Saturday, January 30, 2010

Thelonious Monk In 1964

Thelonious Monk (piano; b. 1917 - d. 1982)

The year is 1964, Thelonious Monk has become a household name. He was the in-demand performer. The leading light among jazz musicians. He garnered the cover of Time magazine in February of that year. At the beginning of 1963 Monk had just recorded the highly successful Criss Cross (Columbia) album which included such staples as Rhythm-A-Ning, "Crepuscule With Nellie," and "Hackensack". Monk would spend the majority of '63 touring.
He did not return to the studio until January of '64. At this time he would embark on one of his most critically acclaimed albums yet, It's Monk Time (Columbia). It's Monk Time marked the introduction of a new quartet featuring Charlie Rouse (who actually had already been with him on Criss Cross) on sax, Ben Riely on drums and Butch Warren on bass. The quartet hit it off immediately in the studio and the results were a thematic and melodic success. The material may not be the most recognizable of the Monk cannon but it is an important album in that the band rehearsed and performed live consistently over the three months it took lay these tracks out. It's Monk Time featured lovely interpretations of "Memories Of You,"Nice Work If You Can Get It," and phenomenal "Brakes Sake" which showcases the "oneness" between Charlie Rouse and Thelonious Monk.
A key document to me are a series of dates recorded in Paris in February 1964, entitled Live In Paris Vol. I & II (Explore Records/Thelonious Records). The same quartet had embarked on a European tour. The material is mainly from the previous years sessions but the playing is of the highest order. The band are really on fire as you can hear on tracks like Straight No Chaser","Well You Needn't," and "Bright Mississippi". The band were working on strong purpose. The simpatico that Rouse and Monk had was always evident. But it was how quickly and flawlessly that Riely and Warren melded into place that is astonishing. This for me is one of my favourite Monk lineups and they proved every night in 1964 and onward.
The Live In Paris Vol. I & II accompanied with It's Monk Time are three Monk albums that give a super quick jazz lesson for 1964.
Not much video footage from this year but here's a great video from Europe with Monk 1963 lineup featuring Frank Dunlop (drums), Charlie Rouse (sax) and Johnny Ore (bass).

Friday, January 29, 2010

Alan Shorter and The Unheralded Masterpieces

Alan Shorter (trumpet; b.1932 - d. 1987)

Alan Shorter is the older brother of jazz saxophonist, Wayne Shorter. Alan Shorter only recorded two albums in his short career but they are two truly essential albums if you enjoy the avant garde. He was known in the jazz circles for his creative spirit and did great session work, mainly with Archie Shepp, Marion Brown and his younger brother Wayne's classic Blue Note session All Seeing Eye.

Alan Shorter's debut, Orgasm (Verve; 1968) included some rich and highly textural ideas that may not have made an impact on American audiences since this was the norm of the time but it is one of those albums that does loom large in Europe. Shorter leads a skilled ensemble which featured a young Charlie Haden (bass), Gato Babieri (sax), Reggie Johnson (bass), Muhammad and Rashied Ali (drums) through two turbulent sessions due to friction with the production and musicians themselves but these were musicians in search of a fresh new concept. They found it and while it may be a difficult listen for non jazz fans it is a massive treat for anyone interested in the free form movement of ideas.
Alan Shorter's second album, Tes Esat (America Records) was recorded in France where he moved shortly after his debut. The album was recorded with another set of young musicians and featured the same free-wheeling atmospherics but doesn't have the same immediate impact as Orgasm. Tes Esat is still a document that you have to hear. I think Tes Esat is session that fans of Vandermark 5 would find enjoyable. This album wails in some of the highest registers and may be only an occasional listen oppose the debut but at the end of day you need to hear both albums to understand the mindset and direction.
Alan Shorter encompassed ideas that Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Don Cherry and Miles Davis had been working on for a few years earlier, unfortunately audiences didn't dig deep enough to find the new artists of the time to see jazz might go next. Shorter had his demons which led him to leave America for France in the late 60s. He would later retire from music but you really should seek out these albums (especially Oragsm) they are true treasures of the free jazz movement that will challenge you. Isn't that why jazz is all about?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Necks: Live Review

The Necks Live At The Issue Project Room (Brookyln, NY) - 27.1.2010

Chris Abrahms (piano)
Tony Buck (bass)
Lloyd Swanton (drums)
(photo: Holimage)

It's a chilly but calm night in New York City as I ventured to an industrial part of the borough of Brooklyn. An old factory turned art collective is the host for one of Australia's best kept secrets--The Necks. The Necks are an improvisational trio that have been on the jazz scene since 1987. They have fortunately or unfortunately only managed cult status in the U.S. due more to the limited availability of their albums but make no mistake, The Necks are a band that subtlety encroach upon your psyche like the first seed you place in the garden to grow that beautiful plant or vegetable.

The Necks start with what feels like a slow burn (because it is). Many of their pieces are in the epic proportion, with quiet first and second movements and delicate swathes of percussion, amplified piano and bass effects which take the listener on deep dream-like journey. This is what we the audience experienced on Wednesday night here in Brooklyn. The Issue Project Room is mainly an old factory loft room with an extremely minimal atmosphere. The audience were hardcore fans and people like myself that had probably just started hearing about them in the last few years. This was only The Necks third trip to the U.S. and Canada on a very brief six city tour and they did not disappoint.

