Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday Music: The Guitar in Modern Jazz, by Wiggia

Wes Montgomery

The Guitar started out in jazz as a rhythm section instrument. It only really came to the fore as a standalone item when Charlie Christian joined the Benny Goodman sextet and started to use amplification; he can’t really be said to be a founding father of be bop but he was instrumental in the run up to that period.

He came from a musical family and he and his two brothers plus the father busked for a living. He originally wanted to play the tenor sax, but was dissuaded in favour of the trumpet, which he declined.

He had no real influences but was himself influential to most of those early be boppers Gillespie, Davis et al. He ruled the Downbeat and Metronome polls for years after his 1940 debut with Goodman. He unfortunately contracted TB at an early age and it returned later and he died in 1942 aged just 25. Partly because of his age and his relatively short time in the spotlight he never recorded as a leader of his own group, so all his recordings are with others or compilations.

This is “Stompin' at the Savoy”, recorded live at Minton's in ‘41. It gives Christian more room to expand his playing than when within the confines of Goodmans sextet:

Within the jazz context I have no hesitation about naming Wes Montgomery as my favorite guitarist. the first guitar album I purchased was his with his brothers, who were also jazz musicians: The Montgomery Brothers “Groove Yard” - not his first but my first introduction to him. He also played on another of my collection, “Work Song” with Nat Adderley, Cannonball Adderley's cornet-playing brother - a lot of brothers involved here !

Born in 1923 he learnt to play the six string guitar by listening to Charlie Christian records. He never learnt to read music and all his playing was by ear; it was that ability to play Christian note for note that got him noticed by Lionel Hampton whom he joined. These were hard times for him and his family of eight back home and he supplemented his income by working shifts in a factory. His career took off when he was “discovered by Cannonball Adderley in ‘59. His first album on Riverside followed a year later: “Far Wes”. he moved to Verve records in ‘64 and his album with Wynton Kelly “Smokin at the Half Note” along with his earlier “The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery” on Riverside are probably his best work in the jazz genre and arguably the best jazz guitar albums full stop; the latter won the Down Beat poll for best jazz guitar alum six years running from ‘60 - ‘67.

Sadly he was another whose career was cut short by ill health: he died after a heart attack in 1968.

He was summed up rather well by Joe Pass, himself no slouch with the instrument:

“To me there have been just three real innovators on the guitar: Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt.”

Here is the man with the “bionic” thumb playing Round Midnight in 1965:

And this number I have on some authority was the equivalent of a war anthem for the coloured troops in Vietnam - his own composition, “Bumpin’ on Sunset”:

Joe Pass, here playing “Satin Doll” -

- was of Sicilian descent and started playing at nine and by fourteen was getting work. he moved from Pennsylvania to NY City and soon in his early twenties developed a heroin addiction, spending most of the fifties in prison. After a two and a half year stay in a rehab center he emerged clean; as he said, ” I didn’t play a lot during that time”. During the sixties he worked with many artists and musicians and produced several albums. He also worked as a sideman for Ella Fitzgerald, with whom he did six albums, and many other singers including Frank Sinatra. During much of this period he worked in and around the LA area in films and TV including the Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and Steve Allen shows.

In 1970 he signed for Norman Granz Pablo records and produced his finest work, the solo album Virtuoso.

Herb Ellis is best known for his many years with the Oscar Peterson Trio so his solo work is slightly less than would expect from such a distinguished guitarist.

This is “Blues for Everyone”:

Charlie Byrd is best known for his Brazilian-based music and bringing jazz samba to the fore with Stan Getz. Jazz Samba was also the name of the album that with Getz introduced bossa nova to the public and was a long running success. Byrd never strayed far from his Latin theme and unlike many contemporaries finger he plucked a classical guitar; he was classically trained and spent some time studying under Andres Segovia in Italy. Here he is playing Antonio Carlos Jobin’s “Corcovado”:

I always enjoyed Byrd; he was a quiet, gentle antidote to the mad world outside.

In honesty my guitar album collection is not large apart from work by those above and I do not like to comment on musicians that I have heard little of, the likes of Grant Green, Jim Hall and George Benson or nothing at all. It is an area of jazz that I have never given proper time to explore, and that applies to most of the more contemporary players of latter years; it’s partly because many are cross-over artists even based mainly on rock and those whom I have heard in that role I prefer to enjoy as rock guitarists. John McLaughlin is in that category: when he plays “jazz” there is really not much difference to his rock work and the music of Pat Matheney for me falls into the same group. Listening blind you could be forgiven for thinking Pink Floyd had released another album, which in itself is not a bad thing, but is it jazz ? I leave you to judge:

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Night Is Music Night: Loreena McKennitt, by JD

Canada has produced more than a few singers/songwriters in the field of popular and folk music, the most notable being Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Of the other artists I think only one can match the musical talents of those famous sisters and that one is Loreena McKennitt. Quite possibly nowhere near as famous as she ought to be but over the past thirty years she has quietly created a huge back catalogue of excellent music and has built up a very large and dedicated fan base world wide.

