The Jazz Digest, November 2012

Choice snips from Jazz Journal, November 2012



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From the editor
JJ OFC 1112There have been a few comments lately on the hoary one about what is and isn't jazz – the subject crops up in Simon Spillett's test this month and in a letter (not yet published) objecting to an OSL taking issue with the playing of Steely Dan on Jazz Record Requests. This column itself last month found no jazz in the Roller Trio. OK, we surely all like our definitions, but the "whatever that is" phrase entered the mind with force on reading a recent email from Jazz Services, the partly public-funded body that helps facilitate tours around the UK. They've done a survey that aims to find out what jazz (whatever that is) needs. Phrases such as "the jazz community", "the UK jazz constituency" and "the jazz sector" pepper the text. But what is this monolithic thing called jazz? Should it be so limited as to be a cosily cohesive "community"? Judging by the writings in this magazine it's a healthily disunified concept. What would it be worth (musically too) if it weren't full of division, contention and individualism?

Brandon Allen's Highgate jazz to rival the London Jazz Festival
"I'd like to expand it a bit, but I want to keep it in Highgate, maybe go up to five or six venues with help. My idea is for a festival to rival the London Jazz Festival. I'm Australian – I think big."

Correspondent Bob Wright on The Daily Telegaff
"Back in 2007, it carried quite a full article by Martin Gayford about Bob Brookmeyer, coinciding with his spell as artist-in-residence at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Yet there was no reference whatsoever to the death of this eminent jazzman last December. And there have been plenty of other such sins of omission over the past two years or so – since Martin Gayford moved on."

Correspondent Roger Eatough defends Hugh's blues
"I found Simon Adams disparaging comments in his article on the North Sea Jazz Festival (JJ, September 2012) unnecessary and distasteful: 'The headline jazz act this year – I'm ignoring Hugh Laurie – was Pat Metheny's Unity Band.' It is bad enough scouring your magazine to find references to jazz by people whose names and music we recognise and enjoy, without seeing those we do like treated in this way."

Jazz harpist Riza Printup escapes the piano
"My parents started me on piano at the age of six and I hated it, but then I went to a recital by a classical harpist and knew it was the instrument I wanted to play. I had to stay with piano and I used to press pennies between the keys to express my distaste! Eventually my folks gave in and I switched to harp."

Bob Weir reviews Benny Goodman, A Supplemental Discography by David Jessop
"Russ Connor's 1958 Benny Goodman: Off The Record helped to pioneer the genre of artist discographies. He continued every 10 years or so with updated editions or volumes of corrections and additions, making Goodman probably the most comprehensively documented of all the leading jazz figures. David Jessop is now carrying the torch (well, it is Olympics year) with this invaluable update of Connor's work."

Jim Mullen resists the agenda
"I take exception to the idea that you have to dumb down an art form in order to bring people in. Look at the people who have done this – like Acoustic Ladyland – they're not bringing people into jazz. If anything they're driving them away . . . In any art form the only thing that matters a damn is what's being done. Forget about nationality, northern or southern hemisphere. It's only the merit that counts. I still remember that Stanley Crouch had the temerity to say that Gil Evans was nothing without Miles Davis. There are a lot of people who listen with their eyes and I hate all that."

Simon Spillett likes Garbarek & The Hilliards as well as jazz
"Well, I have to say Mark, it's not jazz. It's beautiful music. I don't know what you'd call it – contemporary classical music? But Garbarek is another person who's instantly recognisable. A bit like Charles Lloyd, he's someone who took Coltrane very much as a starting point and in the same way John Surman has. But they've gone beyond the parameters of being just jazz players. I admire people who are able to do that. Andy Sheppard's another one. But I could never envisage doing that myself. I don't think it's designed to attract jazz listeners. I think it's a music very much for a different audience."

Ruby Braff hears the best and worst of Lester Young
"He was a pain it the neck. He had his own little language which was supposed to be cute. 'The President would like you to . . .' and I found it horrible. 'Come into the office,' he'd say. 'The President would like you to come into the office.' That meant he would like you to stand a little closer to where he is when you're playing. I didn't know and I said 'What office?' . . . He was probably one of the greatest artists that ever happened. Even in his sickest days when he couldn't even breathe properly, his form was so beautiful at all times."

