Tag Archives: Jason Marsalis

For Lenny White’s 66th Birthday, An Uncut DownBeat Blindfold Test From 2010

For drummer Lenny White’s 66th birthday, here’s the uncut proceedings of a DownBeat Blindfold Test that I conducted with him in May 2010. His remarks were unfiltered and trenchant. We did this in a high-end midtown recording studio, which I mention because of Lenny’s comments on how the positioning of the drums in the mix of several of these recordings affects our perception of what the drummers are doing.

 

Lenny White Blindfold Test (Raw):

1. Roy Haynes, “The Best Thing For You” (LOVE LETTERS, Sony, 2002) (Haynes, drums, Joshua Redman, tenor saxophone; Kenny Barron, piano; Christian McBride, bass)

This is one of the six masters. This is the history of jazz right here—the living history of jazz. Do I have to say who it is? Roy Haynes. He’s the living history of jazz. He’s played with everybody, done everything, and he’s one of my six heroes. The others are Philly Joe, Max, Elvin, Art Blakey, and Tony. It’s Roy Haynes! That’s all you’ve got to say. All the drummers that I named transcend the instrument. They’re not drummers. They are musicians who happen to play drums. Because they have such a unique approach to playing music, they don’t play just drums—they play music, and the drums are the instrument that they use to interpret the music. 9 stars. I’m not even listening to the other cats. No disrespect, but Roy commands such attention when he plays the instrument… Is that Christian on bass? I wasn’t listening to the piano player, so I didn’t hear his solo. Is this Marcus Strickland on tenor? No? I’ve got to tell you a true story with Roy Haynes that helped shape my musical life. Roy Haynes used to have a group that he called the Hip Ensemble, and every night, the last tune he would play on the set would be the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” At the end, he’d go, BAH-DAH-DOO-DAH, BRRMMM, and he’d play a drum cadenza. He was playing at Slugs’, and he knew I was there, and said BAH-DAH-DOO-DAH, BRRMMM, stopped, and called me up on the stage, and had me play the drum cadenza. That’s all I’ve got to say.

2. Jason Marsalis, “Puppet Mischief” (from John Ellis & Double Wide, PUPPET MISCHIEF, Obliq, 2010) (Ellis, tenor saxophone, composer; Marsalis, drums; Brian Coogan, organ; Matt Perrine, sousaphone)

Is it Dave Holland’s band? No? That’s very interesting, because of the use of the tuba, and they can negotiate their way through 7/4 pretty seamlessly. The drummer is playing within the music, doing an admirable job within the music. I haven’t a clue. It’s cool. He’s not getting in the way. You know what’s interesting with the younger guys? I think they’re very technically proficient, but there’s no particular emphasis on a sound—an identifiable sound, whether it’s choice of cymbals, or how they tune their drums, to the point where I say, “Oh, I know who that is” immediately. It sounds great, though. 3 stars.

3. Kendrick Scott, “Short Story” (from REVERENCE, Criss-Cross, 2009) (Scott, drums, composer; Mike Moreno, guitar; Walter Smith, tenor saxophone; Gerald Clayton, piano; Derrick Hodge, bass; Kenny Dorham, composer)

Is it Tain? No. I like it. He’s killing. I like the organic sound of everything. It sounds great. My only problem, sometimes, is how the recordings are today. See, what drives the music is the ride cymbal. A lot of the guys now play more drums than play cymbal. See, I don’t get a sense of the real hard drive with the music with a lot of drums. It got it when they were playing in open 7, but when they started to swing over the changes it didn’t work as well. From that standpoint, I’d like to really hear some hard swinging. 5 stars. Kendrick Scott? A new guy. But when they start to play straight-ahead stuff, it’s a little weird. From another perspective, what music is, is how you break silence.
So when you make a statement, it better be good. If you’re coming back from silence… That’s why it’s a little strange. There’s this flood of music, and then the music has to compete with movies, it has to compete with games. So the emphasis is not on art, like it used to be, or the art has been fragmented.

4. Brian Blade, “Joe Hen” (from John Patitucci, REMEMBRANCE, Concord, 2009) (Blade, drums; John Patitucci, bass, composer; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone)

John Patitucci, Joe Lovano, and Brian Blade. I don’t know the record, but I know them. It’s ok. 4 stars. I like Brian’s playing. [If I run this entry, it would be nice if I had a little more than “I like Brian’s playing.”] What is it that you want me to say? [Just your response…] Let me ask you what do you think? [Of this piece.] Yes, and Brian’s playing. [Open, interactive piece, Brian’s responding on a dime like he always does…] Everybody that you’ve played me so far has done exactly the same thing. Everybody’s responded and played, and it’s great. The drums sound great. The sound is great. The thing about it is that conceptually…what defines concept, or helps make up concept, is your choice of cymbals, how you tune your drums, and hopefully that will come out in a recording. This is recorded well. The drums sound fantastic. In conjunction with the music, it still sounds great, and all of that. I think it’s great. 4 stars.

5. Dafnis Prieto, “Si o Si” (from SI O SI QUARTET, Dafnison, 2009) (Prieto, drums, composer; Peter Apfelbaum, tenor saxophone; Manuel Valera, piano; Charles Flores, bass)

You’re giving me all these weird time changes. I like this, though. Great composition. Is it the drummer’s composition? Tain? It’s great. I love the composition. It shows that drummers can be musicians, too. That’s why I think I know who it is, but I don’t want to say yet. Is it Jack deJohnette? No? Who is it? Dafnis Prieto? Nice, man. You can tell that he wrote this composition. Very musical. It says something when someone comes here who is not from the United States, and they take their culture and adapt it to jazz. He’s not trying to play jazz; he’s playing jazz within his culture, which is cool. Oh, it’s live. I really like it. Who’s the piano player? [Manuel Valera.] Are they all Latin? [The tenor player isn’t.] It’s killer. Very believable, very honest, and they were going for it. It’s not as much as Roy Haynes, but 6 stars. Whoo!

