GATO BARBIERI – IN SEARCH OF THE MYSTERY
Label: ESP – Disk
Release date: 2009
Tracklist: In Search of the Mystery/ Michelle; Obsession No.2/ Cinemateque
Personnel: Gato Barbieri: tenor saxophone; Calo Scott: cello; Sirone: bass; Bobby Kapp :drums
Additional information: Originally released in 1967.
Gato Barbieri’s career has traced a strange trajectory, from work on some of the most extreme free jazz of the late 60s, to a soupy pop/jazz hybrid whose only connection with the earlier recordings was Barbieri’s still-distinctive tenor sax tone. As critic Richard S. Ginell puts it, “regardless of the idiom in which he works, the warm-blooded Barbieri has always been one of the most overtly emotional tenor sax soloists on record, occasionally driving the voltage even higher with impulsive vocal cheerleading.”
Beginning his musical career in the big band of Argentinia’s other main jazzman, Lalo Schifrin, he was introduced to the free jazz scene when he moved to Europe in 1962, joining Don Cherry’s group (see review below). His earlier playing was influenced by John Coltrane, as most of the avant-garde saxophonists were, but it actually sounds closer to the extremely rough, vocalised tone of Pharoah Sanders and Albert Ayler, going straight for the ecstatic jugular with no pussyfooting. It was perhaps a more limited sound than Coltrane’s (or Sanders’ or Ayler’s, for that matter), but it had tremendous visceral effect, creating excitement and burning with passion whether in a free jazz or straighter context. He once said: “When I play the saxophone, I play life, I play love, I play anger, I play confusion. I play when people scream.”
Like many free jazz musicians at this period in the late 60s, Barbieri was recorded by ESP Disk, cutting this, one of the most avant-garde album recorded under his leadership (though it’s actually somewhat quieter than his appearance as one of the featured soloists on ‘Communications’ by the Jazz Composers’ Orchestra, where he really pushes the boat out). The title track finds Gato worrying away at single phrases, the stripped-back rhythm section with the unusual (for jazz) cello timbre giving the music a sense of real urgency and strangeness. Even at this stage, Barbieri’s playing seems to be coming from a very different angle to that of the other free jazz musicians with whom he was collaborating, and with whom he was being compared at the time. Many of his notes, however shrieking and shocking in sound quality, seem to come from fairly basic variations on the same initial motif, peppering his solos, giving them circular, non-developmental aspects, which builds up an intense, almost claustrophobic power.
Cellist Calo Scott also appeared on albums around this time with Archie Shepp (‘Things Have Got to Change’ and ‘Attica Blues’, from 1971 and 72 respectively), Thelonious Monk sideman Charlie Rouse (‘Two is One’, from 1974), and Carla Bley (he was one of the many musicians, Barbieri included, who appeared on ‘Escalator Over the Hill’). His playing here has a woozy, swooning quality to it – that doesn’t mean that it’s overly soupy, but the tendency for dissonances to emerge from the gradual ratcheting up of originally lyrical lines perfectly complements Barbieri’s style, and contributes to the somewhat melancholic feel of the date which marks it out structurally, as well as emotionally, from a lot of the other free jazz of the time. Listen, for instance, to the way the music stills to almost nothing around 14 minutes into the first piece on the album – listen too, to the way it’s a drum solo which marks the quietest point, Bobby Kapp demonstrating laudable restraint in not taking the opportunity to provide a loud, crash-and-bash showcase.
While this may, then, be neither the most joyous nor the most ferocious Barbieri recording available (one might almost see it as something of an anomaly in his career), it does have a very distinctive atmosphere to it which marks it out as well worth a listen. The re-issue is sparsely packaged, with no liner notes or new photographs: all you get is the music and the recording details, and in a way that’s appropriate –it often feels that Gato simply stands up and plays what he feels it necessary to play, under the compulsion of the moment, and to try and box this in with extra facts and figures would not get at that essence. It’s all there, laid bare in the music, and, despite the title, it’s no mystery: all that’s required is that you listen.