Brian Morton remembers John Tchicai
"A kinder and more open-hearted man would be hard to find in contemporary music. John Tchicai’s generosity of spirit was evident in his music as well. Never a star of the first magnitude, he worked his own highly individual vein of saxophone playing and composing, occupying a position between Ornette Coleman's privileging of melody and Lee Konitz’s deceptively dry harmonics."

Mark Gilbert recalls Rune Gustaffson, early inspiration to Metheny
"Rune Gustafsson, Swedish bop guitarist with Stan Getz, Putte Wickman, Jan Johansson and others died 15 June 2012, aged 78. He was an early inspiration, via his tune Waltz-a-Nova, for Pat Metheny. Check his extraordinarily accomplished bebop on Night In Tunisia with Johansson's trio."

Bob Weir invites readers to name the greatest jazz concert ever
"The 1953 Massey Hall concert by Diz, Bird, Bud, Mingus and Roach is often cited as 'The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever' and I have seen little to question the hyperbole. It was undoubtedly a great session with these bebop giants at their best but it was hardly groundbreaking. By 1953 jazz had moved on with Miles, Mingus and Blakey at the forefront of new developments. I suggest that the first From Spirituals To Swing concert at Carnegie Hall in December 1937 had greater impact. Not, as sometimes suggested, for helping to make jazz respectable by appealing to the moneyed classes but by demonstrating the range and interconnections of the various African-American music styles."

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Excerpts from over 70 CD reviews in this issue:


COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA: THE ATOMIC MR. BASIE (Phoenix)
"Constantly reissued, these famous recordings capture the Basie band at its awesome best, romping through Neal Hefti's tailor-made compositions and arrangements. Most readers partial to Basie will have long owned the album, but in these days of CD bonus tracks this release renews the interest again. Of primary interest are the closing six tracks, comprising a complete 17-minute soundtrack from an NBC-TV show in June 1958, with very acceptable sound quality." (Hugh Rainey) *****

LOUIS BELLSON: FOUR CLASSIC ALBUMS PLUS (Avid)
"This collection offers four full LPs plus five out of eight tracks from the album Drummer's Holiday. Good value considering the low price of these sets. Bellson was one of the big three of the swing era big band drummers, along with Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. When he joined the Duke Ellington orchestra his flamboyant but always swinging drumming seemed to revitalise even that august organisation." (Derek Ansell) ****

ANDY BEY: ANDY AND THE BEY SISTERS (Blue Moon)
"Half a century ahead, the music sounds amazingly fresh. Meticulously rehearsed, the trio's textures never stop still while passages of three-part harmony often have that slightly dissonant edge you get from gospel groups. Hard to judge their long-term impact but a dollop of scat sampled (if that's the term) on a James Carter album could have been inspired ultimately by what the women get up to on Smooth Sailing. Singing splits jazz fans, but readers deriving pleasure from any points between Paul Whiteman's Rhythm Boys and Manhattan Transfer (who may have picked up their big-selling Chanson D'Amour from the Beys) should very definitely try to hear this." (Ronald Atkins) *****

JOYCE COLLINS: GIRL HERE PLAYS MEAN PIANO (Fresh Sound)
"The big surprise here, shock even, is that given what a mean piano the girl played, she received so few invitations to record later . . . Joyce Collins (1930-2010) had few opportunities to shine but as the CD blurb says, 'the loss is ours'. This CD is one of the best piano trio discs I have heard in years and is highly recommended without reservation. Five stars? It deserves ten. As usual Fresh Sound is to be applauded for providing comprehensive notes, including originals and, unlike some, crediting the original recording company." (Derek Ansell) *****

DENA DEROSE: TRAVELIN' LIGHT (MaxJazz)
"DeRose began as a pianist, forced into singing when an accident left her unable to play. That she returned to playing has allowed her to become one of the best singer-pianists jazz has known. Throughout this set it is possible to hear how thoroughly she has absorbed the essence of jazz piano history. My self-imposed rule of not allocating five stars to CDs by anyone whose name doesn't begin with Louis, Duke or Charlie, was already under threat when DeRose began to sing Travelin' Light. Unreservedly recommended to anyone, whatever their stylistic leanings." (Bruce Crowther) *****

