ANTHONY BRAXTON / JOE FONDA – DUETS 1995
Label: Clean Feed
Release Date: 2007 (orig. 1995)
Tracklist: All of you; Relentlessness; Out of the Cage; Something from the Past; Composition 168+147; Composition 136; Composition 173; Autumn in New York
Personnel: Anthony Braxton: C-melody and alto sax, contrabass and B-flat clarinet; Joe Fonda: bass
This album was originally released by Konnex, one of those unsung milestones that necessitate of a reissue in order for people outside the experts’ circle to dip their toe in something that is described – often, and very superficially – as difficult, if not plain hostile. I’m referring to Anthony Braxton’s music, one of the most important expressions of advanced composition and off-commonplace reed playing of the last century, which jazz purists classify as “too cerebral”. I remember, a while back, a review of a Leo CD in which the poor writer misjudged Braxton’s quarter-tone dexterity and unyoked improvisational acumen as “errors” in the interpretation of some standard, causing an amused email reaction by Leo Feigin himself who reportedly was “roaring with laughter” upon reading that nonsense. In these duets, in which the saxophonist plays C melody and alto sax, contrabass and B flat clarinets, bassist Joe Fonda – himself a stalwart of intelligent jazz – lends his dazzling technique, both with arco and bare fingers, the couple generating music that features everything at the right place in the right moment. The record is opened and closed by two homages to tradition, “All of you” and “Autumn in New York”; I dare you to find more atypical approximations and tasteful deviations from the classic rendition of such well-known pieces, all the while without lacking an ounce of respect for the originals. But, as told before, this could be a good entrance door for “Braxton beginners”; if one looks for more dramatic absences of compromise, “Composition 168+147” will do the job, Braxton’s unpredictable flutters, superb dissonant lyricism and forward-looking open mindedness once again making the difference. Not between himself and other players, but among prepared and unprepared audiences.
(Review by Massimo Ricci, originally published at ‘Touching Extremes’ – http://spazioinwind.libero.it/extremes/touchinghome.htm)
JOHN COLTRANE – MY FAVORITE THINGS: COLTRANE AT NEWPORT
Release Date: March 2007
Tracklist: I Want To Talk About You; My Favorite Things; Impressions; Introduction By Father Norman O’Connor; One Down, One Up; My Favorite Things.
Personnel: John Coltrane: soprano and tenor saxophone; McCoy Tyner: piano; Jimmy Garrison: bass; Roy Haynes: drums (1-3); Elvin Jones: drums (5,6).
Additional Information: Tracks 1-3 recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival, Rhode Island, 7/7/1963 (previously released, in edited form, on ‘Newport 63’). Tracks 4 and 5 recorded at the Festival, 2/7/1965, and originally released on ‘New Thing at Newport’.
I don’t know just how many versions of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” John Coltrane recorded, but conservatively speaking it numbers in the dozens, the majority of them performed by the “classic quartet” of Coltrane on saxophone (soprano), McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums, but several versions do feature different lineups, too. The song held a deep fascination for Coltrane; it was a measuring stick for his mastery of the soprano, for his bands’ cohesiveness and communication; and for listeners, it provides insight into the development of the sound John William Coltrane heard in his head. It varies from the buoyant near-pop hit originally recorded and released on the album of the same name (Atlantic, 1960) to the brutal and coarse assault of 1967’s The Olatunji Concert, recorded shortly before his death. In between, there are shorter versions, and marathon versions with lengthy bass solos. I probably have a dozen or more iterations in my collection, and it seems every time I buy another Coltrane release (which I do with alarming regularity), my wife jokingly asks, “Does he do ‘My Favorite Things?’” It’s an apt question, for what can be the appeal of hearing the same song over and over and over again by the same musician? The answer is that it is always and never the same.
The dervish-like sound of that soprano horn is a constant, as is the obvious commitment, skill and passion of the musicians involved. But in almost every other respect, they are unique. The sound, the feel – there is always some detail which differs in the telling. The 1960 Atlantic is joyful and breathless; the nearly hour-long Japanese performance is grueling but rewarding; the above-mentioned Olatunji version is harrowing and raw; the Half Note recording sounds more exotic than most others. Interestingly, there are two versions on the latest live Coltrane CD release (and I sincerely hope they keep uncovering/repackaging/recombining this stuff), fittingly titled My Favorite Things: Coltrane Live at Newport. The CD is a compilation of Trane’s performances at that revered Rhode Island festival in 1963 and ’65 with his quartet. What’s noteworthy is that the two performances feature slightly different lineups – the classic group in ’65, but with veteran drummer Roy Haynes filling in for the, um, “ill” Elvin Jones in 1963.
What the 1963 version makes plain is the exact nature and overall importance of Jones’ contribution to the quartet’s sound. There is no question that Coltrane’s horn is the lynchpin of the whole, this music machine which, even at it’s most unrestrained and out, retains an elegiac sound – the sonic embodiment of the leader’s spiritual quest. But Jones’ high-hat, his momentum, the series of mini-crescendos he produces, are a sizeable contributor to that brimstone-scented religiosity. Without them, the band is a different entity altogether.
The 1963 version with Haynes on drums is lighter, skippier, than most others. It has a snap generally not present with this group (and that is most certainly not a criticism, simply an observation), a hard-bop oomph as opposed to a church music bombast. Haynes leads the group down different paths, producing a sound which suggests this band might’ve had a career as a supremely professional club act, had they chosen to pursue that end.
Jones is irreplaceable. Without him, the Classic Quartet would’ve been a different band. Haynes is himself a consummately skilled drummer, a true great, but what would A Love Supreme have sounded like with him and not Jones in the chair? The 1963 Newport performance is stunning and wondrous, and singular in the panoply of Coltrane’s performances of the song. But its greater importance is in removing one of the legendary group’s key elements and, in doing so, confirming that element’s significance to the band’s astonishing body of work.
I will forever be transfixed by John Coltrane’s renderings of “My Favorite Things,” a warhorse of a standard that would prove the artist’s longstanding obsession. It was his Leaves of Grass, the thing to which he returned again and again, tweaking, further exploring, revising, plumbing, editing. This latest available version has added a new dimension to my appreciation of the song, and of the band which performed it so many times.
(Review by Andrew Forbes, originally posted at ‘This is Our Music’ blog – http://thisisourmusic.blogspot.com/2007/08/my-favorite-things-or-what-difference.html)
MILES DAVIS – THE COMPLETE ON THE CORNER SESSIONS
Release Date: October 2007
Additional Information: 8th and last in Columbia’s series of Miles Davis boxsets. Liner notes by Bob Belden, Tom Terrell and Paul Buckmaster. As well as tracks previously unreleased in full/ previously unissued, the set contains music also available on the separate albums ‘On the Corner,’ (*) ‘Get Up With It,’ (**) and ‘Big Fun.’ (***)
CD1: On The Corner [unedited master]; On The Corner [take 4]; One And One [unedited master]; Helen Butte/Mr. Freedom X [unedited master]; Jabali.
CD2: Ife (***); Chieftain; Rated X (**); Turnaround [Agharta Prelude], Take 14; U-Turnaround [Agharta Prelude], Take 15.
CD3: Billy Preston (**); The Hen [Untitled Original 730104 (take 1)]; Big Fun/Holly-wuud [take 2]; Big Fun/Holly-wuud [take 3]; Peace [Untitled Original 730726b (take 5)]; Mr. Foster [For Dave].
CD4: Calypso Frelimo (**); He Loved Him Madly (**).
CD5: Maiysha (**); Mtume(**); Mtume [take 11]; Hip Skip [Untitled Original 741106a (take 2, part 1)]; What They Do [Untitled Original 741106b (take 14)]; Minnie [Latin (take 7)].
CD6: Red China Blues (**); On The Corner/New York Girl/Thinkin’ Of One Thing And Doin’ Another/Vote For Miles (*); Black Satin (*); One And One (*); Helen Butte/Mr. Freedom X (*); Big Fun; Holly-wuud.
