27 April 2009

Spanning the Blogosphere

23 April 2009

Must Read

I stumbled upon a recent Rifftides post in which Doug Ramsey reprinted an obituary he wrote for Dizzy Gillespie in the Los Angeles Times in 1993. Doug had some beautiful things to say about Diz, and I encourage you to read the full piece. In the comments, Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press passed a great tidbit about Diz:
I have heard lots of personal stories from Dave Usher, one of Dizzy's closest friends whom I have gotten to know well here in Detroit. You know Dave? Dizzy's partner in Dee Gee, produced records for Argo (Moody, Jamal, etc) before entering the family oil reclamation business and then transforming it into Marine Pollution Control, one of the world's leading oil spil/disaster clean-up companies. They did the Exxon Valdez clean-up among others. Dave put Dizzy on his board and he took the responsibility seriously -- coming to Detroit to for all the annual meetings. The idea of Dizzy in that board room is such a fabulous image.

Image via Google source:life

21 April 2009

Review: Radiolarians II

Medeski Martin & Wood
Radiolarians II

Medeski Martin & Wood have released the second album of their Radiolarians series, in which they develop and flesh out new tunes on the road before taking them into the studio. Whereas Radiolarians I resulted in an assemblage of various styles in one album, Radiolarians 2 seems more stylistically unified. Medeski Martin & Wood are in jamband mode on this album - which some may interpret as a bad thing. But I don't. One of the trio's strengths is the way it bridges highbrow and lowbrow. In the same song, you can hear Medeski play the kind of sophisticated, angular lines which make jazz buffs drool over a simple but effective funk groove laid down by Wood and Martin.

Such is the case on Radiolarians 2. The album opens with a heavy bass riff reminiscent of Les Claypool before giving way to the frenetic opening melody of "Flat Tires," which then leads into a simple vamp over which Medeski lays some pianistics with hints of Cecil Taylor and Ellington. Within the first three minutes of the album, the trio assembles its usual pastiche of American musical forms into its own inimitable sound. It is a brilliant opening, and one whose promise is fulfilled throughout the remainder.

More indicative of the laid-back feel of the album is the sixth track, Amber Girls, which is reminiscent to me of a Phish jam, slowly meandering its way through its variations. The tune also features some satisfying dissonance between Medeski's piano and Wood's electric bass. The tune also reflects the only major shortcoming of the album, though. By the time the group has arrived at the end of the tune, they simply let it end without giving it a conclusion worthy of the tune's exposition. This is forgivable, though, as the first four minutes of the tune more than made up for its abrupt ending ("It's not the destination, but the journey," as the saying goes).

Though you rarely read about it in the jazz press, who mostly focus on the trio's own version of inter-genre fusion, Medeski Martin & Wood are more than capable practitioners of the kind of free jazz you would expect to hear on an Ornette Coleman album. This facet of the group is on full display on "Dollar Pants," which is built upon a single two-beat vamp. Medeski and Wood each take turns playing around the vamp, each giving subdued takes on the theme free from harmonic restraints.

I've made no secret of my admiration for Medeski Martin & Wood, and I would add Radiolarians 2 to the top of my list of evidence of their particular brand of genius. They may not be playing jazz as defined by some, but their music is nonetheless a captivating outgrowth of The Jazz Tradition, one which continues to bear breathtaking fruit.

Bonus Content: Medeski Martin & Wood play Junkyard earlier this year at Le Poisson Rouge (mislabeled as Cajun Boogie):

Track Listing: Flat Tires; Junkyard; Padirecto; ijiji; Riffin' Ed; Amber Girls; Chasen vs. Suribachi; Dollar Pants; Amish Pinxtos; Baby, Let Me Follow You Down
Personnel: John Medeski, keyboards; Chris Wood, bass; Billy Martin, drums, percussion

20 April 2009

On TV Tonight

The Documentary Channel begins airing its four-part series on jazz, Icons Among Us, tonight at 9:00 Eastern. Ben Ratliff reviewed the series for the New York Times this weekend, calling it "a retort to Ken Burns’s 2001 television documentary 'Jazz.'" You can read more about the series at the Documentary Channel's website and the Icons Among Us website. I would watch, but Comcast has decided not to include the channel in my cable lineup (alas, there's always NetFlix). They recently took Fox Soccer and the MLB Network from me as well, so it might be time for a shake-up at Hot House Global HQ...

Video still via iconsamongus.com

17 April 2009

Friday Album Cover: Prestige Records

Blue Note Records has often been the subject of Friday Album Covers, but Blue Note was not the only label creating beautiful album art during the 1950s and 1960s. Below are two of my favorite covers from Prestige Records, which produced plenty of great hard bop albums by Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk, among many others.

Sonny Rollins
Saxophone Colossus
Saxophone Colossus very much resembles the Blue Note Special, except the image of Rollins looks more like a silhouette than a tinted black-and-white photo.

Miles Davis
Featuring a crisp image of a stoplight with clean typography, Walkin' is distinctive much in the same way so many Blue Note albums were.