6. Teri Lynne Carrington, “The Eye Of The Mind” (#2) (from Tineke Postma, THE TRAVELLER, EtceteraNOW, 2009) (Postma, piano, composer; Geri Allen, Fender Rhodes; Scott Colley, bass; Carrington, drums)

Great-sounding recording. Whoever this is has been influenced by Jack. Unless this is Jack. No? Oh, Teri Lynne Carrington. The statement was accurate. I thought it sounded great. It’s kind of hard for me, because I don’t want to sound cynical or jaded, but I have such… The best way that I can explain it is that jazz is not a style of music to me. It’s my heritage. The reason why I say that is that those six heroes I mentioned all took me aside and told me things about how to interpret and represent the music. I got a lot from listening to their records, but it really made sense when they said what they said, when you sat and listened to somebody and they’d say, “Ok, you see that? This is how you make that turnaround.” Or, “You see this? This is what you need to…” Every one of those guys I mentioned actually did that with me. So they gave me their perspective of how to represent the music the right way. That’s why for me it’s a heritage. Everything you’ve played is a very good representation of where the music is today, or where it’s going. But you haven’t played anything yet that was a true sense of swing from the perspective of all of those guys that I named, and all those guys that I named, maybe with the exception of Philly Joe and Buhaina, they took the music from a straight-ahead swing situation, and amped on it, and made it into something else, to what this is right now. But I still haven’t heard that link back to those guys yet. I’ve heard great representations of what the music is today, but with the exception of what I just heard with Teri Lynne, I can’t say where the influences of the drummers have come from. She sounded great. 4 stars. You haven’t played me anything that I did not like and which sounded bad—and was a bad representation. And I would hope you wouldn’t write about either! It’s just from the standpoint that what keeps a music pure is that there’s a source point, and you can trace the lineage from A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and it goes down the line. But when there’s an offshoot that is something that doesn’t have a point on the chain, it becomes something else. Now, it might be totally valid. I’m not saying that nothing else is valid. That’s not what I’m saying. Just that to this point you haven’t played me anything where I can see a link. The reason I haven’t been able to recognize some of the people is because I don’t hear those influences in their playing. When you played me Roy Haynes, I knew who it was in a second.

7. Ali Jackson, “Dali” (from Ted Nash & Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, PORTRAIT IN SEVEN SHADES, JALC, 2010) (Nash, composer; Ali Jackson, drums)

Does anybody play in 4 any more? Not a clue. Don’t know who the band is. It could be Gil Evans—I don’t know. There’s not too much the drummer can do, because he’s playing in odd time, and it’s pretty much arranged—so he’s kind of in handcuffs. Is it a ‘50s or ‘60s recording? [Neither. It’s 2010.] Whoa! I was just thinking of how far back the drums are. [Ali Jackson with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.] That’s really interesting. See how far back the cymbal is? I know Ali, and I like his playing. But this doesn’t represent his sound. They’re probably all great musicians, but there’s no drive. You can’t hear any drive. All you hear is the bass, but the drums have no drive.

8. Ernesto Simpson, “We See” (from Manuel Valera, CURRENTS, MaxJazz 2009) (Valera, piano; James Genus, bass; Simpson, drums; Thelonious Monk, composer)

This must be the piano player’s record. That’s all you can hear. You can’t hear any drums. Well, you can hear the drums, but you don’t hear any cymbals. When was this recorded? A year or two ago? The piano is so out in front, you lose perspective. I spent a week playing with Danilo and Avishai Cohen when he was doing the Panamonk stuff in the ‘90s, and I had a ball. It was great. [Did you play Afro-Caribbean music, salsa, when you were a young guy?] I did a lot. I played in a band called Azteca. I actually did a record called Afro-Cubano Chant with Bob James, Gato Barbieri, Andy Gonzalez, Mike Mainieri, and Steve Berrios, and we did all stuff like that. We played Lonnie Hillyer’s “Tanya” from the Soul Sauce album, Cal Tjader. But I don’t know about this…

9. Cindy Blackman, “Vashkar” (from ANOTHER LIFETIME, 4Q, 2010) (Blackman, drums; Mike Stern, electric guitar; Doug Carn, organ; Benny Rietveld, electric bass; Tony Williams, composer)

This is Cindy Blackman. This is her Tony record. I don’t like the sound of the recording, but I love what Cindy’s playing. The recording is weird. No clarity. Cindy knows how to tune the drums, she has a great choice of drums and everything, but I don’t really get that. It sounds muddled. It sounds like drums and guitar. You’ve got to be able to HEAR the drums. That’s Mike Stern on guitar and Doug Carn on organ. I knew it exactly because I know the music and I knew they made the record. The guitar is way too loud. I’ve been reluctant to do a tribute album for Tony. His playing comes out so much in me, I didn’t think I had to do that. I’m not saying that Cindy shouldn’t have done that; I’m not saying that at all. But I’ve managed just to be able to trace through him and find what I needed to find. And anybody that listens to me play can hear his influence on me. If there’s any negative about this, it’s the sound of the recording. That’s all. 4 stars. It sounds like the snare drum and bass drum in the mix. There’s a whole bunch of stuff she’s playing that you miss. Cindy’s playing some great stuff, but you don’t hear it. Who’s the bass player? [Benny Rietveld.]