DON CHERRY – LIVE AT CAFÉ MONTMARTRE 1966, VOL. 3
Label: ESP – Disk
Release date: 2009
Tracklist: Complete Communion; Remembrance
Personnel: Don Cherry: trumpet & pocket trumpet; Leandro ‘Gato’ Barbieri: tenor saxophone; Karl Berger: vibes; Bo Stief: bass; Aldo Romano: drums
Additional information: Broadcast from the Cafe Montmartre, Copenhagen March 3rd 1966.
The great Don Cherry was in at the ‘invention’ of World Music; not as part of a conscious movement, rather as a player willing to collaborate selflessly with players from differing genres and cultures, which he did up to his death in 1995. He played in jazz, folk, and rock contexts and also embraced unusual instruments (doussn’gouni / pocket trumpet) and often sparse instrumentation to convey his music.
This CD comes, of course, from what could loosely be described as the jazz phase which started his recording career. After important recordings with Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler and George Russell, Cherry recorded his first album as a leader under his own name, the brilliant and groundbreaking Complete Communion for Blue Note in December 1965. The two long pieces on that album were recorded as suites of themes drawing on the input of bandmates as equal partners to ensure the lyrical flow of the music and to emphasise the subtle dynamics.
The CD in question was recorded live and is similarly structured. It is thrilling to hear how Cherry’s music can flow with the input of colleagues from a different continent – only the tenor player Barbieri was present on the Complete Communion recording a matter of a mere two months earlier.
The first track, Complete Communion, is a looser version of the piece which opened the album of the same name, but including a reading of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Insensatez (for a different take on the same piece, by the way, check out the version on Robert Wyatt’s Cuckooland from 2003 – a good tune travels effortlessly down the years and across genres!). Cherry and Barbieri are lyrical, subtle and quiet/loud as required by the music and Karl Berger’s vibes rise ghostlike for solos when called for – shimmering like Bobby Hutcherson on Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch album. There are differing time signatures and dynamics and the drumming of Aldo Romano intuitively follows and pushes the band. Bo Stief, the Danish bassist anchors the music and it is instructive and no small compliment to him, that Cherry’s music can be interpreted by a European band (in addition to Stief, Romano is Italian and Berger German)
The second track, Remembrance, is named after a similarly titled section of the original Complete Communion suite and develops the mood of that piece and also, maybe surprisingly, includes Ray Brown’s Two Bass Hit. Everything is treated as a musical ‘whole’ and Two Bass Hit is openly absorbed into the playing with respect for an older form of the music as it is taken forward.
Ultimately, it is absolutely fascinating to hear this music played live as suites of interconnected pieces, which was very different from the prevailing mood of most live performances in 1966, when clearly defined ‘songs’ were the usual order of things. This ESP – Disk is a window onto Cherry’s live performances in Europe, a context and openness which was embraced by an audience who were appreciative of what innovating musicians such as Cherry were trying to do at that time.
Don Cherry was a true innovator and his recordings from this period are rewarding listens for anyone interested in the genesis of the New Jazz or indeed World Music. His Complete Communion and Symphony for Improvisers are essential and this CD gives an excellent picture of these musical structures in a live context.
G.F. FITZ-GERALD & LOL COXHILL – ECHOES OF DUNEDEN
Label: Reel Recordings
Release date: 2008
Tracklist: Three Fairy Dances: Fairy Dance; Echoes of Duneden; Elfin Tree
Personnel: G.F.Fitz-Gerald: electric guitar; Lol Coxhill: soprano saxophone
Additional information: Recorded at Roxbourgh Place Hall, Edinburgh, September 1975
This duo appeared on a side long track on one of Coxhill’s early / mid 1970s for Virgin’s Caroline label, Fleas in Custard. The track, cunningly entitled Duet for Soprano Saxophone and Guitar and introduced the then comparatively unknown Fitz-gerald to a wider audience, though he had recorded the obscure Mouseproof album (now available on CD) in 1971. With the benefit of hindsight it is possible to look upon Fitz-Gerald as the forgotten man of improvised guitar. His playing does not recognisedly come from a rock or jazz background and his metallic tone and ability to hang shimmering electronic backgrounds behind Coxhill’s serpentine soprano pre-dates any number of post-punk and post-rock and industrial guitarists. One could imagine the likes of Thurston Moore and Lee Ronaldo listening intently and basing their own playing templates around Fitzgerald. Fitz-Gerald also appeared solo on the Caroline album Guitar Solos 2 in 1976, alongside contributions from Fred Frith, Hans Reichel and Derek Bailey. His recorded legacy is small so this release from Reel is a very welcome addition.
