Gimme the Boots
Continuing the label’s commitment to young German jazz Gimme the Boots taps the Maceo Parker side of soul jazz with Rhodes knitting in, plenty of Maceo-like blowing from Felix F. Falk on various saxes and much else, and there’s so much positive energy flying around that the band could power a small town with their relentless flow. It does wear a bit thin after a while, and by the time a didgeridoo, no less, is produced on the title track the band has almost done itself a mischief. Debuting for the label with For Those About To Funk a few years back, Mr Funky Trombone himself, Nils Landgren, produced these funkster likely lads. Not so much feel good as feel exhausted Mo’Blow must have needed a good sit down after these 12 tracks, and so might you. Released on 29 April. SG
When jazz and pop collide it can be messy. But if the tunes are good, the spirit’s right, the words to the songs possessing a staying power, delivered by a confident performer then what’s not to like: it’s not as if it’s life or death, is it?
Next Tuesday at the Hippodrome in London’s west end (the old Talk of the Town, now a casino with a music venue on tap as well as the roulette wheel and blackjack), Erin Boheme makes her London debut following the release of What a Life last month on Heads Up. She’s to be joined by Tammy Weis, a London-based Canadian singer who’s a well kept secret until, well, now, on the London jazz vocals scene. Tammy’s also co-written one of the songs on the album as previously reported in these pages. Michael Bublé no less has produced this album… so where’s the jazz you might ask?! Well if you ask that kind of question, this album is not for you. It’s about songs, not improvising, but it’s perfectly compatible within its commercial framework rather than the flawed smooth jazz format that is now disappearing or at best morphing into more acceptable soul-jazz.
Contrast the Eric Benet version of ‘The Last Time’ with the version here and there’s a huge difference in interpretation, less cheesy for sure. In Benet’s take on his own highly effective melancholic song, co-written among others with famed songwriter David Foster, incidentally also chair of the Verve Music Group (who penned ‘I Have Nothing’ for the late Whitney Houston), the natural feeling gets lost a bit crouched behind the layers of glossy audio production and arrangement.
Bublé’s approach although you mightn’t think so at first blush is to strip away the varnish, and let the songs breathe, and Carly Simon-loving Boheme begins demurely on a low key Emerald-esque rumba ‘Everything But Me’, Tammy’s song, which is close enough for jazz as Van Morrison put it on Born To Sing: No Plan B. Why Boheme needed to cover a Coldplay song I don’t know, and I didn’t care one bit for the Bublé-sounding Spencer Day who is on the otherwise excellent ‘I’d Love To Be Your Last’. But ‘One More Try’ is quite superb, and jazz-intuitive, and of the band itself we really should be hearing more of pianist Alan Chang who co-wrote the song with Boheme. Overall then, songs that will stay with you, delivered by a singer who clearly believes in her material and carries both the record and the day.
Erin Boheme above plays the Hippodrome, London on Tuesday 16 April, with special guest Tammy Weis.
Superlative Paul Motian retrospective
ECM 6 CDs ****1/2
A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma may be an apt way to view Paul Motian now with the benefit of the passage of time since his passing at the age of 80 in November 2011. This extraordinary eponymous box set of six albums recorded between 1972 and 1984 all issued for the first time together as an Old & New Masters edition reinforces that impression. The story begins, but does not end, in a band with Keith Jarrett, in fact for once Jarrett is a bit player in the overall musical drama, and while Ethan Iverson in his warm and beautifully written essay accompanying the music attempts to organise the music into three pairs: Conception Vessel and Tribute made when Motian was a member of the Jarrett Quartet; trio albums with Charles Brackeen “their own private universe” and in Psalm and It Should’ve Happened A Long Time Ago, a "triumphant reign" as a bandleader, even this sensible pointer adds little to the making sense of the music as a whole. Iverson comments most effectively that Motian changed as a late starter into becoming a composer in his own right. And if you listen to Motian in his Bill Evans days it’s almost as if this is a new person entirely. Conception Vessel is less about Jarrett perhaps than the chrysalis phase of Motian reborn as a musical thinker, and an advanced abstract expressionist at that. Sam Brown’s flamenco touches at the beginning are something you don’t easily expect but the first big moment is the doom-laden drum statement at the beginning of ‘Ch’i Energy’ matched and surpassed only in sheer daring at the very end of all these albums by ‘Fiasco’ on It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago.
