Pat Martino – deep in the music

Pat Martino

Image via Wikipedia

Not too many months ago my Partner & I saw Pat Martino in ‘Birdland‘ and were captivated by his deep-in-the-groove East Philly style.    There could hardly have been a better place to hear him, as this is one of New York’s best Jazz clubs and a friendly intimate space.

Like most out-of-towners we loitered awhile in Times Square before walking the short block to ‘Birdland’.   I could hardly believe my luck at being able to see Pat in such a setting as I had become a fan some years earlier; having developed a taste for that whole Grant Green thing.

The first of the band members to step on stage was Tony Monaco the B3 player, quickly followed by the drummer Harvey Mason.   Soon Pat appeared with his shining custom-made black Benedetto guitar at the ready – a slightly built man who quickly lost himself deep within the music.  The band leapt into their first few numbers with an apparent relish.   Obviously enjoying what they do and perhaps that is the hallmark of this Chicago – East Philly guitar -organ-drum style.   Seeming to drop deeper and deeper into the groove and then characteristically locking into a phrase until the intensity becomes almost unbearable – then as suddenly dropping back into the melody again.

When Pat plays alongside Joey Defrancesco and Byron (Wookie) Landham the band is a force nine hurricane.    No drummer works as hard as ‘Wookie” with his powerhouse locked-in beat and no B3 player owns as much of the room as Joey D.   It was however just as interesting to hear Pat with this band and they proved to be solid performers.  Tony is great on the B3 and his tendency to grimace and mug as he reaches ever deeper into the groove did not unduly trouble me.   The drummer Harvey did what good groove-drummers do and locked into Pats sound.   After the faster offerings it was a pleasure to hear Pats well-loved version of ‘Blue in Green‘(Davis/Evans) and the warmth and perhaps the hint of sadness in his sound brought a tear to the eye.    The sound Pat gets from his specially wound strings is fat and warm and it hits you right where it should; in the heart.

I have just learned that Pat is about to play at ‘Yoshi’s‘ (Oakland) and I have urged my son and daughter-in-law to go if they can.  Pat may have an amazing and unique life story, but it is the warm looping bluesy sound that gets you in the end.

Hidden in plain sight; Joe Chambers

Sometimes we don’t see what is right under our noses and that was definitely the case with me and ace-drummer Joe Chambers.   We sometimes miss drummers or bass players because it is all too easy to be dazzled by the musicians on the horns or guitars.  In Joe Chambers’s case the leaders were cats who blazed with an almost unbearable intensity and this semi-eclipse had blinded me to the intricacies of a hard grooving and in-the-pocket drummer.

I was kicking back with a friend one night when he put on Chick Corea’s ‘Tones for Joan’s Bones’.   I had wanted to hear this album for years and now from the first bar the album got right under my skin; edgy, restless, forward-looking American 60’s Jazz  – featuring Chick Corea (p), Joe Farrell(ts)(fl), Woody Shaw (t), Steve Swallow (b) & Joe Chambers (d).   This was an era when Jazz, (no longer a popular music and competing with rock), let loose a tidal wave of open-ended creativity.  Caught between Ornette Coleman and a burgeoning rock scene, the confining ‘stays’ of Hardbop were suddenly loosened.    ‘Tones for Joan’s Bones’ is a truly great album of its type and the psychedelic art work on the cover is reason enough to buy a copy.   Chick Corea’s song ‘Litha’ with its chromatic mesmerizing energies was the big hook for me and as I listened I became hyper aware of the drummer.

The name Joe Chambers had been vaguely familiar and when I looked him up I was surprised to find that he was the drummer on dozens of my favourite albums.    Classic albums by Herbie Hancock, Bobby Hutcherson, Chic Corea and Freddy Hubbard etc.

As well as listening to the group as a whole we should also develop the ability to isolate the instruments as we listen.  When we do this it is possible to comprehend the levels of interaction and the individual flights of inventiveness.   Jazz is after all a collective enterprise that supports the individual in extraordinary ways.

There are circus acts where a reverse human pyramid is formed on the shoulders of a strongman.   While watching the climbers go higher and higher, we can forget that the whole formation would fail catastrophically if the person at the bottom were to miss-step.  Joe Chambers is the strongman who waits until everyone is standing on his shoulders and then raises them even higher.  This type of drummer carries a lot of weight and in moments of high tension, causes you to hold your breath in case he falls and the band tumbles to earth with him.   Such drummers can stretch time to breaking point as the tension increases and as quickly pull it in again when the outlier musicians need recalling.    Joe is a master of this tension and release.    I may have momentarily overlooked him but many modern rappers have not; zeroing-in frequently on his edgy rhythms.

Francis Wolf - Blue Note Records

Picture Francis Wolf - Blue Note

Sonny Rollins: Way out West (Pacific)

Sonny Rollins

Image via Wikipedia

Back in January New Zealand Jazz lovers had been delighted to learn that Sonny Rollins would be in Wellington.   This band was the sole International act performing in the (temporarily truncated) Wellington Jazz Festival.  Sonny’s band is comprised of Bob Cranshaw (eb), Kobe Watkins (d) Sammy Figueroa (perc) Peter Bernstein (g).      As there are very few of the great 50’s tenor players remaining among us, my friends and I knew that we had to fly to Wellington to catch the act and had booked early.    It is lucky we did because the seats for the city’s Michael Fowler Center sold out quickly.    In an already busy Jazz year, the Sonny Rollins concert was a headline event in the New Zealand Jazz Calendar and as Sonny had turned 80 recently this was not an opportunity to be squandered.

