Finding Directions


Few releases come better titled than Teddy Charles' New Directions (Original Jazz Classics, 1999), a collection put together from three 1950s sessions that featured Charles on vibraphone, marimbas, xylophone and bongos, and grew more progressive while his music searched for... new directions.

Standards and traditionals such as "Blue Moon" and "Tenderly" chart the first half of New Directions, but Charles arranges its conventional music across an unconventional vibes trio with bass and guitar instead of piano and/or drums. After an introductory verse in half-time, Charles' vibes soar through "Ol' Man River" like Lionel Hampton "Flying Home," and "I'll Remember April" and "Basin Street Blues" bob and weave with a funky saunter like a walk home after too much Bourbon (Street).

The second half of Directions, from subsequent trio and quartet dates, steers through several different circuits. Charles' melancholy tone poem "Nocturne" explores a darkness further out. His vibes throb and twirl with the hot rhythms of "A Night in Tunisia" and dance like a gypsy with its exotic melody. This half culminates in four concept pieces by pianist Hal Overton with such titles as "Metalizing" and "Decibels."

During this same time, Charles served in the Jazz Composers Workshop with bassist Charles Mingus and others. He appears with Mingus on Miles Davis' Blue Moods (OJC, 1990) for the bassist's Debut label, and as part of the all-star quintet date Cookin' (OJC, 1995) and sextet session Olio (OJC, 1999), both with pianist Mal Waldron.