10. Paul Motian, “Abacus” (from LOST IN A DREAM, ECM, 2010) (Motian, drums, composer; Chris Potter, tenor saxophone; Jason Moran, piano)

Ringing snare drum. See how far back the bass drum is from the snare drum. These engineers and producers make jazz records try to sound like pop records. Jazz music is ambient music like classical music. You need to hear the air around the instruments, and then you hear it in direct proximity. You don’t hear a first violin louder than the viola. It’s a section. It’s a drumkit; you should always hear the whole kit, not the snare drum louder than something else. Is this a younger guy? [No.] I didn’t think so. It’s Paul Motian, but it sounded like Roy Haynes, from some of the things he did. I liked it. 3 stars.

11. Jeff Watts, “Caddo Bayou” (from John Beasley, POSITOOTLY!, Resonance, 2009) (Beasley, piano, composer; Brian Lynch, trumpet; Bennie Maupin, tenor saxophone; James Genus, bass; Watts, drums)

Finally we have somebody swinging. Same thing, though. The cymbal is not loud enough. The music doesn’t swing if you don’t get… And the guy can be really swinging, but it suffers in the mix. I believe what happens is that guys are set to play, and they’re not content enough to make the band swing just playing the ride cymbal. They want to play a whole bunch of drums, and it overpowers everything. So the producers that make these jazz records bring down the drums because they’re afraid that it’s going to overpower everything. But you miss the ride beat. It doesn’t swing if you don’t hear that. It just sounds like a rolling thing. You hear the bass, but you hear the low end of the bass. You don’t really hear any finger noise. And you hear the soloist way up front. So the rhythm section has this rumbling thing, nondescript. Is this one of them new trumpet players? Now, let me ask you a question. Listening to the drummer, who is his influence? [This sounds more coming out of Tony with Miles than anything else, at least in intention.] No way. Because the stuff Tony played, he played off of a ride cymbal. [Is that from the recording or the actual vocabulary the drummer’s playing?] A little bit of both. I mean, the stuff that Tony played was so intricate, it wasn’t just a rolling thing. There was great coordination between hands and feet, and a ride pattern. It was the cymbal beat which keeps the rhythmic perspective, so that when he played some other stuff, it was really amazing, because he played it against and coordinated with the cymbal beat. This just sounds like it’s a whole bunch of stuff going on, but there’s nothing to keep it focused. I don’t know who it was. 2 stars.

I honestly think that the recording made Tain’s contribution suffer there, because I know he has more of a cymbal ride beat than that, because you couldn’t hear it. That’s what made me say what I say. [This is  illuminating for me. Because so many records sound like this, I’m used to projecting what I hear live onto the record, and it becomes like a ghost sound…] See, the problem is it’s as if you went to a jazz club and heard a classical orchestra, and you got used to that sound, so that when you went back and heard a classical orchestra in a correct auditorium, you’d say, “Wow, that’s really interesting, because I’m used to hearing it in….” One of the things that is important in maintaining the history and giving the right perspective about the music is how you record it. When I listen back to the records I came up listening to, the Blue Note records and Columbia records, it had a sound that we all loved and got used to hearing, and it was a quality sound. It didn’t sound bad. That sounded bad. {Is that because of compression?] I think it’s basically attitude from the producer and the engineer. The engineer gets the sound, but the producer says, “This is the sound that I want,” and the artist usually leaves it up to the producer. Or maybe the artist doesn’t know enough to say, “Hey, let’s use this amount of compression on the piano, let’s use ribbon mikes on the cymbals so we can get a sweeter sound.” They don’t take that impetus or study enough to get a great-sounding record. And if the record doesn’t sound good, how are you going to get what it is you want to get across to people? Today we listen to music on phones! It’s like, “Please!” It’s gotten to that point. So I think basically what made Tain’s sound suffer for me was the way it was mixed.

The reason why I became a producer was out of… I was so disgusted playing on someone’s session, and someone sitting behind a glass telling me to do this, and listen to the sound, and the sound sounded horrible. I said, “Man, I’ve got to think and do my homework to find out what it takes to have a good drum sound, and record it.” If I want to make records, then I’m going to need to know how to make my drum sound. I didn’t want to be at the mercy of someone else, to say, “Ok, that sounds good.” No. So I had to take control.

[These aren’t self-produced recordings, but are independent labels, producers who have a point of view, so I’d suspect they think they’re putting some effort into the sound… For example, Paul Motian is on an ECM record; Manfred Eicher puts out a very curated sound…] Yes, and that sounded eons better than the last one. [But you were critical of the sound on that.] No-no. The point is… Yes, I have my opinion. But that was much more of a representative sound of what the music was like. It was a live recording. He had a very open bass drum, and I don’t know who decided, but some producer decided, “We don’t want to have ringy drums like that, we don’t want the snare drums to ring, so we’ll put tape on it and do this and do that.” Motian probably took control and said, “No, this is my sound, this is what I want to…” That’s why I said I knew it when I heard it. Roy Haynes plays a big open bass drum like that, too.

See, Ted, I just want to go on record as saying that what I say is not gospel. It’s just my perspective on it. When I am asked about it, I say what my perspective is. It took me a while to decide to record a record again, because I had listened to what the landscape was and thought about it and said, “Well, do I really want to make a statement in this particular landscape?” My statement is a lot different than what I just heard. But it’s my statement, and I take pride in how to make my instrument sound and how to mike it and all of that. I would hope that would come out in my recording. That’s why I’m so critical about the sound, because I don’t want great artists to make statements and for them not to be heard—and I’m talking about not to be heard while listening. It’s one thing that you don’t hear the record, but if you don’t hear the statement that they’re making while the record or CD or MP3 is being played…

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Filed under Blindfold Test, DownBeat, Drummer, Lenny White

Matt Wilson’s Uncut Blindfold Test From Ten Years Ago

A day late for Matt Wilson’s birthday, but hopefully not a dollar short, here are the complete proceedings of a Blindfold Test that I conducted with Matt in 2001, at the offices of Palmetto Records.

