Bill Smith - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection http://www.jazzreview.com Tue, 23 May 2017 14:00:17 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece by Ashley Kahn and Jimmy Cobb http://www.jazzreview.com/book-reviews/kind-of-blue-the-making-of-the-miles-davis-masterpiece-by-ashley-kahn-and-jimmy-cobb.html http://www.jazzreview.com/book-reviews/kind-of-blue-the-making-of-the-miles-davis-masterpiece-by-ashley-kahn-and-jimmy-cobb.html In this age of "metafication", when every work of art must be held up, turned over, upside down, jiggled, poked, prodded and made to turn its head ...
In this age of "metafication", when every work of art must be held up, turned over, upside down, jiggled, poked, prodded and made to turn its head and cough, it was only a matter of time until Miles Davis' Kind of Blue landed on the Petrie dish. In recording Kind of Blue, the Davis Sextet of 1959 - Davis, John Coltrane, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb û together managed a musical symbiosis that was seemingly effortless yet vital, of its time and yet supremely transcendent of it. For those of us who cherish the work, its graceful modality and biting elegance, the appearance of journalist Ashley Kahn's fan-bio is a cause for stereophile excitement.

That Kahn's book only partially delivers is not necessarily the criticism it sounds. For one, lasting music by its nature defies words, which is why all music criticism falls short of the mark. Kahn doesn't go the music critic route. He opts instead for straight reporting and in generating a "You Are There!" build-up and excitement to the March 2 and April 22, 1959 recording dates. (Yes, in todays age of two-year long recording projects it's hard to believe that one of the brilliant corners of 20th century music was recorded in just nine hours on these two days). As a result there's plenty of padding here with a framework not unlike a jazz work û with the beginning and end as sets ups for the revelation of the soloing of the sessions.

Setting the stage has been done before in any number of Davis bios or critiques. Kahn adds little but for those interested in the briefest of histories of one of jazz's true originals this isn't a bad place to start. From Miles' apprenticeship with Charlie Parker through Birth of the Cool and the construction of the quintet and sextet Kahn's first ninety pages set up the action with resolute pacing.

The next 60 pages are the book's raison d'etre. Kahn sequestered himself in the Columbia vaults listened to the master tape play-by-play on the sessions and documented every word. From producer Irving Townsend's opening historical understatement ("The machine's on") to Bill Evans' closing commentary on the difficult "All Blues" ("Boy if I didn't have coffeeà") he records for posterity the mundane but fascinating inner workings of genius. In the process he explores the derivation of the modal sketches Miles used and the controversy behind Bill Evans' possible authorship of "Blue In Green" and "Flamenco Sketches." Though Kahn isn't here to pass definitive judgment there seems to be no question that at the very least Kind of Blue was a collaborative Davis-Evans work. (Now go buy your Evans discs.)

Finally Kahn looks at the work's legacy. He researches the fuzzy numbers of music biz accounting and finds 5 million copies of the work floating about the jazz loving world. That the jazz genre as a whole only constitutes 5% of the music sold in this country000 copies per week20000 around the holidays.

Of course none of that matters as long as you own a copy (I've got three including the initial LP jacket that mistakenly flipped "Flamenco Sketches" and "All Blues" which Kahn reports is worth $$$!). Kahn's work does well to sew together loose ends esoteric factoids and collectabilia but inevitably it can't do much to explain the continued aura that the recording casts on listeners. In the end that's probably just as it should be.'In this age of "metafication", when every work of art must be held up, turned over, upside down, jiggled, poked, prodded and made to turn its head and cough, it was only a matter of time until Miles Davis' Kind of Blue landed on the Petrie dish. In recording Kind of Blue, the Davis Sextet of 1959 - Davis, John Coltrane, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb û together managed a musical symbiosis that was seemingly effortless yet vital, of its time and yet supremely transcendent of it.
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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Bill Smith) Book Reviews Sun, 02 Jan 2000 18:00:00 -0600
Park Avenue South: Live at Starbucks by Dave Brubeck Quartet http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/park-avenue-south-live-at-starbucks-by-dave-brubeck-quartet.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/park-avenue-south-live-at-starbucks-by-dave-brubeck-quartet.html It’s fitting that Dave Brubeck’s latest musical offering is in Telarc’s Live at Starbucks Series: the Brubeck name has become as ubiquitous and mainstream as the S…
It’s fitting that Dave Brubeck’s latest musical offering is in Telarc’s Live at Starbucks Series: the Brubeck name has become as ubiquitous and mainstream as the Seattle company. Like the coffee chain, the pianist’s once trend-setting appeal to a youthful demographic (remember those early fifties Jazz at College LPs?) has long since given way to middle brow blandness. The Brubeck name is as close as jazz comes to "brand" recognition.

