes?  On the third guess, I guess I knew it was Billy Eckstine.  It’s a bit more operatic than I’m used to hearing him present a tune.  “Operatic” may be the wrong word.  Because of that 12/8 Rock feel… It’s lovely.  I love it.  It’s classic.  I’ll give it a five.  I never really cared for the choir in the background, however, but that’s a whole other story.  That’s not his fault.  That’s the producer!  And the time, the year it was done.  Nat Cole did all that stuff.

4.    Norma Winstone, “Prelude To a Kiss” (from WELL KEPT SECRET, Koch, 1995) (Jimmy Rowles, piano; George Mraz, bass) – (3-1/2 stars)

Is that Dena de Rose”?  No?  It’s interesting to take “Prelude To A Kiss” as a waltz and spread out the phrasing so much.  It’s hard to do that.  And she leaves space, which is nice.  Her pitch is pretty good.  I mean, it’s very good.  Nice accompaniment.  They’re providing a nice groove for her.  I might like it better instrumentally this way than I like it for a vocalist.  But that’s totally subjective for everyone.  It’s not an insult toward her; it’s just a taste thing.  And in that way, instrumentalists have it easy.  Not easy, but that’s an advantage they have over vocalists, I think.  Because lyrics, the way you present them… Like I said, she’s spreading out the phrasing.  Because there are a lot of words to get in, but when you spread  it out that much, it goes quite a bit slower, of course… I’m trying to get used to this version of this tune.  I have no idea who it is.    3-1/2 stars.

5.    Jimmy Scott, “All Or Nothing At All” (from OVER THE RAINBOW, Milestone, 2001) (Justin Robinson, alto sax) (5 stars)

Jimmy Scott.  I didn’t think he did anything up!  I love Jimmy Scott.  This is cool.  Beautiful.  He’s somebody who knows how to paint a picture.  I can even see him singing this.  And I’ve never seen him live, so that’s kind of interesting!  He’s an artist.  I wish I’d heard this before I recorded my version of this…or before I recorded Trane’s version of this.  I like the alto player.  He has a really unique sound on his horn. [AFTER] I don’t have a problem with vibrato unless it’s insincere.  It depends upon the age of the singer, too, in a way.  Because physiologically, sometimes singers can’t help but waver.  I’m not speaking about Jimmy here particularly; I’m just saying in general.  So that’s a whole nother matter.  But vibrato I don’t have a problem with if it’s well-placed!

6.    Sarah Vaughan, “Every Time We Say Goodbye” (from AFTER HOURS, 1961/199_) (Mundell Lowe, guitar; George Duvivier, bass)

[AFTER A MINUTE] Is that Sarah?  Is that early Sarah?  Am I totally wrong, or is that Sarah?  Mid period Sarah?  She’s having fun with that tune with the breaks in the melody…as if this melody needs any more!  It’s so unexpressive! [LAUGHS] Only kidding.  Sarah’s got one of those trick voices.  She can go wherever she happens to think about, and she can think about a lot of things, so therefore she can sing a lot of things.  And she contains so much… I mean, she’s playing with you at the very end there.  “Bye-bye, bye-bye,” she’s playing with you.  At the beginning it’s a little playful as well because of the breaks in the arrangement in the middle.  And she’s just singing it straight, it sounds beautiful.  5 stars.  Was the guitarist Herb Ellis?

7.    Tony Bennett, “Out Of This World” (from JAZZ, Columbia, 1964/1987) (Stan Getz, tenor sax; Herbie Hancock, piano, Ron Carter, bass, Elvin Jones, drums) (5 stars)

[IMMEDIATELY] Tony Bennett.  I like this tune.  I used to sing this tune.  Trane did this?  I didn’t know that.  I may have to do another Trane CD!  What I like about Tony is his pretty much no holds barred approach to singing.  I suppose that’s the Italian Tenor in him.  But he’s not afraid of showing emotion.  5 stars.  There’s a lot of reverb on this recording, maybe a little too much for my taste, but that’s probably the time as well.  Is that Paul Desmond?  Is it a tenor?  All of a sudden I’m confused if it’s a tenor or an alto, for God’s sake!  Shame on me! [LAUGHS] I think it’s a tenor.  Is it Getz?  Okay, I never said Paul Desmond!  He was up there on that high register, though, with that tenor.  I have this record here!  I like Tony in this jazz context.