 

 

* * *

1.    Marcus Roberts, “What Is This Thing Called Love?” (from COLE AT MIDNIGHT, Columbia, 2001) (Roberts, piano; Jason Marsalis, drums; Thaddeus Expose, bass) – (4 stars)

This is great.  I really like it.  I don’t hear any hi-hat, so I think it might be Leon Parker.  But that’s not the only reason it might be Leon.  Just sort of the feeling.  But I heard this recording of this trio from San Francisco, and Jaz Sawyer was playing, but I don’t think it’s Jaz.  Oh, this is swinging.  It’s “What Is This Thing Called Love.”  That’s obvious!  The bass sound is great.  Is it Jacky?  The answer is no!  I like this, though.  I’m trying to feel…just by the sound of the piano player.  I like the environment.  They set up this nice environment, and they keep this nice vibe.  Also, there’s sort of this backwards Ahmad feel.  I don’t like to describe music usually in terms of somebody else, but it has that kind of left turn there.  I dig it. Great selection. It’s a newer recording. I know that.  I have to say it was Leon Parker.  No?  [Because there wasn’t the hi-hat?] Yes, but also just some feel things I heard that reminds me of Leon.  But just the great upbeat vibe.  Leon to me has that great sound on the upbeat, plus it has a great 1 and 3.  There’s this great feeling of the upbeat and downbeat.  It’s like nice balance. 4 stars. To me, the great thing about playing a standard is that it’s a barometer in a certain way.  That’s the great thing about playing them.  That’s why I love playing them.  It’s this way of seeing what someone can do with common material.  It’s like someone who wants to go see someone else play a role in an Arthur Miller play, for example, who wants to see Brian Dennehy’s interpretation or somebody like that. I think that’s really great, especially somebody knows the tune and can do something with it, and again, maintain a vibe.  It wasn’t like they were playing “What Is This Thing Called Love” to play over the changes of it.  They were really trying to play a thought, a shape of a composition. [AFTER] Wow.  I heard this trio live about three or four years ago at a festival, and the vibe wasn’t anything like this on the tunes that they were playing that night.  But I totally dig Jason’s playing.  When I heard him before in other instance and in this case… He’s got that great feel, obviously, but also it has a lot of depth.  I also like Jason’s playing on Los Hombres Calientes.  In fact, once, when we were playing the same festival at Lawrence University, Jason peeked his head in at my band, the wild band, and we were in the middle of some kind of freakout kind of tune, and he appeared to really dig it.  I know he’s into a lot of different things.

2.    Charles Earland, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” (from SLAMMIN’ & JAMMIN’, Savant, 1997) – (Charles Earland, organ; Bernard Purdie, drums; Carlos Garnett, ts; Melvin Sparks, g) – (3 stars)

This is a great old jazz tune!  I know there’s versions of this.  I’m trying to go by the sound.  I know the vibe of the drummer.  I can’t quite place him.  It’s definitely an older player because of the cymbal sound.  Also it has more of a 2 and 4 oriented vibe to it.  Nice.  Sort of a Grady Tate-esque vibe, in a certain way, but a little… [DRUM SOLO] This part is great.  Yeah!  I can almost always tell how generations are.  I know this is a different generation by how they’re playing swing.  Swing is changing.  But I can’t quite pinpoint who it is.  Could it be Louis Hayes?  It has that crispness and that nice sort of surge to it when he goes to swing, and his snare drum ability… I wouldn’t even venture to guess on the guitar player. Because people have done this one before (Jimmy did it, etc.), it seems to me like there’s other tunes that you could do this same… It seems a little recreative rather than creative.  But that’s cool.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  In this instance, the organ trio doing that tune with that vibe seems to me… I’ll give it 3 stars just because the feel was cool, especially from the drum end.  Whoever was playing there has a lot of depth.  Especially with the second-line, the march feel.  It made me wonder who it was, because they switched cymbals at certain spots, in the middle of the form. [AFTER] Wow!  The other thing that made me think it might be someone with more of a funkish… I knew it was not Idris.  I know Idris’ playing pretty well.  But in this case, Bernard, the cymbal sound was smaller.  I know he uses a smaller ride.  The swing in Bernard’s case has definitely… Jason has a great 1-and-3, and Bernard’s feeling is similar, but during the swing part it was a pretty heavy 2-and-4.  It’s a good connection with him and Charles.  “Deacon Blues” to me is one of the greatest drumbeats ever!  Anything he plays on with Steely Dan.  And I heard him play by himself once at this workshop, and just play that upbeat shuffle feel.  It was amazing.  I would like to have heard another cut of this record where he was playing a shuffle.  You can tell that his feeling comes less from the ride cymbal than from the bottom.  His ride cymbal was sort of less defined.  I knew it was an older drummer by the sound of the cymbal, but by the feeling of it, it was hard to tell.  But man, it was great.  Bernard rocks, man!

3.    Dafnis Prieto, “B. Smooth” (from John Benitez, DESCARGA IN NEW YORK, Khaon, 2001) (Prieto, d., composer; Luis Perdomo, el.p.; John Benitez, b) – (3 stars)