The atmosphere was that akin to waiting for a great classical pianist to come on stage. You could hear conversations about what album each person owned and how they were excited to have the chance to see this band on what is truly a rare occasion.

The night featured two pieces both lasting roughly 45 minutes. The first set began with deep intense interplay between Tony Buck (bass) and Lloyd Swanton (drums) as utilized some mystifying percussion and finger picking to create some other-worldly ambiance. This was all held together by Chris Abrahms' quiet manipulation of the piano. The piece continued a beautiful undulation until Abrahms piano gently guided its audience in for a smooth feather-lite landing. A perfect way to lead the audience into intermission with a hunger for what would come next. The second set opened much as the first but this time exchanges shifted between Abrahms and Swanton with slight chord changes and a tonal quality that only the subconscious might pick up. The second set featured more electricity and something to grab hold too but only slightly. Tonight was a thought-provoking affair.

A night in which minimalism, improvisation and musicianship met with beautiful consequences. There are few bands around who could have pulled something like this off and have the audience walking away in complete awe. This what you want out of a live show--a band that has been together for so long they know each others next movement and an audience that is open and willing to travel with them on every hypnotic note.

An evening of rare beauty and experimentation as well as great testament to musicianship. I highly recommend that you check out some of The Necks music. The new album Silverwater (ReR) is a quiet masterpiece. It's takes some time to digest but once you've been sucked into The Necks vortex I think you will enjoy the trip immensely.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Blue Note Goes to the Movies (and TV)

There are plenty of albums from the '60s and '70s that feature studio orchestras or jazz groups performing movie and TV themes. Most of these cover versions aren't very significant in terms of musical innovation, but occasionally a good performance is heard. Blue Note has made an effort to uncover the good stuff, with varying results.
Blue Movies: Scoring for the Studios collects jazz versions of both movie and TV theme music. Alongside such cinematic favorites as "The James Bond Theme," the themes from Last Tango in Paris and Midnight Cowboy are TV themes from M*A*S*H, Star Trek, Kojak and Mission: Impossible. The artists on tap include such stalwarts as Count Basie, Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, Grant Green, Bobby Hutcherson, Billy May and Willie Bobo. Generally speaking, Blue Movies is conceptually sound and an enjoyable diversion, but not essential listening.
In comparison, Blue TV: Blue Note Takes a Commercial Break, is more a marketing ploy than soundtrack-centric compilation. Instead of getting TV show themes or notable library recordings, you get jazz/pop recordings that have appeared in TV commercials. Examples range from Peggy Lee's "Unforgettable" to Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Oddly, a track featured on Blue Movies is also featured here -- Wilton Felder's cover of "Theme from Bullitt." Most of the music here is vocal jazz, featuring older tracks by June Christy and new work by US3. While the music itself is generally of high quality, the notion of marketing it as TV commercial music is perhaps misleading since it isn't TV commercial music by design.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dizzy Gillespie: Why He's Important

John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie (trumpet; b. 1917 - d. 1993)

Diz's legacy and contribution is felt with almost every musician that performs jazz. Diz, along with Charlie Parker, single-handedly created bebop. But Diz is also responsible for his perfect integration of Latin influences upon jazz. He was the quintessential band leader - always ready to teach and pass on his knowledge to younger musicians. So much so that you can hear the influence on many of Miles Davis early recordings.

Born in South Carolina, Diz taught himself trumpet and trombone in his teens. He paid his dues performing early in bands led by Cab Calloway, Earl Hines, Woody Herman and Teddy Hill. Shortly after, he formed the legendary partnership with Charlie Parker in the 40s and recorded a string of classic albums including one of my all-time favourite jazz albums, Jazz At Massey Hall (Debut Records). During this time he would also introduce audiences to latin percussion during his live performances as heard famously on "A Night In Tunisia". Many of Diz's early recordings are now standards that even the non-jazz fans would recognize at first listen including "Salt Peanuts" "Manteca" and the aforementioned "A Night In Tunisia".

A proficient and vibrant player, Diz always had fun on stage in front his audience. Dizzy Gillespie was a technical genius when it came to his music. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he wrote and practiced every note. This, along with his showmanship, are the reasons why he is so important to the growth and explosion of bebop. Live shows were probably the best way to experience the legend.

Some of you may have seen photos of Dizzy with what looks like a upturned trumpet. Most jazz fans known the story, but I'm writing this for those who don't know. One night before a club performance, a dancer triped on it and mangled it. The trumpet still worked and Diz decided to play it anyway. This iconic image is the way most people picture Diz to this day.

There are quite a few individual albums that I could recommend but if you really just want to condense things down you should go head first into Dizzy Diamonds (Verve). Dizzy Diamonds is a three disc set that is broken into "Big Bands", "Small Groups" and "Afro-Cuban". It pretty much covers all you, the new listener, would need.