When the band came on stage there was an initial cheer and then a slight hush as Sonny emerged – bent over and shuffling painfully.  We collectively held our breath as he shuffled to the microphone and uttered a few words.  Then a deafening roar of approval went up as the 80 year old put the golden saxophone to his lips.    It was as if a miracle had occurred because he appeared to grow in stature and from the very first note he was rejuvenated.    He played with a force and virility that would have been surprising in a 20 year old let alone an 80 year old. This was the Sonny of old.   The Saxophone Colossus of Brooklyn Bridge fame was again defying the gods of music; mocking them for trying silence him with age.

The band launched straight into the first number ‘D.Cherry’ which was hard driving and heavily accented by the powerful rhythm section.   Allowing only a 10 second break for the applause they ripped into the second number and apart from  a short introduction well into the concert there were few song announcements (nor an intermission).  This was the Sonny Rollins who had earned immeasurable respect over a lifetime of performance; powerfully taking the music to the edge of the possible.  Perhaps not always a pretty sound but absolutely typical of his vigorous, relentless improvising.  Sonny goes straight to the heart of a tune and then mines it for every ounce of meaning as he tells his story.  I recall a friend saying that his playing is like a dog gnawing on a bone until every morsel is gone.

The band had quickly hit their stride and were soon playing in lockstep.  What could not be denied though was that Sonny was more than the sum of the bands parts.   The versatile Bob Cranshaw is a well known bass player and he lived up to expectations.   The other musician I knew and rated was guitarist Peter Bernstein.   Peter has recorded as a leader a number of times and he is a regular fixture around the New York scene – especially with organ/guitar/drum trio’s in Manhattan clubs like ‘Smoke‘.  I would have liked Peter brought further forward in the mix, as his driving powerful lines are well worth hearing, but competing against the powerful drummer and the well miked-up percussionist was left to Sonny.    His powerhouse tenor sound rode over the top of the two with apparent ease.   The standout number for me was the ‘Annie get your gun’ (Irving Berlin) show tune ‘They say its wonderful’; which was…. wonderful.  Tiring after two energised hours; Sonny said goodnight and launched into ‘Don’t stop the carnival’, which sometimes quoted from his legendary calypso ‘St Thomas’.  The set list from the two hours plus concert was as follows: D. Cherry, Patanjali, Blue Gardenia, Serenade, Newark News, They Say It’s Wonderful, Tenor Madness and Don’t Stop the Carnival.

Sour note: As grateful as I was to Wellington for hosting Sonny, I am still annoyed at the funders for canceling the fuller Wellington International Jazz Festival this year.   I hope they realise how wonderful the last one was and never make that mistake again.   Rugby should never be allowed to negate such an important music festival – sport and music can co-exist if allowed to.

Wellington concert Sonny Rollins

Sonny in full flight Wellington concert

‘Wave’ – Antonio Carlos Jobim

Cover of

Cover of Wave

It was always easy to love Tom Jobim‘s music as it captured the very essence of cool; the exotic new Brazil of the 1960’s and 70’s.   While the music may not have captured the grim realities of the barrio’s, it spoke powerfully of the hope and dreams of a new generation; of educated hip, urban Brazilians.

The media showcased endless white-sand beaches, beautiful bikini clad girls and lost love under palm trees, but this was the era of ultra exciting modernist architecture. Best evidenced in the wonderfully executed, delightfully surreal Brasilia city.  This city was the revolutionary vision of three men of genius and they carved it out of of the jungle in a mere four years.

The President’s futuristic dreams were eventually overrun by greedy money men, a military dictatorship and powerful elites, but the legacy of Brasilia remains. These visionaries were President – Juscelino Kubitschek, architect –Oscar Niemeyer and urbanist- Lucio Costa. It was into this hopeful world where anything seemed possible, that Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto appeared as forces of nature. Before long they reached larger North American audiences via Jazz super-star Stan Getz (and others). The stories surrounding the Getz/Gilberto (‘Girl from Ipanema’) session are legendary; suffice to say that Astrud Gilberto wife of the talented and co-credited Joao Gilberto was not supposed to be on the session. She was reluctantly included at the last minute. From 60’s house-wife to stardom in the blink of an eye.

It was a later recording session by Rudy Van Gelder (for Creed Taylor’s CTI label) that took me deeper. The album ‘Wave‘ has a sense of place and everything about it is exotic and beguiling. I love the title song and I have a number of Jazz versions (Bossa Nova and otherwise). Under Jobim’s hands it swings like crazy, in a very authentic Brazilian way. When you listen to Tom Jobim and Elis Regina or to Tom with Brazilian musicians you realise that their time feel is subtly different from anything North American.

As with many Jobim albums the recording is a heady mix of unashamed romanticism juxtaposed with a hint of minimalism (perhaps like Brasilia itself). This is in part due to arranger Claus Ogerman (who remembered to leave open spaces for the individual musicians). The sense of unexpected space in the midst of such lush orchestration speaks more about Jobim’s genius.

He was a great composer, and a great performing artist. His spidery piano lines and urgent guitar rhythms are also miniatures of perfection; not a single note too many.   For me ‘wave’ captures the essence of Copacabna beach, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia. Jobim’s own renditions of ‘wave‘ changed with the years; one version on the Warner Brothers ‘Terra Brasilis‘ album sounding closer to Delius than to Jazz (that is until you here the voicings).

The ‘Wave‘ album cover is a bookmark of the times; iridescent lime green sky, purple Giraffe (or other odd colours in later additions). I have included an informal version of ‘Wave’ by Tom and a few of his friends. The 60’s clothes may appear strange at this distance, but the music is perfect.