This kind of playing and this kind of music is something I really respect.  But years ago, out of survival, I realized I was never going to be able to play like this.  I just didn’t have this ability.  Sometimes I think you just have to realize things you can do and can’t do, and this kind of music or this style of approach with kicks in this sound is something I realized I was never going to be able to do!  I respect it, though.  It’s really great, and I dig it.  But I don’t hear this sound either for myself. I’m trying to figure out who it might be.  Is it my man Mark Walker? [It’s the drummer’s composition.] I had a feeling it might be.  I mean, it’s very Chick Corea influenced, especially the Electrik Band period, which when I was settling into hearing great acoustic drummers, Blackwell and Higgins — that’s when I was studying that stuff.  The tune has some very hip rhythmic concepts.  I hear stuff more from a melody concept always.  Even rhythms I hear as melodies, so sometimes the stuff becomes a little busy for me.  The sound is dry also. [AFTER] All those beats in there that I didn’t know existed!  I have respect for all people’s efforts, and again, like I said, there was a point in my life when I realized that this is something I didn’t have the capability of doing, or even feel I could even get close to.  So I went in a completely different direction, when my friends were sort of into this vibe in college.  But it’s funny how — fortunately and unfortunately, I guess — there are any number of people that this could be.  Because there’s people who have played in the Michel Camilo school of playing.  There’s Dave Weckl and there’s Joel Rosenblatt and people like that.  They’re all brilliant players. [You think it might be somebody in that area?] Yeah.  Am I totally wrong?  [First you have to give it stars.] 3 stars, just because the musicianship is so great. It’s hard for me to be a critic.  But if nothing stood out to be that unique to me in this vein.  I mean, if I heard the opening and then all of a sudden I heard it go in the middle to a completely different departure, then I would go, “Wow, this is a really…” It’s kind of like playing a standard again.  But this is the kind of thing where to me they sort of stay in that vein, and it’s hard to discern from other things I hear in this style of music.  Again, it’s more of a personal affinity.  I don’t really hear that sound perception.  But I’m curious to see who it is. [AFTER] Wow!  He’s a bad… If I heard him live, it might be a different vibe.  The recording, to me… I’ve been hearing a lot of great things about him, and unfortunately he came to town around the time that my boys were born, so I haven’t been able to get out.  I know he’s got so much together.  It’s nothing against the playing on the record per se.  Who else is playing?  Oh.  Again, I have to attribute it to my personal ignorance.  I’ve played with Luis, and I love Luis Perdomo.  I’ve called him to do my Arts and Crafts band.  Again, if I heard an acoustic version… Again, it’s my own prejudice.  It puts me into that feeling, and it’s hard for me to discern, because… Again, the playing was great and the composition was great, but nothing really… Probably if I heard the spectrum of the record, I’d understand it more.  I had a feeling for a second it might have been Luis, because it shifted differently than most people who play electric keyboards.  I want to hear Dafnis again.  Also, Benitez is someone I’ve always been fascinated by and have always wanted to play with.  I hope some day I can, because I would like to be part of that sound.

4.    Hank Jones, “Allen’s Alley” (from Ray Drummond, THE ESSENCE, DMP, 1990) (Jones, p.; Drummond, b; Billy Higgins, d) – (3-1/2 stars)

The cats are going for it!  Wow. [LAUGHS] Well, I like it when people improvise, drum-wise, over changes like that.  He or she plays over the bass, and that’s something I’m really into.  I like accompaniment, and I like hearing people play over that architecture with accompaniment. It got strange in a spot, but still it had a lot of feeling, and then when the person blew by themselves… But nothing stuck out to me, nothing overall that made me really get up from the seat.  It was a nice version of “Allen’s Alley,” but I’m not sure who it is.  Sound-wise, it’s hard for me to tell.  From the recording, it’s hard for me to tell who the drummer might be.  There were parts that felt amazing, and other parts didn’t feel so great to me.  3-1/2 stars.  The feeling I get is that this probably was one take, and they just did it and it felt great to them, which is what’s important. I get the overall feeling, and I’m not a very good analyzer.  Again, I’m curious to see who it is. [AFTER] You totally got me there!  I would never have thought it was Billy.  I’m not saying I’m an authority on any of these guys.  I felt I’ve checked out enough Billy Higgins… I didn’t know it was Ray, but I had a feeling it might be Hank.  Again, it might be more of just the recorded sound for me, from where I’m used to hearing Billy’s sound be.  But man, I’m such a Billy Higgins fan… I screwed up!!! But it was a real stumper.  Sound-wise, the way the hi-hat didn’t sound as much to me as Billy does usually.  It wasn’t a good representation of his sound. He’s one of my true heros.  But again, the overall feeling of the piece is what they were going for, so they probably heard it back and thought, “Man, that’s cool.”  That’s what I listen for in records, is that feeling of, hey, man, it’s a version, and it’s a great version at that time.  To me, Hank Jones is one of the reigning kings of the music still living.

In hindsight, you think you know something, then you’re not sure.  To me that’s also a great compliment, that I didn’t know somebody that I had checked out so much.  But I didn’t even hear the things I would identify… It’s great that I had heard something I didn’t know was him, and that makes me even more excited I think than if I got it.

5.    Donny McCaslin, “Mick Gee” (from SEEN FROM ABOVE, Arabesque, 2000) (McCaslin, ts; Jim Black, drums; Ben Monder, gtr; Scott Colley, bass) – (4-1/2 stars)