8.    Dena De Rose, “The Touch Of Your Lips” (from I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW, Sharp-9, 2000) (4 stars) (DeRose, piano, vocals; Dwayne Burno, bass; Matt Wilson, drums)

[IMMEDIATELY] That is Dena, isn’t it?  I just saw her at a gig, and she’s been in my consciousness.  I heard her on Marian McPartland’s show.  It sounds nice.  Is she playing piano for herself on this?  My first version of this tune was by Tony Bennett.  I love this tune.  I like singing it.  This version is faster than it needs to be, but it’s swinging.  It’s nice.  That’s cool when pianist-singers will double their own line.  I attempt that myself sometimes.  She’s a good piano player.  I know that was her first instrument.  A real inventive solo.  I like that very much.  Four stars. [AFTER] As little as I know about Dena, and I like her musicianship very much, I know that she will find, the longer she does this, that her voice is more a part of her than she might realize.  She’s an artist in progress, and she’s going to have a good run at this wonderful music.

9.    Ian Shaw “If You Could See Me Now” (from SOHO STORIES, Milestone, 2001) (3 stars)

One of my favorite ballads of all time.  Why is that singer starting on the bridge?  Just kidding! [AT THE DOUBLE TIME] Don’t sabotage this beautiful tune!  No!!!  Oh, well.  It’s nice, though.  It’s tricky sometimes.  We took “It Might as Well Be Spring,” as many other people have too…a beautiful ballad, and we samba-tized it.  So it’s totally a matter of taste.  I think it’s very important… And this singer is doing it.  He’s enunciating.  When you do a tune fast and it has a lot of lyrics, it’s very important to understand those lyrics.  It’s almost like he’s  trying to keep his rhythm section entertained or something.  I know it’s not Al Jarreau, but he is Al Jarreau-influenced, I think…a little bit.  Is he the pianist?  No.  I don’t know.  It’s a little frantic for me, this version of this beautiful ballad.  I’d give it 2.  Although the singer’s performance is better than a 2, so I should give it more.  3 stars.  It’s almost like this singer is a theatrical performer.  He’s got a great feel.  He’s a good singer. [AFTER] Now that I’ve discovered it’s Ian Shaw, I did hear him on a live gig once and really enjoyed it.  It’s just not my preference to treat that tune that way, but like I said, it’s totally subjective.  I said before I know who he was that this was more of a theatrical singer, and I got that impression when I saw him live, too.  Maybe it’s that English drama, the Shakespearean influence he has from being British.  I don’t know.  Maybe.  He’s a real showman.  He was just with a pianist the night I saw him, and you can only do so much with that.  And that’s  good sometimes!

10.    Betty Carter, “My Favorite Things” (from INSIDE BETTY CARTER, United Artists 1964/1993) (5 stars)

This is Betty Carter, of course.  I love Betty Carter.  Talk about bending the pitch; she does it, too.  Not too much on this.  Betty is an original, very unique.  I feel like I learned a lot from this influence… I don’t know if it would be evident to anyone else.  But I saw her many times live, and she was so integrated with her rhythm section.  Because I feel like I am part of the rhythm section, not only when I’m playing piano but when I’m standing up singing.  She may have felt a little bit like that, too.  I don’t know.  But she’s totally original.  I love her.  5 stars.  And not any singer could get away with doing this kind of… Good for her.  Do that Indian EEYEEYEEYEE thing there.  That ain’t Julie Andrews singing it!  Yeah, good for you!  She’s great.  Not every singer could get away with what she does.

11.    Jeffery Smith, “Lush Life” (from A LITTLE SWEETER, Verve, 1997) (3 stars)

Pretty voice.  I like the conversational style he has at the end of his phrases.  It’s nice. [SWING SECTION] Unh-oh!  I’ve never heard “Lush Life” swung by a singer.  Shows you how much I know.  Again, I liked it on the verse.  It’s beautiful.  I’m not crazy about swinging this tune as a singer.  But I mean, albeit it’s a waltz, but he’s swinging it.  He’s got nice pitch.  3 stars.  I was sort of really digging the verse in that dreamy state, and I know everybody doesn’t like it if they don’t swing or don’t do it in a different way, but it sort of turned me around a little bit on it.  It kind of ruined my mood.  But I suppose it’s a great way to do it in a club where it’s really noisy! [LAUGHS] I have been there and done that!  That’s where we come up with all our different versions.  Pure necessity is the mother of invention.  Or non-invention.