Lol Coxhill’s recorded output, and indeed profile, are much greater and his playing doesn’t disappoint here. The three pieces on the CD sound by turns improvised and written. This live recording may be part of a run of performances at the Edinburgh Festival, giving the duo time to feel their way into each others’ playing.
The first piece on this 34 minute CD, Fairy Dance, is much shorter than the other two. Echoing guitar notes and chirruping soprano give way to longer lines and unison repetition and sax overblowing. The guitar may be prepared in some way though nothing is mentioned in the sleeve notes. Fitz-Gerald’s tone is metallic and glassy and Coxhill provides continuity before a further unison passage with guitar more to the fore. The piece ends in a squall of faded feedback.
Echoes of Duneden once again features explorations of repeated phrases on soprano and guitar before a dancing figure from Coxhill and a dialogue that is almost a passage of counterpoint with both players using repitition as a prompt to each other. One loses count over the years of the various groupings, permutations and types of music which Coxhill has involved himself in but this one is certainly productive. Coxhill weaves long lines over high end plucking and low end echoes which give the illusion of two guitars and produce a wide sound frequency. In a sequence where both musicians use echo the duo react intuitively to the complex signals emanating from each others’ instrument. A busy soundscape made to sound effortless. Fitz-Gerald opens new sonic possibilities for the guitar, with broad backdrops and a wide panoply of music which stretches the canvas for Coxhill to work above or inside.After a sequnce of harmonics the piece ends with gentle plucking and a Coxhill melody including bent and slurred notes.
Elfin Tree commences with plucked clarity from guitar with a meandering sax line. Fitz-Gerald dsiplays an excellent grasp of dynamics and there are echoes of jazz guitar runs and chords. Coxhill plays long lines interspersed with low end honks before a reflective solo over chorded swells from Fitz-Gerald and another section of quick unison repeated phrases. A loud section where Coxhill uses echo as Fitz-Gerald provides ‘industrial’ backing leads into a slightly Celtic feel from Coxhill over swelling chords and a jet plane ending!
This is a very welcome and absorbing CD containing a wealth of music from a sadly under-recorded pairing. Fitz-Gerald’s playing is very advanced for the time of recording and almost certainly more influential than it was ever given credit for. A new recording of Fitz-Gerald would be very interesting and it would be fascinating to hear this duo again 30 odd years on. Anyone interested in Lol Coxhill’s disparate and excellent musical activities should start with the Spectral Soprano CD on Martin Davidson’s excellent Emanem label, or check his work on Ogun Records. Just branch out from there! (Nick Dart)
HUGH HOPPER – HOPPER TUNITY BOX
Label: Cuneiform Records
Release date: 2007
Tracklist: Hopper Tunity Box; Miniluv; Gnat Prong; The Lonely Sea and The Sky; Crumble; Lonely Woman; Mobile Mobile; Spanish Knee; Oyster Perpetual
Personnel: Hugh Hopper: Bass; guitar; recorders; soprano sax; percussion with, Richard Brunton: guitar; Marc Charig: cornet, tenor horn; Elton Dean: alto sax, saxello; Nigel Morris: drums; Frank Roberts: electric piano; Dave Stewart: organ, piano, oscillators; Mike Travis: drums; Gary Windo: bass clarinet, saxes.