[IMMEDIATELY] Jim Black. I’m not sure which band this is.  But I’m sure I’ll figure it out. [LAUGHS] This is great.  My man can shift on a dime!  I’ll probably be wrong!  It won’t be Jim.  No, it has to be.  If it’s not, I’m going to leave!  I’ve known Jim for so long, and he has a very identifiable concept.  To me, sound is the king in music.  When you can identify someone’s sound, like you hear Mel Lewis or you hear Elvin Jones. Also, turning on a dime, making these shifts, and he does it with such artistry.  That’s acoustic bass.  It sounded like it could be Chris Speed on tenor saxophone.  I like this piece a lot.  I like changes that grab your attention, not necessarily always for… This had a lot of episodes in it.  I call this episodic composition.  I sort of compose this way, too, where I think more about episodes.  And when you have great players like this who can make great transitions, or they all of a sudden… From the drum standpoint, that’s a real key to this kind of playing, that Jim does so well, and other guys like John Hollenbeck, Mike Sarin and Tom Rainey.  They’re able to negotiate the transitions so it can have that fluidity between sections that are really disjointed.  Or not.  That’s the other thing, that they made these shift sometimes, and they did it so it was a real surprise, almost as if it was edited.  Overall, I can tell that these dudes have checked out and are open to a lot of different kinds of music, and they’re trying to figure out ways to integrate this all into one sound.  They made a good sound together.  That’s what I was digging.  I heard it more really as one, which I thought was nice. The music was really meeting in the middle.  I liked it.  4-1/2 stars, because it was exciting.  Again, it had these mood shifts.  I don’t know how it falls in the rest of the record, but hearing that composition would intrigue me to see what they could do to border around that or what other kind of textures they could explore, and whatever kind of… But again, his identifiable sound is amazing. [AFTER] I was going to say Ben Monder, but I wasn’t sure about Scott’s thing.  That’s the record Donny did for Arabesque.  I’ve wanted to get it, but haven’t checked it out.  It’s fantastic. I know Donny’s sound quite a bit from playing with him and from past things, and this is totally different.  His vibe is so amazing.  All these guys have such a great, positive vibe.

6.    Edmond Hall, “Royal Garden Blues” (from THE BLUE NOTE JAZZMEN, Blue Note, 1944/1998) (Sid Catlett, d.; James P. Johnson, p; Ben Webster, ts; Sidney deParis, tp; Vic Dickenson, tb; Jimmy Shirley, g; John Simmons. b) – (4-1/2 stars)

[SINGS ALONG] Well, I know it’s “Royal Garden Blues.”  And I know it’s somebody who made the transition from traditional music to swing on the cymbal.  To me, that’s one of the most interesting things about jazz drumming that not a lot of people talk about, the people who were able to go from where it wasn’t much ride cymbal to where the ride cymbal is.  Because in the beginning he plays ride cymbal.  I love this music!  When I hear this stuff now, the collectiveness… It didn’t feel so separated.  It was really togetherness music, where they were there, creating that sound together.  To me, this is what really great improvisers do, is make that team feel.  I hear some hi-hat in there, too. [AFTER] The person I’ve been checking out lately in this vein is Zutty Singleton, but it’s not my man Zutty.  Zutty had this vibe… I was expecting the China cymbal.  But also the up feel…it had a more Chicago feel to it.  And the little breaks… Was it Gene Krupa?  The way those snare feels…those upbeats… [You’re on the right track.] Was it Davey Tough?  No.  It has a Chicago feeling to me because it was less Charleston oriented and more upbeat oriented.  4-1/2 stars.  I love collective improvising.  To me, the whole buzz of this music is the playing and hearing of it, and the feeling of people doing it together, more than, “Oh, this guy was great, the way he plays over this.  The feeling of a band.  This music in some ways can lend itself to that automatically.  But this was different to me.  These guys were really throwing it out there to each other.  You could tell their connectedness.  Again, one of the things that I think is interesting in the development that is not addressed as much are those guys that went from earlier jazz styles, even as far back as Papa Jo, that era of guys who went to the bigger cymbal.  When the cymbals got bigger and they went to that ride cymbal feel, that had to be a pretty radical change for all those guys.  And they did it so amazingly.  That’s what Dizzy Gillespie said about Davey Tough… He had one of the greatest time feels ever.  One of the things he thought might have gotten Davey sort of depressed is that he was not able to get that top cymbal feel the way the other guys did.  He had the ability to swing a band with a smaller cymbal, but the bigger cymbal vibe he didn’t get. [AFTER] There was a little something that didn’t make me want to say it was Sid, but I was pretty damn close!  The feeling from these guys is just the liquid sound.  It oozes out at you.  It doesn’t come at you in any sharp sort of way.  Music is making sound with somebody else. These guys made that sound together, and it sounds like this beautiful wave coming at you.  The thing I got from Sid is a big sound perspective. He was a big guy and he got a big sound, but it wasn’t loud.  I couldn’t tell; I didn’t hear him live.  But again, making a big sound with somebody to me is what master musicians do.  They make a great sound with somebody, and their sound will still be true…they make a great sound with whomever, they’re playing with.

7.    Steve Berrios-Joe Ford, “Bemsha Swing,” (from AND THEN SOME, Milestone, 1996) (Berrios, drumset, timpani; Joe Ford, ss) – (4-1/2 stars)

The timpani player is making those changes. It’s great.  Max plays timpani on the Riverside recording of “Bemsha Swing.” Whoa! Go, baby! [AFTER] That’s 4-1/2 stars.  Again, it’s a different perspective.  I’m trying to figure out who the soprano player was.  But whoever left that big space of sound there, man, that to me just made it.  That’s also something that Dewey does so great, and I think sometimes players… This is just a reference to the soprano player.  If you don’t feel something playing it, don’t play til you feel something.  And this person did that.  They waited.  At first I thought maybe it was a strange thing, but then I realized, wow, these people are really playing for that moment.  And whoever is playing drums (because I don’t know), I loved it because it’s pretty open over the bar line in a lot of ways.  I know it’s not, but it has this rough-and-tumble Paul Motianesque kind of vibe where it’s so playful.  The whole thing was very playful.  That’s what I really liked about it.  It wasn’t belabored, it wasn’t long, it was nice, precise… Not “precise,” because that’s a terrible word to use in music.  It said what it was going to say and they played this tune wonderfully.  Wow, that’s wonderfully. [And you have no idea who it is?] I don’t know why I shouldn’t… I was a percussion major in college.  I can play timpani! [Was it the same person playing timpani and drums?] I have a feeling it might be, because it sort of sounded like the drums and the soprano played first.  I don’t know how it was recorded. [AFTER] That’s amazing.  This is the kind of thing that I’m pretty intrigued by lately, is hearing people like Berrios and Benitez, because I feel sort of ignorant of their conceptions of playing. I’ve heard Steve so much, and the colors he can create… And his beat really swings.  You can tell he hears the drums as melody; he hears melody in rhythm.  That’s one reason why I was really drawn to this.  It has a warm feeling.  And he played it kind of wild.  It was pretty loose.  But the beat was still swinging.  The reason I compared it to Paul, which is a great compliment, is it had that sort of rooted…it had a lot of depth, but at the same time anything could happen.