Miles Davis: trumpet, organ, electric piano; Bennie Maupin: flute, bass clarinet; John Stubblefield: soprano sax; Sam Morrison: tenor sax; Dave Liebman, Carlos Garnett, Sonny Fortune: soprano and tenor sax, flute; Wally Chambers: harmonica; Wade Marcus: brass arr.; Billy Jackson: rhythm arr.; Harold ‘Ivory’ Williams, Herbie Hancock, Lonnie Liston Smith, Cedric Lawson: electric piano, organ, synthesizer; Chick Corea: synthesizer; Pete Cosey, Cornell Dupree, Dominique Gaumont, John McLaughlin, Reggie Lucas, David Creamer: electric guitar; Colin Walcott, Khalil Balakrishna: electric sitar; Paul Buckmaster: cello; Michael Henderson: electric bass; Jack DeJohnette, Al Foster, Jabali Billy Hart, Bernard Purdie: drums; Jabali Billy Hart, James ‘Mtume’ Foreman, Don Alias: congas, percussion, handclaps; Badal Roy: tabla.
So, 2007 sees the final chapter in what’s been an interesting project: Columbia’s series of Miles Davis boxsets. It’s telling that these have generated just as much, if not more interest, than most jazz released by contemporary artists – even beyond the grave, Miles casts a shadow over the music that’s hard to escape from.
I must admit that I was greatly looking forward to this one, my appetite having been whetted by a couple of bootlegs featuring some of these pieces from the On the Corner sessions, among a plethora of other mid-70s offcuts. I love the feel and the texture of the music, quite different to what came before and after it – much more influenced by what would now, I suppose, be called ‘world music,’ with its plethora of sitars, congas, bongos, kalimbas, cowbells, and so on – full of sinuous, twisting, evasive solos from some of the top players in the business. I love the audacity with which Miles constructs pieces from maybe just one simple riff, over which he lays down a magic carpet of rhythms and strange instrumental combinations and juxtapositions – distorted, Hendrixian guitars, strange synth whistles, seedy electric organs, cool and languorous flutes, burbling bass clarinets, wailing soprano saxes, biting wah-wahed trumpet. I love the complex emotional state he navigates: from mocking to triumphant to unutterably sad. There’s a lot I love about it, as I love all of Miles’ 70s outputs, for all its flaws.
How to listen? How to experience this dauntingly large box-set? Perhaps the best way is to sit down, lie down, make yourself comfortable, for however much time you have – several hours, preferably – and just soak it all in. You can’t really capture its essence in snippets heard here and there – it is a music of moments in some ways, but that’s not how it feels when it’s coming through your speakers. Instead, it seems to create a single, extended, almost trance-like moment, that may extend across whole tracks, or even whole CDs. It reveals itself in an unwinding, uncoiling way, fitting in with these pieces’ origins as, essentially, studio jam sessions: you may be struck by occasional flashes of extreme beauty or invention, but the focus is far more on the overall feel of the piece, the groove, the atmosphere. Depending on your mood, this can seem beguilingly unusual, but it can also lead to an irritating lack of focus, and sections which meander or plod along, unsure of their direction.
That accusations of ‘selling-out’ should still be considered a valid possibility, let alone mentioned, strikes me as absurd; granted, Miles’ 80s output may to some extent make concessions to the prevailing tastes of the day (synths, drum machines, square pop beats) at the expense of artistic integrity, but his late 60s and 70s music is arguably the most challenging of his entire career. Perhaps the impression was enhanced by Miles himself, and by the marketing men at Columbia: he was big on rhetoric about connecting with the black youth of his time, who were tuned into James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone, and the presence of Corky McCoy’s garish yet quirky street culture caricatures on the front cover probably sent strait-laced jazz fans running for cover. Elegant it wasn’t, and, for the most part, neither was the music – it was alternately tight and messy, full of controlled fury channeled into obsessive bass grooves and chattering percussion.
When Miles did actively connect with the musical material of the popular artists of the time, the results were inevitably very different than the originals. This is what made his version of ‘Human Nature’ in the 80s so disappointing – he did very little with it, coming perilously close (in the studio version at least) to the sort of unadventurous, bland covers you’d expect from the likes of Kenny G. As far back as ‘Filles de Killimnajoro’, the bass-line from Hendrix’s ‘Wind Cries Mary’ became an element in an impressionistic, keyboard-rich delicate landscape of ‘Mademoiselle Mabry’. Here, it’s Minnie Riperton’s ‘Loving You,’ getting a fairly straight treatment (prefiguring the 80s approach), but Miles turns it into a bittersweet lament, incredibly simple compared to Mabry, but with a throat-catching beauty about it that turns the 3-minute instrumental pop song into something amazingly tender and superlatively, meltingly lovely.
The reason for this appeal, and something which lies at the heart of all these tracks, is a deep sense of melancholy, sometimes rather bitter, sometimes sweetly mournful. It might be too simplistic to see it as merely a reflection of the times (the failure of 60s idealism, the ignominious end to America’s involvement in Vietnam), but some sense of that has, I think, to come across: musicians are influenced by their contexts – Miles openly so. Yet one still needs to ensure that this is primarily enjoyed and digested as music, rather than history, as an aesthetic experience first and a cultural document second (if at all).
Even on the up-tempo numbers, like the boisterous reggae rhythm of ‘Hip-Skip’ (on which guitarist Pete Cosey plays drums), the overall impression is one of a desperate seriousness, at least in Miles’ solo. You can hear how this changed in his generally far more optimistic playing, a decade or so later, on the reggae track from the album ‘Aura’, where he plays bright, clean, open. Here it’s much darker.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise how essentially bleak this music is, something far from most of the pop music of the time. Though unacknowledged, it may primarily be this that has been picked up on by today’s underground scene. True, the ‘IDM’ of artists like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher or Autechre plays to clubs full of people out for ‘a good time,’ and for an escape from contemporary societal realities, but at the same time, could it subconsciously remind them of the very things they flee from? Thus, though it apparently eschews a concern with politics, or religion, or anything of that gravity, it constitutes some sort of implicit cultural critique, or at least, a reflection of society’s foibles. I’m not sure anybody’s really picked up on this – the musicians themselves might deny it, and probably would – but I feel it’s nevertheless an important part of Miles’ legacy, and it’s perhaps the reason why we keep listening, why we feel so compelled and fascinated by the music of a man journeying into a dark period in his life, even to the edge of madness.
This box-set, then, is Miles’ heart of darkness. Much of it is far from essential music (sprawling, meandering, cluttered, dense – all valid criticism), and yet, and yet…It’s stuff that no one else attempted, and thus, even if not fully realised, it’s a darn sight better than the work of others fully realizing their aims with more limiting and conventional spheres. Plus, if Miles couldn’t fully realise it, who could? The music on this box-set is a gauntlet thrown down over 30 years ago which so far no one has dared to pick up in more than fleetingly.
I could end the review there, but I don’t feel I can, as I would seem to be encouraging you to splash a sizeable chunk of your hard-earned cash on this mega-expensive box. As with all the Columbia Miles boxes, it could have been trimmed a bit. For one, much of the music has nothing to do with On the Corner – disc 4 is just the two long pieces off ‘Get Up with It,’ recorded long after OTC had been released. Indeed, the whole of that album (2 discs worth) is included here, while ‘Ife’ is on Big Fun, and the alternate takes for OTC are barely different, so don’t get much new music for your money. The comprehensive essays and recollections, previously unpublished photos, detailed recording information, and sumptuous packaging (albeit with the rather frustrating fact that the booklet has been glued into the spine), are a tempting prospect. But, rather than milking this cash cow, it might have been a better idea on Columbia’s part to releases this as a 3-disc set. Why didn’t they? Well, 6 CDs sounds so much more impressive than three, and, after the massive Jack Johnson and Cellar Door boxes, maybe they felt they had to keep up the bulkiness to retain public interest, and to give an impression of comprehensiveness. The problem is that the unissued tracks are worth hearing – but I’m not convinced it’s worth spending £50 or more to hear them, and to replicate lots of stuff which is probably already in your collection. Columbia won’t thank me for saying this, but I’m going to end up advising you to treat this one with caution – wait till a second-hand copy turns up for £20 quid on Amazon, or download the tracks you need from itunes.