In the late sixties I saw the French film  ‘Our Man in Rio‘ staring Jean Paul Belmondo at least three times. I have not seen it since then but I would love to revisit it. It may appear corny now, as many films do with the passing of time. If that happens I will not be moved, as my visions of sixties Brazil cannot be tarnished. I have this album in my head and the mere thought of it induces the heady whiff of nostalgia.

Heavy Metal Bliss – Alan, Roger & Denise

The Roger Fox Wellington Big Band is an in-the-pocket unit and sitting in front of that band is to experience a blast from the Jazz slip stream.   Listening to their hard swinging and tightly focused delivery it was difficult to believe that this was a home-grown band and that they had only been together for around 18 months.    There were of course some veterans in the line up (Colin Hemmingsen – tenor) and above all there was Roger Fox, the man in firm control.   Like all good leaders he teased the very best out of his band.

First up was San Francisco based Denise Perrier who was a very pleasant surprise.   It was as if Carmen McCrae had been conjured into our midst.   Denise is very talented and a real crowd pleaser in the best possible way.   Her powerful smokey bluesy voice and sassy manner were the perfect foils for well executed tunes; enhanced by a killer band.   Starting with ‘easy street’ she moved on to a lovely version of Tom Jobims ‘Wave‘ (it is impossible to praise this tune highly enough). Her version of ‘stormy weather’ was  original and tasteful, followed by ‘every day (I have the blues)‘ which was so evocative of Count Basie that I kept expecting Sweets Edison and Pres to do walk-ons.  The other stand-out tracks were Harold Arlens ‘Oh what a beautiful morning‘ – (a brave but good choice) and ‘God Bless the Child‘ – Billie Holiday/Arthur Herzog.

Wellington Jazz pianist Anita Schwabe appeared undaunted by the presence of Alan Broadbent standing a mere few feet away and this does her credit.  Anita showed her skill that night and to say that her parents (who sat just in front of us) were proud would be a gross understatement.   Nick Tipping (Charmaine Ford trio) was on upright bass and Lance Philip drums.  This is a band which works hard to keep a tight sound and the payoff was the magic that we all experienced.  The nuances of colour that the band members were able to elicit was down to three things; the perfect charts, the leader and the fact that the band members all doubled on other instruments.   This created a wonderfully rich sound-palette to draw from.

While great credit should go to Roger and his band the night also belonged to Alan’s unbelievably well crafted charts.    As Alan said when he addressed the capacity crowd at the start of the second half, “tonight covers a 40 year journey in music – thank you for sharing it with me’.    Roger had been trying to get together with Alan for many years and had often suggested that they work together.    A while ago, out of the blue, he started receiving ‘charts’ from Alan and he quipped, “I became worried about what it would cost me because there is a lot of money to be made in Jazz and especially big-band Jazz”.   Woody Herman and Basie may have been the sub-text but Alan Broadbent was the heart and soul of the evening.

Kiwi jazz fans love Alan’s work and we boast about his Kiwi beginnings at every opportunity.  Alan has written some of the nicest tunes in jazz, but hearing his arrangements played by gifted Kiwi musicians added a new dimension.  Alan, played a few trio numbers and ‘alone together‘ by Schwartz/Dietz was one of the few standards played.   Among Alan’s compositions we heard ‘Bebop & Roses’ ,’Journey Home’, ‘Don’t ask why’, ‘The long white cloud’, ‘Sugar Loaf mountain’, ‘Far in (74)’, and more.

The second half had opened with ‘Journey Home‘, which is the tile track on the new Roger Fox Big Band CD featuring this nights music.   I urge you to grab a copy now; not only because you will enjoy it, but because you will be supporting the best of Kiwi Music.   Better yet, go and see this band as well and tell your friends to come with you.  See ‘event-finder‘ for gigs.

Anna & Gil Scott Heron

De ware Wax Poet is dood: Gil Scott-Heron

Image by Marco Raaphorst via Flickr

Last week I received a tweet from my daughter-in-law, which informed me in her exquisitely succinct micro-blogging language that Gil Scott Heron was dead.   Her post read: ‘RIP Gil:( I just found you and now you’re gone‘.    I was surprised that Anna knew of him as he was a jazz poet hipster famous in the 70’s for his activism in the black consciousness movement.  The micro-link on her tweet lead straight to a video of his most famous poem: ‘The Revolution will not be Televised‘.    It must have made quite a few god-fearing white folk squirm at the time, as it was a Black-Panther referencing radical call to action.  There was a lot more to Gil than that as he inadvertently started a poetry/music revolution.   He is widely regarded as the father of rap – judge for yourselves!   He traveled around festivals and clubs and was especially beloved in Europe – Last week the BBC headlined their news reports with his demise and Jazz radio stations in London and New York devoted the whole weekend to his music, poetry and legacy.

I have since learned that a new generation found him, embraced his music and now mourn his passing – the more things change the more they stay the same.    Remember Angela Davis, black activist lawyer with the wonderful hair; darling of the radical human rights movement – she now reviews for Jazz Times.  The ‘revolution’ may not be televised but brothers and sisters, it will be ‘tweeted’ and disseminated on ‘Facebook‘.

Cowbop vrs Warrington

The Masonic Tavern in Devonport overlooks the Waitemata Harbour in Auckland and the view from there is always easy on the eye.  Last night it was also easy on the ear; in fact as the evening progressed the music developed a distinctly Western drawl.   On Friday night the Tavern hosted two Jazz groups from the USA; the Tom Warrington Trio and the Bruce Forman CowBop band.  These bands exemplified Jazz-infused Americana from differing prospectives and in that variance lay a world of fun.