That latter album title could well be the mantra of all the music collected in Paul Motian. They’re much freer than I remember previous selected listens in isolation and Iverson goes so far as to make the claim “There have been many great free drummers, but I believe Motian might have been the greatest.” I’m not sure if I agree with that but there is strong evidence here that Motian has achieved the nirvana of musical freedom in terms of both structure and abstraction. Best bits for me? Well, Charlie Haden coming in at the beginning of ‘War Orphans’ on Tribute with Motian clanking almost in the shadows to scuffle in behind the pristine guitar of Paul Metzke; or how about the very still and mysterious cymbal work at the beginning of ‘Folk Song For Rosie’ with the chilled saxophone of Charles Brackeen wading in the luke warm water of JF Jenny-Clark’s lulling bass? Or even, on ‘Second Hand’ from Psalm, the toms joyously going AWOL right at the beginning, a voice off, and then the dull ache of Frisell’s chordal pain entering dispassionately?
This riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma is a major retrospective that marks only the beginning of a coming to terms with Motian as a major artist. His legend will grow even more: and it starts right here. Stephen Graham
Monday sees the release of At Home the first album of unreleased George Shearing material since the bebop piano master’s passing two years ago. It’s unusual in that it was recorded in the front room of Shearing’s New York flat in down time during a club residency in the 1980s.
Released on Jazzknight, a label established by Sir George’s widow Lady Ellie the album begins like a foxtrot, and ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’ has a twinkling style, full of the chirpiness Nat King Cole managed to endow old Broadway songs with when he himself played piano.
Shearing turns on his significant charm though after about a minute in, and these living room songs draw out Don Thompson’s role as a confidant to Shearing’s left hand.
Thompson played with Shearing for some 20 years in all, and you feel as if he knows Shearing’s every move on the tracks they play together. Now 73, he accompanied Barney Kessel early in his career in Vancouver clubs, and appears on the John Handy Quintet classic live album Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival recorded in 1965.
‘Up at the crack of Don’
Thompson began playing concerts with Shearing decades later, from 1982 onwards, the year before the newly discovered At Home was recorded. And just under the three-minute mark he draws out the woodiness of the bass a skilled carpenter would find hard to locate.
A sprightly start then to this remarkable Jazzknight records album and there’s an elegant fade at the end of the opener; and like some sort of mirage Johnny Mandel’s ‘A Time For Love’ emerges after the silence. Thompson comes in on the arc of the Shearing line here time and again, at the emotional tug of the note.
Bill Evans link, as two tracks on At Home appeared on
1961 album Explorations
Thompson’s own tune ‘Ghoti’ (apparently Shearing dubbed it “up at the crack of Don”), leads into a riot in swing, and you could hear this being played with a vibes quintet, Shearing’s preferred stomping ground in his heyday. This one’s got bebop written all over it. After two minutes Shearing changes the goalposts, and there’s a rhythmic murmur that’s the very essence of bop syncopation.
The sound quality is fine throughout At Home: you can really hear the piano and bass and the instruments together. The album was mastered much later in Toronto, the city where Ellie Shearing first heard the tapes played before pressing green for go to start the process towards release after an ice age of 30 years in the obscurity of a drawer.
‘The Things We Did Last Summer’, the Jule Style/Sammy Cahn song begins jauntily, as if the duo are feeling completely at ease, and that’s a defining feature of this wonderful album. Lady Shearing provided cups of tea in breaks over the few days the album took to make. No producer was present, and there is a comfortable feel to all these tracks recorded around the time of a run of club dates in New York.
‘Laura’ is the first big talking point and really the test of the album. Opening expansively the theme is stated quite simply with a few ornate touches, but Shearing seems more interested in building the darkness in his left hand at which he more than succeeds. The tempo slows right down and there are some lovely washes after the 150-second mark moving towards some high-end tinkling that ends even more seriously than it began. With Thompson back ‘The Skye Boat Song’ I could have done without, although it’s a pretty enough melody and close to the bassist’s heart. But Shearing and Thompson are on more satisfying territory with Bird’s ‘Confirmation’ joyously foot tapping, but not fast at all. Remaining tracks are a winningly shy take on ‘The Girl Next Door’ with its hesitant opening; a swayingly optimistic ‘Can’t We Be Friends?’; the more mundane ‘I Cover the Waterfront’; and ‘Out of Nowhere’. Although ‘That Old Devil Called Love’ opens things up, ‘SubconsciousLee’ allows lots of bass space, and little detours here and there. Victor Young’s ‘Beautiful Love’ is simply a display of Shearing genius at the end.