KURT ELLING: 1619 BROADWAY - THE BRILL BUILDING PROJECT (Concord Jazz)
"Elling reinterprets the songs considerably, reharmonising some and adding a jazz sensibility throughout to what were essentially of-the-moment and often throwaway pop songs. Best of all are a smoky smooch through I Have Only Eyes For You, Elling reaching deep down in his voice for effect, and a breathtaking take on Carole King's So Far Away. Not all his treatments work well, notably the cod-psychedelic version of Pleasant Valley Sunday that gets him into all sorts of vocal contortions. But then the unadorned American Tune, in which you really concentrate on his vocal authority, restores good order, while Tootie For Cootie ends proceedings in fine swing style." (Simon Adams) ****

ANTONIO FORCIONE: SKETCHES OF AFRICA (Antastic)
"There is some very attractive music here and the cast of musicians and singers is strikingly cosmopolitan, including two men from Forcione's native Italy, bass players from Australia and France, a female Norwegian singer, a Brazilian drummer and Africans from Gambia, Senegal, South Africa and Zimbabwe. In bringing together such diverse people to make such homogeneous music Forcione has produced something remarkable - music with some African musicians and Africa as an inspiration but not quite like any music Africa itself has produced. 'World music' is a very imprecise label but if it means anything it must cover CDs such as this. How much this music has to do with jazz is a different question altogether." (Graham Colombé) *****

JOHNNY GRIFFIN: THE LITTLE GIANT/CHANGE OF PACE (Fresh Sound)
"This is a useful pairing of two of Griffin's best Riverside albums, plus a bonus track. The first album, The Little Giant, is by a noisy Messengers-like sextet with Mitchell and Priester and the urbane Wynton Kelly mopping up all the flying sweat. Try Griff's cheeky take on Playmates as a sampler. The second set, Change Of Pace, has the unusual lineup of arco bass, pizzicato bass, French horn, tenor and drums. It opens some interesting sonic possibilities as the mellow basses and horn contrast with Griffin's incisive tenor. As a bonus, there's a rare B-side of Griff doing the theme from The Guns Of Navarone - the Little Giant up against the Large Artillery, as it were. It's all 24-bit digitally remastered and highly recommended." (Simon Spillett) *****

FRED HERSCH TRIO: ALIVE AT THE VANGUARD (Palmetto)
"I briefly reviewed Hersch's duet with clarinettist Nico Gori in the September issue, and didn't exactly rave about it. But this trio set is something else, a fact recognised by Hersch himself, who regards it as possibly his 'best trio playing on record'. He's right, for it is extraordinarily good. Throughout there is a relaxed flow to his playing that releases him from some of his usual formality. There is also a joyous feel to proceedings, a mood set by the opening Havana and the uptempo Segment, the only Charlie Parker composition in a minor key. Hébert and McPherson worked together as Andrew Hill's last rhythm section, but have adapted well to their new surroundings. All three have produced an album they should be hugely proud of." (Simon Adams) *****

MANU KATCHÉ: MANU KATCHÉ (ECM)
"The fourth, eponymously titled ECM release from the French-Ivorian drummer finds Katché laying down richly conceived yet spacey grooves as funky as they are reflective, with the tempered potency of the British keyboard player Watson's Hammond B3 lines enhancing the overall mellowness of approach to fine effect. Less really can mean more and it's typical of this compelling, conceptually vivid disc that Katché should choose to close the set with the brief and limpid piano rumination that is Dusk." (Michael Tucker) ****

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN AND THE 4TH DIMENSION: NOW HERE THIS (Abstract Logix)
"Fusion, which McLaughlin helped to invent, implied not only an aggregation but a density. There's less blurring chromaticism for its own sake now, even when the music's at its most fiery. McLaughlin was ever the gravitational centre and in his 70th year still has the authority to force the pace. Today he seems to be drawing on a lifetime's experience without repetition or nostalgia. On this album, all is wondrously free-flowing yet reined in and co-operative. It can't be far short of McLaughlin's apotheosis as both team-player and awe-inspiring individual." (Nigel Jarrett) *****