12.    Shirley Horn, “It’s Easy To Remember” (from I LOVE YOU, PARIS, Verve, 1994) (5 stars)

[IMMEDIATELY] Shirley.  I was going to comment on the piano playing, but I should just wait… I love Shirley Horn.  I’ve never heard her do this either.  I love Shirley.  She’s another unique, beautiful interpreter of songs for me.  Her accompaniment, of course, is dreamy for her.  She takes a bath in her ballads.  She’s got all those suspended chords that always leave you…suspended as a listener.  5 stars

13.    Carmen McRae, “Speak Low” (from PRICELESS JAZZ: CARMEN McRAE, GRP, 1955/1997) – (5 stars)

Early Carmen!  I love Carmen.  She can do no wrong. [LAUGHS] Carmen has so much attitude in her singing and contains… She’s a little bit like Sarah, but Sarah is a little more on the romantic side — or can be.  But she can be sassy, of course, like she was given the name.  But Carmen has so much attitude in  her singing.  It contains all kinds of emotion within one phrase.  Yeah, I love Carmen.  Five stars.  I like this tune a lot.  I used to do it.  It’s a cool arrangement, too.  It’s fun.  I have no idea who it was.

14.    Billie Holiday, “Why Was I Born?” (from THE COMPLETE BILLIE HOLIDAY ON COLUMBIA: 1933-1944, 1937/2001) – (5 stars) (Buck Clayton, tp.; Teddy Wilson, piano; Benny Goodman, cl.)

“Why Was I Born,” obviously.  It’s not Louis Armstrong, is it?  Oh. [LAUGHS] Billie Holiday.  Of course.  Those are different changes at the end of the A-section.  It’s interesting.  Different chord changes than I know, anyway.  I never heard Billie’s version of this.  I guess this is THE version! [LAUGHS] I knew Coltrane’s version. [CLARINET SOLO] The Dixieland approach.  [When does this sound like it’s from?] The ’40s. [Who do you think the pianist was?]  Jimmy Rowles?  She used to work with him all the time. I have no idea.  Was it Buck Clayton on trumpet?  Was it Tommy Flanagan?  Teddy Wilson!  Oh, sure.  So you want me to give that a star rating?  5 stars. [LAUGHS] [So you’re more familiar with her later recordings.] Mmm-hmm.  Not so much the earlier stuff.  It’s a terrible thing to admit.  But I had to grow into Billie when I first started singing.  She didn’t hit me as quickly as Sarah and Carmen, Ella… Part of it is that I did hear her later stuff first, like Lady In Satin, things that now I really appreciate.  I think she’s somebody that you keep discovering.  She’s got layers.  She’s geologically got a lot of layers going on there.

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The Pile (#1)

As I’ve had a bit of down time recently, I’m trying to catch up on new releases, which arrive inexorably. It’s hard to make a dent—there’s only time to listen to a couple or three 60-70 minute recordings in a day, and that’s stretching it.   Then, too, as I’ve learned by experience from writing liner notes (not to mention just plain old common sense), recordings by serious master musicians demand multiple listenings to catch the nuances, the overall arc and intention. With that in mind, it’s important to self-remind that personal taste has nothing to do with the actual quality of the artifact. I may hear something that I’m not in the mood for, but two weeks later it’s just what I want to absorb.  Or perhaps the rhythmic feel aggravates me one time, but  resonates the next. One reason why I’m very cautious about making judgments — assessments are different — when I write reviews. I’m not a musician. I haven’t spent my life working up the knowledge/experience base that went into making this recording.

In any event, this is the first of hopefully a ongoing series of “Pile” columns (the accumulated stacks of CDs that are outside of my assignment purview pile up) on some items that have recently caught my ear. Unless the offense/offender is particularly egregious, I won’t go negative. That said, don’t assume that omission means distaste.

David Gibson, END OF THE TUNNEL (Posi-Tone)

A lot of individualistic trombone virtuosos emerged during the ‘70s and ‘80s—George Lewis, Steve Turre, Ray Anderson, Robin Eubanks, Conrad Herwig, Frank Lacy, Gary Valente…I could go on. But outside of Wycliffe Gordon, Clifton Anderson, Ronald Westray, and one or two others, trombone players don’t pop immediately to mind when you think of interesting slide improvisers over the last two decades. Maybe we’re in for a new wave. I’ve dug Marshall Gilkes in recent years, and Gibson has a similarly gorgeous sound and a solo conception that’s thematically cogent and also kinetic through a range of late 20th century food groups. Many dates that draw on the various mid-’60 Blue Note genres sound contrived and stale, but this one has a fresh feeling, as though the participants were recording something fresh contemporaneously — not unlike some of the bebop-oriented improvisers who’ve used Smalls as a base over the last 15 years.  In any event, Gibson dialogues throughout with the excellent alto saxophonist Julius Tolentino, his front line partner; organist Jared Gold, himself a leader on few Posi-Tone dates, combines point guard distribution duties with intelligent shot selection, laying down apropos comp and basslines but also creative solos; drummer Quincy Davis, an A-lister in my book, works the grooves with energy and taste.