Sir George Shearing top, Don Thompson above; and the album cover. Listen to another version of ‘Beautiful Love’, recorded in the 1970s, by Shearing to get in the zone http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jz9njOgKBYU
Rich Tailors, and international Take Five Europe band, gig
in Paris on 18 April
Soweto Kinch will be performing music from The Legend of Mike Smith at the Banlieues Bleues festival in Paris this month, and at la Dynamo situated right in the heart of the Quatre-Chemins quartier in Pantin, there’s a Take Five Europe presentation featuring new music developed and performed by a group of leading new European jazz artists performing under its EU-funded banner. Trumpeter Airelle Besson, saxophonist Guillaume Perret, clarinettist Arun Ghosh, trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz, reeds player David Kweksilber, guitarist Chris Sharkey, pianist Marcin Masecki piano, bassist Per Zanussi and drummer Marcos Baggiani will perform at the concert in a double bill with the Rich Tailors, the formidable Anglo-French collaboration formed of members of Blink and the Mediums with Robin Fincker, Daniel Erdmann, Vincent Courtois, Alcyona Mick, and Paul Clarvis.
Rich Tailors, above
Anthony Branker & Word Play
Provocative and controversial in his choice of title Princeton professor Anthony Branker explains extremely well his motivation for using such a frequently offensive term, and moves the discussion in his notes to the album on by referring to the murder and beatings of young African-American men such as Jordan Miles, Jordan Davis, Ramarley Graham and most notoriously Trayvon Martin an unarmed Miami teenager who was killed by a neighbourhood watch co-ordinator because, Branker says, he looked “suspicious while wearing a ‘hoody’.”
It’s a marvel that this sextet album, recorded last year in Brooklyn, and other albums by the composer such as Word Play’s 2011 album Dialogic exist at all given the fact that Branker suffered life threatening illness that necessitated brain surgery more than a decade ago. Originally a trumpeter he has written and arranged six tunes of depth and interest here, beginning with a light funk feel courtesy of Jim Ridl’s Fender Rhodes on ‘Let’s Conversate!’ but there’s a considerable step change after the relatively light opening as the album goes deeper and deeper and has a seriousness and integrity to it that draws you in.
The best of the tunes is the moving ballad ‘Three Gifts (from a Nigerian Mother to God)’ that Branker was inspired to write following a television news report about a plane crash that killed dozens of young African school children. He dedicated the piece to the Nigerian mother he watched interviewed about the loss of her three children. Eli Asher’s flugelhorn solo does the human tragedy justice as an artistic response, as does the integrated vocal of Charmaine Lee, while overall tenorist Ralph Bowen is a towering presence throughout the album. Uppity is an album you won’t want to forget in a hurry: for all the right reasons. SG
The cover of Uppity above
Jazzahead in Bremen later this month promises a feast of music and much new jazz in store, and there’s a major opportunity to sample a great deal of music resolutely below the radar, brand new or just under known. It’s not just about live music, though, as the jazz music business gathers en masse in the German city in increasing numbers each year, the event having taken on the mantle of a latterday MIDEM for jazz. Here’s a brief look at what’s on offer in terms of live music this year.
The partner country in 2013 is Israel, and there are many new and established Israeli jazz acts appearing in Bremen. Also look out for a broad cross-section of the host country Germany’s burgeoning scene often little known internationally, as well as jazz from all over Europe and beyond. On Thursday 25 April check out Yotam, and the Omer Klein Trio as a taster while on Friday 26 April the Olivia Trummer trio, Avishai Cohen trio, and the jazz@Israel jam session are distinct highlights. Saturday 27 April has a British presence with Zoe Rahman, Beats & Pieces, and Django Bates all appearing. Also worth making a point to catch are the Helge Lien trio from Norway, Belgian pace setters De Beren Gieren, and the unique sound of Elina Duni and her quartet.