(Review by David Grundy)
BOOKER ERVIN – THE FREEDOM BOOK (Rudy Van Gelder Remaster)
Release Date: May 2007
Tracklist: A Lunar Tune; Cry Me Not; Grant’s Stand; A Day to Mourn; Al’s In; Stella by Starlight (Bonus Track)
Personnel: Booker Ervin: tenor sax; Jaki Byard: piano; Richard Davis: bass; Alan Dawson: drums
Additional Information: Recorded 3rd December 1963; originally released 1964.
Released amongst a batch of albums from the 1950’s and 60’s that have been re-mastered by Rudy Van Gelder, Booker Ervin’s “The Freedom Book” ably demonstrates that there were those musicians outside the cauldron of the bands led by Coleman, Davis and Coltrane who also had their fingers on the pulse as to where the future of jazz might lay. It is hardly surprising that, amongst fans of this era of jazz, Booker Ervin’s “The Freedom Book” is still held in high esteem by many.
Forty –four years later, this record can be seen as something of a crossroads between the Hard Bop favoured by labels like Blue Note and a newer generation fascinated by the prospect of opening the music up rhythmically, harmonically and even structurally. As the liner notes point out, today we might describe this as inside / outside playing – very much the calling card of an improviser worth his salt in 2007. Back in 1963, this was pretty radical.
Amazingly, although some of the musicians had worked with each other before this date, this record is the culmination of a session a mere five hours after they had first played together as a group. The result is freshness in the music and all four musicians contribute remarkably explorative solos. On the downside, other than the two sumptuous ballads (including “Cry me not” written by Randy Weston) and the bonus warm up track, the standard “Stella by starlight”, the up-tempo themes are not particularly memorable. They seem to be merely jumping off points for some remarkably creative playing.
The leader’s big tone comes straight out of the Texas tradition of tenor players with a slightly chewy sound and a muscularity that adapts well to the more sombre material such as “Cry me not” and “A day to mourn.” This latter composition is a dedication to J.F.K. who had been assassinated only a matter of weeks beforehand. The most impressive track is the blues “Grants Stand” that, despite being an almost throwaway motif, includes some fantastic playing by the pianist Jaki Byard whose scurrying runs evoke those that Cecil Taylor was making at that time on records such as “Conquistador.” You can almost hear the bars breaking during his solo. Commencing with a series of dissonant chords, this excursion represents one of the highlights of this record. Elsewhere, Byard demonstrates his ability to play with the sensitivity of Bill Evans whereas on the opening section of “Al’s In”, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were listening to Duke Ellington. Under-pinning the group is bassist Richard Davis’ who graced many classic forward-looking recording sessions during the 1960’s with his propensity to eschew the more obvious notes associated with the harmony. His bass lines deserve close attention throughout this record. Together with the adventurous palette of Byard , the shifting tonal colours really pull against the lines played by Ervin on tracks like “Al’s In” where Dawson’s propulsive drumming combine with them to dissemble the notions of time, harmony and form. Dawson, who was the drum tutor at Berklee College at the time, is the surprise package on this session and his responsiveness to his colleagues makes you scratch your head as to why such a phenomenal musician should not be better known.
Although there are other records that better serve as benchmarks in the emergence of Free Jazz during this period, Booker Ervin’s “The Freedom Book” does not deserve to be over looked and beautifully illustrates a time when some of the standard vocabulary of today’s jazz musicians was being worked out afresh. Recommended. (Review by Ian Thumwood)
BURTON GREENE – BLOOM IN THE COMMUNE
Release Date: November 2007
Tracklist: His Early Band/His ESP First Recording (interview); Cluster Quartet; Ballade II; Bloom in the Commune; Taking It out of the Ground; Interview- Recap of Session I & II (Bernard Stollman); How He Got Involved with ESP; The Music Scene; Music is Life; The Mind Set of That Time; Albert Ayler at Slug’s Saloon.
Personnel: Marion Brown: alto sax; Frank Smith: tenor sax (track 5); Burton Greene: piano, piano harp, percussion; Henry Grimes: bass; Dave Grant: drums (tracks 2 & 4) Tom Price: drums (tracks 3 & 5).
Additional Information: Recorded December 18th 1965; orig. released 1965.
Not the most well-known of musicians, pianist Burton Greene was active in the New York free jazz scene of the 1960s, in which he formed the Free Form Improvisation Ensemble with bassist Alan Silva, was a member of the Jazz Composers’ Guild, and played with Albert Ayler, Sam Rivers, and singer Patty Watters. He was unusual in being a white man in what was primarily seen as a black man’s music, though this caused no problems with his colleagues (apart from critic/author Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka); indeed, Archie Shepp called him “one of the best pianists around.” However, by his own admission, he burned out, overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of the music he’d been involved in creating, and the physical and mental strain it placed on the performers (“there was a heavy mortality rate in that music, man,” he’s wryly observed). He moved to Holland at the end of the decade, where he changed direction: “I wanted to make a balm instead of a bomb” – which he did by playing Indian music under the guidance of his musical guru, sitarist Jamaluddin Bhartiya, and practising yoga under the guidance of his spiritual guru, Swamiji Satchidananda. More recently, he’s been involved in re-workings of Jewish music with the band ‘Klezmokum,’ which were critically well-received, though rejected by John Zorn for his ‘radical Jewish culture’ series. Greene is still based in the Netherlands, living on a houseboat, perhaps making more money than he did in the 60s, but not getting that much more recognition (in fact, probably even less so), and not getting many more gigs.
And so to November 2007, when his debut as a leader is re-isued by ESP records. As with another recent re-issue on the label (Sunny Murray’s self-titled album), this features about 20 minutes worth of audio interviews with Greene and ESP disk boss Bernard Stollman. Originally released under the rather unassuming name ‘The Burton Greene Quartet’, it’s been re-titled with the snappier, and rather neat title of one of the pieces played on the date: ‘Bloom in the Commune.’ The ‘bloom’, I suppose, would be ‘Ballad Number II’, although I guess it could also refer to the blooming of collective (communal) energy that characterises this sort of music – expanding outwards from melody and line to sound exploration. More likely, it’s just a neat little hook that’ll cause people to take notice of what would otherwise look like a pretty innocuous package (“hmm, neat title, I might consider buying that”).
Whether Greene will actually get any money from this reissue is doubtful (in an online interview he describes his shoddy treatment at the hands of Bernard Stollman and BYG/Actuel records in France over the years, a story which sadly rings true for many of the ‘New Thing’ artists.) Nevertheless, ESP have done a good job, and the interviews in particular are a nice touch – giving Greene a chance to reflect not only on this particular record date, but also the ’60s in general and how free jazz was characteristic of that decade’s spirit of upheaval. Traces of hippy mumbo-jumbo do creep into the conversation fairly frequently – it’s hard to take him seriously when he starts talking about the “flower-garden universe” – but his comments about music made for profit as opposed to music made with artistic integrity, still resonate with the contemporary scene.
He talks candidly about LSD, capitalist America, being an expatriot in Holland, John Coltrane, and, most intriguingly, the legendary Slug’s Saloon show, where he performed with Albert Ayler, Rashied Ali, Henry Grimes, Marion Brown and Frank Smith. Apparently the performance was such a vociferous blow-out that the piano bench was bouncing three to four feet off of the stage! One drawback is that, despite the genuine interest in hearing such anecdotes and opinions, I can’t help feeling that the additional material makes the original album into something of a museum piece, an artefact rather than a living document. That’s just my take, anyway, and the music is obviously what’s more important – so what’s it like?
Well, for a start, it features the wonderful altoist Marion Brown, perhaps still searching for a fully-formed individual voice at this stage (although he had already cut most famous moment on record, playing on Coltrane’s ‘Ascension’), and the great bassist Henry Grimes, whom Greene describes as the greatest pizzicato player in jazz. The other musicians are more obscure – both Frank Smith and Tom Price dropped out of the music, a fairly common story (the most famous examples being Guiseppi Logan and Grimes himself, who was presumed dead before his recent comeback). Still, they turn in decent performances, though it’s hard to hear anything especially individual about their playing.
