Friday, 5 August 2011

Jazz from the Attic

A huge donation of records came into the Exeter Oxfam Music shop a short while ago, about 6 or 7 large boxes full. And it was all good stuff, too, an eclectic and interesting mix of classical and jazz. When sorting through such an impressive collection, you get the sense of eavesdropping on the inside of someone’s head, or of witnessing the physical emanation of an aspect of a person’s souls if you want to get metaphysical about it (which I generally do), of picking through the archaeological evidence of an aesthetic and artistic quest. Whether all of this has come to us as a result of downsizing, a disillusionment with music or someone’s passing, it deserves to be treated with respect and even a trace of reverence. This is a life in sound, and who knows what emotions these LPs have stirred in the former owner’s heart, what personal associations they carried. Amongst the classical LPs was a recording of Schoenberg’s Sprechstimme piece of surrealist horror (a musical precursor of the ‘new weird’) Pierrot Lunaire, conducted by the composer himself with Erika Stiedry-Wagner providing the vocal ullulations, and what could be seen as a definitive recording of Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony, with the composer’s wife Yvonne Loriod on piano and her sister on the ondes martenot, the early electronic instrument of which she was one of the world’s few masters. There was also a good deal of early music, including several Harmonia Mundi LPs. On the cover of Musique Arabo-Andaluse, two chaps with cyclopean eyes cavort in strange blocky triangular shoes, one sawing away at a vielle, the other seemingly about to slaughter a sad-eyed peacock with a wicked-looking machete (a dangerous manoeuvre to carry out in the midst of a wild dance). The cover of the Cantigas de Santa Maria by Alfonso el Sabio features two seated fellows churning away at their square, boxy hurdy-gurdies, depressing the keys below, and having a bit of a chat whilst they’re at it.

Of the jazz, a certain proportion has made onto the online shop, and this traces a line through various development of the modern and free styles from the fifties through to the 80s. Duke Ellington, always a fairly progressive player himself, provides a bridge between tradition and modernity, and proves himself wholly in tune with the new musicians on a couple of records, both sessions from 1962: Money Jungle, on which he forms a trio with Charles Mingus and Max Roach, and his meeting with John Coltrane on Impulse Records (sold), on which they are joined by Coltrane’s rhythm section, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison, and Duke’s current one, Aaron Bell and Sam Woodyard. Mingus takes centre stage on the Champs-Elysees Theatre in Paris in an April date from the 1964 European tour, where he is in vocal form, egging the musicians on and exchanging angry call and response lyrics with drummer Dannie Richmond on Fables of Faubus. He’s joined by the wonderful Eric Dolphy on alto sax, bass clarinet and flute, with Clifford Jordan on tenor, Johnny Coles on trumpet and Jaki Byard on piano. Another member of the old guard who was always looking for new directions, Dizzie Gillespie, is represented by a couple of interesting LPs from 1963. Dizzie Gillespie and the Double Six of Paris is an intriguing and surprisingly successful meeting between the king of the bebop trumpeters and the Parisian vocal sextet in the Swingle Singers mould. The small group sessions were mainly recorded in Paris with long-term residents Bud Powell on piano, Kenny Clark on drums and Pierre Michelot on bass. The vocal arrangements were made by Lalo Schifrin, best known for his themes for Mission:Impossible, Bullitt and Clint Eastwood's non-Morricone movies of the 60s and 70s. Bizarrely, Gillespie, Schifrin and singer Mimi Perrin discovered a shared love of science fiction (‘superior science fiction as well as…tales of fantasy and mythology’, as Nat Hentoff puts it in his sleeve note), and as a result, Perrin's lyrics on the LP draw on SF and fantasy themes, and in particular, Brian Aldiss' Hothouse and Leigh Brackett's Sword of Rhiannon. Dizzie teamed up with Schifrin again on New Wave (nothing to do with Moorcock’s New Worlds and Ellison’s Dangerous Visions, which were still a few years away, but perhaps giving a nod to the French nouvelle vague of Truffaut, Godard and Malle, whose films had featured their fair share of jazz). The flavour this time is bossa nova, with a band featuring nylon strung guitars and the cabasa percussion shaker and scraper, and Schifrin himself on piano, tackling numbers like Antonio Carlos Jobim’s One Note Samba and the Morning of the Carnival theme from the film Black Orpheus.