It is ironic then that the combination sparks one of the septuagenarian’s finer discs in his Telarc run. Brubeck’s usually studied approach is here more buoyant from his plucky opening solo on "On the Sunny Side of the Street" to his closing vamps on "Show Me the Way to Go Home." Maybe it’s the one-offness of the date that provides the playfulness and refreshing repertoire (split 50/50 between band originals and standards).

Certainly, one of the reasons for the uncharacteristic high energy is the presence of Bobby Mitello. As he did on Brubeck’s other fine Telarc offering, 1999’s Night Shift, the saxophonist plays with flair and fervor on "Love for Sale" and "On A Slow Boat to China." On "Love Is Just Around the Corner" he pretty much swaggers and on Brubeck’s "I Love Vienna" (the stellar original here) he combines Desmond’s harmonic grace with the brawny post-bop swing of a Bud Shank. And does one even hear a touch of the modal Coltrane on "Crescent City Stomp"?

In the best compare and contrast, after Brubeck’s languid opening to "Don’t Forget Me" (a fairly forgettable performance), Mitello takes over. He quickly lifts Brubeck’s shaky melody into high Bird flight, spiraling sixteenth notes as the pianist, bassist Michael Moore and drummer Randy Jones sail with him. It makes for a different quartet sound than we’re used to (i.e., a la Desmond) - earthier and less urbane, imbued with a tougher skin with no hint of preciousness.

Of course, in the end, the leader trots out the Desmond war horse "Take Five", but it’s just for the applause. The best moments here remind one of the playful spirit that made Brubeck’s early recordings such a joy - a loose but together band, innocent of the pretension of the later work, and playing just for the helluva it.
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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Bill Smith) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Sun, 09 Feb 2003 06:00:00 -0600
Casa by Morelenbaum 2 / Sakamoto http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/brazilian-jazz-brazilian-pop-jazz-cd-reviews/casa-by-morelenbaum-2-/-sakamoto.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/brazilian-jazz-brazilian-pop-jazz-cd-reviews/casa-by-morelenbaum-2-/-sakamoto.html All evidence to the contrary, there are very few fine recordings of the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. I say contrary to the evidence because Jobim may be one of the most r…
All evidence to the contrary, there are very few fine recordings of the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. I say contrary to the evidence because Jobim may be one of the most recorded composers of the last century. However, if Joao Gilberto
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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Bill Smith) Brazilian Jazz / Brazilian Pop Jazz - CD Reviews Fri, 19 Jul 2002 13:00:00 -0500
Fluid Motion by David Manson's Fluid Motion with Sam Rivers http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/fluid-motion-by-david-manson-s-fluid-motion-with-sam-rivers.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/contemporary-jazz-cd-reviews/fluid-motion-by-david-manson-s-fluid-motion-with-sam-rivers.html In a perfect world where creative music is equally disseminated regardless of marketing muscle or name brand recognition, Fluid Motion, the debut disc by David …
In a perfect world where creative music is equally disseminated regardless of marketing muscle or name brand recognition, Fluid Motion, the debut disc by David Manson and his Tampa, Florida collective, would have popped up on many year end Critic’s Picks lists. The self-released disc on Manson’s Isospin Labs label is one of the standout musical surprises of the latter half of 2002. Not only does the disc feature new work by Sam Rivers, but allows the legendary saxophone iconoclast to share space with a new crop of hungry young players.