The opening piece, ‘Cluster Quartet’, predictably sees Greene splashing clusters all over the piano register, and exhilarating it is too: clearly Cecil Taylor was a big influence, but perhaps more important is the legacy of maverick classical composers like Charles Ives and Henry Cowell (from whom Greene took the idea of playing inside the piano, a technique which he pioneered in the jazz field). ‘Ballade II,’ with Brown’s sweet-sour alto, again contains echoes of twentieth-century classical music, with its mood of uncertain, melancholic fragility – half-way between a love song and a lament. The title track gives drummer Dave Grant a moment in the spotlight, followed by Brown’s probing, keening solo, before the tempo and mood drop for Greene’s mysterious ruminations, mixing more conventional playing with in-the-piano scrapings and strummings, and things conclude with a hell-for-leather full-band finish. ‘Taking It out of the Ground’ marks Frank Smith’s only recorded appearance; the piece starts off quite quietly, but his solo soon takes it into the realms of ‘energy-music’ – his wailing, smeary tenor contrasts with Marion Brown’s more sweetly considered, piercing abstractions, to exhilarating effect.
In one of the interview tracks, Greene says, “I feel it’s still very fresh,” and whether it’s timeless or not, as he claims (some would say it’s very much of its time), it’s definitely a compelling snapshot of an artist, a wider ethos and an attitude to making music. “We played atomic energy music twenty-four hours a day, man, and we exploded like the Fourth of July.” – Burton Greene
(Review by David Grundy)
NOAH HOWARD – THE BLACK ARK
Label: Bo’ Weavil Records
Release Date: May 2007
Tracklist: Domiabra; Olé Negro; Mount Fuji; Queen Anne
Personnel: Earl Cross: trumpet; Noah Howard: alto sax; Arthur Doyle: tenor sax; Leslie Waldron: piano; Sirone (Norris Jones): bass; Mohammed Ali: drums; Juma Sultan: congas.
Additional Information: Initially released on Polydor in 1969 and then later reissued on a now out-of-print, Japan-only CD by the Freedom label.
Do lost classics live up to their potential, or are they only considered classics because they’re lost, because they’re obscure? Evan Parker, Derek Bailey and Han Bennink’s ‘Topography of the Lungs’ was re-issued a couple of years ago. I personally found it utterly compelling, and it was one of the early recordings that I latched onto in a period when I was just starting to discover the joys of free jazz and improvisation, but some reviews I read were more lukewarm. It’s probably right, then, to employ a little caution, not to get carried away: just because a record’s been out of print for years, just because copies never sell for less than $50 on ebay, just because word-of-mouth has it that this is a killer album, doesn’t mean that we should approach it any differently to something that’s been available for years, or that’s just come out.
To be fair, this particular lost classic was more accessible than I may be conceding: what with the growth of internet ‘sharity’ blogs, where users post MP3s of out-of-print or rare albums, often ripped from the original LPs, it was possible to track down and listen to ‘The Black Ark’ without too much time or effort. Still, the fact that this has now appeared legitimately, and the artist can now finally start making some well-deserve money and enjoy the fruit of his labours, is surely cause for celebration.
Noah Howard, for those who don’t know, is an important figure in free jazz, his searing and soulful alto sound perhaps more ‘restrained’ than some, but all the more compelling and emotionally direct for it. He’s joined on this date by monster tenor saxophonist Arthur Doyle, whose recording debut this was – and what a debut! He would go on to make the brilliant ‘Alabama Feeling’, drop out of the scene during the 80s (when he was landed in a French jail on a trumped-up rape charge), then re-emerge during the 90s for some intense gigging and recording, and he’s still around today.
The other musicians are a little less well-known: as far as I know, this is the only recorded appearance by Leslie Waldron (prompting speculation in some quarters that he wasn’t a real person, and that this was simply a nom-de-plum (in the same way that ‘George Lane’ and ‘Charlie Chan’ were pseudonyms used by Eric Dolphy and Charlie Parker to avoid contractual disputes)). In terms of obscurity, I guess trumpeter Earl Cross is a bit like Norman Howard, who played on Ayler’s ‘Witches and Devils/Spirits’, then converted to Islam, and disappeared from the jazz world (though his own ‘Burn Baby Burn,’ co-led with saxophonist Joe Phillips, has just been re-issued by ESP Disk). Cross was perhaps slightly more high-profile, leading one session of his own on the German Circle label, and taking sideman duties on three Charles Tyler albums (including the very fine ‘Saga of the Outlaws’ for Nessa).
Bassist Sirone, though not exactly be a household name, got around a bit more than Cross and Waldron, most notably as a member of the Revolutionary Ensemble, with Leroy Jenkins and Jerome Cooper, and a sideman in the Cecil Taylor Unit that recorded ‘One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye.’ Drummer Mohammed Ali (brother of Rashied, and, according to Sunny Murray, actually the better drummer of the two, though he has a far lower profile) was another one who appeared on several late 60s and 70s records, with the likes of Frank Wright, Bobby Few, Archie Shepp, Alan Shorter, and Albert Ayler, before dropping out of sight. Meanwhile, the percussionist Juma Sultan appeared subsequently on one Archie Shepp album, although he’s perhaps best known for playing with Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock and appearing on some of the guitarists’ posthumous albums. From what I can gather, he was also heavily involved in the ‘Loft Jazz’ scene of the 70s, and did a pretty comprehensive job in documenting a whole lot of exciting avant-garde jazz, both in audio and video form. More information can be found at: http://www.clarkson.edu/ projects/ jumasarchive/index.php.
Anyway, before everything gets too anorakey, let’s get back to the music. The tracks often start with simple, catchy, hummable melodies, before taking them to passionate extremes, where the sound of Arthur Doyle’s BURNING sax is a particular highlight, over thick chunks of Waldron’s piano, and sometimes in tandem with Cross’ trumpet playing, which is endowed with the same grainy, throaty, aggressively forward feel found in the great free jazzers Alan Shorter, Don Ayler, Norman Howard, and Don Cherry.
There’s a somewhat cosmopolitan feel: from the Latin/film noir-flavoured ‘Ole Negro’, with Few’s jazzy solo, to the Orientalism of ‘Mount Fuji’, which has a melody that approaches tweeness, but is actually rather charming. In any case the focus is not really on the melody itself- it serves more as a springboard for some righteous blowing and sparkling, ferocious interplay. Also note the way that, as with Coltrane, the melody seems to have become transformed once returned to –struggle and exploration making the starting-point the more precious for having been ‘attained’ the hard way; or as TS Eliot put it, “We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.”
On ‘Fuji’, Cross constructs his solo out of yelps and growls, buzzing repeated fingers and tension-building long, held notes. Doyle goes straight for the jugular, like Pharoah Sanders, concentrating on sound and emotion rather than melodic line and careful construction: wailing and screaming, he’s liable to stay in the extreme upper register of his horn for minutes at a time, unleashing barrages of stratospheric trills and supplications. Richard Williams had this to say about Doyle in his 1972 review of the album for Melody Maker, thus: “this man is dangerous – he never plays anything you could recognize, just furious blasts of rage. His solo on “Domiabra” couldn’t be written down, or even sorted out. It sounds more like raw energy than anything I’ve ever heard. He’s nasty, man.” Another review, with reference to that same solo, puts it more dramatically: “he sounds as if he’s trying to blow his whole body through the saxophone.”
Through all of this, the pure, smooth directness of Howard’s alto cuts through like a knife, and it is the moments when all three horns are going for it that are the most compelling on the album. Try resisting the sound of Doyle roaring, Cross blasting, Howard obsessively repeating melodic phrases or playing with yearning, lyrical fervour, undercut by Few’s splashy piano, the insistent bass strum and hum, Ali’s cymbal-work and Juma Sultan’s congas, with the use of a spacey delay sound giving them a Sun-Ra vibe (though it’s easy to lose the detail of their accompaniment in the general exaltation). No matter how good the bass solos are, and meaning no disrespect whatsoever to Sirone, they’re inevitably going to feel like a bit of an energy sapper after all the sound and fury that’s gone before, though I suppose they add useful breathing-spaces, points of repose.