16 April 2009

Review: Sky & Country

It is with a hearty sigh of relief that Fly is back on the road in support of their latest album, Sky & Country. In November of last year, saxophonist Mark Turner cut two fingers on a power saw, severing some nerves and potentially ending his career as a saxophonist. Luckily for everyone, Turner was able to make a full recovery with the help of some expert surgeons and physical therapists. The trio is now touring behind Sky & Country (recorded in early 2008, before Turner's injury).

Whenever a new saxophone-bass-drums trio record is released, the jazz press rather predictably connects that record to a long chain of saxophone trios dating back to Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins. However, what strikes me about Fly is how the band at times sounds like any of the 1960s Bill Evans trios. On "Lady B," the interplay between Turner and Grenadier reminds me of the relationship between Evans and bassists Scott LaFaro and Eddie Gomez. See for instance this video of the two plus drummer Alex Riel playing "Nardis" in 1966 (for an even better example, listen to Evans and LaFaro on any of the takes of "Gloria's Step" from the 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings):

Like Evans' trios, Fly is quite democratic. The simple melody of "Super Sister," for instance, allows Ballard to take the lead on drums, much in the way David King is utilized by The Bad Plus on some tunes. Whereas Com
pass, to pick one recent example of a saxophone trio, serves primarily as a vehicle for Joshua Redman, Sky & Country feels more like a three-person showcase.

The title of the album alludes to open space, a theme which is reflected throughout the disc. However, upon first hearing the album, I was left wishing the band had not kept things so subdued throughout the entire disc. Negative space is important, but without a bit of energy to play off of, it can leave the listener wanting. That is not to say the album was boring; merely, it drags at points. Though Sky & Country is not a perfect album, it is nonetheless a fun ride.

Bonus: Fly plays "State of the Union" at the Sunside jazz club in Paris:

See also: Jason Crane interviews Fly on The Jazz Session

Track Listing:
Lady B; Sky & Country; Elena Berenjena; CJ; Dharma Days; Anandananda; Morena, Perla; Transfigured; Super Sister
Personnel: Mark Turner, saxophone; Larry Grenadier, bass; Jeff Ballard, drums

12 April 2009

List: 8 Essential Trumpet Solos

As a budding trumpet player in high school, I listened to a ton of trumpet solos. One of the most rudimentary steps in developing your own style as a jazz musician is to listen to as many other musicians as possible and transcribe their solos. By doing so, you improve your own ear and give yourself somewhat of a stylistic guide that serves as a jumping off point for your own voice. Below is a list of eight trumpet solos which any young musician would do well to transcribe. Some of the choices are rather obvious, and others (hopefully) are not as obvious. Feel free to let me know what I missed in the comments, the list is not meant as the be-all-end-all of jazz trumpet, but merely a starting point. The list is in relatively chronological order.
  1. Louis Armstrong, Wild Man Blues, from The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings: West End Blues gets all the attention for its divine opening cadenza, but I always preferred Wild Man Blues. Armstrong remains important to modern trumpet players both for his swagger and humanity, and he packs an abundance of both into this solo.
  2. Dizzy Gillespie, Shaw 'nuff, on many compilations: Dizzy opened up new worlds for trumpet players, and his solos represent a primer on improvisation for young trumpet players. His work is an important building block for modern jazz trumpet improvisation.
  3. Miles Davis, Now's The Time, from almost any Charlie Parkercompilation: Certainly there are many important Miles solos to choose from, but I find that learning this solo tends to wean trumpet players off of the habit of playing lots of fast runs and high notes, and gets them to concentrate on melody as well as rhythm and harmony. Miles showed trumpet players during the 1940s that they did not have to play like Dizzy in order to make good jazz, a lesson which is still important.
  4. Lee Morgan, Moanin', from Moanin': This is one of the more obvious choices on the list, but there is a reason for that. Morgan distills the entirety of hard bop into this solo, it swings violently, is drenched in the blues, but also reveals a harmonic sophistication that separated the wheat from the chaff of the genre. I could listen to this solo every day for the rest of my life and not get tired of hearing it. This solo is a necessary primer on hard bop for any young musician, trumpet player or not.
  5. Booker Little, Garvey's Ghost from Percussion Bitter Sweet: Little plays outside the melody and around the changes, giving a new perspective on improvisation that bridges hard bop and free jazz.
  6. Miles Davis, My Funny Valentine, from The Complete Concert 1964: My Funny Valentine + Four and More: Miles at an artistic peak. He transforms the tune with understatement.
  7. Freddie Hubbard, "One Finger Snap," from Empyrean Isles:This is my favorite Hubbard solo. Hubbard had incredible chops, which makes transcribing his solos a physical as well as mental challenge. He compels you to improve your technique.
  8. Wynton Marsalis, Caravan from Marsalis Standard Time ~ Vol.1: Wynton synthesizes a sizable chunk of jazz history in his earlier work, giving a good intro to neobop improvisation.
Now, even considering the fact that there are no solos by Clifford Brown, I think this is a decent place to start. What would you add to or subtract from this list?