Her music is described on her web site as ‘eclectic Celtic’ absorbing other influences from Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

She is also rather adept at taking the poetry of Yeats, Tennyson and Shakespeare among others and setting their words to music (two examples are included here).

Because of the many styles blended into her recordings she draws on musicians from many genres but there is always a core built around Brian Hughes on guitar, Caroline LaVelle on cello and the excellent Hugh Marsh on violin.

I seem to have gone 'over the top' and posted nine videos but it could have been a lot more, difficult to know what to leave out! Perhaps a part 2 will be necessary.

In the meantime pour yourself a dram or two of uisce beatha ("water of life"), turn up the volume and relax into a reverie of glorious music.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Turkish referendum: implications for democracy and world peace

According to a Dutch news site, 71% of expatriate Turks living in the Netherlands voted in favour of Erdogan's power grab - that is, 71% of the merely one-third of those who chose to take part in the referendum:

Similarly, in Germany 61% of votes favoured Erdogan, but the "high" turnout was only 48.7%:

Yet in Switzerland, 62% said no:

- possibly reflecting the better wealth and education of those who settled there.

Would the results have been much different if all Turks in Europe had been made to vote?

Or are the significant factors:

(a) who is allowed to come into the country,
(b) why they chose to come and
(c) what efforts the host country has made both to welcome the immigrant and to insist on integration into the political and social culture of the country?

My recent EU dystopia (envisioning what might have happened had PM Blair taken us into the Eurozone, as he wished) imagined not only the defeat of the British Army in Ukraine as a result of EU empire-building, but the rise of a Turkish President who exploits the idiotic free-movement openness of the EU to blackmail it into sending him his UK-based opponents so he can eliminate them.

In the same piece, I also looked at the role of Turkey as a NATO counterweight to perceived Russian expansionism, and the possible diplomatic reorientation of the Greeks as they continue to suffer from the economic imbalances within the EU.

Maybe not such a fantasy. Are the attractive yet dangerously naive "Alle Menschen werden Brüder" ideals of the EU to be used against it, judo-like, by a strongman who has ambitions for the Middle East?

What are the conditions for, the limits to, democracy?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Music: Jazz Piano 3, by Wiggia

Art Tatum
You may or may not be wondering why the piano is getting more coverage from me than any other area or instrument in modern jazz. It is quite simply that when going through my recordings the piano has more prominence than I had expected and the piano is the one instrument that has solo recordings in abundance in the genre.

If you add in the two greatest bands Ellington and Basie being led by two more than accomplished piano players and the fact that most arrangements and scores are written at the piano, you can see why the piano has such prominence. As with previous pieces even taking into account the extra space I have given the piano many great artists will be left out for purely practical reasons, there simply is not space to include all even when justified.

For that reason the likes of Red Garland, Tommy Flanagan, and Ahmad Jamal are left out, but of course almost certainly will feature in other recordings noted in this series.

McCoy Tyner was born in 1938. He grew up in Philadelphia and was encouraged to play the piano at home. By fifteen he knew that music was going to be his vocation. Influenced by Bud Powell, he was early into the be bop scene. After playing with Benny Golson and Art Farmer's Jazztet he joined John Coltrane in 1960 and stayed until ‘65; during that period apart from touring he was on the influential My Favorite Things album, A Love Supreme and all the other great Coltrane albums in that period.

He did make some albums in his own “name” at that time but because of contractual ties could not use his real name. He left Coltrane in ‘65 when he said, "I didn't see myself making any contribution to that music... All I could hear was a lot of noise. I didn't have any feeling for the music, and when I don't have feelings, I don't play." This was when Coltrane started down the free jazz route, not his most successful period with good reason. From ‘67 - ‘70 he was with Blue Note recording with his group and then joined Milestone for a period, when he experimented with different instruments and stayed with them until ‘81. He still records and tours.

I start with one of his later works, Fly With the Wind from the album of the same name from’76. His quartet of Billy Cobham (drums), Ron Carter (bass) and Hubert Laws (alto and flute) is augmented by strings, oboe, harp … a commercial success, it holds up well after all these years.

and here a Jobin Latin American tune, “Wave”:

Dave Brubeck has the distinction ? of being the first recipient of my hard-earned moolah in the jazz world when I purchased his Jazz at Oberlin album and joined the modern jazz world as an enthusiast. Thereafter a lot of Brubeck's work had little effect on me but his overall effect on jazz of the period was immense. You could say he was a “populist” as the public certainly went in droves to his concerts and purchased his albums in large quantities. Too much to put in here but his Wiki page is worth a read……

It was a combination of unusual time signatures and the use of block chording along with his smooth alto player Paul Desmond that kept Brubeck at the top of the jazz ratings for many years. Even after Desmond left his groups still toured to large audiences and his records still sold well, yet it was his ‘57 album Time Out containing all original compositions including the hit Take Five that he will be remembered for by most. Did the Oberlin album stand the test of time? To me it did as for obvious reasons it has a place in my appreciation of the genre; whether it actually stands the test is for you to decide.