It might be helpful to note here that, while the record just drowns in passion, it’s all the more effective for introducing variety in texture and mood, for mixing the bitter with the sweet and the rough with the smooth. As Howard notes in an interview, “if you’ve ever been in a black Baptist gospel church, and the choirs cut loose, you have this incredible harmony, and then you have the soloists, and the soloists go all the way out. And most of the preachers can sing too, and they’ll go all the way out. But always within the context of gospel harmony.” The balance between freedom and restriction, dissonance and harmony, noise and melody, is a difficult one to maintain, but the musicians manage it just about perfectly here.
I personally have a soft spot for another Howard album, the (still out of print) ‘Space Dimension’, which was cut a year later with a slightly smaller group, still including Doyle. It features some of the same tunes, but takes them even further out, and the contrast between Howard’s smoother, more patient and lyrical approach and Doyle’s straight-for-the-gut, throaty passion, is perhaps even more pronounced. The way they build from a simple, catchy groove to massive, noisy free jazz is a shining example of how powerful this stuff can be when done right, and has perhaps never been bettered.
That’s just my personal, perhaps quirky, preference, though, and ‘The Black Ark’ still kicks substantial ass. As one blogger comments, “I would like to feel the way these musicians must have felt during and after this set… ALL THE TIME.”
(Review by David Grundy)
BENNIE MAUPIN – THE JEWEL IN THE LOTUS
Release Date: November 2007
Tracklist: Ensenada; Mappo; Excursion; Past + Present = Future; Winds of Change; Song for Tracie Dixon Summers; Past is Past
Personnel: Bennie Maupin: soprano sax, flute, voice, glockenspiel; Charles Sullivan: trumpet (tracks 2 & 3); Herbie Hancock: piano, electric, piano; Buster Williams: bass; Freddie Waits: drums, marimba; Billy Hart: drums; Bill Summer: percussion, water-filled garbage can.
Additional Information: Originally released in 1974.
Back in the early days, ECM were not afraid to experiment, releasing albums such as ‘The Paris Concert’, by free-jazz supergroup Circle, and Marion Brown’s very avant-garde ‘Afternoon of a Georgia Faun.’ That seems to be less the case now – what with the endless Dave Holland, Keith Jarrett, and Jan Garbarek releases, Manfred Eicher’s label could be said to define some sort of moody, European mainstream (although, of course, one must not forget the presence of Evan Parker on their artist’s roster, as well as, this year, the release of Roscoe Mitchell’s ambitious ‘Compositions 1, 2 & 3’). Still, it’s hard not to feel that the 70s was a time, unlike now, when ECM truly meant ‘Editions of Contemporary Music’ – that the jazz it produced was contemporary in the sense that it was cutting-edge.
‘Contemporary’ is maybe not an appropriate word with which to describe Maupin’s luminous, lovely album, however, for, though frequently experimental, and owing little to predecessors, it has that ‘timeless’ feel about it that is a true sign of great art. As well as being the first of its kind, it’s also the last: it doesn’t seem to have had any followers, as even the musicians themselves went off on different paths – Herbie Hancock continuing the march that would lead to disco and to superstardom, Maupin following his mentor into slightly jazzier funk on records like ‘Slow Traffic to the Right’.
Probably the most obvious musical connection, in terms of the actual sound of the album, would be Hancock’s Mwandishi sextet, and his playing here echoes the feel of that band, as he adds spare acoustic piano and spacey, high-pitched, glistening keyboard touches. Of course, the year before ‘Lotus’ was released, he had progressed on to his slicker, less spacey Headhunters funk, and Maupin had taken the trip with him; his squalling soprano boosted the record’s jazz content, while millions heard his tenor on ‘Chameleon.’ But, for me, it was always the moody bass clarinet he provided for the album’s closer ‘Vein Melter’ that really hit home, and, here, he extended that atmosphere even further into realms which were quite abstract, introspective, lyrical, sometimes quite frightening.
It’s easy to deal in abstractions, vague metaphors and similes, when writing about this music, for the sound itself encourages such an approach. As one reviewer says: “structures and silences, form and emptiness, pulses and flows: it is like sensing something in peripheral vision but when turning to focus, the impression disappears. Always interesting, often surprising, sometimes frustrating, the CD is out-there and yet in-here.” This picks up on an important point: that, while ‘Lotus’ seemed like an avant-garde jazz record in some respects, overall it stood outside the free jazz and free improv camps, because of the emphasis on melody and the preponderance of sheer prettiness. You never feel, at any moment, as if this is a context in which Pharoah Sanders could start his multiphonic screaming – it’s all much more low-key than that, and while dissonance is not excluded (most notably, Maupin’s grave Tibetan temple vocals and anguished bass clarinet on the suitably-named ‘Excursion’), this is not ‘fire music’ in any respect. At a time when ECM had not yet formulated its particular style, to the extent that it has today, this record could be seen to point the way to what was to come – yet it evades categories, evades genres, evades being easily pinned-down.
Airy soprano melodies; loose, impressionistic, percussion; long, held flute tones; marimba vamps; two drummers swirling around in different stereo channels, never playing the same thing, but always countering and complementing each-other. A Downbeat magazine critic wrote that, “a more selfless album is hard to imagine” – though he could solo ably and strongly in the jazz idiom, Maupin’s style was never really about virtuosity, never really about how quickly he could run through the changes. Instead, he concentrates on colour, on texture, and if this means that he merges into an ensemble whole, leading from the inside of the band rather than from the front, so be it.
‘Ensenada’, the first track, is my highlight of the whole record. It opens, appropriately enough, with six seconds of silence, and, from there, it crawls, emerges, evolves – fluid, slippery sea-life before it’s become solid animal, flesh and bone. Buster Williams sets up a gentle rolling motion on bass, which is picked up on by Freddie Waits on marimba and Maupin on glockenspiel, while Hancock concentrates on picking his way through the texture with carefully-placed repeated figures, sometimes just single notes, sometimes melodic or rhythmic phrases – though he’s still recognisably himself, it is somehow unlike any of the playing from the rest of his career. The whole experience has what can only be described as a cinematic quality to it: that moment during a film when the narrative pauses and the protagonist moodily observes sunset becoming dusk out of a moving car traveling down a deserted highway.
Most of the pieces follow a similar pattern: build-up, tranquil melody stated by Maupin on soprano or flute, perhaps a solo or some ensemble colouring, re-statement of melody, fade to nothingness. While the relentlessly chilled atmosphere could become enervating, the two tracks with trumpeter Charles Sullivan up the ante: the aforementioned ‘Excursion’, and ‘Mappo’, reminiscent of Pharoah Sanders’ ‘Astral Travelling’ in the way the group first imply then finally state a theme – a novel way of treating melody, as if it was organically evolving out of ensemble interplay, rather than a pre-constructed jazz ‘head’. (Incidentally, ‘Mappo’ is a Buddhist term referring to the current 10,000-year period, a degenerate age during which chaos will prevail and the people will be unable to attain enlightenment through the word of Sakyamuni Buddha. Hence, perhaps, the more troubled atmosphere).
A blow-by-blow account of the record wouldn’t do it justice – it’s something you have to hear for yourself before you can fully grasp its intricacies and special wonders. I strongly urge you to seek out and explore ‘The Jewel in the Lotus’ for yourself.
Incidentally, the reissue has dispensed with the original, slightly dodgy cover art (which showed a photo of the bearded, sunglassed Maupin, supermimposed onto the middle of a rather crude, collage-like drawing of a lotus)). Mind you, I’m not sure the alternative’s a vast improvement, substituting instead a rather grey, drab, ‘moody’ design (is it me, or do all the ECM covers virtually indistinguishable nowadays?).
(Review by David Grundy)
CHARLES MINGUS SEXTET – CORNELL ’64
Label: Blue Note
Tracklist: (DISC ONE) ATFW You; Sophisticated Lady; Fables of Faubus; Orange was the Colour of Her Dress, then Silk Blue; Take the ‘A’ Train. (DISC TWO) Meditations; So Long Eric; When Irish Eyes are Smiling; Jitterbug Waltz.
