Thursday, July 31, 2008

A taste of Candy from Lee Morgan

The great pianist Sonny Clark, heir to Bud Powell, once said that he enjoyed accompanying improvisations as much as performing them himself. Nowhere is this pleasure so evident than on the Lee Morgan date Candy. In fact, Candy is distinguished in a number of respects, not the least of which is the fact that it is Morgan's only album on which he appears as the sole horn at the session. The selection of material is also unusually satisfying, inclusive and original. For fans of Morgan it is likely the ballads, Since I Fell For You and All The Way, that really stand out. The simple grandeur of Morgan's treatment of Since I Fell For You lifts the tune to a romantic plateau few jazzmen have scaled. So thoughtful and honest in its blues, it'll bring you, if not to tears, than to the memory of the last time you cried them. Clark's introduction is absolutely heartbreaking and it sets the tone. All The Way is no less romantic in its perfection. Made famous by Frank Sinatra sometime prior to this recording, Morgan builds this tale of heartfelt commitment into a rhapsody. So profound are the emotions imparted that one cannot escape a sense of urgent beauty in its call to embrace your lover, all the way. The title track, Candy, contains some of Clark's best work in this period and demonstrates that this album really is as much his as it is Morgans. In fact, Clark's storytelling ability has never been so fully on display. Just within the space of this album alone, Clark seems to impart a vast array of human experience and, of course, a heaping amount of the blues. For Clark always puts a little blues, not unlike the aforementioned Powell, on just about everything he plays. The A side concludes with what was at the time a recent composition by the great, and too little recognized composer-saxman, Jimmy Heath, brother of drummer, Albert, and bassist, Percy. The tune, C.T.A. had been recorded a few years earlier by Miles Davis and, according to Davis, the title takes its name from the initials of a young Chinese-American woman Heath was dating at the time. It's a real rouser and clocks in as the most uptempo piece at the session. Ardent fans of Morgan's famed pyrotechnics will not be let down with this one, it is pregnant with the spiritual mysteries of classic bebop. Also included in this set are Irving Berlin's Who Do You Love, I Hope and the evergreen Personality. Both display what are to my ears some of the very finest examples to be heard anywhere of modern jazz trumpet improvisation. Morgan is more than on top of his game, he is on top of the world, climbing higher and taking us with him! The power and control with which he approaches the theme laid out by Berlin is nothing short of astounding. As in the best of the jazz tradition, Morgan takes a relatively obscure work and breathes a new and exciting life into it, resurrecting the creative forces that gave it birth while simultaneously charting a new course. Personality has been for many the stand out track. The wit and humor of a sly, even cryptic, lyricism makes itself known here through contributions from each member of the band (Art Taylor, drums & Doug Watkins, bass.) Taken at a medium tempo there is plenty of room to stretch out, and that room is exploited to the fullest in some of Morgan's most unique phrasing on records. While long valued as a collectors item, because of it's originally small release and limited distribution, Candy is now reissued on both CD and vinyl, audiophile and standard.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cecil Taylor on Boulez, Stockhausen, Pousseur, Ligeti and electronic music

"One of the things that turned me off European music is that I'd get the scores by Boulez, Stockhausen, Pousseur, and Ligeti and I would look at them and say, 'My, this is interesting.' And I'd listen to the music and it didn't sound particularly good. I don't listen to artists who only want to create something that is interesting. To feel is perhaps the most terrifying thing in this society. This is one of the reasons I'm not too interested in electronic music: it divorces itself from human energy, it substitutes another kind of force as the determinate agent for its continuance."

Quoted from an interview by Gary Giddins,Village Voice, 1975

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Jazz that books . .

Recently a friend who works at the Stanford University bookstore asked me to recommend some titles that would be of use to a general audience. There is an annual festival there on campus and the folks at the store wanted to set aside space to honor the occasion. Here are the titles I suggested.

Notes & Tones, Musician to Musician Interviews by Arthur Taylor (Yes, that Arthur Taylor)

Four Jazz Lives by A.B. Spellman (Previously published as Four Lives in the Bebop Business as well as Black Music, Four Lives)

The Sound Of Surprise, 46 Pieces On Jazz by Whitney Balliett (Collects many the late Balliett's shorter writings for the New Yorker from 1954-1959)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Johnny Coles' Sunken Treasure

Some of the most extraordinary moments on the classic Gil Evans lp Out of the Cool are provided by the late trumpeter Johnny Coles. While still largely unknown to the broader jazz public Coles is among the finest trumpeters of his day. His feature on Evans' Out of the Cool is the moody and deeply evocative Sunken Treasure. A dark and brooding atmosphere is enhanced by the addition of both bass marimba and bass trombone to the orchestral setting. A languid tempo sets the tone for Coles improvisations on Evans theme. The over all impressions are of a deeply hued and subtle character not unlike those of Sun Ra. Coles introspective statements are reminiscent of another frequent trumpet collaborator of Evans, Miles Davis.

While having gained little of the notice that was truly his do Coles went on to record with the greatest composer-arrangers in jazz including Charles Mingus. His presence on the Town Hall recordings of the original Meditations are among not only the highlights of his career but that of Mingus as well. Coles would travel with the Mingus orchestra that toured Europe.

