The Jazz Digest, March 2013
Choice snips from Jazz Journal, March 2013: Wayne Shorter notes the absence of feminine moderation in the "locker-room" machine-gun fusion of the 70s, Big Jay McNeely recalls his part in the end of the Cold War, Shakatak is fêted, Kind Of Blue slated . . . and Bob Weir calls for information on hot geezers in Iceland
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From the editor
Icons overturned, pariahs rehabilitated: the last few months' debate about the good, bad and inadmissible in jazz and on Jazz Record Requests receives new impetus in this issue. Mark Gardner (p21) accords with Bob Belden's disdain in January JJ for Kind Of Blue; Richard Palmer (p31) highlights the "instinctive swinging power" of Shakatak pianist Bill Sharpe; and Garry Booth (p36) suggests Matt Halsall might be the answer to Eric Hobsbawm's wish that young people choose a symbol "less close to self pity and the denial of life" than Miles. I suspect KoB has not been on JRR for some while, thanks to its ubiquity (if not the creative constipation identified by Mark G). So what of something radically fresh for BBC R3 on a Saturday afternoon? Shakatak ticks all the boxes of revolt – against jazz prudishness, that is. It's glitzy, uplifting, frothy, jazz-funky, apolitical, virtually top 20, yet steeped in the jazz lexicon. Will JRR take that brave step – or would it be a step too far for the queasier defenders of the show's stylistic latitude?
Big Jay McNeely on his part in the end of the Cold War
We were working in the Quasimodo club in Berlin. This was 1989. There were these kids who either needed a visa to get through the wall, or else couldn't get back. That was the night it all happened. We used to say that we blew the wall down!
Among them: In his one-star drubbing of Jessica Molansky and Dave Frishberg at the Algonquin (JJ, January 2013), reviewer Jerry Brown admits to being not sure of the jazz connection in the Arbors disc, yet his review fails to mention what many Frishberg admirers might expect to be its jazziest component – Dave Frishberg's piano playing . . . I refer to Steve Voce's review of Focus/Cool Velvet (JJ, January 2013). Focus is one of the truly great achievements in music. However, Cool Velvet has been a passionate listening experience for me since September 1968 when I found it in the cut-out bin at Sam Goody's . . . Reading some of the correspondence in OSL, December 2012, I feel like a character in Stan Tracey's Alice In Jazzland. David Beechey says, "At one time publications such as the Melody Maker and New Musical Express . . . used to be devoted almost totally to jazz but now it is conspicuous by its absence from such papers." The New Musical Express was never devoted to jazz.
Mark Lockheart on choosing between legions of Ellington tunes for his new CD
I think it was the melodies. I didn't set out to do the really famous ones but I kept coming back to some of them, like Take The 'A' Train. They have such distinct melodies and if the melody's distinct I feel I can do something with it.
Steve Voce describes pianist Marian McPartland's other speciality
It is usually a bad move to show any subject your interview with him or her in advance of publication. The only time I ever did so was in 1987 at Marian's suggestion. The piece I'd written about her came back to me with the style and grammar improved, I estimate, by about 25%. If Marian had had no other talent, she would have made a fine professional writer of New Yorker standards.
Dave Gelly survives Paul Morley's Jazz Is Dead on BBC R4
Geoff Dyer turned up, championing an Australian band, called The Necks, as the future of jazz. He treated us to a brief excerpt, consisting of what sounded like random sound effects, but which the presenter, Paul Morley, described as "inhabiting jazz as a volatile imaginative space". I think I lost consciousness after that.
Wayne Shorter embraces the female in jazz
For a lot of the hard machine-gun fusion the audiences were mostly university freshmen, sophomores and juniors, sitting in the front row. We called it "locker-room music". We said, "Where are their girlfriends?" They were somewhere else, maybe listening to a singer or some lyrics. Or they're listening to something where they can see colour or drama, or reading something with those elements or decoration. It's nice to have a woman help decorate something.
Ken Avis recalls the not-so quiet stars following the success, 50 years ago, of Jazz Samba
Despite the fact that Jazz Samba wouldn't have happened but for the inspiration and persistence of Charlie Byrd and his trio, the glory and the lion's share of the royalties went to Stan Getz as a Verve-contracted artist. It was Getz who won the Grammy for Best Jazz Performance in 1963 not Getz and Byrd. The two rarely worked together again and in 1964 Byrd sued, settling in 1967 for $50,000 and future royalties.
Richard Palmer argues that music, not colour, was the focus of bebop
Despite certain still-cherished myths, these new musicians were not looking to replace one sort of racism with another. It is sometimes argued that bop's technical complexity arose from a burning desire to "create something the white guys can't steal". That is not entirely nonsense, but it ignores the fact that the true boppers didn't care what colour you were provided you could play.