De Beren Gieren above
ECM (5-CDs) Old & New Masters Edition **** RECOMMENDED
Fish Out of Water, Notes From Big Sur, All My Relations, The Call and Canto are collected here in the by now easily recognisable white box livery of the Old and New Master series were recorded in Oslo between 1989 and 1996. Three of the albums share the same quartet line-up with The Call, All My Relations and Canto able to be exactly compared although on The Call Lloyd restricts himself to tenor saxophone. Fish Out of Water made the greatest impact at the time of release, as Lloyd had not been active on the jazz scene for many years until prompted out of retirement some years before these recordings were made by the enthusiasm of a questing Michel Petrucciani who recorded with him, drummer Son Ship Theus and the Belonging band’s Palle Danielsson, as well as touring extensively. It’s fitting that Danielsson is on Fish Out of Water, along with Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson and ex-Jarrett bandmate Jon Christensen on drums. Christensen’s tenure in the Lloyd quartet as far as these recordings are concerned was brief and apart from Ralph Peterson appearing on Notes From Big Sur it’s Billy Hart who plays on the majority of the Quartets tracks taken as a whole.
Fish Out of Water begins very meditatively and it takes almost 15 minutes, well into the second track, when it’s Stenson who lifts the momentum to which Lloyd responds with that deeply emotional sound of his on the saxophone and the holding pattern melts away. ‘Mirror’ here isn’t the same song as the recent New Quartet album title track incidentally (that melody resembles ‘I Fall in Love Too Easily’ whereas this piano-introduced composition doesn’t). By the end of Fish Out of Water the stately flute is underlining the fact that Lloyd has made a significant comeback.
The big swell on ‘Requiem’, the opening track of Notes From Big Sur, recorded two years later underlines the point of Lloyd’s earlier return and in tandem with Stenson whose role becomes more defined and the fine articulation of Ralph Peterson’s brushes an additional factor Lloyd plays with even greater confidence and the tunes change. You could imagine in ‘Sam Song’ a tune that would have worked for Keith Jarrett like the old days. Whether Lloyd was recreating (via Stenson and casting Peterson as DeJohnette, Anders Jormin as Cecil McBee) is unlikely, but the comparison at times is striking.
Nowadays Jason Moran accompanies Lloyd so differently to Stenson although there is a continuum in the choice of melodies between these two important periods in Lloyd’s career. Lloyd’s style then and now digs deep into his soul and enters the listener’s subconscious eventually. The pick of the tracks could be ‘When Miss Jessye Sings’, a long tune that really unfolds into an exuberantly weary swing, just the sort of beat Lloyd needs when the tears in his sound transform into pure joy in the course of the improvisation.
1993’s The Call introduces Billy Hart whose presence is so important on three of these albums. ‘The Blessing’ is the big tune here (it’s a Lloyd composition, not the tune of the same name by Ornette Coleman), its stillness breathtaking, and Stenson’s African-sounding gently brittle backdrop to the developing improvisation is a masterclass in control. The Swede’s opening statement on ‘Figure in Blue, Memories of Duke’ shows how Stenson can manipulate the descending line of a Ellington-inspired melody routine. No tenor player then or now enters after a piano introduction like Lloyd habitually does, and his first solo here on ‘Figure in Blue’ is just one of many memorable moments of this box set. All My Relations, which Lloyd uses to extend his instrumental palette by paying Chinese oboe, has as its centrepiece a homage to Nelson Mandela in the ‘Cape to Cairo Suite’ begun by Jormin and where Hart comes into his own as cross rhythms stir and shake the band into a new direction. In the course of this journey Lloyd responds magisterially, Coltrane-like just after the three-minute mark: another exquisite sensation. The title track of ‘All My Relations’ is catchily calypso-like within a bebop prism and this also leaves its mark.
The final album, Canto, recorded towards the end of 1996, is the most mysterious of the albums and possibly the greatest of all, and the use of Tibetan oboe has something to do with this on ‘Nachiketa’s Lament’, but it’s more an extension of the unique mood Lloyd through his writing, performance and inspirational presence is able to draw on during these years. There’s a power too and on ‘Durga Durga’ Lloyd testifies like he was simply put on this planet to play this music and to communicate its power, and to transcend.