All of this comes together in Manson’s brilliant compositions; adventurous from the start because of the piano-less, sax-trumpet-trombone quintet format, Manson’s challenging ensemble themes have a deceptively open, organic feel yet walk the harmonic tightrope without ever dipping into Third Stream esoterica or dissonance. Structured passages and improvised segments are seamlessly integrated, allowing touchdown points for the flight of the soloist and unison passages brimming with free jazz brio.

This works so well because of the unique juju of this highly integrated quintet. On frenetic pieces like "Poodle Science" and Tephlon", drummer Anthony Cole and bass player Doug Mathews show a joyful telepathy. Rivers is stellar throughout, weaving his hypnotic post-bop lines together with a snake charmer’s charisma, but always ducking overt riffing and turning down a new alley. Yet he by no means upstages the others. Young trumpeter Jonathan Powell burnishes a muscular Ted Curson-like tone matched with Don Cherry’s thoughtfulness of where he can take these tunes. On "Crossdrift" he plays a crisp, brash solo full of harmonic confidence.

Again, in a perfect jazz world Manson’s "Whispers" would quickly surface as a ballad standard. The evocative, even eerie, three-horn harmonic theme floats over Cole’s minimal cymbal play and a loping, desert heat bass line by Mathews. Rivers stutters and stammers a beautiful deconstruction of the theme with an Arabic flavor. Trombonist Manson shows he’s mastered the rough and tumble balladry of Roswell Rudd with a vigorous solo. As Rivers takes out the theme and Powell and Manson follow in a round, there is a refreshing break of optimism in this music.

Manson’s fine constructions compare favorably to Dave Douglas’ recent work, but also further back to the inventive playfulness of Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus (especially in prevalent rhythmic role he offers Mathews).

It’s high praise but deserved.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Bill Smith) Contemporary Jazz - CD Reviews Fri, 19 Jul 2002 07:00:00 -0500
Love Outside of Dreams by Kahil El'Zabar Trio http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/free-jazz-avante-garde-cd-reviews/love-outside-of-dreams-by-kahil-el-zabar-trio.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/free-jazz-avante-garde-cd-reviews/love-outside-of-dreams-by-kahil-el-zabar-trio.html Any new work by Kahil El’Zabar is cause for excitement. Over the past twenty five years, the Chicago percussionist, bandleader and mainstay of the groundbreaking Associatio…
Any new work by Kahil El’Zabar is cause for excitement. Over the past twenty five years, the Chicago percussionist, bandleader and mainstay of the groundbreaking Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM) has been a musical mover and shaker par excellence repeatedly stretching the jazz tape to encompass his altruistic ideal of a world jazz.

With both the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble (his collaboration with Defunkt founder Joseph Bowie, Ernest Dawkins and Harold Murray) and the Ritual Trio (with AACM compatriots Ari Brown and Malachi Favors), El’Zabar has introduced a Pan African-American hybrid that is equal parts soul, blues, gospel, chant, chamber jazz and North African juju. It is an earthy, supple and spiritual gumbo with a nod to predecessors as diverse as Dizzy’s Cuban forays, Albert Ayler, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Pharoah Sanders seminal Sixties work.

As a songwriter and percussionist, El’Zabar is less a prodder forcing a sonic structure on his playing partners than a scout. He has the confidence in his musical vision to point his partners in the general direction and let them take flight from there. Of course, the choice of partners belies that confidence. The list of collaborators that have graced his recordings of the past decade - Sanders, Archie Shepp, Billy Bang - reads like a tableau of contemporary jazz. Less guest artists than kindred spirits, El’Zabar incorporates these original voices into the schema of his music so much so that their individual contribution seems inevitable. In all of this - the choices of multi-cultural elements, the rhythmic fluidity, the musical partnerships - El’Zabar provides the mortar for its foundation.