For those of you who want to seek out more, I would highly suggest digging into some individual albums such as Diz & Bird, The Modern Sextet, Diz & Stan Getz, Sonny Side Up, Birks Works, The Copenhagen Concert and Jazz At Massey Hall for more well rounded experience. Dizzy's legacy lifes on in trumpet players like Roy Hargrove, Wynton Marsalis and Nicholas Payton but none of them will exude the excitement that he did for his craft--one that makes jazz a truly unique art form.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Friedrich Gulda: The Complete Musician

Friedrich Gulda (piano, composer; b. 1930 - d. 2000)

Friedrich Gulda is probably more well known in classical circles for his amazing and unparalleled interpretations of Beethoven and Mozart material (definitely check out his legendary performances for Decca, Phillips and Deutche Gramophone) but he was also an accomplished jazz musician as well. I'm not going to say he was in the same arena with a Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock or Chick Corea (whom he work with in the '80s) but he did make both jazz and classical audiences stand up and take notice of how the two genres lead and challenge the musical order or things. Throughout his classical career, Friedrich Gulda would record both studio and live jazz albums.

His classical recordings are things of beauty and for those who may be afraid of classical, Gulda might the best and most wonderful way to bring you into the fold. There are a few other pianists who could do better Mozart and Bach concertos but Gulda for me is the most inviting and heartfelt. His ability to shift back and forth through both the classical and jazz realms cause a great deal of distress among both sides of the purist aisle, resulting in the nickname, "Terrorist Pianist". Funny but thoroughly unwarranted. His jazz albums are a much more intense bebop affair. He has performed with a host of musicians, including J.J. Johnson, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Dizzy Gillespie and Joe Zawinul.

One personal favourite of mine is Live At Birdland (Ermitage). Live At Birdland was recorded in '56 and is roughly the start of Gulda's jazz excursions (after his brief encounter with Dizzy a few years earlier). Gulda's playing is light and playful, almost in a Bud Powell fashion but with full command of this excellent sextet as they fire through a number of standards including "A Night In Tunisia" and "Bernies Tune." It is stark contrast to the crystalline performances of Beethoven, Mozart and Bach that was known about up to this point. A man of extreme eclecticism, Friedrich Gulda was one that never wanted to be pigeonholed, as can be seen in his performance at Birdland. If you are really interested, I would definitely recommend downloading Friedrich Gulda Live At Birdland and any of his Beethoven recordings. These will give the strong overview of Friedrich Gulda as the complete musician.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The World of Library Music

What the heck is library music?

You've probably heard the term in recent years, perhaps used by that music collector friend of yours who has a taste for obscure grooves. Here's what he'd probably tell you about the genre.

Originally conceived to accompany film, TV and radio productions, library music (aka sound library, program music or music for hire) represents the missing link between soundtracks and diverse styles such as jazz, funk and rock, not to mention orchestral and electronic avant-garde.

Library music isn't new. It's been around since the dawn of the music industry, filling a need created by movies, radio and television programming. Whether you're talking about WWII newsreels and old time radio shows or TV news and car commercials, library music has been (and continues to be) used to create atmosphere and excitement when original scoring is unavailable.

Most of the library music available on CD (and LP) today comes from the '60s and '70s -- the heyday of jazzy, funky, rock-influenced grooves as well as atmospheric orchestral and electronic atmospheres. That said, there still are library labels churning out music in a variety of contemporary styles that you've probably heard in such disparate contexts as video games and porno DVDs (I know, I know, you don't watch porno ;-)

The most collectible library albums and compilations collect the work of talented session musicians such as Syd Dale, Nick Ingman, Peter Reno, Nino Nardini, Johnny Hawksworth, Eddie Warner and many others for such labels as KPM, De Wolfe, Chappell, Selected Sound, Bosworth, Bruton and on and on. Many of these labels are based in the UK, France, Germany and Italy. The originals go for big bucks, which makes the CD compilations very attractive indeed.

There are even contemporary recording artists such as Shawn Lee and Clutchy Hopkins whose records are clearly inspired by classic library music of the funky, psychedelic era.

Once you start collecting library music you may find it hard to stop, because the quality of the musicianship is outstanding and the creativity of some (but not all) recordings is astonishing (especially from the late '60s and early '70s). While some library music does have a generic quality, there is plenty that distinguishes itself. If you consider yourself musically adventurous, you owe it to yourself to explore the genre.

Read more about
library music available on CD.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jazz on Screen: The Film Scores of Robby Poitevin

A.D3 Operazione Squalo Bianco / L'uomo Del Colpo Perfetto
Tecnica Di Un Omicidio / Quella Carogna Dell'Ispettore Sterling

Robby Poitevin

GDM Music

Little is known about Robby Poitevin, composer of a handful of Italian film scores from the late '60s, four of which are collected on these two GDM releases.

The main theme for Tecnica di un Omicidio (aka Professional Killer, '66) is a catchy crime jazz prowler with swaggering brass, sinuous flutes and a strong rhythm section. It's a killer. On "My Man", the mood is mellow for a couple of minutes with smoky flute and vibes before a bossa nova rhythm kicks in for the final minute. Intrigue returns on the combustably percusisve "Central Station" and the tension-building abstraction "Clint in Agguato". The mood goes from chill to anxious on "Alba a New York." Another brassy crime jazz track is "Bassifondi". The swinging English-language version of "My Man" is performed by an unnamed but capable female vocalist. Overall, it's a minor but enjoyable crime jazz score.