8.    Misha Mengelberg, “Kneebus” (from FOUR IN ONE, Songlines, 2001) (Mengelberg, p; Dave Douglas, tp; Brad Jones, b; Han Bennink, drums) – (4-1/2 stars)

It’s Dave.  Is this the new record with Han and Dave and Brad Jones and Misha?  I had to get one in there!!  I love music that is moving together, but also if you sit and listen, you hear little worlds in it.  Misha has a great world… We did a triple bill last year at Cooper Union with Dave’s quartet and my band and Misha playing solo.  And he creates a zone.  All these guys — Misha, Dave, Han (especially Han) and Brad — have an ability to create worlds, to dialogue within what’s going on.  Sometimes, how music comes together in that way is that the dialogues just cross over. They just got through this masterfully.  One of the great things about Dave, other than just the obvious, is his ability… The roles are less defined.  He’s always just in the music, playing… Han sometimes can be a little over the top…which is cool, man.  The hell with it.  He’s living life.  What the hell! But he swings his ass off.  I think Brad is a good pairing with them. [MISHA SOLO] Whoa!  This feeling of music could only happen with everybody… Which is the true case of any of it.  But it’s carefree.  I don’t think they’re really worried about playing a 5-star record.  They’re just here to play this music.  It’s so for that moment.  It’s almost as if my daughter, who is 4, made music with three other 4-year-olds who all had the ability to make really great sounds on their instruments, they would make music that sounded like this.  To me, that’s the ultimate compliment, where it’s playful, it’s adventurous, but it has a lot of depth.  It’s not cute.  People might think that.  But it’s not.  It’s for real.  Definitely 4-1/2 stars, with an extra half-star for Brad.  You don’t hear bass playing with Han that much, and he’s really playing parallel with him.  It’s amazing.  Dave is one of the reasons I moved to New York.  He’s a real inspiration.  He’s always present, which is one of the main things I appreciate about him.  You can hear in Han within a little bit of time Sid Catlett and all these influences emerging from him.  Things are emerging from him all the time.  I like this. It’s quite not so… I love those Clusone records that they did.  That’s some of my favorite Han stuff.

9.    Steve Coleman, “3 Against 2” (from TRANSMIGRATION, DIW-Columbia, 1991) (Steve Coleman, as; Greg Osby, as; Marvin “Smitty” Smith, d; David Gilmore, g; Kenny Davis, b) – (4 stars)

Wow, I like that.  A twist!  Is it Reggie Washington on bass?  I love Reggie Washington.  It’s surprising rhythmically and texturally.  For a while, I was kind of feeling it would be cool if they went to a different section, but the more they do this cycle, the more I’m digging it!  Just keep cycling this thing and see where it can open up to.  Whoa!! Again, this is something that I knew I couldn’t do a long time ago.  But I totally dig it.  Man, this guy can play over a vamp!  Is it Gene Lake?  I know it’s Steve Coleman.  The percussion setup made me think it was maybe Smitty.  Is this one of those JMT re-releases?  I love to hear Smitty in this kind of vibe!  I listened to those M-BASE records in college, the ones that are being reissued on JMT, some with Smitty but some with Mark Johnson. 4 stars.  Again, it had surprises to it that made me… It’s almost like seeing a movie where you go, “Okay, when is it going to move on?” and then you realize that part of it is the cycle coming back again and coming back again… After a while, you go, “Oh, wow!”  For a while, I thought it would be cool not to go back to that break every time.  I wouldn’t even know how to analyze what that was, with that metric modulation stuff.  But then when Smitty played over the vamp… Again, it’s a departure from the sound concept that… The percussion stuff gave it away.  I kind of knew it was Smitty from the percussion setup.  He was a big influence on me from those records like “Seeds of Time,” where he used percussion stuff.  I think in Jim Black’s case, too, or Mike Sarin, that era of guys started to involve using percussion along with the drums, or different colors with the drumset per se… He was a big influence to all of us on that.  Wow, Smitty! “Tonight Show,” baby.

10.    Bill Carrothers-Bill Stewart, “Off Minor” (from DUETS WITH BILL STEWART, Dreyfus, 2001) – (Carrothers, p; Stewart, d) – (4 stars)

That’s Bill Stewart.  I can tell by the hi-hat lick at the end of the bridge.  Is this him with Carrothers?  I’m doing better!  Bill has a very identifiable sound.  Even though recording doesn’t… I hear a little bit different sound with Bill.  But I can tell by things he does, the way he negotiates sections of a tune, that it was him.  One of the things I really love about Bill Stewart is that he’s totally committed.  Whatever he plays, he’s totally committed.  He just goes for it!  Not that everybody else doesn’t.  But his sound is… He’s a good Midwesterner.  Yeah, this is great.  4-1/2 stars.  It doesn’t sound like a duo.  It doesn’t sound like they’re just playing duo to play duo.  They both have that sense of adventure, that sense of orchestration.  Again, the roles are less defined.  They’re just both playing… It’s almost like an orchestra.  It’s great.  All these guys we’ve been listening to, it’s borderless.  It’s just music.  I don’t think anybody would care if they played “I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry” or a Monk tune or whatever.  They’re going to allow great music to happen with whatever is thrown out there. To me, that’s the sign.  I love that.  It’s warm.  This is a really warm-feeling recording.  He also has a great sense of drama that I love. It’s grounded, but it feels carefree.  It has fringes. I like that. It’s like the Western coats with the fringe on them.  That’s how I feel music should be.  The fringes can fly off the side along with being centered.