His latest Delmark release Love Outside of Dreams combines all of the above masterfully. Dubbing his "new" group the Kahil El’Zabar Trio, the leader has set up a framework for an inspired musical partnering with the saxophonist David Murray and bassist Fred Hopkins. Yet "new" is in name only. The three have played together in various factions of Murray’s many bands; however, never have they joined together in a trio setting and its this most bare of jazz formats that allows for some of their most creative playing.

The opening title track is an El’Zabar standard and it pushes the usually swaggering Murray to a more staccato, brittle, Archie Shepp tone. Closer to the early raw R&B sound than we’ve heard from Murray in years, his tenor is like a paint peeler revealing the primal melody beneath the unnecessary adornments. His solo stutters and crackles as Hopkins and El’Zabar provide percolating rhythm.

"Song for a New Africa" is another in El’Zabar’s series of nods to Mother Africa. Like Randy Weston, El’Zabar is comfortable appropriating the loping Arabic rhythms of North Africa, setting up languid melodies that unfold slowly in the desert heat. He plays ashiko and earth drums as he and Murray chant a resurrection song for the continent that has provided a rejuvenating pulse to the world’s music.

"Song of Myself" - like the title track - appeared on the Ritual Trio’s 2000 collaboration with Pharoah Sanders. It is an evocative ensemble piece with El’Zabar on traps, Hopkins bowing and Murray taking his first foray on the disc on bass clarinet. The somber tune seems almost a set-up for the red hot "Nia" that follows. On the strength of the muscular melody (a homage to Dizzy Gillespie and somewhat of a stuttering "Mr. P.C." in form), Murray ignites, blazing through the rhythmic changes with his finest funk grit. There are few tenor players who can compete with Murray’s emotive powers at such speed and he sputters, squeals and pops with abandon, never losing the thread of the melody nor the pulse of Hopkins’ buoyant backing.

"Meditation for the Celestial Warriors" showcases the other side to the saxophonist’s genius - his deconstructing of a ballad. Backed only by El’Zabar’s mbira (African thumb piano), Murray shows why he’s the inheritor of Ben Webster’s crown. Kahil shows in his mbira solo - as he did on the Ritual Trio’s "For the Love of My Father"- that instruments of the most limited tonal range in the right hands are capable of evoking depths of emotion.

"The Ebullient Duke" is another restructuring of an El’Zabar original and in its vitality is one of the most appropriate tributes to the great Ellington since Miles’ "Love Him Madly." One can almost hear the horn charts punching Murray on in Albert Ayler-meets-Ben Webster mode. El’Zabar lashes the rhythm on, riding his cymbal as Hopkins is sturdy as always.

After a brief Hopkins solo ("Fred"), the disc closes fittingly with "One World Family", a loose bit of funk blues that finds El'Zabar chanting his mantra for world peace while Murray shows once again why he's heir to Eric Dolphy's bass clarinet throne. The ebullient bounce is as joyous as a New Orleans Second Line stomp and all the bit as necessary.

Sadly, the disc will have to stand as a tribute to Hopkins who died six months after making this, his final recording. On it, "Nia" and his artful arco playing on "Song of Myself", he reveals one final time why he was a favorite of the New School. His soulful tone and limber accompaniment made him a favorite of freedom fighters like Murray and El’Zabar. It is why his recordings will continue to make him a favorite of all of us who value his contribution to creative music.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Bill Smith) Free Jazz / Avante Garde - CD Reviews Sun, 31 Mar 2002 06:00:00 -0600
Grit-Gittin Feelin by Harold Ousley http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/grit-gittin-feelin-by-harold-ousley.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/grit-gittin-feelin-by-harold-ousley.html Paul Serrano’s liner notes to the 71 year old Chicago saxophonist Harold Ousley’s debut disc tell of an early gig playing with the Heine Bros. Carnival in Champaign, IL. On…
Paul Serrano’s liner notes to the 71 year old Chicago saxophonist Harold Ousley’s debut disc tell of an early gig playing with the Heine Bros. Carnival in Champaign, IL. On stage from 9 am to 1 am daily, Ousley & Co. played an astounding 25 shows per day, a mind (and lip!) numbing pace if ever there was one. If that doesn’t give the gruff tenor player journeyman cred, I don’t know what would. Ousley went on to play with blues men Sunnyland Slim and Roosevelt Sykes as well as with jazz legends like Dinah Washington and Lionel Hampton, but it’s that early carnie life that sticks in the mind. In his sweet and mellow, blues drenched tone, you can still hear echoes of that muscular young player who kept playing and playing for the love of the music.