How High the Moon from the Oberlin album, still a “tour de force” in my view and it still has the same effect when I listen to it now as then:

Ray Bryant earns a place on here for one reason: I liked him. His 1958 album “Alone with the Blues” is one of those records that I always return to and for that alone he gets his place, in a long career in which he was also a composer of several well known jazz number. He played with many of the greats of the be bop period: Parker, Davis, Hawkins and Sonny Rollins plus the singers Carmen McRae and Aretha Franklin.

From that album a solo masterpiece of blues playing My Blues (Blues No 5):

Herbie Hancock is best known for his fusion smash hit “Headhunters” and much of his fusion cum rock / jazz African music, but he started out as a classically trained pianist and was considered a child prodigy playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No 26 in D major with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the age of eleven!

In 1960 at the age of twenty he heard Chris Anderson play and begged him to be accepted as his student. He then left college and moved to Chicago where he worked with Donald Byrd and Coleman Hawkins, took further courses at Roosevelt University and got a degree in Fine Art to add to his degree in music and electronics he got from his other uni.

After playing with Phil Woods and Oliver Nelson he caught the eye of Miles Davis and joined his second quintet in ‘63. It was here he developed his style, and I quote: “Not only did he find new ways to use common chords, but he also popularized chords that had not previously been used in jazz. Hancock also developed a unique taste for "orchestral" accompaniment – using quartal harmony and Debussy-like harmonies, with stark contrasts then unheard of in jazz.“

He stayed with Davis until ‘68 and during that period made many albums under his own name as well as a sideman with many others on the Blue Note label. His two albums Empyrean Isles ‘64 and Maiden Voyage in ‘65 were to many his zenith in modern jazz as post be bop standards; after this time he started to experiment with larger ensembles using different instruments.

His branching out continued unabated, writing the score for Antonioni’s film Blowup (1966) and several TV commercials. He also started his route where he was incorporating popular music and rock into his work and electronic keyboards. He left Davis in ‘68 and formed his own sextet.

Leaving Blue Note a year after Davis and joining Warner Bros was the start of his electronic voyage. Mwandishi in ‘71 started the ball rolling but was not a success and more followed: it was in ‘73 with his new band The Headhunters that Head Hunters was released; a huge hit maybe, but the jazz world thought he had sold out to commercialism.

Since then he has worked in both the fusion pop rock world and returned to jazz. Much of his “popular music” has been slated but he never stood still and has always mixed the genres with a variable success rate with much of it incorporating electronics.

I own none of his more current work, to me most is interchangeable with almost any fusion/rock/ items out there, little has any point over buying an earlier Rick Wakeman album, but that’s just me.

This is from his Taking Off album of ‘62, Water Melon Man, his own composition recorded when he was just 22, with Freddie Hubbard and Dexter Gordon:

I was going to put up for comparison the later version with his Head Hunters band with Miles Davis in his fusion lost mode, but to me it is self indulgent rubbish; it seems many have gone this route, sadly.

Horace Silver was always a favourite of mine. One of the founders of hard bop, he grew up playing the piano and tenor sax at school. In 1950 he was recruited by Stan Getz and then he moved to NY. His co-founding of the Jazz Messengers with Art Blakey is what brought Silver and his compositions with that group to the public eye. He left the Messengers in ‘56 and formed his own group. In the ‘70s he not only disbanded his group as touring was interfering with his composing and his home life but he also went on a spiritual track. His output in this vein with Blue Note was not successful yet the company indulged him to a degree, though the titles were dropped from the catalogue later. His Silver albums from’75 on were a return to the group and sounds we knew and he finally left Blue Note in ‘78, the longest run (28 years) by any artist. According to Silver the new owners were not interested in jazz so he formed his own record company, toured for six months of the year and composed for the rest. Later he cut back the touring and his royalties from a substantial song book kept him going. Ill health in later life struck several times and his performances became sparser. After suffering undiagnosed blood clots he then contracted Alzheimer's; he died in 2014.

This is the ‘64 version of A Song for my Father, his own composition featuring Joe Henderson on tenor, lovely number and a jazz standard:


From the above it is obvious I have included little or nothing from the current crop of piano players, I have listened to the likes of Brad Mehidau, Keith Jarrett and Cecil Taylor Paul Bley and there is much to admire, the technical ability, the sounds, all can produce stunning music; but overall I find their albums hard work, and if they are hard work to listen to, 15 minute solos of 5 minute standards, then I don’t enjoy and don’t purchase. Yet not all is one beautiful note and a ten second pause: this Paul Bley from ‘62 When Will The Blues Leave with his trio is terrific.

I will leave it there.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Night Is Music Night: Spring, by JD

Here is a selection of Spring (doesn't feel very springlike today but we live in hope):