Additional information: Recorded May to July 1976 at Mobile Mobile. Originally released by Compendium Records of Norway and produced by Mike Dunne and Hugh Hopper.
This recording would be considered by many as coming from the golden age of British jazz/rock when such bands as Nucleus, Hatfield & The North, Isotope, Away and of course Soft Machine produced excellent records of a decidedly non-American variety of the genre and played concerts to receptive rock audiences. Hugh, of course, was the bass guitarist in Soft Machine, providing monolithic bass riffs and strong compositions on the albums Two to Six. This CD reissue from 1977 actually reinforces what a large part Hugh played in the Soft Machine during his tenure in the band. This was his 2nd solo offering after 1984 which was released in 1973 and one of the tracks on the former, Miniluv, also surfaces on the latter, albeit in radically different format.
The track Hopper Tunity Box has a bass riff which wouldn’t be out of place on Softs 4 or 5 which stays with you long after listening and as the title suggests also contains quotes from some of Hugh’s tunes from the preceding years. The melody is played on multi-tracked recorders, giving an almost medieval feel to proceedings. Gary Windo’s presence is very strong and the track segues into the aforementioned Miniluv, also heard on the 1984 album. Hugh’s multi-tracked soprano sax is heard to great effect before Windo ends the piece.
Gnat Prong has a Hatfields feel, mainly due to the distinctive presence of the great Dave Stewart on keybords and oscillators, a musician whose career should be re-evaluated; an excellent writer and on this evidence also interpreter of the music of others. The track moves through fast unison and slower atmospheric passages. The Lonely Sea and The Sky is the track which could most readily be associated with jazz. It could be covered by others as a standard and has a slow almost reverential ballad feel, with the brass of Elton Dean and Marc Charig used effectively but sparingly. Crumble has a jaunty jazz/funk feel, with the electric piano of Frank Roberts driving the riff and Richard Brunton’s background funk guitar scratchings accentuating the funk. Excellent unison brass blowing on this piece too.
Lonely Woman is the only piece not written by Hugh, being the famous and much covered Ornette Coleman song and long one of Hugh’s favourite pieces. Although the percussion is looped, the brass players treat the piece reverentially, until finally different instruments are used to restate bits of the theme. Superbly atmospheric – one can’t help thinking that Ornette would love it!
Mobile Mobile is the sole track not featuring Mike Travis on drums. On this track drum duties are taken by Hugh’s former Isotope colleague Nigel Morris who provides a shimmering percussive backdrop behind Hugh’s bass on the initial slow section before powering Hugh and Dave Stewart through the quicker tempo section. Spanish Knee provides an excellent Elton Dean solo before the CD ends with Oyster Perpetual which features Hugh alone on overdubbed basses on a soundscape which would not have sounded out of place on 1984 but which ends this set on a cool chill out after all the previous activity.
It’s interesting to read Hugh’s notes on how the tracks were put together piece by piece. Interesting because the tracks sound like genuine back collaberations. As far as I know these tracks were not played on the road by a permanet band line up, which is a pity as the material deserves to be heard in a concert setting.
The CD has been superbly packaged by Cuneiform and can be unreservedly recommended to all followers of Soft Machine during Hugh’s tenure as bassist. An excellent and very underrated recording. (Nick Dart)
MIKE OSBORNE – FORCE OF NATURE
Label: Reel Recordings
Release date: 2008
Tracklist: Ducking & Diving; Journey’s End; All Night Long
Personnel: Mike ‘Ossie’ Osborne: alto saxophone; Dave Holdsworth: trumpet; Marcio Mattos: bass (on Ducking & Diving); Brian Abrahams: drums (on Ducking & Diving); Paul Bridge: bass (on other tracks); Tony Marsh: drums (on other tracks).
Additional information: Ducking & Diving recorded live October 1980 at Kolner Jazzhaus Festival, Koln; other tracks recorded live April 1981 in London.
This CD features live recordings of two different versions of the Mike Osborne Quartet, both including the trumpeter Dave Holdsworth, with differing rhythm sections; Marcio Mattos and Brian Abrahams on the track recorded in Germany and Paul Bridge and Tony Marsh on the London pieces.