Quella Carogna Dell'Ispettore Sterling
(aka The Falling Man, '67) starts with a lively Italian-language song sung by the legendary modern choir of Alessandroni. From there, Poitevin provides a blend of jazzy, Latin-esque and easy moods favoring brass and keyboards (organ and electric harpsichord). On the languid "One More Step," featuring an English-language vocal and melody borrowed from the main theme, is pleasingly intriguing thanks to the unusual tones employed by the organist and electric guitar player. Other highlights include the swinging "Strade, Luci, Notte" and psychedelically abstract "Ossessione die un Ricordo" and "Allucinazione."

For the spy flick A.D3 Operazione Squalo Bianco (aka Operation White Shark, '66), Poitevin provides a typically Italian twist on the '60s spy sound — small group jazz, a bit of bossa nova, and moods that range from suave and sexy to suspenseful to slightly silly. Like most b-movie scores, there are a couple of themes at work here, with multiple variations. The main theme serves a variety of moods, ranging from carnival-esque to tension-building (with some unusual treated piano effects).
Occasionally, the main theme is refered to as "The Syndicate," and makes great use of harpsichord, electric guitar, percussion and flute over a swaggering rhythm. In addition, there is "Bubba Dub Bossa," which gets its name for the catchy call-and-response, male and female vocals of the Alessandroni choir.

Operation White Shark is paired with L'uomo Del Colpo Perfetto (aka Hot Diamonds in Cold Blood, '67), which features a groovy, frenetic main theme with a youthful bouncy beat, electric guitar rhythm and the Alessandroni choir. In addition, there are tracks of Near East intrigue featuring exotic percussion (sometimes with a nice backbeat) as well as abstract tension-builders with watery sounding electric guitar lines, echoing percussion and that standby of spy jazz, the harpsichord. Overall, Poitevin's crime/spy jazz scores are enjoyable if not groundbreaking and worth discovering if you love the genre.

Review previously published on

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kurt Rosenwinkel: Reflections

Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar, b. 1970)

Hi everybody, really under the weather this week, so entries may be a little sporadic and brief. Hopefully by the end of the week I'll be back to normal.

Kurt Rosenwinkel is one of my favourite artist of the last ten years. One of the few guitarist who writes and records his own material. Rosenwinkel first came to prominence in the mid-nineties with the trio Human Feel. Rosenwinkel's style is sometimes reminiscent to that of fellow guitarist, Marc Ribot. The Human Feel records are pretty hard to find but they show a band and a guitarist that are working on through highly inventive and organic material. You may not be able to find the physical CDs but I have seen available for download and their three albums are definitely worth checking out. He also did an early stint with vibraphonist, Gary Burton in the early nineties as well. Kurt Rosenwinkel has since recorded eight studio albums.

His most recent, Reflections (Word Of Mouth Music) is a beautiful trio record that continues to show his growth as an exceptional artists. This is definitely a more relaxed and emotionally touching album than his previous recordings which have featured everything from hip hop grooves to slight avant garde experiments. The album is mainly covers with one self written piece ("East Coast Love Affair") which actually featured on his very first album by the same name. Reflections is a down to earth and strikingly effective album with grace and creativity from an artist who continually seems to be ahead of the curve.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Sound Of Stan Getz

Stan Getz (sax; b. 1927 - d. 1991)

One my top five saxophonists of all time, Stan Getz was blessed with a sound that was universally adored and revered by music lovers and musicians alike. His admiration for the legendary saxophonist, Lester Young was well known and he keeps the majesty of the Young legacy alive throughout his career. Getz had brief associations with numerous ensembles including Benny Goodman and most famously with Woody Herman in 1947. Getz had a lush, rich and beautiful sound that could captivate an audience in an instant. He would quickly go on to establish himself as one best leaders on the scene.

Stan Getz's long and illuminating career sparkles with a extarordinary list of albums including the iconic bossa nova album with Joao Gilberto entitled Getz/Joao (Emarcy; 1964) which catapulted Stan Getz to the masses. He had already recorded Jazz Samba (Emarcy; 1962) with guitarist Charlie Byrd, which featured the samba classic "Desafinado" but Getz/Gilberto album was the meteor that hit the airwaves with the vital impact. Getz/Gilberto featured another iconic anthem, "The Girl From Impenema," song by Astrud Gilberto.

Getz would return to acoustic and sometime piano-less quartet/quintet recordings for a string of phenomenal albums from '64 - '71, a long period that most artists only dream about (including Nobody Else But Me, Stan Getz & Bill Evans, Live In Paris and Dynasty) and all worth seeking out. The '70s were a time of not so memorable albums, but Getz still had the chops just not the right material and quality of musicians around him. Towards the early '80s Getz had a resurgence. His sound was really coming on strong with some great albums with Chet Baker (The Stockholm Concerts) and Kenny Barron (People Time, Anniversary, Serenity, and Yours And Mine) that really highlight the period. Stan Getz's final studio recording was Apasionado (A&M), a beautiful return to form with an orchestra that originally, I must admit, I didn't like on first listen but as the years have gone on I have appreciated it more and more with each listen.