BRAD MEHLDAU TRIO: WHERE DO YOU START (Nonesuch)
"After the release earlier this year of Ode, a set of Mehldau compositions, comes a companion volume of covers recorded on the same two days, with Jam the only Mehldau original. It's an interesting choice of material: jazz warhorses from Clifford Brown and Sonny Rollins alongside two Latin numbers, a Nick Drake song (as ever), a rock classic in Hey Joe and, to conclude, a sublimely beautiful treatment of a Johnny Mandel piece. Tempo is largely slow to middling, the overall mode sombre and restrained. If I have a criticism, it is that Mehldau locks himself into a groove for too long, with some tracks outstaying their welcome. And at almost 80 minutes, this results in a lengthy set that is tad overindulgent." (Simon Adams) ****

MARILYN MOORE: MOODY + OH, CAPTAIN! (Fresh Sound)
"Too often, Marilyn Moore (1931-1992) was viewed a mite disdainfully because she sounded like Billie Holiday. One is tempted to ask: So what? The reality is that Moore was a very good jazz singer who admired Holiday, whose way of treating songs struck chords within herself, and decided to follow that path. It happened that her vocal sound was very similar to how Holiday sounded in her early years. What was she supposed to do? Fake a different sound? Fortunately, she didn't do this and the positive results were some very attractive recordings. Adding to the many positive aspects of this CD is Fresh Sound's customary attention to detail and quality, in sound and presentation, which includes original liner notes from Bethlehem and MGM releases." (Bruce Crowther) ****

PETE OXLEY - NICOLAS MEIER: TRAVELS TO THE WEST (MGP)
"There can be something so delicate and at the same time robust in a duet between two truly accomplished guitarists and this album is a real exemplar of that possibility. As well as the self-penned material, there are four covers: Milton Nascimento's Vera Cruz provides Latin exuberance, Metheny's Travels is a wonderful bluesy centrepiece and Chick Corea's Spain and Armando's Rumba embrace the set's strong Iberian heart. Put simply, for any lover of guitar music - jazz or otherwise - this swinging, exhilarating note-perfect journey is probably going to be 2012's must-have album." (Dave Foxall) *****

WOODY SHAW: WOODY PLAYS WOODY (High Note)
"Shaw made his mark with intriguing work on the still-neglected and oft-underrated sessions that Eric Dolphy recorded for Alan Douglas in the spring of 1963. This CD assembles six later performances, all of which were previously available on the Muse label, but never in one compilation. Shaw's son, Woody Louis Armstrong Shaw III, provides informative and enlightening insert notes. Although he was comfortable with the more 'outside' music of Dolphy, and he occasionally employed a slightly sour intonation, this collection reminds us that Shaw's improvisations were fundamentally lyrical, even romantic. This CD serves as an excellent memorial, and I hope it will begin a trend to have his music better represented in the catalogue." (Barry Witherden) *****

THE BAD PLUS: MADE POSSIBLE (Concord)
"In their decade-long existence, these professed 'avant-garde populists' have presented an uncompromising body of originals, plus genre-crossing covers, to a wide audience. Material and treatment both have a popular appeal, though Made Possible, their eighth studio release, is a departure in being entirely originals, plus one cover, Paul Motian's Victoria - a tender tribute to the late drummer. There's hardly a straightahead swing groove on this album, with rock rhythms and odd time-signatures predominant, and some of the tracks - Pound For Pound, for instance - sound like contemporary pop songs. There's so much to say about this remarkable disc, it invites an article rather than a review." (Andy Hamilton) *****

JOHN TURVILLE TRIO: CONCEPTION (F-IRE)
"Bristling with creativity, the John Turville Trio embraces a range of musical influences to produce a set that never loses a sense of balance between melodic, gently swinging piano trio jazz, and more edgy, experimental material. Turville's style has been compared with that of Keith Jarrett and John Taylor, but there are also hints of Lou Levy here. Equally at home with material from Radiohead and George Shearing, the trio perhaps shows its considerable strengths best on Shearing's Conception. They walk the song effortlessly through several changes in tempo and direction, giving the impression they could do this all day and still come up with something fresh to say. Consistently inventive and beautifully performed throughout, Conception is one of the best jazz recordings I've heard in 2012." (John Adcock) *****


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