This disc isn’t as "grit-gittin’" as the title suggests - there’s no B-3 chicken shack jive, no blues shouting, honk n’ sputter marathon solos just solid slippery soulful playing with a bottom heavy tone reminiscent of seventies-era Dexter Gordon. Ousley enlists a crack team of Chicago jazz veterans - pianist Jodie Christian, bassist John Whitfield, drummer Robert Shy and trumpet king Art Hoyle - to create a neo-bop "Walkin’" style groove from first to last. The one cut with Hoyle - Ousley’s saucy samba "El Senioree" - makes you long for more head-to-head contact. Hoyle contributes a fat-lipped Doc Cheatham-meets-Roy Eldridge solo to compliment the leader. The four originals and five standards - including a tongue-in-cheek turn on the Osmonds’ (yes, Donny & Co.) "Go Away Little Girl" and a heavy-on-the-reed, lost love rendition of "Lush Life" - play like a single wavering groove. From the opening standard "Without a Song" through Ousley’s "Fever" inspired "A Troubled Soul" this is a sweet, soulful discovery of another in Chicago’s tough tenor family.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Bill Smith) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Mon, 28 Aug 2000 07:00:00 -0500
Presence of Truth; ... Mastery; ... Joy by Tisziji Munoz http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/free-jazz-avante-garde-cd-reviews/presence-of-truth-...-mastery-...-joy-by-tisziji-munoz.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/free-jazz-avante-garde-cd-reviews/presence-of-truth-...-mastery-...-joy-by-tisziji-munoz.html In interviews, mega-Grammy winner Carlos Santana often pays homage to John Coltrane as an early inspiration. That’s a nice nod. Yet despite fumbling attempts at imitation, …
In interviews, mega-Grammy winner Carlos Santana often pays homage to John Coltrane as an early inspiration. That’s a nice nod. Yet despite fumbling attempts at imitation, Santana’s music has never embodied the complex collision of earthly fire and spiritual transcendence of Coltrane’s late work. I used to think it was that six strings simply couldn’t conjure the gods (the devil, sure) the way a sax could. Then I heard Tisziji Munoz a musical visionary from Schenectady, NY who sets fire to his strings with the same furious marriage of Buddhist grace and Christian fire and brimstone that Coltrane managed. Munoz’s tone favors the same piercing wail that Carlos digs, but he combines this with Coltrane’s penchant for shards of glass drama and a buckshot blast of notes that gives the sense that the music’s burning through his flesh like stigmata. It’s an original sound that a scant few have heard. That’s because Munoz is a fringe dweller, a spacey mystic who speaks in Ghost Dog-like platitudes (sounds like Carlos again) and releases his own discs with little or no promotion. He does have his cartel of musical supporters, though, and they show for these three recent discs.