While most of these records may be hard to find, I can honestly say that most of the Stan Getz compilations out there are actually pretty good. If you are just getting into him I would strongly recommend The Artistry of Stan Getz Vol. I and II which cover his most prolific and well known period with Emarcy and Verve labels. This material can also be found on a compilation call Stan Getz Gold (Universal). Gold is probably the easist one you will find at most stores. Despite its generic cover, its an awesome collection of all the right stuff. I hope you have a chance check out some of Stan Getz's stuff... and if you do, please let me know what you think.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Giant Steps: Why It's Important

John Coltrane (sax; b. 1926 - d. 1967)
Giant Steps (Atlantic; 1960)

This month celebrates the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane's Giant Steps (Atlantic) album. Giant Steps was recorded only a few weeks after Coltrane had recorded Kind Of Blue with Miles Davis. Coltrane once mentioned in an interview that he wanted to play "a more lyrical and beautiful sound" and while he obviously and modestly didn't acknowledge it at the time, Giant Steps was the album where he found the lyrical voice for which he was searching.

The album features unbelievable quartet works with Tommy Flanagan, Wynton Kelly, Cedar Walton (piano), Jimmy Cobb, Lex Humphries, Art Taylor (Drums) and Paul Chambers (bass) running through seven numbers that would all become classics and benchmarks for future jazz generations to come. The sessions are also historic for the inclusion of the same line up that recorded Miles' Kind Of Blue (Kelly, Cobb and Chambers) on the lovely "Naima". The title track is a fast paced firecracker of a number that sets the tone for the whole affair. The album is a bold statement of intent that Coltrane had indeed arrived.

While his material for Prestige and Blue Note, Soultrane and Blue Train, respectfully are definite markers of his early dominance and potential, Giant Steps to me is the signpost that solidifies his status as the most important saxophone player of his generation. On the potent journey that is Giant Steps, Coltrane rips through harmonic scales at a dazzling pace as heard throughout the short but surefire "Countdown", and then moves lovingly into the wonderful piece "Spiral." Nearing the end of Giant Steps, Coltrane finally brings the proceedings to a calmer tone with the absolutely beautiful "Niama," named after his first wife, and is highlighted by the magnificent playing of the truly underrated Wynton Kelly on piano. The closing number, "Mr. P.C." is named after the only constant in the two quartet set up, bassist, Paul Chambers. It is a hard hitting and perfectly fitting way to end the session.

Giant Steps was the album that saw John Coltrane finally let loose and express the emotion, structure and complexity he had developed over the previous 15 years in his associations with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Red Garland. Of all the John Coltrane albums, Giant Steps arguably might be the one that universally says everything you need to know about the legendary musician. Along with Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue, Charles Mingus' Ah Um, Dave Brubecks' Time Out, Thelonious Monks' Brilliant Corners, John Coltane's Giant Steps is a must-have for any music fan. It is the document of a legend as well as a great jazz history lesson.

Below is a stellar version of "Naima" with one of Coltrane's later quartets featuring McCoy Tyner (piano), Gimmy Garrison (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Versatile George Benson

George Benson (guitar; b. 1933)

While you may know the name, George Benson, you may only be familiar with his material from the 70s and 80s which is a little more fusion/pop sounding. Yet during the '60s George Benson created some phenomenal recordings that would rival many of his contemporaries on other instruments. All jazz guitarists owe almost everything to Charlie Christian (the godfather of Jazz guitar); George Benson used Christian's influence to take the music in another direction just as fellow guitarists Grant Green and Wes Montgomery did. Benson's multifaceted musicianship allowed him to move freely between genres and garnered both high praise and sometimes unwarranted derision. Benson began his career playing and singing R&B and later touring and session work with the likes of Jack McDuff and Miles Davis respectively. In the early '60s he started is his own band and recorded some early dates on the Prestige label which showed great promise of things to come.

That promise would materialize on one of my favourite George Benson's best albums, It's Uptown (Columbia Records), is the perfect example of that classic jazz sound most listeners fall in love with. It's Uptown has a wonderful bebop vibe to it that this very free flowing and includes excellent contributions from Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Lonnie Smith (organ) and King Curtis (sax) to name a few. It's contains a few vocal tracks that compliment the arrangements quite well.

As his sound continued to develop, Benson would eventually incorporate vocals into his repertoire full time. This would result in the '70s and '80s pop hits "The Masquerade", "Give Me The Night" and "On Broadway" for which some readers may know him. But if you really want to know how great George Benson is I suggest you start with his earlier straight ahead jazz sessions.

While It's Uptown is a great album to purchase might I also suggest, The Essential George Benson (Legacy Recordings) which covers allot of ground (Prestige, Columbia and Warner Brothers) including sessions with organist Jack McDuff to Miles Davis. A well deserved and well representative overview that any jazz fan will enjoy. Check out this very interesting version of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Nils Petter Molvaer: The Darkness and The Light

Nils Petter Molvaer (trumpet; b. 1960)

Dark, heavy and ethereal--just a few of the words I would use to describe the music of Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer. Molvaer has been at the forefront of the new European movement for almost three decades. He came to significant prominence after he joined the group Masqulero, led by fellow Norwegians Jon Christensen and Arild Anderson.

He soon signed to ECM Records where his debut, Khmer and its follow up Solid Ether recieved unbelievable praise from critics and DJ's throughout Europe. Both albums combine the harmonic values of ambient and jazz. There are quick comparisons to Jon Hassell and of course Miles Davis but Molvaer does utilize electronics and club culture as a way of moving the rhythm forward. Anyone familiar with Miles' last studio album DooBop (Warner Brothers) would get a sense of what Miles might have achieved if he could have continued on. Molvaer in some aspects, has reached that point.