There are a few Blue Note LPs, although few of them are originals. The Clifford Brown Memorial Album (sold) is actually a date from 1953, 3 years before the trumpeter’s untimely death in a car crash. Art Blakey is one of the drummers featuring on that album, and Brown also appears on the two volumes of Blakey’s Night At Birdland (the ‘Jazz Corner of the World’). These live recordings from February 1954 of the pre-Jazz Messengers quintet are included in the ‘core collection’ of Richard Cook and Brian Morton’s Penguin Guide to Jazz, and are fine examples of Blakey’s driving hard bop. Joining him with Clifford Brown are Lou Donaldson on alto, Horace Silver on piano and Curley Russell on bass. Another Brown memorial album, this time on the Mercury label and dating from 1963, several years after his death, is I Remember Clifford, which has an odd pop pseudo-phrenological cover. This contains music from the last year of Brown’s life, 1955 , with one track from 1956. Five tracks from a January 1955 session have string arrangements made by Neal Hefti, with a band including Max Roach, George Morrow, Richie Powell and Barry Galbraith on guitar. The other tracks are quintet numbers, with Roach on drums and Harold Land on tenor, except for Time, the ‘56 track, which features Sonny Rollins. The back cover sleeve notes are by British trumpeter and jazz writer Ian Carr. Randy Weston’s Little Niles gathers together three of the pianist’s LPs from 1958 and 1959: Little Niles, Destry Rides Again and Live at the Five Spot, with musicians including Johnny Griffin (tenor sax), Elvin Jones (drums), Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax), and Roy Haynes (drums). The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson features two sessions by the trombonist from 1953, and 1954. He is in very distinguished company here: Modern Jazz Quartet members John Lewis (piano), Percy Heath (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums), Clifford Brown (trumpet), Wynton Kelly (piano), and Charles Mingus (bass) - not to mention someone who styles himself Sabu on conga drum. The MJQ themselves turn up in ‘Jazz Dialogue’ with the All-Star Jazz Band, which is not a strictly accurate definition, names such as Bernie Glow, Tony Studd, Richie Kamuca and Wally Kane not exactly being the first to spring to mind when summoning up the jazz giants. It’s interesting to hear the MJQ venture beyond their customary chamber jazz sound, however. The Sixth Sense (sold already, I'm afraid), from 1967, finds trumpeter Lee Morgan attempting a rapprochement with rock, with ‘extra weight on the bass and a hefty backbeat’ according to Cook and Morton. Titles such as Psychedelic and Afreaka further indicate his intentions to get with the times.