Charles Lloyd top and the cover of Quartets above. Released today.
Bernt Rosengren Big Band
Bernt Rosengren Big Band with Horace Parlan piano, Doug Raney guitar
While the title might be cumbersome, the music isn’t in an album located stylistically firmly within the Basie band sound. The eponymous tenor saxophonist famous for ‘Ballad for Bernt’, the tune Komeda named after him and which he played on in the soundtrack to Polanski’s early masterpiece Knife in the Water, is a significant senior jazz figure in Scandinavia, now in his mid-seventies. Lars Westin in the 1980 notes updated in 2012 and reissued earlier this year says: “Ask almost any jazz saxophonist in Sweden and he (or she) will be mentioning Bernt as a great source of inspiration.”
It’s easy to understand why: unadorned, characterful playing from the heart with the prowess of a Dexter Gordon and with the speed and agility at times of Johnny Griffin although it’s not just about the tenor as Rosengren also plays alto and flute on this album as well. Rosengren formed his big band in 1975, a surprise, Westin says, at the time, but beyond Scandinavia and big band contexts he occasionally surfaced on the wider international stage most notably with Tomasz Stańko on the Litania Komeda-themed album released in 1997 when Rosengren as good as stole the show at live concerts, the matching of his romantic lead to the pervasive Stańko ensemble’s ascetic sound a perfect fit. US players Parlan and Raney who were long established in Denmark by the time of this recording have been part of the jazz scene there for a long time and have worked regularly with the Rosengren big band recording this project in Stockholm in 1980. The arrangements were written by Rosengren and most of the tunes too although there are a few standards, ‘How Deep is the Ocean’, and ‘Naima’. An unaffected album made with a love of the music: the funkiness on a track such as ‘Hip Walk’, tuneful optimism in ‘Sad Waltz’, and a real period feel in ‘Autumn Song’ give it a certain warm nostalgic appeal.
Archive listening: ‘Ballad for Bernd’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpSP_a5XdNQ
Magic Moments 6: In the Spirit of Jazz
Label compilations are made for a variety of reasons. For someone completely unfamiliar with some or all of the artists but curious to explore genuinely new music then they work on that level. They can be, though, as unsatisfactory as a short story or as untypical as a taster of an artist’s work as a by-election is an indicator of the result of a general election. The sixth Magic Moments, a personal compilation by ACT label owner Siggi Loch of recently released music on his label, is to some extent no different to the earlier albums in the series. There are some surprises, though. For instance, the version of Duffy’s ‘Stepping Stone’ by Caecilie Norby, Lars Danielsson and Leszek Możdżer made me like the song for the first time. Norby’s serious version of the song with Możdżer’s choice of chord changes work together admirably to apply a huge textural makeover to this half decent but slightly doleful pop number. The tracks to go for, worth the price of purchase alone, are In The Country’s ‘Birch Song’ and radio.string.quartet.vienna’s ‘Volcano For Hire’, as well as ‘Stepping Stone’.
Caecilie Norby above
Swedish Ballads… & More
This may sound heretical but there comes a point when everyone has to put away their Miles Davis records. It may well be that his music is so engrained in listeners and musicians’ consciousness that the imagining and being-influenced-by will still make their presence felt. Like sunlight, and darkness, it’s unavoidable. Scott Hamilton is possibly the antithesis of Miles Davis in that he has never been and probably never will be even remotely fashionable. He probably put away his Miles Davis records long ago, and more to the point his Ben Webster ones a generation back (although Hamilton is a mere youth in “jazz years” of 58). Yet the first track on Swedish Ballads… & More is ‘Dear Old Stockholm’, based on a Swedish folk song called ‘Ack Värmeland Du Sköna’, and identified closely with not just Miles Davis but John Coltrane. Hamilton is not derivative essentially any more (he really is too good to have that accusation hurled at him) but it’s easy to place Hamilton nonetheless, and it’s in the Golden Age of jazz any time from the year Coleman Hawkins recorded ‘Body and Soul’ in 1939 until the release of Kind of Blue in 1959.