Spacious, hypnotic and enthralling, NPM continued to reshape the vision of what jazz and ambient could become. His third album, NP3 (Universal) was an extension of Solid Ether and Khmer with an increased concentration on the exploration of space and technology as it related to the use of his "treated" trumpet. The effects used on his trumpet give his music more depth, emotion and invention. NP3 featured two extraordinary tracks "Axis Of Ignorance" and "Little Indian" which I think really shows his growth and the inventiveness to create a new song structures from almost nothing.

His fourth album, ER (Universal) featured new contributions from astounding Norwegian vocalist Sidsel Endresen, with whom he had worked with on previous albums as well as her own solo works. As with the previous three albums there was a heavy emphasis on electronic programming and its infusion with Molvaer's trumpet techniques. Re-Vision (Universal), Molvaer's fifth album is a major leap forward, featuring all the usual elements but with even more cohesion and rhythmic structure than before. By far this is my personal favourite.

His latest, Hamada is the culmination of his ten years studio recordings. It features a more aggressive approach but keeps the spirit of his ambient experiments of the past. A delight to anyone who is a fan of Miles Davis, Jon Hassell and David Sylvian, Hamada is an exciting journey through sound and well worth seeking out. While many of Nils Petter Molvaer's albums are very hard to find, they are available for download. There is also a compilation of the first four albums entitled An American Compilation (Thirsty Ear Recordings) which is a nice introduction to his dense swirling soundscapes should anyone choose to go this route. I'm sure you wont be disappointed.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jazz on Screen: Bullitt

Lalo Schifrin
Film Score Monthly

His "Mission: Impossible" TV show theme may be more immediately recognizable and well known, but Lalo Schifrin's score for Bullitt ('68) remains the most satisfyingly "Schifrin-esque" in his ouevre, and as such essential to every soundtrack collection.

Bullitt wasn't Schifrin's first crime jazz soundtrack by a long-shot, but when it dropped it influenced the direction of the genre, steering it toward felonious funk (see my book for more on this transformation).
Schirfrin first explored the crime jazz sound a few years earlier on the sexy French thriller Les Felins (aka Joy House), starring Alain Delon and Jane Fonda in their youthful prime.

It was on Bullitt that Schifrin found the perfect on-screen character for his swinging modern sound. Actor Steve McQueen's charismatic, self-assured performance as Det. Lt. Frank Bullitt is well served by Schifrin's propulsive, brassy electric bass-driven grooves with hard-hitting beats. Schifrin would further develop this sound on subsequent scores (such as Dirty Harry and Enter the Dragon, not to mention TV's Starsky & Hutch and Mannix).

Bullitt melds funk and swing. The hard and lean main theme rumbles forth on a muscular agile bass line and insistent beat with jazz guitar in the lead. On tracks that are by turns action-packed ("Hotel Daniels"), propulsive ("On the Road to San Mateo"), hard-driving ("Ice Pick Mike") and prowling ("Shifting Gears"), Schifrin works his orchestral jazz groove. It's as revved up and polished as the muscle cars used in the film's legendary chase scene (go Ford Mustang).

As expected, Film Score Monthly's well annotated and illustrated edition of Bullitt includes both the original album recording (that has influenced so many soul jazz and groove musicians) and the versions heard in the film, which have never appeared on CD before.

Even if you know the original (or Schifrin's fine re-recording from a few years ago) you owe it to yourself to hear the music as it appears in the movie. Some of the film versions are distinctively different from album versions and just as appealing. It's noticeable on the main theme. The film version is lowdown compared to the album version, but builds into a fiercely swinging funk monster in the middle section with drum breaks and stunningly psychedelic production values.

Elsewhere in the film versions, Schifrin further explores his Latin roots ("Cantata for Combo"), exotic jazz ("A Song for Cathy"), full-tilt acid blues rock ("Hotel Daniels" radio source), full-swagger swing ("Room 26") and chilled retro lounge ("The Aftermath of Love"). There's a demo of the main theme as well, which is nice and lean, but a little tentative until the tempo quickens.
Essential listening.

[Previously published at]

Monday, January 11, 2010

Keith Jarrett: Masterclass

Keith Jarrett (piano; b. 1945)

For me, Keith Jarrett is the Arnold Schoenberg of the jazz. As Schoenberg's phenomenal creativity deconstructed the idioms of classical music, so too has Jarrett transformed the thoughts of jazz and the how the piano is heard and felt. Keith Jarrett's dense, emotional and yet sparse technique has mystified audiences for over five decades.

His talent first shone during stints with groups led Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis in the late 60s and early 70s. Jarrett would go on to led successful solo, trio and quartet recordings, all of which feature unparalleled dynamism. Such a daunting task it is to name my favourite Jarrett album I won't begin to open an argument here today. I have chosen to focus on one album that I have been listening to a lot over the past few days. For no other reason than the fact of matter that I found The Vienna Concert (ECM Records) out of place on my CD shelf that I put it on recently to just see if I remember the album. It has been on permanent rotation for since the beginning of the months (yeah I know its only 10 days but whatever).