It is always a pleasure to see the Warrington Band in town and I always seek them out when they pass through (this is their 4th trip to New Zealand as a trio – Tom Warrington, Larry Koonse, Joe La Barbera).  As soon I arrived I spotted Larry the trio’s guitarist (an old friend) and we were able to spend a good few hours catching up and laughing at the outrageous humour of the CowBop quintet (who played the second set).

The Warrington trio opened their set with one of my favourite tunes ‘you must believe in Spring’ by Michelle Legrand’.  For a guitar trio (minus piano) to do justice to this type of highly melodic tune they must keep out of each others way while the guitar and bass execute the right voicings and establish the melody line (implied or otherwise).  This is what good jazz bands do and this band is extremely good.   Joe laid down a solid beat and his brush work is equal to the best in the business.  We heard Evan’s tunes and originals from the ‘Back Nine’ album and it was never less than swinging, intelligent, well executed  music.  All of these guys are stars in their own right having worked alongside the greats of Jazz and their intuitive feel for getting the best out of the music was communicated to their audience.

Like all Jazz fans I could not resist asking Larry later about the various people he has recently worked with and he singled out Alan Broadbent as someone he just loved working with. I hopefully suggested that they should think about recording a duo or quartet album together.  My one regret was not asking Joe about the Pieranunzi/Philip Catherine date – next time.

When F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there were no second acts in American life he had not foreseen the second act on Friday night.  This was cheeky, sassy, swinging, bop-infused countrified music and against all odds it was seriously hip.  American life was re-branded that night and as we witnessed it in disbelief, we participated in the fun.  Bruce Forman is a Jazz legend, as he has been a fixture on the Jazz circuit for three decades now.  Like Larry he has also been at the forefront of Jazz education and has accompanied some of the musics icons.   Bruce is a natural comedian and he really pushed the envelope with his in-your-face CowBop humour.  It is hard to describe adequately in words, as the context was everything, but suffice to say it worked.   There were musical jokes of the highest order and some home grown corn; both delivered from under a stetson hat with a twinkling eye.  The CowBop bands treatment Besame Mucho sat somewhere between ‘Cheech & Chong‘ and ‘Diana Krall‘ and I loved it.    As Bruce said when he began the set:  ‘If you try this music at home I urge you to do so responsibly’.  Packs containing the bands CD ‘Too Hick for the Room‘ were supplied with a bottle-opener connected to a memory-stick – pre loaded ready for illegal downloads.  The sly BeBop quotes were everywhere and they slid in between the cow-licks with ease.   Bruce added as I was leaving “The good thing is, if you hate this music you just give it to your enemies“.

This was a great night out and the intimate setting added to the enjoyment – thanks to Roger Fox for bringing them.

                      CowBop drummer

San Francisco and Kiwi connections

My son and daughter in law have just moved to San Francisco and the goodbyes have been hard.    I watched them go through the departure gate with very mixed emotions – pride at what they had achieved and the inevitable sadness of a loving parent waving goodbye (my son is the CTO and co-founder of an IT company expanding into America).     He reminded me that Darien and I would have two good excuses to visit them as often as we could – family reunification and world-class Jazz.

He is right because San Francisco is one of the worlds great Jazz cities.   The city is at present building one of the worlds biggest dedicated Jazz centres.    It will be the first such centre in America totally dedicated to Jazz performance and education and it is expected to become a world-wide tourist attraction.    San Francisco is the home of the SF Jazz Collective and this amazing group is formed around Jazz Festival time each year.  They feature the compositions of one artist each year and to augment the already stellar lineup they invite a few top rated Jazz musicians to fill the guest spots.   This year they feature the music of Stevie Wonder – whose music is increasingly attaining Jazz standard status.   The bass player is Aucklander Matt Penman; who went through the Auckland School of music a few years earlier than my son.   Matt now plays at the top levels of Jazz and he tours America (and the world) with Jazz super-groups.   He is a core member of the SF Jazz Collective.    I have posted a link for this years San Francisco Jazz Festival which starts this week.    I would certainly pay good money to see the Eliane Elias quartet and that is on tomorrow night.    There are a number of free concerts and many headline acts (seeing hip-chic Ricky Lee Jones would be cool – remember her – married to Tom Waits once).     The big item will inevitably be the SF Jazz Collective though.    I will post a link to their site – so that you listen to a SFJC clip – Stevie Wonders ‘suspicion’.

This city is the home of the famous ‘Yoshi’s’ Jazz club and the Fillmore East (Miles and our own Mike Nock entertained huge audiences of hippies there).    There is a great Festival in mid summer which is in the Bay area – the ‘Fillmore Jazz Festival’.  This is a free festival dedicated to jazz and food and it occurs around the weekend of the 4th July.     I hope to keep you posted on these events as I will be attending vicariously – I have just appointed my son as a forward scout – ‘our man in SF’.

Alan Broadbent & Roger Fox; Bruce Mason Theatre

It has just been announced that NZ  born pianist Alan Broadbent is coming back to perform in Auckland with the Roger Fox Big Band.   The concert is billed as a Jazz Gala – Concert for Christchurch: 8 p m – June 1st  2011.   That is good news for Auckland’s Jazz community because Alan’s mix of perfectly executed standards and his story-telling between numbers makes for a great listening experience (who knew of the rivalry between Vernon Duke and Stravinsky?).   Last year in the Auckland Town Hall, Alan entranced the audience with his anecdotes and his playing and I am hoping that this easy going interactive style will still be evident this time around.   He is headlined to play with the Roger Fox Big Band and several LA based musician’s.   These are Charley Davis on Trumpet and Denise Perrier vocalist.   The event is being billed as a ‘Concert for Christchurch’ and the net proceeds will be donated to Christchurch.   At $44.40 per head and less for some tickets I would hope they get a good audience.   No mention of Joe La Barbera, Larry Koonse or Tom Worrington at this concert.