Bob Weir calls for info on hot geezers in Iceland
Vernhardur Linnet is currently writing The History Of Jazz In Iceland (no jokes please about the smallest book in the world). He has heard from veteran Icelandic musicians about several British dance-band leaders who were recruited to play at the Hotel Berg in Reykjavic during the early 1930s. They included Arthur Rosebery, Jack Quinet, Berhard Monshin and Billy Cook. The Icelanders said Quinet was nothing special but Cook was an outstanding alto saxophonist. There was also a Canadian trumpet player, Paul Dalman, who led a band at the Hotel Borg from March 1938. Dalman recorded and soloed with Harris although unfortunately the Vocalion CD with Harris (After All These Years 1936-1939) has no personnel details. Vernhardur wants to know more about Quinet, Cook and Dalman and the Harris titles on which Dalman was present. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Howard Rye describes the end of Dan Kildare, London-based pioneer of string-band ragtime
On 22 June 1920, the Daily Express had a good front-page story. "Fourfold Crime by Jazz Musician", it trumpeted. The previous evening a pianist named Dan Kildare, leader of the band at Ciro's Club in Orange Street, had gone to the Bell public house in Little Titchfield Street near Oxford Circus, where his estranged wife Mary was the landlady. After a brief altercation, he shot her and her sister, who was visiting, through the head, wounded one of the pub's maids, and making to shoot another visitor, changed his mind and killed himself.
Excerpts from the 74 CD reviews in this issue:
EIVIND AARSET: DREAM LOGIC (ECM)
Aarset's a remarkable player, but dream-scapes are usually boring and impenetrable to anyone except the dreamer or a trained analyst. These heavily manipulated cuts might seem like an undemanding listen, ambient rather than arresting, but they involve so many seemingly self-conscious transitions that the set becomes hard work. As Thurber said, What do you want to be enigmatic for, Cynthia? (Brian Morton) **
LOUIS ARMSTRONG SATCHMO AT SYMPHONY HALL (Hip-o-Select.com)
This music appeared originally on the earliest 12" jazz LPs issued in this country. It was sensational then in that it was a "live" recording and it didn't much matter that the sound was murky. Now the sound has been thoroughly and miraculously refurbished and the music has become exquisite. (Steve Voce) *****
NAT BIRCHALL: WORLD WITHOUT FORM (Sound Soul And Spirit)
The Mancunian saxophonist Nat Birchall once again hits the sweet spot between Charles Lloyd and John Coltrane with this, his second release as leader. Trading tough with tender, sentimentality with soul-baring honesty, Birchall wrapped my ears around his little finger in this lovely set. (Garry Booth) ****
MILES DAVIS: KIND OF BLUE (Master Jazz Records)
Kind Of Blue was a new direction but not necessarily a better one. Adderley added, Evans in lieu of Garland and Cobb replacing Jones. Modalism had arrived. This music has been over-hyped and over-egged down the years. Influential? Certainly. But it drones and drifts, becoming anodyne in stretches. Where is the passion? The excitement? To these ears its predecessor recording, Milestones, was far superior and much more adventurous. Gripping too, not least because PJJ was still in the drums' driving seat. (Mark Gardner) ***
DUKE ELLINGTON THE COMPLETE COLUMBIA STUDIO ALBUMS 1951-58 (Sony)
The best set I've reviewed in this magazine for many years. What a pity Lawrence Brown featured only on the first album. This major Ellingtonian certainly leaves one wanting more! (Steve Voce) *****
DON ELLIS: AUTUMN (FiveFour)
Nearly half a century on, Ellis's wondrous Electric Bath remains one of the most exciting and original big band records extant, and its immediate successor Autumn is hardly less fine . . . a very fine record that is full of gusto, imagination and intelligent exuberance. (Richard Palmer) ****
TOMMY EVANS ORCHESTRA: THE GREEN SEAGULL (Jellymould)
Brave, bold and occasionally just a cacophony, you have to admire the energy and enthusiasm that's gone into the creation of this work, even if the finished product is no easy listen. A second CD offers dubstep remixes from the original suite, but the endless, trance-like concoction of drum and bass offers no jazz interest whatsoever. (John Adcock) **
FESSOR AND HIS JAZZ KINGS: FOR BUNCHY (Olufsen Records)
Probably When The Boys Were Out On The Western Plains is the most modern and "funky" performance whereas Bogalusa Strut is given the most straight ahead treatment. Overall, it's an enjoyable album particularly for those who do not have a strictly rigid view of New Orleans music. (Jerry Brown) ****