Mike Osborne’s playing was always emotionally powerful and exciting and his writing almost invariably showed this. From the 60s to the early 80s he was a fixture on the British and European scenes until his playing career was cruelly cut short by illness.
Perhaps the track which most will be familiar with on this set is All Night Long. It appears twice in the recording of his Willisau concert on the superb Ogun album also entitled All Night Long from 1976. But as opposed to the earlier recording where the theme is stated as part of two longer sets of pieces, in this instance it stands alone and kicks along at a fast pace with an excellent solo from Osborne and Tony Marsh accenting the rhythm as only he can, before a reflective mid section, a highly charged solo from Holdsworth, rhythmic exploration from Marsh and return to the theme. Superb!
Ducking and Diving runs the whole gamut of Mike Osborne’s live ouvre; brief theme statements in unison with the excellent and underated Dave Holdsworth’s trumpet; fiery improvisations and solos, together with solos for Holdsworth, arco from Mattos and the underlying propulsion of Brian Abrahams’ drums. The piece runs through changes in tempo (post bop speed to virtual stillness) and dynamics (full band steaming to a quiet Holdsworth solo over minimal bass from Mattos), and may also contain other separate Osborne themes, as separate titles used to routinely be segued into each other in a live context. The concentration required to produce a piece as long and strong as this is immense and the audience is carried through a musical story incorporating bouncing almost bluesy passages as well as quotes from such surprising tunes as The Conga and almost a mimicing of church bells ringing. The sheer scale of the music produced by this quartet in a live context is breathtaking and all of the elements are folded into a unified whole which doesn’t fail to surprise on repeated listenings. The interplay between Osborne and Holdsworth reflects a pairing which was comfortable to both players and the respect for each other’s playing is evident throughout. Osborne’s alto is ceaselessly searching and inventive and the full range of both horns are given reign on the material. An exciting festival performance, as evinced by the crowd reaction, and a fine track to explore over time.
The London tracks are shorter than Ducking and Diving and as such tend towards a more structured performance element. Journey’s End starts with a theme statement and Holdsworth’s soaring trumpet over busy bass and drums before a questing Osborne solo, ably abetted, as ever, by Holdsworth. Paul Bridge is at the forefront before the re-entry of both horns, who play together more on the London tracks than on the Koln piece where either sat out for periods.
Mike Osborne’s name is mentioned less often nowadays than other perhaps more ‘fashionable’ saxophonists and it’s to be hoped that this CD goes some way to redressing the balance. A fine release from Reel Recordings. (Nick Dart)
SUN RA FEATURING PHAROAH SANDERS & BLACK HAROLD – LE SUN RA ARKESTRA LIVE AT JUDSON HALL
Label: Esp-Disk/ Release date: 2009
Tracklist: Cosmic Interpretation; The Other World; The Second Stop Is Jupiter; The Now Tomorrow; Discipline 9; Gods on a Safari; The World Shadow; Rocket Number 9; The Voive of Pan; Dawn Over Israel; Space Mates
Personnel: Sun Ra (Sonny Blount): piano, celeste; Pharoah Sanders: tenor saxophone; Black Harold (Harold Murray): flute, log drum; Al Evans: trumpet; Teddy Nance: trombone; Marshall Allen: alto saxophone; Pat Patrick: baritone saxophone; Alan Silva & Ronnie Boykins: bass; Cliff Jarvis & Jimmhi Johnson: drums; Art Jenkins: ‘space voice’. All musicians probably also double on percussion.
Additional information: Recorded in concert at Judson Hall, New York on 31st December 1964 as part of the Jazz Composers Guild’s Four Days in December. Tracks 1-5 previously unreleased.