What could work against the timing however is the fact that the long awaited Sonny Rollins Concert is being held in Wellington 10 days later and that may lure some Jazz loving locals away (or leave them too out of pocket to go to both concerts).

The distribution problems with Alan’s newest CD ‘LIve at Giannelli Square ‘ do not appear to have resolved themselves.    I just received my third email from Amazon telling me that the item is still unavailable and what did I want them to do?.     I have cancelled the order in the hope that Alan will bring some copies with him.

Herbie Hancock: Chameleon, Headhunter, visionary?

Even before septuagenarian Herbie Hancock rolled into town he had been sought out by most of the mainstream media.    This man fascinates people beyond the Jazz world and I suspect that everyone would give a different reason why.   Herbie is simply larger than life and terminal cool is his brand.   When asked by Lynne Freeman of Radio New Zealand whether he was going to spend the rest of his days fine tuning his impressive musical legacy he surprised her by replying, “Music is what I do but it is not who I am.  I am a human being and I want to work on real issues that effect ordinary people”.   A long time devout Buddhist (as is his close friend and long time collaborator Wayne Shorter) he exudes calm and speaks with commonsense.   Herbie does not buy into his star status; but to others he is never-the-less a living legend.
We could feel the excitement mounting as we waited for the show to begin and then right on 8 pm the lights dimmed and drummer Trevor Lawrence strode onto the stage   He laid down a solid mesmerizing beat until James Genus appeared, who then added to the groove on his electric bass.   Suddenly Herbie was on stage; grinning and bowing to the audience and the fun began.    He looked fit and ready to get-down to it.   The group swiftly ripped into an upbeat, spirited avante guard tinged piece (Actual Proof) that was more Ornette than Empyrean Isles.  I suspect that would have taken many out of their comfort zone and this was clearly the intention.   The mood was well set and throughout the concert Herbie skillfully used tension and release in enumerable ways.   As this amazingly high energy group moved through the varied repertoire you could see the joy on their faces.   James genus seldom took his eyes of Herbie and they played as a single entity.   We got spirited renditions of Hancock classics followed by highly atmospheric tunes (such as Joni Mitchell’s ‘court and spark’ from the Grammy winning ‘River’ album with Wayne Shorter).    ‘Court and spark’ and other songs were sung by the fourth band member, vocalist and violinist Kristina Train.  Her voice was smokey and appealing and the crowd loved her.   We heard a jazz version of Bob Dylan’s ‘the times they are a changing’ and Bob Marley’s ‘Exodus’ accompanied by pre-recorded Sudanese musicians.   ‘It’s 2011’ said Herbie as he pointed to the hard drive at the heart of his system. Herbie Hancock is the undisputed master of electronic keyboards and effects, but on Tuesday he reminded us that he still owned the acoustic piano chair as well.
This was the history of post 50’s Jazz and it was the perfect ethnomusicology lesson.    We heard Irish, African, folk music and classic delta blues but the master’s stamp was on all of it.   This edgy musical journey was still unmistakably Jazz.   In the middle portion of the concert however Herbie played solo piano, taking us on an impressionistic reflective journey through his Maiden Voyage albums.   The band came back to accompany him on ‘Cantaloupe Island’ in what was to end a half hour piano medley, which held every one in awe.  Even ‘Round about Midnight’ got an airing.  Not a sniffle , not a cough, even Keith would have been impressed.   The stuff that I loved best was his Headhunter funk and he swung and grooved that like crazy – deep down grooves played with boundless joyous energy.    At the end of the concert he brought on a visiting group of blues rockers; slide guitarist Derrick Trucks and his wife Susan Tedeschi (a loud singer who sounds a lot like Janis Joplin).      This was pure enjoyment from start to finish and if anyone thought that Jazz was in decline they should have seen the age-range of those present.   The faces of the audience as they came out told the whole story.

Beautiful Tunisian Oud Jazz

These You Tube live recordings will please some while others will dislike them.  That is of no real matter because Jazz has never tried to be all things to all people.   Jazz is a restless music and throughout its history it has taken on the voicings and ethos of other musical traditions (often making them its own).   Dizzy, Miles, Coltrane , Latef and others never stopped listening for new and exotic sounds and a lot of excellent music resulted from their interest in non-American music traditions.  

I saw Dhafer Yussef at an International Jazz festival and I will never forget the experience. His band performed breathtaking improvised music, jazz as we know it, but often around very ancient themes. It felt to me like a wonderful addition to the Jazz lexicon. Dhafer is a Sufi and the Sufi traditions are an ancient expression of Islamic culture. Sufi’s follow a mystical peaceable tradition which is gradually becoming better known in the west. Great poets, like Rumi, Hafez, Bulleh Shah and Khwaja Ghulam Farid are of this tradition. Qawwali is the best known form of Sufi music, however music is also central to the whirling dervishes and the ceremony of Sema uses a slow, sedate form of music featuring the Turkish flute and the ney. The West African Gnawa is another form (Randy Westen and Dizzy referenced this).

Dhafer Youssef (Arabic: ظافر يوسف‎) (born 1967 in Teboulba, Tunisia) is a composer, singer,and oud player. He developed an interest in jazz at an early age and clandestinely listened to it during his education at Qur’anic school.[1] He later left Tunisia to start a jazz career and has lived in Europe since 1990, usually in Paris or Vienna. He has played at many of the premier mainstream Jazz Festivals in the world and is mentioned on the USA based ‘All About Jazz’ website. I have been interested to note the number of Arab and Israeli Jazz musicians routinely mentioned in Down Beat and Jazz Times lately. The second clip features a stunning young Arab pianist Tigran Hamasyan and his Moorish Jazz style is quite beguiling. In this second piece the music builds in intensity and I suspect that this is part of the tradition (note the movement of the hands to enhance the vocalese).