FOOD: MERCURIAL BALM (ECM)
The combined electronics set up patterns and reverberations over which Ballamy slowly places his ethereal saxophone lines. Forward motion is often leisurely, development slow, as everything is pared down to what is absolutely necessary . . . a great example of how to successfully combine electronic and acoustic improvisation. (Simon Adams) ****
CONRAD HERWIG: A VOICE THROUGH THE DOOR (Criss Cross)
Herwig's an important figure, overdue for (re-)discovery. His early Criss Crosses – Osteology, Unseen Universe and Hiero-glyphics – were strikingly good and he's just got more confident in his philosophical balancing act. A new gem from Gerry Teeken's jewelbox. (Brian Morton) ****
MILT JACKSON: QUINTET & SEXTET (Fresh Sound)
These sides have been regularly available over the years, but their reappearance is more than welcome, especially as Fresh Sound have remastered the music and provided customarily scholarly annotation . . . the whole package amounts to a masterpiece and should be in every serious collection. (Richard Palmer) *****
JAZZ SOUL SEVEN: IMPRESSIONS OF CURTIS MAYFIELD (Challenge)
Jazz Soul Seven consists of mainly LA-based players plus percussionist Henry Gibson, who played with Mayfield for 17 years. Unfortunately, his contributions are largely subsumed within a slick, jazz-funk treatment that reduces each track to bland consistency. Mayfield wrote about the damage of drugs and the harshness of poverty and prejudice as well as the bliss of love. This group reduces his message to mere studio finesse. (Simon Adams) **
THAD JONES & MEL LEWIS: PRESENTING THAD JONES, MEL LEWIS & THE JAZZ ORCHESTRA (BGO)
Three of the best albums by the highly regarded Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band are spread over two discs rich with that distinctive sound, tight ensembles and fascinating, exciting arrangements . . . it's an essential purchase for modern big band fans. The excellent 24-page booklet contains a full run down of what happens and who plays during each tune. (Brian Robinson) ****
RALPH LALAMA: BOP JUICE – LIVE AT SMALLS (smallsLIVE)
Lalama's on-the-spot recording in the typically close acoustic of the jazz club calls to mind Sonny Rollins and his classic trio sets at the Vanguard for Blue Note in 1957. The leader, with swirling sorties on six extended and attractive lines, brews up a wild contemporary bop session aided and abetted by solid bass lines and solos and some driving drum work. (Derek Ansell) *****
NICOLAS MEIER: FROM ISTANBUL TO CEUTA WITH A SMILE (MGP)
There are few out there doing what Meier is doing and probably none doing it as convincingly well. If you like a strong "world" element to your jazz, this is – forgive the awful pun – very Moorish and definitely more-ish. (Dave Foxall) ****
NEON QUARTET: SUBJEKT (Edition)
Stan Sulzmann first made an impression with Graham Collier back in 1968, and while the lazy might consider him a journeyman it's clear from this release that his musicianship has deepened through the intervening decades. (Nic Jones) ****
STEFAN PASBORG: FREE MOBY DICK (Ilk)
"Is it possible to play heavy metal with just saxes, bass and drums? It certainly is when you have players of this mettle and with a leader who when the occasion calls for it hits as hard as Bonzo ever did. Pasborg's arrangement of Led Zeppelin's Black Dog preserves the weighty riffage of the song, done with complete conviction by the two big horns, but also its speedy turnaround." (Brian Morton) ****
ODEAN POPE: ODEAN'S THREE (In + Out)
Never strident and always in control, Pope is a real heavyweight who is absolutely in his prime. Odean's Three should should appeal to anybody who has been wowed by Branford Marsalis's recent output – three MFs, period. (Fred Grand) ****
SHAKATAK: THE BEST OF SHAKATAK (Secret)
I'll come clean: I always liked Shakatak, and this release confirmed and increased my delight in their work. Okay, by the highest standards the band's music was/is limited, and I would also concede that there's something a touch formulaic about it. But you could say the same about a lot of "bona fide" jazz acts – hard-bop combos and 30s orchestras especially – and I found these 80 minutes sped by, edifyingly and ankle-threateningly. (Richard Palmer) ****
TOMASZ STANKO NEW YORK QUARTET: WISLAWA (ECM)
At 70, Stanko is playing as strongly as ever, aided and abetted by the now quicksilver, now rubato contributions of the uniformly excellent Virelles (born 1983), Morgan (born 1981) and Cleaver (born 1963). Archetypal, essential music from of one Europe's most striking – and affecting – poets of his instrument. (Michael Tucker) *****
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