Premier is the rhythm team of former Coltrane drummer Rashied Ali and bassist Don Pate. They make a loose but frantic team, perfect for the leader’s helter-skelter pacing. Keyboardists Hilton Ruiz and Letterman side kick Paul Shaffer spar on Mastery and Truth but they don’t hold their own as well as sax man David Liebman does on Presence of Joy, easily the most essential of the three. Liebman’s a strong voice who fights for his solo time (a necessary evil when up against divine intervention), thoughtful to Tisziki’s stream of consciousness. He’s comfortable with Coltrane’s fury and free with Tisziji’s own tunes of furious meditation. Of course, Munoz is the blustery star here and throughout these three works you can’t help but wonder why he isn’t a free jazz household name. I guess when the heaven’s are yours, who has time for earthly delights.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Bill Smith) Free Jazz / Avante Garde - CD Reviews Sun, 27 Aug 2000 19:00:00 -0500
Blues and Other Love Songs by Charles Brown http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/other-cd-reviews/blues-and-other-love-songs-by-charles-brown.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/other-cd-reviews/blues-and-other-love-songs-by-charles-brown.html Brown, who died last year at the age of 77, has long been touted in blues circles but is known primarily for a late-eighties rediscovery of his work thanks to progeny Bonni…
Brown, who died last year at the age of 77, has long been touted in blues circles but is known primarily for a late-eighties rediscovery of his work thanks to progeny Bonnie Raitt and a slew of excellent nineties discs on the Verve/Gitanes label. Perhaps the reason the Texan was more talked of than heard of for the preceding two decades was because of the tremendous sophistication of his work - an inventive mix of Nat Cole, Memphis Slim and Ray Charles that conjured a gritty but still elegant vision of the blues. It’s a vision that might have played better in the dim light of the ‘Round Midnight jazz world. With his smoky after-hours baritone and a sparse, pecking piano style that maintained a slow, steady pulse of sensuality, Brown was a believer in less is more, everything-for-the-groove music. Not an act that played well in the barnstorming blues world of sixties and seventies Hendrix-meets-Buddy Guy guitar sailing.

Blues and Other Love Songs then is a quiet revelation for jazz and blues fans. Brown has the hesitant delivery and knack for vowel elongation of Shirley Horn and the sly humor minus the exultation of Ray Charles. He sounds like a weathered King Cole for the down and out set, graceful and light but without elitism and charmingly worse for wear. His piano generates a smile - grinding out the noble blues rhythms with a minimum of fuss and just right embellishment. He shares the solo spotlight on this disc (recorded in ’92) with guitarist Danny Caron and saxophonist Houston Person. In fact, its Person, as producer, who really dictates the mood of this highly successful disc - allowing a loose, late-night feel of common appreciation for the blues. With covers like a swinging "Mint Julep" and a solo, key rattling "’Round Midnight" the disc reminds us of a largely ignored piano master. On Brown originals like "I Put Myself Together", "What a Life" and "Before the Evening Sun Sets", we hear a case for the Texan as a great jazz composer. It’s a shame he was ignored by the jazz community though thankful we have this sweet shard of memory.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Bill Smith) Other - CD Reviews Sat, 26 Aug 2000 07:00:00 -0500
The Unsung Blues Legend Living Room Session by Lonnie Johnson http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/blues-cd-reviews/the-unsung-blues-legend-living-room-session-by-lonnie-johnson.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/blues-cd-reviews/the-unsung-blues-legend-living-room-session-by-lonnie-johnson.html Somewhere along the line, maybe because he refused to paint himself into a tidy genre corner and instead fueled his voracious creative appetite with Tin Pan Alley standards…
Somewhere along the line, maybe because he refused to paint himself into a tidy genre corner and instead fueled his voracious creative appetite with Tin Pan Alley standards as well as the blues, Lonnie Johnson’s never received credit for his founding father role in the development of modern guitar. You can hear his clean, ringing style in players from Scotty Moore to B.B. King (and conversely Eric Clapton to Mark Knopfler to Brian Setzer, for godsakes). After successes in the thirties and forties playing with partner Eddie Lang and even Louis Armstrong, he dropped out of sight. While umpteen delta bluesmen were getting the rediscovery treatment, the urbane Johnson was surviving on modest gigs in Canada. When he had dates in New York, he stayed with friend and blues aficionado Bernie Strassberg. This archival CD was recorded in Strassberg’s apartment in 1965 when Johnson was seventy six and it’s a rare document of an artist relaxed and among friends. That informality makes for some sweet soul music showcasing not only Johnson’s lean lines but his surprisingly rich vocals.