Jazz at the Albany Campus-Broadhurst, Gibson, Santorelli & Oatts

GUEST POST:
US saxophonist Dick Oatts is currently visiting NZ and in Auckland he has been working with the New Zealand School of Music at the Albany Campus of Massey University. On Thursday evening the School presented him in a concert playing to a small audience with the re-constituted Phil Broadhurst Trio (Phil on Piano, Alberto Santorelli on bass and Frank Gibson Jr on drums).

I had been aware of Dick’s reputation in the New York big band context and had seen him a few years ago during a visit to NYC as part of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra which is the feature act at the Village Vanguard most Monday nights but I was intrigued to see him in a combo setting.

I have to say that the performance exceeded my expectations – the group really gelled and Dick showed his versatility on the alto with an energetic and adventurous performance extending the group and featuring many of his own compositions which had the group really cooking. Phil was in great form as always as were Alberto and Frank with whom Dick seemed to have a particularly close affinity. Always good to get out and hear live jazz in a relatively intimate setting.

Stujazz

The ‘Jazzman’ Revolution and Mary Lou

Unless I was talking about a specific artist I would normally use gender neutral language when discussing Jazz musicians.    This is because there has been a few under-valued but brilliant women in the revolutionary advance guard of this music.   I will however confess my reasons for using this title later in the piece and the clue is the ‘jasmine revoution’.

When I think of jazz women I think of Mary Lou Williams,  because she was there from the near beginnings of jazz.   She often managed to reach into the future; landing at the forefront of the next ‘hot’ style, just as it officially arrived and quite a few Jazz icons such as Monk and Dizzy benefitted from her brilliant tuition.    She was a stride to swing musician who assisted at the birth of BeBop.  Like a will-o-the-wisp she moved to hardbop and even free jazz.     Many jazz pianists born well before the swing-era played piano with an unmistakably bluesy style and she was no exception.  this was not blues at the cross-roads; a deal with the devil delta-blues.  This was the voice of the soul of her people and perhaps the soul of all mankind.   She proved her soulfullness in many ways, by teaching and helping out-of-work musicians; running a soup kitchen in Harlem.

I fell in love with the big chords she used, which contained a lot more humanity, than those used by the merely technically-proficent.    She had started playing organ as a toddler on her mothers knee, because her mother was an organist in the  ‘sanctified church’.  Her small hands would evidently reach up and search for the chords.  By the 1920’s she was recording and later went on to make some famous swing era big bands look good.  She was a great arranger/composer and her charts were utilised by the ‘King of Swing’ Benny Goodman.  She was ‘the girl that swung the band’ for Andy Kirk’s, ‘Clouds of Joy’ and in the end a big band leader in her own right.    She wrote complex orchestral works which are still performed today, but mostly she was an innovative and utterly engaging pianist.

Mary Lou played in hundreds of small clubs and in the big halls of Europe where they adored her.   She always pleased the fans.   She was a striking looking woman when younger, but as old age advanced you could see the pain she often experienced mirrored in her face.

Now there are dozens of truly great female jazz instrumentalists and most will tell you that Mary Lou is their role model.   Why this post and this title?  Firstly because I love Mary Lou Williams and promote her whenever I can.   The second reason is a bloggers reason; choose a title that has a topical but not too topical phrase in it.   The Jasmine Revolution will bring me a few dozen extra hits and who knows.  After wondering why they got here, they might sample some jazz.

Best compositions : ‘Scratchin in the gravel’, ‘What’s the story morning glory’

London Vogue

Larry Koonse; Jazz Guitarist

Larry Koonse may be one of the nicest guys in Jazz but he is a killer guitarist.   He has recorded under his own name and toured or recorded extensively with such famous artists such as Bob Brookmeyer, Karrin Allyson, Mel Torme,  Joe La Barbera, Billy Childs, Terry Gibbs, Warne Marsh, Johnny Dankworth, Jimmy Rowles, Alan Broadbent, Charlie Haden, Toots Thielmans and many others.   At the invitation of Nelson Mandela and UNICEF he was once asked to perform in South Africa.   He has been the featured soloist with the LA Philharmonic plus other orchestras and has performed in Carnegie Hall.   He sometimes performs with his father Dave Koonse (who is also a jazz guitarist, having played at the ‘Lighthouse’ with John Grass).  Larry is a well seasoned and gifted musician and he is always a joy to listen to.

I first saw Larry perform when he came to New Zealand with Joe La Barbera and Tom Warrington.  It was Kiwi big band leader Roger Fox who had organised for the trio to come out here and many were grateful that he did.   Larry’s guitar playing captivated me throughout the concert and I marveled at how the Tom Warrington trio’s “You must believe in Spring’ could somehow reverence Bill Evens and Lennie Tristano at the same time.   Larry’s cool-style is perfectly balanced by the warm tones that he elicits from his guitar and in his playing you can hear hints of Johnny Smith, and even Bill Bauer.  I loved every note of it.

After the concert some of the band came out to mingle with the crowd and I got to speak to Larry about his music.  Joe La Barbera was there as well, chatting and signing CD covers .  Larry is a very friendly guy and we have met once since then and exchanged emails.   Making contact with world class musicians in clubs or after concerts is one of the great joys of being a jazz fan and I often wonder if that chance exists in any other musical genre.