Former Fletcher Henderson arranger Sun Ra has long been one of the most enigmatic and misunderstood figures in jazz and this historically important release certainly does nothing to dispel the myth. The music on this disc was recorded as part of the Jazz Composers Guild’s first and important festival, a festival which included bands led by Cecil Taylor, Paul Bley, Bill Dixon and Archie Shepp, as well as Sun Ra. Listen and marvel that it was recorded 45 years ago! Ra’s catalogue of recordings is collosal, many of the earliest being on his own El Saturn label.They are of varying quality but an early lesson in independance and self sufficiency. This recording comes from relatively near to the start of Ra’s catalogue which didn’t come to a close until the early 1990s and also features an early appearance from the tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. Interestingly the stalwart Ra saxophonist John Gilmore does not appear as he takes a brief sabbatical.
This CD is nothing if not eclectic, ranging from free jazz scream ups via quiet, tinkling passages to vocalised chants concerning space and inter-planetary travel!
Five of the tracks are previously unissued and two of these, The Now Tomorrow and Discipline 9, are outstanding. The former starts as a slow piano and flute duet. It is very stately and includes bowed bass. An instrument sounding like a middle eastern taragota also appears from the ensemble. Ra’s piano interjections take the piece into a more angular direction and the full range of the keyboard is used. Comparisons with Cecil Taylor are inevitable. The piece ends quietly before a piano introduction into Discipline 9. Imaginative brass scores (harking back to Henderson days) are underpinned by piano and Marshall Allen rises above the slow progression. A riff commences and the vocals come in – ‘We travel the spaceways from planet to planet’. The riff subsides to a walking bass and the hint of a funk progression. It’s maybe even the start of the spacerock / psychedelic future! It lopes along superbly and the horns re-enter before a quiet ending with flute to the fore. Even in 1964 this music was building on Ra’s previous output – quite astonishing and a pre-cursor to about 90 subsequent recordings!
The other three unreleased tracks are of much more variable quality and the longest, The Other World, contains a ten minute drum sequence which may have been excellent visually but is very boring to listen to. Rock drummers would be castigated for it! Brass wails at the start of the piece over the barrage of the two drummers, with Sanders screaming to the fore and Ra very active. Patrick interjections segue into a Sanders solo and Evans trumpet runs before the drum sequence…… Cosmic Interpretation is a short, quiet piano and celeste introduction over bowed bass whilst The Second Stop is Jupiter is possibly one of the earliest mentions of outer space in jazz! It also features fun vocals.
The previously issued tracks show a broad range of Ra’s writing and musical activity. Differing piano styles, brass fanfares, intense ensemble playing dropping to slow, contrasting, quiet bowed bass passages. Percussion moves from barrages to quiet, tinkling and bells and ranges from supporting to interactive roles. Rocket Number 9 sees Sanders to the fore and Dawn Over Israel slows down after the energy of the concert with quiet flute from Murray and piano. Murray’s flute vocalisations are astonishing in The Voice of Pan with Ra’s writing for flute and bass outstanding.
The fact that this CD features unissued Ra pieces makes it important. Ra is misunderstood and his output is in need of appraisal. This release ought to be a springboard for that. Space is indeed the Place! (Nick Dart)
PAM AND GARY WINDO – AVANT GARDENERS
Label: Reel Recordings
Release date: 2008
Tracklist: We’re On Our Way/Primal Stream (duo); Roarin’; Shepp Heard; Bass Space; Frank’n’Myrrh/Incensed (trio); Maiden Stone (quartet)
Personnel: Pam Windo: piano (all tracks); Gary Windo: tenor saxophone & bass clarinet (all tracks); Frank Perry: percussion (on trio tracks); Harry Miller: bass; Louis Moholo: drums (on quartet track)
Additional information: Duo and quartet tracks recorded live at Maidstone College of Art, autumn 1976 and trio tracks recorded Highgate, London February 1974.
This CD features three elements which have not been available to listeners through the years: Gary Windo playing in a fully improvised context; an appearance on CD by the former Ovary Lodge percussionist and sound sculptor Frank Perry; and the piano playing of Pam Windo. The excellent rhythm section of the late bassist Harry Miller and drummer Louis Moholo, the staple of so many Ogun recordings is also present on the final track.
