VOICES Notes and news on Jazz releases
14 MAY 13 CHRIS SLAWECKI
Randy Weston is well established in his career as a composer, pianist and international jazz ambassador, known around the globe as a critical conduit through which the musical tributaries between US, Europe and Africa flow. But, Weston’s countenance beams from the cover of Get Happy like the young, enthusiastic high school yearbook portrait of someone you met much later in their life.
Weston’s first (10-inch) vinyl title for Riverside Records, a 1955 piano trio date released as an Original Jazz Classics in 1995, Get Happy is one of Weston’s earliest displays of his own musical vision, albeit expressed through the prism of familiar titles and themes. Weston unwinds long melodic lines from Ellington’s classic “C-Jam Blues” like unraveling strings of funky pearls, digs into the earthy roots of a warm and blooming “Summertime,” and bookends this set with spirited New Orleans playing (the title track to open, the “Twelfth Street Rag” to close) that shows he knows his roots. His airy playing leaves room in every tune no matter how compact. Weston plays a lot of music, not always a lot of notes.
Other Weston piano trio dates include his 1956 studio session With These Hands… (OJC, 1996) and ‘56 performance Jazz A La Bohemia (OJC, 1990), each featuring quartet tracks with saxophonist Cecil Payne. Many cite Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk as their styles shine through Weston’s early playing. Who could be better artists for a young pianist, searching for himself, to submerge himself in that pursuit?
08 MAY 13 CHRIS SLAWECKI
Warm Tenor (Pablo, 1996) is, so far as I know, the first Zoot Sims music I’ve ever listened to. I’ve been around enough to know that this title is a great description of Sims’ saxophone sound, because his sound is often measured by Stan Getz’s -- which I do like -- and so I looked forward to digging some Zoot.
A 1978 quartet date of textbook, classic mainstream jazz, Zoot’s Warm Tenor proved worth waiting for. Sims never once blows you over like a hurricane. His tenor falls languid and steady and soft like a misty spring rain while bass (George Mraz) and piano (Jimmy Rowles, who also played with Getz) whisper and hiss beside him.
Sims and Mraz whiz alone and in tandem through their duet “Blues for Louise,” while Rowles wraps up Sims’ tenor in every slippery thread of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.” The foursome paints “Comes Love” with a colorful and bright uptempo Latin tint. Other tunes pour out more slow and mellow: “Old Devil Moon” and Cole Porter’s “Dream Dancing” sound like they were dunked in honey, they flow so thick and sweet.
Sims’ Pablo recordings are recognized as a highlight of his long and elegant career. Other Pablo titles include the Sims, Rowles and Mraz reunions For Lady Day (1990) and on Suddenly It’s Spring (1992); Sims’ duet with guitarist Joe Pass, Blues For Two (1990); and Zoot Sims Plays Johnny Mandel: Quietly There (1990).
30 APR 13 CHRIS SLAWECKI
Prestige Records must have been an amazing place to work in the late-1940s and early-‘50s, when Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis and so many other stars recorded for the label. By combining the cream of several sessions led by these stars, Conception (Original Jazz Classics, 1990) paints a unique portrait of this “Prestige-ous” place and time.
Konitz stretches like a yawning cat into two saxophone-guitar duets. He first surveys, then quickly deconstructs and reassembles “Indian Summer” in his unique arid sound, cool as a nightfall breeze across a desert landscape. His original “Duet for Saxophone And Guitar” pushes their duet into further abstraction, yet remains as warm and bright as “Summer.”
Getz’s tenor sparkles through two his originals: It’s the perfect singing voice to front the slinky melody and shimmering cymbals of “Intoit,” and his breathtaking, impeccable control thoroughly slays “Prezervation” (for Lester Young) with flurries of notes, delivered rapid-fire but soft, like velvet bullets.
The title track is George Shearing’s but Miles Davis makes it his own from home base in the bebop tradition. Davis plays so fleet and smooth that, even though he would ultimately abandon this tradition, you can hear his place in its lineage. He never fully stopped playing ballads that burned with the searing emotional intimacy of “My Old Flame,” either. And he never completely abandoned this voice -- hushed but direct, soft but powerful, and still glowing with power six decades later.
20 APR 13 CHRIS SLAWECKI
The Cal Tjader Trio -- originally released on 10-inch vinyl from sessions recorded in 1951, and newly issued on vinyl to celebrate Record Store Day 2013 (April 20th) -- marked the percussion master’s debut for Fantasy Records, with Tjader quickly showing off his vibes, drum and bongo chops in rhythmic tandem with bassist Jack Weeks while splitting the piano chair between John Marabuto and Vince Guaraldi (in his own recording debut).
You’d be hard pressed to come up with a tune that’s more played out than “Chopsticks,” but Tjader’s Latin-ized “Chopsticks Mambo” bursts into full and colorful bloom from his lively bongos and percussion. Tjader rips open the middle of “Ivy” with a double-timed passage that melts his percussion into a singular rhythmic blur, while “Three Little Words” shoots out of its gate like a sprinter and Guaraldi’s piano and Tjader’s drums match each other riff for riff.
Tjader’s vibes chime like a pealing Sunday morning church bell to sing this “Lullaby of the Leaves,” and delicately mirror the reflective melancholy of “These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You).”
The Cal Tjader Trio foreshadows the rhythmic and melodic genius that blossomed through the rest of Tjader’s career. These vinyl tracks emerged in the digital age on Extremes: Cal Tjader Trio/Breathe Easy (Fantasy, 1999), which opens with these eight tunes (Tjader’s first Fantasy sessions) and ends with his last Fantasy album, Breathe Easy (1977).
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