VOICES Notes and news on Digital releases
09 NOV 12 CHRIS SLAWECKI
If someone could play Song Of Songs (Original Jazz Classics, 1987) for you without telling you whose music it was, I'd almost dare you to NOT say you were listening to an undiscovered or rare gem by Miles Davis. Song Of Songs IS a rare, completely original gem of early 1970s trumpet fusion -- but it's from the mind and trumpet of Woody Shaw.
Shaw composed the furious and gentle, unshapely and beautiful Song Of Songs and recorded it in 1972 with an ensemble that includes pianist George Cable and three different tenor players, including Bennie Maupin. Cable carves the framework of the title track out of its shimmering African motifs -- like McCoy Tyner grounding and redoubling Coltrane's African flights -- while Shaw, screaming out notes that most likely don't even appear on his instrument, paints the sound in brilliant shades of red and blue. "Song Of Songs" doesn't end so much as it settles down to rest.
Maupin's tenor in "The Goat & The Archer" echoes Coltrane's searing, splintering sound in Davis' first great quintet, the early rumblings of subsequent explorations which sought to free be-bop into free-bop. "The Awakening" signifies the new forms of music -- multi-rhythmic and multicultural -- that would soon emerge from jazz, too.
Shaw's Concord catalog also features Blackstone Legacy (Contemporary, 1999), his debut as a leader and another prescient program recorded in 1970 with a literal "Who's Who" of jazz in the subsequent decade that includes Maupin, Ron Carter, Gary Bartz and Lenny White.
26 OCT 12 JOHN C. BRUENING
Throughout a three-decade career that spanned the 1950s, '60s and '70s, bassist and cellist Sam Jones was known as a solid and reliable sideman for some of the most prominent figures in jazz during the period, including Cannonball Adderley, Kenny Dorham, Illinois Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson and many others. Right Down Front is a collection of 11 tracks culled from the three albums -- The Soul Society, The Chant and Down Home -- that he recorded on Riverside between 1960 and 1962, during his tenure with Adderley's group.
His session work during this brief period is widely considered to be his best, thanks to a combination of his own innate capacity to swing and the stellar lineup of collaborators who brought out the best in him.
The personnel roster on these tracks include Adderley and on alto sax, Nat Adderley on cornet, Jimmy Heath on tenor, Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Victor Feldman on vibraphone, Ron Carter on bass and Ben Riley on drums. The full complement of pianists includes Wynton Kelly, Bobby Timmons and Joe Zawinul.
Jones plays cello on five of the 11 tracks, but it's generally the bass songs that come across most effectively, including the shimmering "Over The Rainbow," the fully orchestrated rendition of Miles Davis' "Four," and the swinging "Unit Seven," the only Jones original in the set. He does enjoy a shining moment on cello in the form of a rich and warm rendition of "Round Midnight."
Sam Jones's talent as a musician and composer was (and still is) often obscured by his status as a freelancer throughout most of his career. Right Down Front positions him exactly where the title suggests, in a prominent place where he finally gets his due.
12 OCT 12 CHRIS SLAWECKI
New Piano Expressions: Debut Rarities Vol. 5 is genuinely rare: One of a handful of recordings by the Debut label still available; the only recordings as a leader by pianist John Dennis; and perhaps the only piano trio set to feature the label's co-owners -- in this case, drummer Max Roach and bassist Charles Mingus -- as sidemen. (Dennis was a member of Mingus' Jazz Workshop.)
Mingus places his notes in "Ensenada" and "Machajo" to perfectly propel their subtle Latin rhythms and melodies, and Roach's instrumental discussions with the piano through both takes of "All the Things You Are" sound just as inspired. Dennis also sounds brilliant, and not only from the company he keeps. His energetic and bright playing in "All the Things" suggests the sound and vision of Art Tatum -- they soar with the feeling that Dennis can play anything he can imagine, and he can imagine almost anything.
Dennis concludes Expressions with four solo piano pieces, including a gorgeous and pristine "Someone to Watch Over Me" and the spontaneous improvisation "Variegations," which sometimes paints a portrait of Tatum in shades of Bill Evans.
Rarities Volumes 1-4 feature various incarnations of Mingus ensembles. Other Debut music you can hear includes The Debut Recordings (Prestige, 1990) by Four Trombones (Willie Dennis, Bennie Green, Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson) and The Debut Records Story (1996).
03 OCT 12 CHRIS SLAWECKI
The great Hammond organ players of the 1960s and '70s are often called kings of groove, as if the only thing these artists were was funky (and as if it was easy to "only" lay down a thick and luscious groove). I’ve used the phrase many times myself. But, it overlooks where most of these musicians came from: Authentic and considerable jazz roots. In the early-'60s, Johnny “Hammond” Smith, one such player, recorded four albums for Riverside that sound focused on small ensemble jazz. Open House in the Digital Catalog pairs two of those titles -- part of a quartet date with tenor saxman Houston Person, and sessions by a larger ensemble that featured trumpeter Thad Jones.
Smith diligently builds his jazz foundation from familiar cornerstones, including Cole Porter (a tight and tasty stroll through "I Love You") and "A Little Taste" of Cannonball Adderley's lusty soul-jazz sound. His organ crackles like lightning through "Nica's Dream" (by Horace Silver), while Jones blows his notes clean off their chart, and Smith's solo in "Bennie's Diggin'" rips it up and burns it down. More than once, you might even think you're listening to Count Basie (the easy-rolling "Twixt the Sheets" and "Blues for De-De").
Open House complements Black Coffee, which compiles the other two Riverside titles in the Digital Catalog. If you insist on getting funky (and who doesn't from time to time), Legends of Acid Jazz (Prestige, 1996) pairs two titles Smith recorded with drummer Bernard Purdie.
BROWSE ARCHIVE OF DIGITAL VOICES