Even after a number of plays it is difficult to critique this CD. The recordings come from either one or two different concerts and what seems to be a private session and the different groupings produce results of differing quality though Pam and Gary Windo are present throughout. They also come from a very fertile period of time when musical exploration via improvisation was still excitedly moving forward from the early explorations of the likes of SME and AMM. Perhaps a clue to the music lies in some of the track titles, and indeed the CD title – is there a less reverant side to this music? Gary Windo’s own piercing style is evident. His energy is infectious and a useful, though maybe obvious comparison on this CD is with the great Peter Brotzman.
Gary Windo is dominant on the duo tracks, with his shrieks and grunts verpowering Pam Windo’s clusters, trills and runs in a manic free form duet which then moves into a quieter, reflective tenor over low key comping. The second part of the duo track, Primal Stream, is just that; a powerful, gruff determined solo from Gary Windo, short bursts with periods of silence before ending on longer statements.
The first of the trio pieces lives up to its title and shows Perry in uncharacteristically loud and rumbustious form, with tumbles of percussion and a whirler. Pounding piano in upper and lower registers is also heard before the raucous introduction of Gary Windo’s bluff interjections over Perry’s clatterings. The next trio piece starts quietly with Perry providing a shifting backdrop for elegant Gary Windo and sparse piano. This is the sort of playing more readily associated from Perry – cymbal splashes and subtlety. Bass Space, as the title suggests, is a bass clarinet solo for Gary Windo. The final trio track is the finest piece of music on the CD, the players seemingly having settled into the music. Perry’s atmospheric introduction sets the piece up with bells, chains and cymbals before leading into big, crashing piano chords and Gary Windo screaming before high energy piano runs and even a false ending!
The quartet piece with Miller and Moholo starts with a blues rhythm and is somewhat stilted. Gary Windo blows abstractedly over the top before the piece dissolves into a free form discussion. Moholo comes to the forefront and Miller adds arco interjections with flowing piano in evidence.
During this time period many improvisational gigs were played and this CD doesn’t display any greater accomplishments than many others. It’s a curate’s egg – an excellent piece book-ended by more ordinary fare; an uneven record but one which reflects the questing spirit of the times. (Nick Dart)
JIMMY WOODS SEXTET – CONFLICT
Label: Original Jazz Classics
Release Date: 2003
Tracklist: Conflict; Coming Home; Aim; Apart Together; Look to Your Heart; Pazmuerte
Personnel: Carmell Jones (trumpet) Jimmy Woods (alto sax) Harold Land (tenor sax) Andrew Hill (piano) George Tucker (bass) Elvin Jones (drums)
Additional Information: Recorded Los Angeles, CA, March 25 & 26, 1963
Notable as an early recording date for Andrew Hill and as one of the few instances of altoist Jimmy Woods’ playing, this is one of those neglected albums that would seriously prick up people’s ears if it was better known. Not only are the musicians all on fine form, but the whole thing has a subtle organic structure to it that moves beyond the simplicities of hard-bop blowing vehicles.
Although still alive and still, apparently, playing local gigs in Anchorage, Alaska, of all places, Woods pretty much disappeared off the scene after a small number of recordings in the early 60s. Having inherited his parents’ real estate holdings, it sounds like he hasn’t done too badly for himself, so at least his is not another one of those jazz musician tales of woe. But still, one can’t help thinking what might have been if he’d kept on the scene – perhaps if he had moved into free music, as his playing, still primarily in a hard-bop bag, has something of the looseness of Jackie McLean’s work from the same period. As it is, his two dates for Contemporary Records, of which this is the second, are probably the best chance to hear what he could do, though he did record as a sideman with Dexter Gordon, among others.