I have many recordings featuring Larry and in each of them I hear new subtleties.  Sometimes his long lines are unmistakably of the Tristano school (especially in his co-led LA Jazz Quartet),but with the Tom Worrington trio he can sound closer to the style of Herb Ellis or Johnny Smith.   The best place to purchase Larry’s music is from the ‘Jazz Compass’ label online.   Alternately go to his next gig and purchase the music there.    He tells me that he will probably be in in New Zealand in Late May 2011 and I will certainly keep you posted on that.

The clip has Bruce Forman on the left and Larry Koonse on the right as you face the screen.

The sublime odyssey of Hank Jones

I have never met a Jazz aficionado who did not like the pianist Hank Jones.  Because he was still recording so frequently at age ninety one it was tempting to think that he would live for ever.   To see footage of Hank playing was to love him because he radiated a rare warmth and a humanity.  His early influences in Jazz piano were Fats Waller and Art Tatum.  He was also there from the inception of Bebop but somehow he seemed to span the whole history of Jazz in his chordal voicing; which stretched from stride to post bop .   Joyous music ran out of his fingers like water from a faucet and we loved him because he was a Jazz god living among us. He believed that good Jazz should be infused with the blues and he practiced what he preached.  As he got older you could hear him happily sigh and chuckle as he played.  His deep throated vocalisations though quiet, somehow gave additional joy to his already joyous swinging music.

Hank was born in 1918 into a musical Mississippi family and his younger brothers Thad and Elvin became Jazz greats in their own right.  In his later years wide-spread recognition came his way but his innate modesty meant that the praise washed over him.  Hank was a great teacher and he never failed to support up-and-coming musicians.  A number of careers benefited from his support and this was a gift that he bestowed right up until his passing.   Hank left us in 2010 and the loss is still keenly felt.  A visit to the official Hank Jones web site will lessen the blow, because as you hear him welcome you, the realisation comes that his legacy and above all his music will remain with us always.

Stan Getz – a testimony to genius

The Stan Getz ‘People Time’ box set has just won the ‘Down Beat’ award for ‘best box set of the year’ and deservedly so. It is wonderfully recorded and deeply moving, as Stan plays with a subtle intensity that can catch you quite off guard. Stan Getz was a very sick man at this point in his life and according to his bandmates in considerable pain. This concert was the penultimate performance of his life and it draws a line under what was by Jazz standards a very successful career. Stan’s legacy is considerable and you only need to look at his discography to see the importance of what he left behind. It is well known that he was not an easy man to get along with and he appears to have burned off a number of friends along the way. Zoot Sims referred to him as ‘an interesting bunch of guys’. Genius often has its deficits and that is especially so with Jazz. The imperative is to touch the sun each time you play and Stan sometimes achieved that. Like Daedalus however he came crashing to earth afterwards. His demons were the usual suspects plus a few extra thrown in for good measure. Life on the road can be gruelling and lonely but for Stan performance was everything. One of his most successful collaborations was with Kenny Barron (piano) and this duo performance needs no commentary as it speaks for itself. Kenny Barron had performed with Stan frequently over the years and happily he is still very much with us. I almost hesitated to show this clip as Stan looks so ill, but the music paints the truer picture.

‘Old Wine New Bottles’ out of copyright reissues

I have for some time been delighting in the re-issues of classic Jazz albums. Many I had missed purchasing first time out on CD or else I only possessed a worn out LP version. These are generally produced in the EU and most often in Spain. In the early days, the re-mastering could be dire, but in recent years many high quality re-issues have appeared. Lonehill, Gambit, Essential Jazz Classics and Poll Winners Records would top the list as they are readily available and at very good prices in New Zealand. Besides the competitive pricing, the CD will often include new out-takes or hard to source out-of-print albums by the same artist.

A good example of this is the ‘Poll Winners 27220’, which is the seminal recording of the George Russell classic; ‘New York, New York’ (1959). It is pure joy from start to finnish and why wouldn’t it be, as it features John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Art Farmer, Bill Evans, Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Cleveland, Phil Woods, Hal McKusick, Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton, Max Roach and John Hendricks. In addition to the above embarrassment of riches the marvelous Russell- Schuller ‘All about Rosie’ (plus alternate) is included. This last offering features the famous and astonishing solo by Bill Evans. Another good example is the latest Essential Jazz Classics ‘Boss Tenor’ by Gene Ammons which includes the hard to locate ‘Angel Eyes’ album as a bonus.

There are some traps for the unwary as some of the albums have already been released in recent times but with different cover art. This can result is duplicates being purchased unwittingly. In this matter I am a repeat offender and my friends (or Real Groovy Records) benefit from my mistakes. My ‘Curtis Counce Complete Studio Recordings’ on Gambit are a work of art in all respects except one. The album is beautifully re-mastered and has a great cover photo by ‘William Claxton. What is missing however is the cheeky art work that accompanied, ‘You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce’ and the ‘Landslide’ artwork. For completists among us this can sometimes be overcome by downloading the original artwork from an online source or begging a friend to copy it for you. I will attempt to locate some good sites for the artwork deprived, but in the meantime you could try: birkajazz.com/archive/variousUS_3ihtm .