Personnel: Johnny Coles: trumpet; Clifford Jordan: tenor sax; Eric Dolphy: reeds; Jaki Byard: piano; Charles Mingus: bass, vocals; Dannie Richmond: drums.
Following up from 2004’s excellent Monk/Trane album, Blue Note hit re-issue gold again with something from a more documented period that nevertheless retains considerable freshness. In this case what we hear is a very early performance by the Mingus group that played a well-known concert at New York’s Town Hall before embarking on a major tour of Europe.
Along with the reissue of 1965’s ‘Music Not Heard at Monterey…’, there is an embarrassment of riches from this extremely fertile period – what will make Cornell ’64 stand out mightily in the Mingus discography is, simply, the fact that the performance is so very good.. There is none of the workshop approach heard on ‘Music Not Heard at Monterey’, none of the berating his sidemen: just two hours of inspired, fantastically exciting creative jazz.
The sextet was formed and played a two-month engagement at the Five Spot, and during this time Mingus composed several new pieces that would be heard widely on the group’s Town Hall concert and the subsequent European tour. They never recorded a studio date, leaving behind only a few live recordings. The Cornell recording, an excellent performance that clocks in at over two hours, was lost history, unknown to discographers and historians until Sue Mingus recently unearthed the tape. One can only wonder whether any of the students in attendance that evening remembered this performance and its brilliance.
It all opens with a solo by pianist Jaki Byard, his own composition entitled “ATFW You” (ATFW standing for Art Tatum/Fats Waller). It’s a nice demonstration of his ‘total pianism’, an approach he shares with later musicians Don Pullen and Dave Burrell: the ability to move from style to style seemingly at will, but without seemingly wilfully over-eclectic. On this particular piece, he mixes florid technical flourishes and with ‘outside stride’: it points the way from the past history of jazz to its present and future, all of which were of supreme importance to Mingus.
The bandleader himself solos next, performing a warm and lyrical version of Ellington’s ‘Sophisticated Lady’ with only light chordal accompaniment from Byard.
The real meat of the program begins with the last three tracks on Disc One and continues through the first two tracks of Disc Two. ‘Fables of Faubus’, Mingus’ outspoken political rant inspired by the Little Rock school integration incident, is given a heavy workout, with a lot of room for the musicians to stretch out. Johnny Coles plays the first solo, firing long salvos of eight and sixteenth notes against the ever-more-agitated background until the rhythm section drops out and the trumpeter ushers in a sultry, bluesy line. Byard throws in everything but the kitchen sink, offering quotes from ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ and Chopin’s ‘Funeral March.’ Following Mingus’ bass solo, Dolphy takes it out with some deft bass clarinet work. Clocking in at twenty-nine plus minutes, it’s a knockout performance of one of Mingus’ best known works.
‘Orange Was the Colour of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk’ is one of the new numbers Mingus had been working on. The group had worked this one out during their Five Spot run, and the performance here is perhaps the best of the live performances they recorded. The composition stands as one of Mingus’ most beautiful, with its dusky blues motif. Mingus can be heard urging both Byard and Dolphy on during their solos, and it is magnificent to hear the great man so ebullient. The group ends Disc One with a rousing, rollicking version of ‘Take the ‘A’ Train.’ The arrangement shifts constantly, taking us on a train ride through the history of jazz, as Byard again treats us to a stride interlude followed by energetic solos from Dolphy, Mingus, and drummer Danny Richmond. As always, Richmond was right on target, giving Mingus’ compositions the right amount of swing and kick at the right time.
Disc Two opens with the half hour ‘Meditations’ (also known as ‘Meditations on Integration’), demonstrating once more Mingus’ passionate engagement with themes of injustice and racial inequality. ‘So Long Eric,’ another lengthy new composition, was a celebration of Dolphy’s tenure with the band. Dolphy had decided to remain in Europe following the group’s tour there; sadly, only months later he would pass away, making this piece more of a funereal air than was intended at the time. The group lightens up at the end, performing ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’ in honour of St. Patrick’s Day (surely the only time , and closing with an energetic ‘Jitterbug Waltz,’ highlighting the influence of Fats Waller influence, and bringing things full circle, as we recall Byard’s opening stride-piano feature.
‘Cornell 1964’ is a true gift to jazz lovers and Mingus fans. Had this recording been released many years ago, it would already have taken a deserved place as a crown jewel in Mingus’ discography. Fortunately, its rediscovery allows all of us to enjoy a piece of jazz history that is as entertaining and fulfilling as it is historic.
While the sound quality is not exemplary by any means and while similar material from this time has been available (‘Town Hall Concert 1964’, ‘Mingus In Europe Vols 1 and 2’ and ‘The Great Paris Concert’) ‘Cornell 1964’ is still a major release. At over 130 minutes and with extended versions of ‘Fables of Faubus’ and ‘Meditations’ clocking in at 30 minutes each, this is a full blooded exposure to the music of one of the key innovators in jazz.
KEITH TIPPET – OVARY LODGE
Release Date: June 2007
Tracklist: Gentle One Says Hello; Fragment No. 6; A Man Carrying A Drop Of Water On A Leaf Through A Thunderstorm; Communal Travel; Coda
Personnel: Julie Tippetts: voice, sopranino recorder, violin (Er-hu); Keith Tippett – piano, harmonium, recorder, voice, maracas; Harry Miller: bass; Frank Perry: percussion, voice, flute (Hsiao), organ (sheng)
Additional Information: Recorded live at Nettlefold Hall, London SE27, August 6th 1975, and originally released in 1976. Not be confused with the group’s second album, of the same name, released by RCA in 1973.
I remember, looking at the original sleeve of the third album by Ovary Lodge back in 1976, thinking that London SE27 must be in the exotic depths of nowhere. You never saw live albums recorded in places called Nettlefold Hall in such a remote-sounding district as SE27. In conjunction with the earthily unearthly music which the sleeve housed I got the impression that this release emerged, dripping, from the depths of nowhere.
Well, life teaches you a lot of things; and I now find that Nettlefold Hall is situated in West Norwood, at the top of Norwood High Street in a building which also houses the local public library, and moreover is located about 10-15 minutes’ walk from where I currently live. That knowledge hasn’t rationalised the music in any sense; listening to it now, the latest instalment in Ogun’s brave and, I am glad to say, increasingly frequent reissue programme, it still sounds like nothing else in music, either then or now, and moreover, Liz Walton’s modestly controversial cover design, which, shall we say, interprets the group’s name literally, still sticks out of the HMV record racks like a strangely smiling beacon.
Ovary Lodge began life as a trio, fronted by pianist Keith Tippett, in which he could exercise his free improv inclinations and perhaps catch his breath after the epic adventure of Centipede. The other key member of this initial grouping was percussionist Frank Perry; and the term “percussionist” undersells him sorely, since he was, in both appearance and outlook, New Age a generation ahead; deeply spiritual with a tendency towards the liturgical, his “kit” famously took several hours to assemble and dissemble, featuring multiple “little instruments” as well as the more familiar drum set-up, eventually expanding to incorporate Tibetan bowls, rows of wine glasses, huge ritual gongs and authentic Buddhist temple bells. This tended to incline group improvisation towards the meditative, the sustained tones, an essence of contemplation.
Whereas the group’s first two albums, both recorded for RCA, carried the impression of free jazz plus New Age without the two quite uniting, their third – which, nearly needless to say, was eponymously titled – sees the group finally achieving a true fusion. By now Julie Tippetts had joined, and original bassist Roy Babbington had left to concentrate on Soft Machine and the BBC Radio Big Band, but not necessarily in that order; in came the ever-reliable Harry Miller. So we have a quartet which ostensibly consists of vocals, piano, bass and drums, but that doesn’t even begin to tell the story.
Influenced perhaps by the AACM, and wary of coming across as too virtuoso or “learned,” Keith, Julie and Frank all made a point of doubling up on auxiliary instruments, not all of which they were intimately acquainted with (at least, not at that stage); so Chinese flutes, school recorders, various types of Oriental violins and sundry percussion and vocal chants all have a part to play in expanding the palate of the music.