11.    Fred Anderson, “Hamid’s on Fire” (from ON THE RUN, Delmark, 2000) (Fred Anderson, ts; Hamid Drake, d; Tatsu Aoki, b) – (4 stars)

For a second, I thought it was Pheeroan Aklaff, but there are parts that make me think it’s not.  The feeling is great; I love the tenor player’s sound.  I feel I should cop this one, but I can’t throw a name out for some reason.  I’m dumb!  It’s powerful.  I like it. Whoever was playing drums definitely has that ability to sort of percolate freedom at the same time of maintaining this pretty deep groove.  Like, dance over the top of the stuff without it being… Like, swing is such a big picture, and they’ve obviously checked out… It’s also music that is seriously committed to that moment.  But you’ve got me.  4 stars. I’m trying to figure the tenor player; his sound is so familiar.  He sounds older to me.  I think they’re all older players. [AFTER] I’ve heard Hamid live and I’ve heard a few recordings, but he’s someone I’d like to check out more.  I said Pheeroan at first, but it seemed a little too melded-together.  I hear Pheeroan as a little cleaner, in a certain way.  I’m not real big on citing who someone has checked out, but in hindsight I can say Blackwell and Andrew Cyrille and that feeling.  Also you can tell he comes from a hand drumming feeling.  Also, there’s a Dennis Charles vibe in there, a little more over the top.  But I knew it wasn’t those guys by the sound of the drum itself.  The sound was looser.  Man, Hamid is great.

12.    Cyrus Chestnut, “Minor Funk” (from SOUL FOOD, Atlantic, 2001) (Cyrus Chestnut, p; Christian McBride, b.; Lewis Nash, d) – (4 stars)

Wow, that’s great!  Again, this is the kind of music that makes me take notice. The piano player is great.  Is it Nasheet Waits?  I love Nasheet, but from the bass drum sound, I didn’t think it was him.  The bass drum sound seems a little dead.  That’s why it’s a little hard for me to get.  Is it Lewis Nash?  Whoo!  I’ve checked him out a lot, and there’s a few things he did… He does a really cool thing.  His playing has a great horizontal feeling and a great vertical feeling. That’s one of my favorite things about him.  Also, he can negotiate these breaks so creatively.  I can also tell by his tom-tom sound a bit.  4 stars. When people play hits together, it can be a little laborious — it feels heavy.  They did it in such a way that it was warm-sounding.  It didn’t sound frantic.  Then, of course, when it opened up, it was great.  I’m trying to think who the piano player might be. [AFTER] Wow, that was really hip.  Both Lewis and Christian have the ability to hug a tune.  When you get hugged, you feel everything, but you also feel those arms around you.  You feel the whole picture.  That’s what Christian can do so well in music, again, that is both horizontal and vertical.  The head was about these hits.  I would never have gotten that this was Cyrus, but I love the sound he gets from the piano.

13.    Herlin Riley, “Blood Groove”  (from WATCH WHAT YOU’RE DOING, Criss Cross, 1999) – (Riley, drums; Rodney Whitaker, bass; Wycliffe Gordon, tb; Victor Goines, ss) – (4-1/2 stars)

The soprano player is great!  It’s moving all over the place.  I love that.  The drummer has a great sound.  He’s dancing, man.  This guy playing soprano is a great improviser.  It’s really expressive.  Talk about rhythmic feel, too.  Wow.  Everybody has a great sound.  I hate to speak like these are all in the same range, but they all give me that same sort of feeling of joy.  When this piece went to the second section, it lost that joyous feeling a bit.  The opening section, with the bass solo was amazing, and the trombone melody with the soprano fills was great.  The bridge sounded compositionally like, “well, we should do something.”  But to me, that didn’t really take away.  Because when it goes back to that vamp vibe, it’s so strong.  And the bass player is giving it that horizontal and vertical motion, that ability to sort of percolate ahead. It’s great.  4-1/2 stars. I’m trying to get it by the sound of the drums and percussion together, which makes it a little hard for me to know who it might be. Is it Adam Cruz? [AFTER] Wow!  I’ve played with Wycliffe a lot lately, but I haven’t heard him in this… And Victor Goines!!  That was really great.  We document this stuff for recording to capture a moment of expressiveness, and in this case, the groove not only is happening, Everyone’s sound and how it worked… I love the dialogue between Wycliffe and Victor.  I’ve never heard Victor live, but I’ve heard him with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra on television, and he blew me away.  I love playing with Wycliffe live; I’ve been playing with him a lot with Ted Nash.

It’s interesting that regions still produce a sound.  I’m from the Midwest, and I feel that in some ways Bill Stewart and I have a similar sound.  And Jason and Herlin, being from New Orleans, have a groove underneath that is different from everybody else. To me, the uniqueness of this music is still what makes it really interesting.  Hamid’s feel, when you know that he’s also a hand drummer and you can tell that feel.  Smitty’s feel of being able to play really swinging but also really happening funk; he has a roundness to his funk that straight funk players don’t have because he has that swing feel.  That’s one of the most interesting things to me, are those regional characteristics and the surprises.  Han Bennink’s feel from Europe, a totally different perspective than Lewis’s feeling with Cyrus.  Or Dafnis, from Cuba. It’s intriguing to hear someone like Steve Berrios or Bernard play in these different feels.  They’re still themselves.

I’d like to hear all of these again, not to recreate comments… Not that I have to know who they were, but just to get it out of the way so I can relax and check it out.

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