The story of music copyright is extremely complex and the underpinnings of international copyright law face ongoing challenges. I have come to realise that there is an age-divide in attitudes about intellectual property and the ‘peer to peer’ generation just see it differently from older generations. I am caught somewhat in the middle over this argument as I strongly believe in an artists right to be paid royalties. I am not so sanguine about the rip offs that often occurred when the big studios signed artists though. ‘Kind of Blue’ is still earning well but the studio allegedly paid the Davis band peanuts. BeBop musicians confronted these rip-offs by constantly re-harmonising famous tunes like Body and Soul (and sometimes made an anagram out of the original song title); this in order to obtain royalties from the new but somehow familiar tune. The reason was simple; it was not a breach of copyright to re-harmonise over a set of chord changes because you can’t copyright chord changes (but you can a tune). Once upon a time copyright expired in America after 50 years, but when Irving Berlin (then a nonagenarian) complained to Congress they extended the period. In Europe 50 years is still the point of expiry and that is why we have Lonehill and Gambit records. The frequent takeovers of once viable record labels by fat-cat money men has resulted in some classic albums being thrown into a dark vault and forgotten about. Without ‘Gambit’ and ‘Lonehill’ we would arguably never live long enough to purchase those recordings.

Miles: Jack Johnson and Jack DeJohnette

Last night the ‘Dark Magus’ was among us again and what a joyful experience it was.   The DeJohnette band performed the often overlooked ‘Jack Johnson’ music, complete with the famous Jack Johnson film as back drop. The original Miles Davis album had been cut in 1970; not long after the more abstract ‘Bitches Brew’ and just before his free flowing ‘Fillmore’ excursions.   A very different sound was emerging and it is only now being properly evaluated.   Miles wanted to carve a pathway right into the hearts of the younger rock audiences and he achieved that without jettisoning all of his loyal Jazz audience.    At the time of its first release ‘Jack Johnson” alternately shocked or thrilled Miles fans.    The music was most definitely not rock music and if anything it was an edgier avante guard type of Jazz.     The brilliance of its execution and the raw electric energy created new fans to replace the older ones who stopped listing.   The  ‘Jack Johnson’ story-line is fundamentally about the issues of race and achievement against the odds, but there is a thread of good natured humour in this celebration of a likable man.    ‘Jack Johnson’ the soundtrack was pure Miles and pure genius.    It is obvious that Miles saw Jack Johnson as a role model.

A large part of Miles genius was in finding the right musicians and giving them the right push.    This resulted in some of the most successful collaborations in Jazz.   The original ‘Jack Johnson’ was actually a pared back version featuring Miles (t),Steve Grossmnan (ss), Herbie Hancock (ky), John McGlaughlin (g) Michael Henderson (b)Billy Cobham (d) and Brock Petters (v).  The first release was soon followed by ‘The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions’ and we saw a much enriched palette with the additional artists -Jack DeJohnette (d), Wayne Shorter(ss), Bennie Maupin (bcl), Chick Corea & Keith Jarrett (ky), Herbie Hancock (org), Sonny Sharrock (g), Ron Cater, Dave Holland, Gene Perla (b), Airto Moreira (perc), Hermeto Pascoal (v, d).

Last night master drummer Jack DeJohnette  presided over a new and updated version of ‘Jack Johnson’.    His guiding hand as a leader was in evidence every step of the way and with a smaller lineup than the original band he achieved the same result.  It was electrifying from start to finish as the soundscape ranged from the hauntingly beautiful (the boxers loneliness after winning the the world heavyweight title only to be ignored in his own country) to the dissonance  accompanying shocking Klu Klux Klan scenes.     The musicians were almost all multi-instrumentalists and their virtuosity on which-ever axe they picked up was evident.   There were two older musicians, Jack DeJohnette and Bass player, Jerome Harris; The rest were younger and all were very talented.   All respect to Byron Wallen for playing Miles so beautifully but the real accolade must go to Jack DeJohnette .   To see him sitting under a large projected image of Miles was to see see a perfect juxtaposition between past and present.

Night in Tunisia

Youssef Dhafer at Moers Festival, June 2006, G...

Image via Wikipedia

In the mid nineties I was lucky enough to visit Switzerland for two weeks. Walking happily and aimlessly around the beautiful shores of Lac Lemon, Geneva, one summer evening, I came across five North African musicians playing entrancing modal melodies on the traditional instruments of their region. As I recall there was an Oud, hand drums, a reed instrument and several other stringed instruments.  I stopped to listen and during a break in the music asked them the obligatory, “what country are you from?”  “Tunisia” they called out with huge grins indicating their traditional costumes.  “Dizzy Gillespie”,  I said turning to my friend Michael as I threw a few Swiss francs into the cap that lay in front of them. We had hardly walked on a dozen steps when a cheerful cry of  “hey English” accosted us.  As we turned round the musicians began channeling Dizzy and to my ears that version of ‘Night in Tunisia” sounded just wonderful. I marvelled that they should know that 1940’s American Be-Bop warhorse because they were barely more than teens.  Jazz can truly be a world-music.

Some years ago I listened to a not-so-successful attempt to use an Oud in Jazz. The band was about in the late 1950’s and the ‘fusion’ was far from convincing; a novelty at best.  As the ECM label broadened the scope of its Jazz offerings I began to hear marvelous improvised music on the Oud. In the late 90’s I purchased several CD’s by Tunisian Oud player Anouar Brahem (a Keith Jarrett influenced musician). The Oud creates a wonderful soundscape and the deep improvisations the instrument is capable of adds much to the musical lexicon.

In 2009 at the Wellington Jazz festival I decided on a whim to go to an additional concert. The group was lead by Sufi Tunisian Oud player Dhafer Youssef.  This concert was up-there  as an experience and I enjoyed every note. His band consisted of Marcin Wasilewski (piano), Michal Miskiewiscz (drums) and a great Canadian arco-stick-bass player whose name now eludes me. Dhafer sung his other worldly songs and played the Oud and the crowd was entranced.  Having the heart of the utterly brilliant Tomasz Stanko band as his rhythm section did not hurt either.

The Oud is just fine by me.