Recorded not in Sweden but the Danish capital of Copenhagen just four months ago the tweedy popular tenorist, looking a little tired in the album artwork but playing as beautifully as ever with that vibrato-laden teasingly laconic sound of his on a ballad, is joined by pianist Jan Lundgren, whose style is closer to Swedish lost leader Jan Johansson than most even if it’s filtered via Wynton Kelly, along with bassist Jesper Lundgaard and drummer Kristian Leth.
Lundgren provides the gloss in the notes on the seven tracks that besides ‘Stockholm’ are ‘Swing in F’, ‘You Can’t Be In Love With A Dream’, a big headline-grabbing highlight, ‘Trubbel’, Quincy Jones’ ‘Stockholm Sweetnin’’, ‘Min soldat’ (‘My Soldier’), and very suitably Jan Johansson’s ‘Blues i Oktaver’.
To be perfectly frank everything on this album sounds American and a time machine takes you back to a world photographed chiefly in black and white despite the Swedish origins of the tunes. This isn’t really an issue at all, though, so don’t be put off. Pipe and slippers music played with panache and perfect as a backdrop for a Sunday afternoon snooze the album works on a blue and sentimental level. Olle Adolphson’s bossa-hinting ballad ‘Trubbel’ is a revelation, just one of the delights of this latest slice of Hamiltonia.
Sam Crowe Group
Towards the Centre of Everything
Whirlwind **** NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT
The best Whirlwind release so far? Well that depends on your criteria, but for me it is, based on the life in the performance and the quality of the compositions and improvising group interplay. While the pianist composer’s Synaesthesia three years ago showed a lot of promise it wasn’t an album that stayed with me for long but this new one, though, shaped by the twin pillars of on different tracks saxophonists Adam Waldmann and Will Vinson with new bassist Alan Hampton (who appears in singer/songwriter guise on the Kendrick Scott album Conviction), and new drummer Mark Guiliana recently in the UK with Brad Mehldau as half of Mehliana, is different. Will Davies, a long time Crowe associate is retained, and Kairos 4tet singer Emilia Mårtensson crops up on the fourth track ‘Back into the Earth’. Recorded in Brooklyn last year by famed engineer Mike Marciano this is a step up in terms of ambition all round for Crowe. But put all the ‘facts’ aside and what is there?
Well, the title track with Vinson taking the melody on is a kind of anthem that has a certain gravitational pull to it, and you’d guess that physics plays a part in ideas behind the album. Some of the other titles have that sort of direction (‘Gaia’, ‘The Arrow of Time’ or the EST-like intro to ‘Bad Science’), but the album sounds very untechnical as there is plenty of humanity and spontaneity to it, and while the recording does not feature Jasper Høiby who appeared on Synaesthesia there is a sense of a Phronesis influence here and there. Maybe that comes from Guiliana who of course was on Alive.
Crowe’s first truly ‘naked’ solo happens on the ballad ‘Gaia’ and it’s skilfully weighted, while Hampton on woody upright bass keeps the pace down as Crowe gains momentum. Davies adds some great touches to warm the ensemble sound on ‘64 Interlude’, while the tasteful Waldmann’s saxophone contribution has a saltiness that then lends itself to lead on to Davies’ Lionel Loueke-like solo. The much vaunted English sense of melancholia (whatever that is exactly) you can guess is here a bit in Crowe’s writing although Towards the Centre of Everything is more urban than a pastoral album, and on a track such as ‘Back into the Earth’ takes on a New Age-y sophisticated jazz-rock dimension, a tune that Chick Corea would perhaps be pleased to have written. Crowe in the solo after Mårtensson’s Flora-like vocal shows he can develop an idea in the course of a real-time solo, and that’s what Towards the Centre of Everything is all about: a sense of ideas at work and an improvising sophistication that gives it staying power. Mehliana fans might want to start with the drum ’n’ bass-driven ‘The Global Brain’ where Crowe also shows what he can do on Rhodes, and clearly it’s not all about Brad any more, is it, when players like Crowe appear on a quality album such as this?
Crowe says a little grandly but unapologetically in the notes that “Music for me has always been a gateway to the infinite”, and there is a sense of scale on Towards the Centre of Everything, in the miasmic conjuring of ‘The Arrow of Time’ and yet there’s a contrasting intimacy on the ballads, particularly ‘Lydia’. At the end reprising ‘64’ Hampton’s bass leads off the tune rather than the piano earlier, and it’s an interesting contrast that works to draw attention to one of the best songs on a robustly creative album.