The Vienna Concert is a highly inventive and technical masterclass of a solo performance. It features one piece split into two parts. "Vienna Part I" is the more rigid and structural, highlighting a more introspective nature and thought-provoking aspect that leaves the listener focused squarely on Jarrett's movement on the keys and where he will go next. It also showcases Jarrett's extensive classical training in its execution. "Vienna Part II" is an almost free flowing jazz infused affair that truly shows how Jarrett is far and away the best pianist of his last half century.

One aspect of all Jarrett live performances is his weird ability to become so emotional involved in the performance that he begins to sing or hum along to the piece which to many newcomers could be off-putting but it is essential to understanding Keith Jarrett the musician. The Vienna Concert was recorded between a number excellent quartet albums that featured Jarrett regulars, Charlie Haden, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette and Paul Motain. Although Jarrett had also recorded solo at the time, nothing like Vienna compared to it since his critically acclaimed Koln Concert in 1975 (also highly recommended).

I think if you haven't heard Keith Jarrett before this is not a bad place to start. While there are at least three good compilations available from spanning three different time periods, none of them are truly worth it for the uninitiated. So you are much better off picking up an individual Keith Jarret album. Many of his quartet albums featuring any of the above artists won't disappoint. If you want an absolutely perfect solo performance that you will come back to time and time again, look no further than The Vienna Concert.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Intersection: The Sandals

The Sandals (group; 1994)

The Sandals were an unfortunately short-lived Acid Jazz band from the mid-nineties. While influenced more by soul jazz they were of the first and few Acid Jazz bands to sign to a major label and have a moderately successful hit with "Feet" (the other major hit makers of the period were Brand New Heavies and Jamiroquai). The London based quartet emerged out of the burgeoning club scene with their only album, Rite To Silence (Universal).

Rite To Silence utilized a wonderful mixture of percussion and jazzy rhythms that were definitely ahead of the curve. This to me, was a real precursor to the electronica/trip hop/drum n' bass scene that would follow, led by artists like Roni Size, Portishead, Rae & Christian, et al. Rite To Silence is a deep, heavy groove leaden album that quickly become infectious. It's a real disappointment that The Sandals didn't have a chance to really make it big. I think their creativity and inventiveness might have changed more than just the British underground scene. Rite To Silence is still available, surprisingly. If you don't find it in your local record shop you can definitely find it available as a download.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Empirical: The New UK Hard Bop

Empirical (group; 2007)

Empirical are the latest in what is becoming an endless list of very solid groups coming from the U.K. at the moment. This London based quartet are steep in the John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman tradition of eclectic hard bop. Empirical utilize their influences with great skill and technical ease making their two albums, 2007's self titled debut and 2009's sophomore effort, Out'n'In immensely enjoyable.

Out'n'In (Naim Jazz) is a tribute to the legendary saxophonist, Eric Dolphy and his landmark Out To Lunch album. The music is definitely as challenging as Eric Dolphy, but delivers it in an incredible accessible manner that will find even the non-jazz listener stand up and appreciate the band's fast-growing popularity. This is an album that flows effortlessly, beginning with "Out But In" and features two covers of Dolphy tunes while closing out with the lovely "Bowden Out".

Empirical, in addition to Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear, may be the three bands to watch in 2010. The UK jazz scene hasn't been this hot in years. Empirical can be one of the leaders of the pack that could very well break out on this side of the Atlantic...I hope. For everyone who wants to check them out, go to their webisite and download the FREE 4 track Empirical Live At Ronnie Scotts Ep. (You might want to download the tracks individually instead of all at once. I had a little trouble. You can listen to it on your iPod or other MP3 player.) And did I mention it's FREE.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Marc Copland: The Quiet American

Marc Copland (piano, b. 1948)

Marc Copland is a highly accomplished pianist with an astute approach to performing that is both introspective and emotional. He is a prolific performer with over 15 albums in the last 10 years. That's more than most artists in any genre. If you haven't guessed it, he is definitely one of those undiscovered treasures.

I have to admit I have only just recently gotten into his music in the last two to three years. I had always known the name but never paid any attention until I borrowed a trio session featuring one of my favourite bassists, Drew Gress and John Rueckert (drums) entitled Some Love Songs (Pirouet). He has collaborated with some the greatest jazz musicians of recent times including, Gary Peacock, John Abercrombie, Bill Stewart, Randy Brecker and Greg Osby to name a few. Many of his collaborations in recent years have been duo or trio recordings, all of which I highly recommend.

Copland started his career as a saxophonist before switching to piano in the mid-eighties. Since then his career has taken off and his style has been revered by students and his contemporaries alike. His most recent album is simply titled Alone (Pirouet) and is a beautiful solo album of delicate entries including a number of pieces from the Joni Mitchell cannon. This may be the perfect way for anyone unfamiliar with Copland to start out.

He does have a very vast catalog but you will be very satified if you seek out one of the trio sessions he recently recorded entitled The New York Trio Recordings Vol. I - III (Pirouet) which appear to be the easiest of his catalog to find in stores and online. While highly regarded overseas, his profile is limited in his native U.S. but hopefully more people will discover this truly underrated musician. Check out Marc Copland's version of the standard Milestones.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What About Chet!?!

Chet Baker (trumpet; b. 1929 - d. 1988)

So I took a look back at some of my discussions over the past few months and realized I forgot to talk about Chet Baker. What the hell was I thinking!?! Chet Baker played in a style very similar to Miles Davis' early recordings--smooth, melodic and sophisticated. Nowhere near as adventurous as Miles, Chet still possessed the ability to craft a rhythm that was just as haunting and brilliant.