The opening “Gentle One Says Hello” sets out their template, and, once again, that of New Age at least a decade ahead of its guiltily opulent wallpaper status; here, however, there is a tangible sense of spiritual questing, with all four offering long extended drones, slowly intertwining, Keith issuing ominous low piano chordings, Julie switching from scampering sopranino recorder to sustained vocal lines, Frank’s ceremonial percussion solemn as a salamander, Harry’s stern bowed bass holding it all together; the vocal interaction between husband and wife (Keith and Julie) is very affecting indeed.
But, when needs must, they can also roar. “Fragment No 6,” opening with Miller in Mingusian mood, cheerfully double-stopping his lines and setting the tempo, explodes into violent freedom, but it’s the ecstatic vibrancy of mutual discovery that powers the performance rather than anything destructive; Julie shrieks, yells, harrumphs and croons orgasmically against Keith’s furiously criss-crossing, and sometimes colliding, piano lines, Miller and Perry pushing the intensity as far as it can travel, and then further; at the four-minute mark the band appears to COME but that soon settles, but the building up starts again and gradually everything fuses together in a gargantuan and glorious noise – Julie working up to a scream, Keith practically pummelling the keyboard with his bare fists, and just before eight minutes Perry starts lashing his Tibetan bells and gongs like the volcano of punctum and all four miraculously BLOW UP in one, long, sustained, staggering ORGASM which, if you know what I mean, and of course you do, goes beyond “music.” The tide recedes, they retreat to a modal minor meditation, the track fades. No doubt the absence of this record from the public catalogue for nigh on three decades has given rise to the distorted fantasy that British free improvisation in the mid-seventies was going nowhere (as though the Incus releases of that time were not demonstrable enough proof to the contrary); newcomers will hear this and breathe bangles of radiant wonder.
Side two (as the old vinyl edition had it; tracks 3-5 on the CD) begins with the nearest thing to a groove on the record, with the fantastic haikuesque title of “A Man Carrying A Drop Of Water On A Leaf In A Thunderstorm.” Here Miller thrums out a solid bass riff as a crazed violin (I think played by Perry) starts off zigzagging in the Ornette tradition before settling on a droopy cyclical three-note loop in the venerable Tony Conrad/John Cale eternal theatre drone style which I am convinced subsequently cropped up on more than one “pop” or “rock” record, though I cannot currently recall which one(s), through which Keith and Julie provide very clearly defined recorder and vocal lines, Keith even resorting to shaking a pair of maracas and uttering Apache war whoops at the track’s climax.
“Communal Travel” at nearly eighteen minutes is the album’s centrepiece, and here the group achieves its ambition of concealing ego in favour of a collective soul, everyone enmeshed so closely that eventually it is impossible to tell who is playing, blowing, hitting or singing what (apart from Miller, who with dogged glee sticks to bass and nothing but bass throughout the entire record). With its endlessly inventive intersections of flutes, voices, chirrups, high tones, low pulses, delicate harmonium and a plucked piano interior which could practically be a harp, it is a logical if unlikely blood sister to the Brotherhood’s “Night Poem”; there is no central theme or riff diving in and out of the sonics here, but the atmospherics are beautifully handled and always on the edge of urgency – no surprise that Miller’s bass is the key anchor in both pieces – so that when the thrashing climax does eventually arrive, it doesn’t feel artificially reached but the most natural of conclusions; after that there is nothing left to say other than a minute-long “Coda,” where Keith, Julie and Frank’s voices harmonise, ascending higher and higher like nasturtiums towards a welcoming sun before they collectively squeal and ascend to the heaven of earthly revelations. Clearly, on the evidence of both this and the “new” Keith Tippett record (‘First Weaving – Live at Le Mans’) the spirit of ’67 survives in surprising but utterly truthful ways.
(Review by Marcello Carlin: originally posted at ‘The Church of Me’ blog – http://cookham.blogspot.com/2007_07_01_archive.html)
Reviews by David Grundy unless otherwise indicated
PETER BROTZMANN – THE COMPLETE MACHINE GUN SESSIONS
Just a quick note about this one, which consists of already available material brought together for the first time – the original album, and alternate takes, plus the live version Brotzmann and co. performed the same year, released as ‘Fuck de Boere’. Pretty essential stuff – a statement of protest, of collective chaos that finally descends into warped Lionel Hampton big band riffs, it’s easily Brotz’s best-known work – and probably still his best. If you haven’t got it, then this box-set should be seized on straightaway. RHWARRRRR! SCREEEEE! SSSSSSSSHOOM!
DON CHERRY – LIVE AT THE CAFÉ MONTMARTRE 1966 (Vol. 1)
Perhaps Cherry’ most interesting period, between the famed collaborations with Ornette and the later world music phase, this finds him throwing out some heavy free jazz. Captured on tape by Danish radio in 1966 and now released on ESP Disk, this one features Cherry and Argentinian, flame-throwing tenor player Gato Barbieri in front of a European rhythm section, playing a flowing set of suite-like performances. This is music that skitters and nods, disassociates and coheres, twitches and lags, floats and swings. Snatches of melody appear (including everything from themes Cherry learned from Ornette Coleman to the Tijuana Brass’s contemporaneous hit A Taste of Honey) over itchy rhythms, only to give way to other melodies and rubato space-outs.
Cherry’s self-described “cocktail” approach to performance is one that rock bands like the Grateful Dead would adopt in coming years, but in 1966 Cherry was all but alone on the cutting edge of this kind of seamless, morphing performance. Karl Berger’s vibes lend the whole affair a mid-1960s, Our Man Flint, cool as ice, feel. Perhaps not quite as compelling as the records like Complete Communion that Cherry cut for Blue Note around this time, but worthwhile stuff all the same.
ANDREW HILL – COMPULSION!!!!
At last, one of Hill’s best records get the RVG treatment, and about time too. Perhaps the most avant-garde he ever got, it’s rich and dark, moody and intricate, rising to great peaks of dissonant emotion and falling away into subdued musings. Like the best of Hill’s music, it asks more than it answers: there’s something unsettling and unresolved about both compositions and improvisations. Free jazz blog destination…out blog describes the title track thus: it contains “the most glorious four minutes of Andrew Hill’s entire career.” I personally have a soft spot for the album closer, the gorgeously dark and moody ‘Premonition’, but the whole thing’s pretty special, really. John Gilmore takes rare sideman duties away from Sun Ra, and is perhaps the star of the album, on tenor and on bass clarinet. The much-maligned Freddie Hubbard once more proves adept in a free jazz context, bassists are Cecil McBee and Richard Davis, drum chair is occupied by Joe Chambers, Nadi Qamar pops up on various African percussion instruments, and Renaud Simmons provides extra rhythmic ballast on congas. Essential listening.
NORMAN HOWARD – BURN, BABY, BURN!
If you can, try to get hold of this record (available on iTunes). It brings long-lost and/or long-forgotten music by Norman Howard, who used to be a trumpeter with Albert Ayler, recorded in ’68 with Joe Phillips on sax, Walter Cliff on bass and Corney Millsap on percussion. And it’s completely remastered on top of it. It’s free jazz at its best, not far removed from its cradle, and the sheer raw power, the emotional expressiveness, the anything-goes-attitude are truly magnificent. But it’s not a free-for-all blowing contest; the music is controlled without being too composed, opening up full of possibilities, expressing basic emotions such as anger, sorrow, joy too at moments, with a refreshing directness and musicality. The drums and bass are still strongly anchored in hard-bop, but the trumpet and sax screech, swirl and circle around each other at times without restraint, or in close unisono carrying the tune. At other times they both weep in sorrow in long melodic lines over Cliff’s arco bass, as in “Sad Miss Holiday”, one of the longest pieces and definitely one of the highlights of the album. The whole album is great without any weak points. It is coherent, visionary, powerful, emotional, expressive … in a word: fantastic! We love ESP for digging this one up and releasing it again. Respect! (Review by Stef Gijsells)
STEVE MILLER / LOL COXHILL – THE STORY SO FAR…/OH REALLY?