Sam Crowe top and the album cover above. Released on Monday 29 April.
Jaki Byard above left and Tommy Flanagan
Monday sees the release of Tommy Flanagan and Jaki Byard’s The Magic of 2: Live at Keystone Korner available on CD and vinyl. Housed in CD format in a sturdy stiffly-boarded digipak with a picture of the street sign of San Francisco club Keystone Korner, where the album was recorded on a February night in 1982, on the inside front and a full plate photograph of the pianists on the inside back, the music is annotated carefully with producer Zev Feldman doing the introduction and then a note from the first voice actually on the record Todd Barkan, who was general manager of the Korner and now after a spell at Jazz@Lincoln Center is at Iridium in New York city.
Barkan used to record artists at the club on cassette and explains that: “From 1972-1983 Tommy and Jaki both came out from New York to play regularly at Keystone Korner in San Francisco, singularly leading their own bands, and together for a total of two weeks.” In his introduction on the first track from the stage Barkan then continues the praise by quoting club favourite Rahsaan Roland Kirk as he introduces Byard as “the emperor of creative jazz piano” while reserving lavish praise on Flanagan as well. The songs in the set are Bird’s ‘Scrapple From The Apple’; Cole Porter’s ‘Just One Of Those Things’; Ellington’s ‘Satin Doll’; Strayhorn’s ‘Something To Live For’; and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Send One Your Love’ with an extensive quotation, the main talking point of the whole set, from ‘Giant Steps’ performed by Byard not Flanagan who of course played the epic Coltrane composition on the original Atlantic studio album of the same name. Later Tadd Dameron’s ‘Our Delight’ is probably the most orthodox bebop rendering of the album, with a lovely little ‘English Country Garden’ quotation at the end, while the album is steeped in Ellingtonia that Tommy Flanagan himself alludes to in his brief words before the quietly moving ‘Something To Love For’ (he says “Jaki Byard just quit” [to laughter] so it gives me a chance to play something alone, see”).
The album also includes Strayhorn’s ‘All Day Long’; the standard ‘Sunday’; Strayhorn’s ‘Chelsea Bridge’; an oddity in Chuck Mangione’s ‘Land of Make Believe’, which Renee Rosnes and Bill Charlap in a note towards the end of the CD booklet says “finds Jaki in a freer zone. You can hear Jaki’s humour and intensity.” A seven-and-a-half minute version of Miles’ ‘The Theme’ completes The Magic of 2. Distinguished jazz writer Howard Mandel and historian Dan Morgenstern contribute to the scholarship in the album’s booklet and Mandel quotes Jason Moran who took lessons from Byard interestingly, with the pianist commenting: “I think of Tommy as a legato player, Jaki as a staccato player. Tommy slides through the rhythm, each move well-calculated, while Jaki is trying to up-end the structure all the time. Tommy plays within the steps of the tune, and Jaki plays these large intervals, which are strangely beautiful.”