On tunes as diverse as Kurt Weill’s "September Song", Hoagy Carmichael’s "Rockin’ Chair" and Bessie Smith’s "Backwater Blues", Johnson sings with raw power as his solo guitar runs cascade around him. In songs by Duke Ellington, W.C. Handy and Fatha Hines, he inhabits the material with chilling confidence. On "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess, he sings not as a Bess to her child as Gershwin intended, but as Sporting Life trying to get some action. There was plenty of youthful spunk left in the old boy and this disc makes you wish we’d paid more attention.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Bill Smith) Blues - CD Reviews Sat, 19 Aug 2000 07:00:00 -0500
Monks Dream by Steve Lacy / Roswell Rudd http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/monks-dream-by-steve-lacy-/-roswell-rudd.html http://www.jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/straight-ahead-classic-cd-reviews/monks-dream-by-steve-lacy-/-roswell-rudd.html For followers of Lacy's career, this Verve release with sometime collaborator Roswell Rudd has got to bring a smile to your face. Rudd's elastic - occasionally spastic - bu…
For followers of Lacy's career, this Verve release with sometime collaborator Roswell Rudd has got to bring a smile to your face. Rudd's elastic - occasionally spastic - but always muscularly brilliant trombone playing is filled with a humor that brings out the playfulness in Lacy's sometimes cerebral offerings. Rudd plays the musical Laurel to Lacy's Hardy - a yin and yang that works to bring out the best in both men and their mutual affinities.

Those affinities are well-known by now. When they met in the late fifties, the two were instantly joined at the hip because of their mutual passion for the music of Thelonious Monk and they formed a "jazz repertory group" (Lacy's words) dedicated to their mentor's music. That partnership has been too infrequently rekindled but when it has - most notably in '83 with Black Saint's "Regeneration" set - it's been with great wit and depth.

Monk's Dream is not an all Monk affair as the title might suggest. Instead, it's an overview of Lacy's adventurous path over the past 40 years. Through two Monk tunes, one Ellington and six of his own varied compositions, Lacy leads Rudd and longtime partners Avenel and Betsch through the labyrinthine world of Lacy. It's a path that covers a lot of ground.

"Monk's Dream" and "Pannonica" alone are worth the effort. Monk has no better interpreters than Lacy and Rudd and the two's music grows exponentially when they collaborate. The playful sparring on "Monk's Dream" reveals the telepathy the two hold, with Rudd underscoring Lacy's phrases like the underline key on my keyboard. "Pannonica" is taken as a slightly bouncing ballad and provides Rudd with some bittersweet soloing that beautifully segues into Lacy's plaintive horn. Lacy is a fine ballad player, able to remove the high pitched brittleness from his horn and emphasize a soulfulness that few can match. "KoKo" comes complete with the two growling the jungle opening in homage to Ellington's 100th year.

Lacy brings the best of his book to the session as well. "The Bath", "The Rent" and "The Door" he's recorded often, but I'm sure the opportunity to play them with Rudd was too tempting to resist. "The Rent", his humorous cha-cha homage to friend and jazz critic Laurent Goddet, is especially alive with Rudd's raspberried attack the perfect foil for Lacy's best Dixieland phrasing.

But the new pieces are perhaps the most interesting. "Grey Blue" a new blues must have been written with Rudd in mind. The spacious setting fits Rudd's brash trombone like an old recliner. He mutes his bell for its softest tones and with Lacy in tow brings out the joy in the blues. "A Bright Pearl" and "Traces" with Lacy's partner Irene Aebi on vocals are the first two parts of a projected ten-part suite setting the poetry of Zen Buddhist Monk Ryokan to music. It's a mix of jazz and art song which I'll qualify by saying is not for everyone. But Aebi's voice, with its Schoenbergian color, and Lacy's escalator phrasing make a challenging duo that rewards repeated listening. Lacy's theme for "Traces" sounds like cascading leaves in an autumn wind, each phrase sliding into the next. The solo passages are loose and limber.

The lyrics for the latter are: "We meet only to part / Coming and going like white clouds. / Leaving traces so faint / Hardly a soul notices." The traces of these two musical masters one can't help but notice. This is a disc to ensure that.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Bill Smith) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Tue, 18 Jul 2000 19:00:00 -0500