There’s a revealing moment in the Steve Miller interview contained in this set’s booklet, as he explains the reasons of a lengthy withdrawal due to a profound dissatisfaction with his technique. “I was hearing music that I couldn’t play”, says the late pianist. This tells everything about Miller’s honesty, while also indicating what every artist should do when they feel that inspiration is not coming in the right way. Still, this double CD is another important item in Cuneiform’s history of relevant retrievals of forgotten materials and deleted releases, as it puts back in availability two long out of print collaborative LPs recorded by saxophonist Lol Coxhill and Miller in the early 70s, which remained practically covered with the sand of oblivion until now. As it often happens with reissues of obscure records, no master tapes were available; the copy on CD derives from a vinyl-to-disc transfer with various kinds of digital cleaning. Assuming that, since you’re reading this website, you know who Lol Coxhill and Steve Miller are (…and if that’s not the case, I can’t certainly narrate their careers in pills in the space of a review – surf the web!), the material comprised here owns that fascinating aura, halfway between nostalgia and youthful enthusiasm, characterizing most of the Canterbury-related expressions of that era. Besides the ingenuous purity of the duo improvisations, one can already catch glimpses of Coxhill’s future developments as a solo performer, Miller complementing his “absolutely free” explorations with phraseologies whose structure is evident – those technical habits that he came to hate, indeed. For collectors and avid fans, there are good portions of previously unreleased goodies, including live recordings (in glorious mono) and 20 minutes from the “proto-Hatfield and the North lineup of Delivery” (Miller and Coxhill plus Phil Miller, Pip Pyle, Richard Sinclair and Roy Babbington). Those who are into this stuff will enjoy this one a lot, treating the lo-fi quality and the frequent naïveté as archival manna. (Review by Massimo Ricci)
SUNNY MURRAY – SUNNY MURRAY
A fairly typical ESP blowing session, this one’s interest lies in the bonus interview material with a charming and loquacious Murray. Recorded in 1966, the music itself features a two-sax frontline: Byard Lancaster and the little-known Jack Graham are the men screaming away, alongside the excellent Jacques Coursil on trumpet, and bassist Alan Silva. Murray, as you’d expect, keeps things very loose, and things are darker and more abstract than the Ayler group: the folky themes are gone in favour of darker territory (despite the fact that one of the track is called ‘Hilariously’, it sounds far from hilarious – and it’s soon joined by another piece called ‘Giblet’). Still, it’s not the most essential of the recent batch of ESP re-issues; go for the Burton Greene or Norman Howard first.
EVAN PARKER/ GEORGE LEWIS / BARRY GUY/ PAUL LYTTON – HOOK, DRIFT AND SHUFFLE
Hook, Drift & Shuffle is a 1983 performance originally released on the Parker/Derek Bailey Incus label, recorded at the Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels in the concert series directed by Godried-Willem Raes. Everyone except Parker uses some kind of electronics: in addition to trombone George Lewis played a number of accessory and modifying devices, most of which were amplified; Barry Guy used amplification and electronics to process the sound of the bass; Paul Lytton used cymbals, gongs, woodblocks and amplified percussion.
The improvisations provide an early example of the timbres now associated with Parker’s Electroacoustic Ensemble. Huge washes of semi-static transparent sound permeate, while transient peaks also abound; the opening moments of ‘Shuffle’ find a descending honk from Parker resonating with the electronics employed by Lytton and trombonist George Lewis, making his tenor sound bigger than life. As with the Electroacoustic Ensemble, there is the constant illusion of more musicians than are actually present, especially on the 34-minute ‘Drift’, a huge mass of intersecting plains of drone with blurred edges. Even the pointillisms throughout, including rather astonishing chipmunk vocalizations, are subservient to drones, long shrill squeals and protruding growls of epic proportions that swell and subside.
The first five minutes of ‘Shuffle’ see the use of a what sounds like a Tibetan prayer bell, coupled with liberal use of space and very quiet, noise-focussed music (AMM-style), before Parker launches into his circular breathing soprano sax moto perpetuo routine, which some are becoming a little tired of now. Impressive though it undoubtedly is, he’s essentially been pulling the same trick for years (in a way that perhaps goes against the constantly inventive nature of free improv, one could argue – he doesn’t seem to want to use the soprano in the same varied way he does the tenor, which is a real shame, as it could so very easily be more than a one-trick instrument). Here, though, variety is added by Lewis’ electronics, punctuating underneath, and contrasting with the business of the constantly flowing sax line (which nevertheless achieves a curious kind of stasis, and, in its interaction (or non-interaction) with the other instruments, a real state of tension. Compelling stuff.
SUN RA – NIGHT OF THE PURPLE MOON
This one’s novelty value only: OK, well, I have to admit that I’m not a really a convert into the ‘Church of Ra’. I know that he’s been compared to Ellington, and that his music is both immensely forward-looking and ‘futuristic’, and full of the traces of jazz history, from stride piano to swing to African rhythms and percussion. But I still find it hard to get past the ‘eccentric’ tag, and the fact that, to put it frankly, some of his music is just deeply annoying (the title track of ‘Space is the Place’, with its endlessly repeated refrain and Ra’s synthesizer-siren blaring away over muddy squawking saxophones and screeching vocalists, does little to rock to my boat). This is admittedly a different proposition to the Arkestra, however: mainly solo, it showcase Ra’s keyboard skills, and his uniquely chunky, melodic sound. On here he gets to play the Roksichord – something like an electric piano, with a vague resemblance to a Harpsichord in its sound. Basically, what this boils down to is that we have some fairly traditional tracks played on a rather tinny-sounding keyboard. John Gilmore and Danny Davis also appear – the tracks with alto clarinet provide some welcome textural variety, and one of them, Ra’s lovely composition ‘Love in Outer Space’, is perhaps the highlight of the record (though it’s been performed better elsewhere). On a couple of pieces, including that one, Ra supplements the Roksichord with a Moog synth, to fill things out a bit, and the re-issue also includes some home recordings on Wurlitzer electric piano. It’s all a bit tinny and plink-plonk for my tastes, but you may get a kick out of it, if you’re in the right mood.
SUN RA – STRANGE STRINGS
Free improvisation recorded in New York circa 1966 and 1967. Apparently Sun Ra’s only directions to his Arkestra were when to start playing and when to stop; as such, it represents an even more un-tethered approach than Coltrane’s ‘Ascension’. It’s more on the side of weird, mystifying Sun Ra head-trip than free jazz blowout, though: ‘lost in Space’ best describes this music, thanks to close proximity of a microphone that amplifies horns and strings through reverb and distortion. The second track sees the use of a piece of sheet metal and some wordless, gargling vocals, the third a ukelin (a kind of bowed and strummed zither from the early 1990s), as well as a couple of other stringed instruments: the dutar and bandura. Things reach the height of craziness in the final track, where Sun Ra ‘plays’ a squeaking door (with Mini-Moog) as accompaniment to strings and percussion. Gives new meaning to what the liner notes call “musical uncanny”. Completely mad, but oddly compelling. Hard to evaluate its significance: perhaps it’s the most innovative and important piece of improvisation ever recorded, perhaps the most ridiculous, perhaps both!
TRIO OF DOOM (John McLaughlin, Jaco Pastorius, Tony Williams) – TRIO OF DOOM
Heaven knows why McLaughlin’s finally given in and allowed these to come out, after stubbornly resisting for years. On paper, it sounded great – the ultimate fusion guitarist, bassist and drummer together as a power trio – but they just didn’t seem to hit it off (Pastorius’ drug habit was probably the main reason). After a calamitous live set at a gig in Cuba, they tried to re-record the material in a studio, but that attempt proved equally abortive, and the Trio of Doom died almost as soon as it was born – quite a well-chosen name, when you come to think about it! On this album, we get the original live performance from the ill-fated Cuba gig, and the versions recorded at the equally ill-fated studio session, which ended with Tony Williams forcing Pastorius up against a wall and destroying a drum-kit on his way out
of the studio. These were in fact the tracks released by Columbia at the time, on an obscure compilation called ‘Havana Jam’ (with audience applause added to make it seem as though they had been recorded live). The performances aren’t too bad, but given false starts and so on, it only really amounts to about half an hour of actual music. What is there isn’t very interesting, especially when you consider what these musicians were capable of on their day. One for completists, and the curious, only.