Woods’ tone on alto is at once smooth and piercing, swooping around on the fast be-bop runs that one might expect, but eliding and slurring them – or appearing to do so – in a way that gives them a much more unpredictable edge. Though not an all-star line-up, his band on this date is extremely good: Hill, about to kick-start his own series of recordings on Blue Note records, is first-class; trumpeter Carmell Jones adds a certain hard bop swagger to proceedings; Harold Land is always good value, though he’s admittedly somewhat overshadowed by Woods, and not as authoritative as he would be several years later with Bobby Hutcherson; George Tucker does what’s required of him, even if he’s not as distinctive a voice as, say, Richard Davis on Hill’s recordings; and Jones brings bags of latent energy into every strike of his kit.
I think I actually prefer the alternate take of ‘Conflict’ to the released version – it’s less straightforwardly hard-swinging, and works more subtly in its mixture of restraint and bursts of more strident playing, with Hill acting as something of an in-band conductor, to ensure that everything ebbs and flows nicely. Despite its title, then, the piece (on both takes) begins in jaunty fashion, with Hill’s sprightly chords underlain by Jones’ drums, which have a distinct spring in their step – indeed, it seems as if the whole band is skipping along on their toes, buoyed along by the music so that their feet barely have to touch the ground. Hill’s backing seems about to be bringing a more solemn tone into Harold Land’s opening solo, but soon returns to sparser and more jolly chords which suit Land’s bebop turn and the bright declamations of trumpeter Carmell Jones. Jones momentarily ups the heat and one suspects a be-bop blowout might be about to ensure, but solos are kept fairly short on this date, and Hills’ solo is more urbane. As if to compensate, Woods swoops in, loud, slurred, drunken runs as if he can barely keep in control of the bebop lines he clearly knows how to handle, firing up to high cries and repeated upper-register flurries. Jones’ solo doesn’t quite burst out as it could do, perhaps due to Hill, whose presence seems like something of a restraining influence, though not necessarily in a bad way – the track’s concision is a nice thing, the soloist forced to make interesting statements in the little space they have. Hill prods the direction of the music, laying down well-placed chords, or, indeed, leaving spaces where one would expect him to play, while Jones is always ready to prod the band a little, to add a little extra heat.
The album’s ballad feature, ‘Look to Your Heart’ finds Woods as the sole horn, and his treatment of the melody is soft and quiet and sweet, almost as if he’s restraining himself for his solo feature. Hill and Jones, underneath, keep up that slightly jaunty pace that we heard on ‘Conflict’, as if they, too, are just waiting for Woods to take off. Reaching the end of the melody statement, Woods signals the transition with a sudden drop to a rephrased low, then up to some high cries. Hill drops out and Woods drops back a little, playing around, testing the waters; a repeated declamation brings Hill back in and the heat’s back on, repeated high phrases building in passion. Hill’s solo is already full of the kind of phrasing you hear on his classic early Blue Note dates, with something of an edge to it that suggests it could suddenly scamper out of control. Woods treats the melody with a certain yearning, there’s something more than just sweet here – even a touch of desperation? – though the final little concluding touch is as lovely as any of Coltrane’s final flurries.
‘Pazmuerte’ begins in more openly questing fashion, though the initial statement is followed by a relaxed and elegant Latin melody. Hill takes things at a nice clip for a short solo, with Carmell Jones’ trumpet alternating between mute and open behind him. The repeated clip-clop of Hill’s chords brings in Land, Jones perhaps less urgent but the track by now transformed into a piece of energetic hard-bop. Woods picks up on the little sudden rise signalling the end of the trumpet solo and bursts in with some burning Latin, spending so long on his held notes that he almost threatens to break out of the chord structure and play free, dragging the rhythm section with him. Hill straightens his tie with a flourish, playing around the chords, with which he is clearly taken, hammering them home.
There’s plenty more to listen out for – three tracks in between those I’ve described, and three alternate takes which give those which were released a run for their money. Really this disc deserves to be held alongside Hill’s ‘Black Fire’ and any of those fine early 60s free(ish) hard-bop dates – if Woods had kept a higher profile, it probably would have. As it is, those who approach it as an obscure item in Hill or Elvin Jones’ discographies should realise that it’s much more than a curiosity item. Well worth tracking down while it’s still available. (David Grundy)