Chet Baker is quite regarded among jazz fans but remains somewhat a cult figure for those new to jazz. His unfortunate struggle with heroin destroyed his chances of really scaling the highest of Miles', Clifford Brown or Dizzy Gillespie. Chet Baker played in Charlie Parker's band early in his career before moving out on his own with the legendary piano-less quartet with Gerry Mulligan. Chet would later go on to form his own group and record a series of wonderful albums during the mid-fifties. His drug habit resulted in erratic recording dates throughout the rest of his career even though he still had ability to perform quite well.

There are so many compilations on Chet Baker it almost matches those of Miles Davis. The one I would recommend is Career: 1952-1988 (Shout Factory). It's hard to sum up a career as expansive as Chet's but this collection manages to touch on all the important points for any beginner. One of the things that really set Chet Baker apart from his contemporaries was not only his effortless ability on the trumpet, but also his warm, lush vocals that added to his mystic. Career: 1952-1988 captures both over the span of two discs. From his beautiful classic version of "My Funny Valentine" to the enchanting cover of Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue" this collection has exactly what you would need to learn about one the greatest and often overlooked genius' in jazz history. In addition, I would suggest you also check out Chet Baker's final studio session entitled Peace (Enja Records), recorded in 1988 which was a lovely return to form and a great testament to his legacy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Intersection: Squarepusher

The Intersection looks at artists that blend jazz with electronica (a tradition pioneered by none other than Miles Davis on such classic recordings as On the Corner). This week's focus is Squarepusher.

Over the course of nine albums since 1996, Tom Jenkinson aka Squarepusher has hacked the electronica subgenre of drum 'n' bass by cross-wiring it with jazz fusion. As the son of a jazz musician and a talented bass guitar player in his own right (not to mention a multi-instrumentalist), Jenkinson has demonstrated -- perhaps more than any other d'n'b proponent -- how to marry jazz concepts with electronic technology.

Following his impressive debut, Feed Me Weird Things, Squarepusher moved to the head of the d'n'b class with the back-to-back juggernauts of Hard Normal Daddy and Music is Rotted One Note. Over the course of the next several albums, such as Go Plastic and Ultravisitor, Jenkinson continued to experiment with the form, pushing the envelope with increasingly jazz-influenced compositions.

Legend has it that Jenkinson was weaned on the music of Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Charlie Parker and other jazz greats. The jazz influence manifests itself in Squarepusher through the use of complex chord progressions, the influence of bop-influenced drum breaks and Jenkinson's fluid fusion-influenced bass guitar work. D'n'B is an intrinsically complex form of electronic music thanks to the rapid-fire drum programming, but Jenkinson's traditional mastery of the form's basic elements have enabled him to stretch the boundaries of the genre.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Importance of "Bitches Brew"

Miles Davis
Bitches Brew
(Columbia; 1969)

To say Miles Davis recorded quite a few influential albums is silly. But of those few, none can be more important than Bitches Brew. Bitches Brew was a defining moment in jazz history in that it singled-handedly created the term jazz-rock and jazz-fusion. The year, 1969, was a time of change on all fronts (politics, life and music). Bitches Brew was a mirror of the time and a door way for the future.

Assembled by Miles and longtime producer Teo Macero, Bitches Brew is an album that would influence almost every musician from every genre since. Miles had put together an ensemble cast of musicians, many of whom were becoming highly influential themselves (Joe Zawinul (piano/keyboards), Chick Corea (piano/keyboards), Wayne Shorter (sax), Dave Holland (bass), John McLaughlin (guitar), Jack DeJohnette (drums) to name a few. The album itself grew out of a series of live dates during the beginning of the year as Miles started to introduce new material into the band before the first studio session.

As some of you may already know the striking moment came after the Woodstock Festival and the extra impetus Miles had after witnessing the funk soul sets of Sly & The Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix. Miles would use that energy in the Bitches Brew sessions for more improvised and experimental interaction with the band, all the while still having a vision of a completely different direction of the music. The album flourished with blues, funk, rock, psychedelia and jazz--all pushed to the limits with extraordinary results. It also contains a heavy use of electric guitar, keyboards, bass and distortion on Miles' already muted trumpet. Miles would later incorporate the electric guitar fully into his repertoire after this album.

At the time, you wouldn't have known what to think of Miles' as this record is pouring out of your speakers or at a live concert. This is an album that continues to astound every time I put it on. Tracks like "Pharaoh's Dance", "Sanctuary" and my personal favourite "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down," demonstrates how aggressive, experimental and "out there" Miles was thinking at the time. Bitches Brew many be a classic example of experimentation but that doesn't mean the uninitiated should avoid it. It is an album of sheer beauty and depth that forces you to examine every other album you may own that came after 1970 to see how it was influenced.

Bitches Brew is a road map for many musicians. A road map that says the road is limitless. For those of you interested there are two versions available; the two disc original album (with bonus track) and the four disc deluxe version which I highly recommend to give the full picture of the recording session. The four disc set is a lot of money and probably only for the die-hard, but it you should definitely treat yourself to one of the versions if possible. This is important history.