Prior to his association with Mingus Coles recorded what is perhaps his most fully realized album under his own leadership. The lp recorded for Blue Note is Little Johnny C and features among others the great tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. We are treated to a number of original compositions by Coles as well as those of Duke Pearson. Much of the warmth and ebullient personality of Coles emerges on this most graceful of jazz recordings. While still scarce on vinyl the album can be readily found among audiophile reissues.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ayler Speaks

"When music changes, people change too. The revolution in jazz took place a long time ago. But, just this year, something happened. Everywhere people are asking, 'What's happening, what's happening?'

"Today it seems that the world is trying to destroy itself. And nevertheless many people succeed in judging the world with an objective view. They see unkindness, hypocrisy, injustice and hard labor that enables a human being to earn very little. If only we really wanted to think of these things, to go into our inner-spiritual-consciences with them, we would understand that we have to fight an endless battle (with ourselves), before winning over all the obstacles, before having acquired the true desire to change.

"The music we play today will help people to know themselves better and to find inner peace more easily. Inspiration is necessary to all of us. It can come from a word, a paragraph in a book, a painting, from a poem, a song, from numerous things, in short. But actually, nothing happens if you're not ready.

"The music we play is a prayer, a message coming from God. We all share the same emotion, but this emotion manifests itself differently according to the personality of each of us.

"Unfortunately for us, decor can provoke vulgar emotions in us, such as envy, covetousness, and contempt.

"A good many people are not touched by the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost will lead all of us through the world someday. Look at the history of jazz: Bolden, Armstrong, Bird, Monk, Coltrane, Taylor, Ornette, etc. all had their own way of seeing things, all had new ideas, the hope of a new aesthetic which wouldn't know destruction, which neither power nor the established structure would be able to kill.

"The soul of each of us-the ideas of God are everywhere and His Spirit is always present-must achieve harmony and supreme goodness through His grace.

"The sublime ideas of God are everywhere (I should sooner say that a certain idea of perfection makes a way for itself). The Holy Ghost has been favorable to me. Music is one of the gifts god has given to us. It should be used for good works. We should always thank the Lord: then, we will understand how rich His blessings are in spiritual value and in truth. We must let the sacred spirit of God enter our bodies and keep it there preciously.

"That's why a creator (or perfect man) is a being in spiritual communion, whose ideas are in total harmony with God. For me, the only way I can thank God for His ever present creation,is to offer Him a new music imprinted with beauty that no one, before, had heard.

"This is the only thought that will make me a free man, beyond the limits of the material.

"Freedom isn't the privilege of a single generation; it's a conquest which must each time be undertaken over again. Freedom is victory.

"Those who have found Truth are able to communicate Love, to help those who suffer, people of the Earth as I call them. That the will of God be done, not that of men and women. The will of God is always loving and truthful; it includes harmony and generosity; it permits freedom and is always constructive.

"When we let the will of God produce itself in us, we will work with Him, and will be blessed in all our actions. He will also help us to think justly and kindly.

"When all the people understand what links them spiritually to one another, Peace will reign on Earth.

"All men will be of good will.

"Spiritual Unity will reign then."

Albert Ayler, The International Times, Number 10, March 13-26, 1967

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Bird's Ecstasy Part Two

And so it was then, the man and the message that rewired America and thus the world. The joy and the ferocious wonder of it all that surrounds. I could hear this now. Ah, Bird was an ecstatic! This really being the key revelation that opened up the musics many worlds. And quickly I began to understand that his improvisation was a much a response to the architecture of a given composition as it was, and perhaps more especially, the total environment. The man and his times, our times, times changing, those changes, too. And with this "serious fun," this humor that laughs to keep from lies, hews cries and sighs, always the buoyant and propulsive swing. And of course among the many musical personae projected from the bell of his horn came the masks retained of African ancestors. Indeed, the complex poly-rhythms which served as vehicles of his imaginative export were inherited directly through Africans in the New World. So Bird's joy was also one of memory and as it must be with us, "a memory that will not sleep." Once I began to hear this, just as suddenly, it was everywhere. Thousands of other musics, not all jazz, became enlivened with these insights. What it is, what it ain't, what it ought to be. Looking forward looking back, Now Is The Time.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Bird's Ecstasy Part One

For many years I listened to Bird without, I believe, really hearing him. Like a lot of us I began with the recordings on Dial. The Eastwood film had recently been released and there were a slew of reissues. Warner had put out a modest double record set including the full session that produced Yardbird Suite. Included was a booklet that reproduced a number of paintings for Bird. Among these were works by Romare Bearden, Larry Rivers and Raymond Saunders. I was intrigued and deeply moved by the inspiration the music had offered these artists. Still, it wasn't until a few years later that I had the glorious encounter that was, for me, hearing Bird for the first time. I remember it well. I had been living in Seattle for a only a few months when I happened upon a record store that stocked a wall of jazz vinyl. There under his leader card was the Savoy long player, Charlie Parker Memorial record. You know the one, with the introduction from Al Collins? I would gaze at the record each time I came in. There he was, The Bird, in Glen plaid and a bow tie, blowing above a teal blue background. In flight. Finally after a few more months of saving, I had enough to buy this scarce collectors item. Nothing could have prepared me for what I heard that day. A strange mercurial light seemed to emanate from his horn, illuminating the world around me in strange and beguiling ways. Koko!