James Carter, CARIBBEAN  RHAPSODY: CONCERTO FOR SAXOPHONE AND ORCHESTRA (Em-Arcy) – (composed by Roberto Sierra)

A tour de force. I can’t really review it properly without listening 3-4 more times, which I probably won’t be able to do without an assignment, but I can say that it’s one of the most synchronous collaborations I’ve heard between an orchestral (as opposed to big band…I hope I’m making myself clear) composer and improvising soloist—particularly a soloist as florid and adventurous as JC—that I can remember hearing. Sierra creates a series of felicitous environments in which Carter can soar, and soar he does, with ferocity and extraordinary craft on all the instruments.  I saw Carter at the Blue Note a few weeks ago with his organ trio, plus Nicholas Payton and Blood Ulmer, and was impressed by his complete command of his materials—the presentation and narrative arc came through as strongly as his considerable musical contents. Which can happen once a musician of Carter’s gifts and focus hits his forties and coalesces his various tributaries of expression into a clear path.

Gerald Clayton, BOND: THE PARIS SESSIONS (EmArcy)

Yes, I know, two EmArcy releases in one post…

I’ve dug Clayton for a couple of years, since  his trio was in residence for the entirety of the Perugia summer edition of the 2008 Umbria Jazz Festival, and I heard him play Duke Pearson’s “Is That So?” (Bradley’s denizens of old will remember that this was a John Hicks favorite) with complete idiomatic authority—he owned the language. Not long after that I heard him, at a Hank Jones festschrift concert, come out after Hank had played a few tunes, sit down with George Mraz and Willie Jones, and invent a variation on Cole Porter’s “I Love You” that I assumed had to be composed, everything was so perfectly in place and ingeniously constructed, but was told that he put it forth on the spot. That winter at Orvieto he did a series of duos with his father John Clayton that were on the very highest level of interaction and sophistication. So I know his scope.  Didn’t think he represented his breadth quite as effectively on his debut record, TWO SHADE, from 2009. BOND offers a much more complete portrait of his gifts—the beats are modern but also swinging, the trio has a one-voice flow, the new-jack originals and old-school standards interweave seamlessly. No showoffs here. In fact, it’s appropriate that he ends with John Clayton’s “Hank”; there isn’t really a discernible stylistic connection between Gerald and Hank Jones, but Gerald possesses a Hank Jones level of clarity and focus—an ability to cut to the chase and say something fresh in any environment. Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but I love his solo on “Nobody Else But Me”—a major league left-hand and a melodic spirit. Like James Carter, Gerald is in complete control of his materials, and at 26 or 27, he’s already recognizable as himself while engaging with the tradition on its own terms. He’s one of the very few under-30 pianists out there (Manuel Valera is another, but he’s 30) whose concept would have enabled him to fit with ease into the Bradley’s rotation.  (That’s a good thing.)

Alexis Cuadrado, NONETO IBÉRICO (BJU Records)

A well-wrought program of 8 tunes composed and arranged by bassist Alexis Cuadrado, a Barcelona-to-Brooklyn transplant, each of them built on a different rhythmic structure of the Iberian diaspora. Needs three or four listens (which I don’t have time for now) to say anything meaningful. Suffice to say that the soloing (Loren Stillman, Avishai [trumpet] Cohen, Brad Shepik, Dan Tepfer, as well as Piraña and Blas Cordoba and Tomatito) is inspired throughout, and the arrangements are fresh and cohesive, with ever shifting colors and intoxicating rhythms (Mark Ferber on drumkit and Marc Miralta on cajon and percussion lock in beautifully with Cuadrado).  Thought of in conjunction with Wynton Marsalis’ excellent VITORIA SUITE, with Chano Dominguez, it shows that Flamenco Jazz now has its drivers license—that’s to say, it’s  reached adulthood as a genre and become a mature pan-generational, trans-national idiom on the worldwide playing field.

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Filed under Alexis Cuadrado, Bass, David Gibson, Gerald Clayton, James Carter, Piano, Review, Tenor Saxophone, The Pile, Trombone