And the beauty is there particularly on Flanagan’s solo take on ‘Chelsea Bridge’, while Byard is possibly at his best on ‘Send One Your Love’ the Wonder tune from Secret Life of Plants released three years before this club date. The sound quality while good isn’t totally pristine possibly this is down to the fact that the source is from cassette tape but it’s perfectly acceptable and creates no barrier to enjoyment, the only downside is that there’s too much piano bass at times and the treble sound is not as clear as it could be. Byard died in 1999 and Flanagan in 2001. This release keeps memory of these departed mastiers alive by the care and attention to detail the producers exhibit. Their music making continues to give joy and pleasure, and Resonance once more have made a big contribution to curating jazz from yesteryear. Stephen Graham
I’m grateful to jazz writer Selwyn Harris, the compiler and producer of acclaimed box sets Film Noir and Beat, Square and Cool for news of a special screening tomorrow afternoon of Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (‘Lift to the Scaffold’) at the Institut Français’ Ciné Lumière in London. The 88 minute-long black and white film in French with English subtitles dates back to 1958, and was directed by Louis Malle at the beginning of his career. The film starred Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet, and featured an atmospheric soundtrack composed and performed on by Miles Davis. The story revolves around Florence Carala and her lover Julien’s conspiracy to murder Florence’s husband by faking a suicide, but a forgotten-about rope and a malfunctioning lift complicate the pair’s murderous intent. Lift to the Scaffold was a first feature for the influential director who would later become known to a new generation in America with the effectively elegiac Atlantic City with Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon, and his late masterpiece Au Revoir les Enfants. For more details and ticket information go to www.institut-francais.org.uk
Jeanne Moreau as Florence Carala above in a still from Ascenseur pour l’échafaud. Watch a scene from the film with music by Miles Davis here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OKQdp6iGUk
Before Duck Baker’s gig last night a fan who had travelled across London to Dalston from Croydon was recalling the first time he had heard the player, as he remembered in an obscure part of Hampshire. “Hope he plays ‘Zebra Blues’." Baker, an American avant gardist known for his work with Eugene Chadbourne and John Zorn, didn’t get round to ‘Zebra Blues’ at least in the first set but began instead with ‘Friday’ firmly in Jimmy Giuffre-land with a lively Alex Ward on clarinet. Decoy’s John Edwards was on bass with his bandmate Steve Noble either joining the trio on drums or sitting out as the quartet became a trio before our very eyes.
Duck Baker above left before the gig and top
“The balance all right out there?” asked Baker near the beginning. “You can hear the trumpet?” This bit of banter was typical of the guitarist’s agreeably droll humour and luckily there were plenty of people in the club to hear it and this fine performance, and more came in as the set progressed to fill the place, and the musicians responded to the congenial atmosphere. The quirkiness of ‘The Odd Fellows’ March’ which was where Noble took the loping gait of the tune under his wing coaxing the band along like Han Bennink might the ICP. ‘There’s No Time Like The Past’ was where the band hit their stride and their humour collided perfectly with Baker’s on ‘Ode to Joe’, a rewriting of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ leaving out “mostly every seven notes”, Baker said, the 63-year-old Washington DC-born musician a little amused. His own ballad ‘Always’ near the end showed great control at low volume and Baker’s grasp of bebop harmonies to render them not too twangy on the nylon strings and his dextrous navigational sense at the frets was always sure-fingered. Sometimes his sound resembled the approach of Jim Hall, but with more of an avant edge. ‘The Legend of the Legend of Bebop’ at the end (a play on words and reference to Ornette’s tune from The Art of The Improvisers) was a case of keeping the very best to last, its sinuous labyrinthine swing a good way to go to the break. Wonder if they played ‘Zebra Blues’ in the second half? That would have sent the Baker fan from earlier back to Croydon a happy man. Stephen Graham
Iiro Rantala/Michael Wollny/Leszek Możdżer
Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic I
ACT **** RECOMMENDED
Interesting for a number of reasons chief among them the fact that the concert was able to take place at the home of the Berlin Philharmonic, in the Kammermusiksaal, the chamber music room, at all. Also of topical interest is the presence of Iiro Rantala, now confirmed as the pianist at the first EST Symphonic concert to take place in Stockholm in June. In a double piano setting with [em]’s Michael Wollny the pair fittingly perform the Finn’s composition ‘Tears for Esbjörn’, the lovely melody of which curiously recalls Phil Collins’ ‘Another Day in Paradise’ in the harmonic setting of the opening notes of the main theme. The sound of this album is as you’d expect given the acoustics of the room, pianos utilised and the quality of ACT album sound, very fine with the audience applause superbly captured, a sure indication as well of the album’s live feel. These three pianists comprise a troika of ACT’s stellar front line main piano jazz talent (the others including Vijay Iyer, Gwilym Simcock, and the veteran Joachim Kühn) an aggregation few labels are able to match globally. Rantala, Wollny and Możdżer come together to play Chick Corea’s ‘Armando’s Rumba’ at the end in a dazzling piano and Rhodes display but highlights for me were Rantala’s measured Jarrett-esque arrangement of ‘Aria and Goldberg Variation’ (which turns into ‘All the Things You Are’ by the end), and Możdżer’s modulating pointilist tour de force ‘No Message’ half way through.
A dazzling December night at the Berlin Phil: the cover of Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic I, above