That other great jazz label of the 60s, Impulse, is also represented here by musicians old and new. Impulse, like Blue Note, had a very distinctive visual look, largely down to its eyecatching colour scheme. The LPs were destined to look handsome lined up on a record shelf, their orange and black spines making them instantly identificable. Drummer Shelley Manne was the quintessential West Coast drummer, and his 1962 session on Impulse, 2-3-4, features veteran tenor sax giant Coleman Hawkins. Hawkins also appears on Benny Carter’s 1961 session Further Definitions, another LP included in the ‘core collection’ of Morton and Cook’s Penguin Guide to Jazz. This was a reunion for the two saxophonists (Carter on alto, Hawkins on tenor) who had recorded together before the war and is considered a classic, Carter’s biographer Ed Berger writing that it was ‘considered by many not only Carter’s finest overall album, but one of the all-time great jazz records’. Hawkins also gets to collaborate with the Duke on the self-explanatorily titled Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins LP from 1963. He joins a small group setting, with select members of Ellington's orchestra, to play a number of greater or lesser known Ellington compositions. The other musicians are Ray Nance (cornet and violin), Lawrence Brown (trombone), Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Harry Carney (baritone sax and bass clarinet), Aaron Bell (bass) and Sam Woodyard (drums). The saxophone colossus himself is here too, with a compilation of Sonny Rollins’ recordings on Impulse. Rollins decided that Impulse would be a good place to go because John Coltrane was there and enjoyed a good creative relationship with producer Bob Thiele. Rollins’ tenure was brief, however, and he was less happy with both the business side of things and the artistic results. The compilation includes all of the On Impulse record, the side long East Broadway Run Down from the album of that name, and two tracks from the Alfie LP, containing the music he made for the 1965 Michael Caine film. These are arranged by Oliver Nelson. On East Broadway Rundown he plays with Freddie Hubbard, and John Coltrane's rhythm section, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison, whilst on some of the tracks from the On Impulse sessions, he plays with Ornette Coleman's drummer Billy Higgins, so he was keeping up with the avant gardists at the time. Indeed, his experimentation with reed sounds on the title track shows that he was willing to travel further out than many of the free players. After his Impulse period, Rollins, never one to say something if he had nothing to say, retreated for one of his sabbaticals, this one lasting several years. Coltrane was the central figure on Impulse Records (and I’ll come to him in a sec) and inspired many fellow musicians both directly (he was a generous patron and encouraging collaborator) and indirectly. Albert Ayler never played with Coltrane, but he did play an impassioned piece at this funeral. After Coltrane’s death in 1967, the search for a successor was on, and Ayler was thought by many to be a candidate. His 68 LP New Grass was a startling and to many in the jazz fraternity vaguely sacrilegious move, attempting as it did to provide a new direction for the music, aligning it more with contemporary rock, soul and r&b sounds, just as Miles Davis was doing at the same time with Bitches Brew. The distinctive cover, focussing on Ayler’s striking white-streaked goatee beard but with the photo upended, suggests a radical shift in perspective. Ayler must have known that this change would be controversial, and includes a spoken word introduction to the record, stating that ‘the music I bring to you is in a different dimension of my life. I hope you will like this record…The music I have played in the past I know I have played in another place at a different time’. He was never able fully to follow through or elaborate on these new forms, dying in still mysterious circumstances (his body was found in New York’s East River) in 1970. The sleeve notes to New Grass were written by John F. Szwed, who would go on to write significant biographies of Sun Ra, Miles Davis and Alan Lomax.

Miles Davis’ music was constantly evolving through various stylistic shades, several of which are documented here. His Blue Note LP Volume 2 finds him exploring his early cool style in sessions from 1952, 1952 and 1953. These feature groups with Jay Jay Johnson (trombone), Jimmy Heath (tenor sax), Gil Coggins (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Art Blakey (drums), Jackie McLean (alto sax), Oscar Pettiford (bass), Kenny Clarke (drums), and Horace Silver (piano). Leonard Feather provides the back cover notes. Tallest Trees (sold today), with its inappropriate proggy cover indicating its early 70s provenance, gathers together sessions recorded for Prestige between 1953 and 1956 in which Miles’ personality comes fully into focus. The list of musicians is a who’s who of 50s modern jazz: John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, members of the Modern Jazz Quartet (Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke), Sonny Rollins Horace Silver and Art Blakey. The sleeve notes are provided by Kenneth Tynan of all people, taken for a profile he wrote in 1963 for Holiday magazine. The Miles and Coltrane Live in Stockholm, 1960 LP features a performance of the Davis group in which John Coltrane featured, their mutually nourishing collaboration stretching between 1955 to 1961. the recording was made with help from the engineers from Swedish Radio and is therefore particularly clear, and also includes a 6 minute interview with John Coltrane. Miles and Trane are accompanied by Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. The gatefold sleeve includes a number of good photos from the concert and liner notes by Jan Lohmann. The 1974 double LP Get Up With It (sold) finds Miles in full electric mode, with a wide range of musicians, varying from track to track and including Dave Liebman (flute), Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas (guitar), Sonny Fortune (flute and sax), and on the track Honky Tonk John McGlaughlin (guitar), Herbie Hancock (keyboard), Airto Moreira (percussion), and, believe it or not, Keith Jarrett on electric keyboard! Sitar and Indian and African percussion and Miles on organ add interesting colours on other tracks. The LP is dedicated to Duke Ellington, who passed away around the time of its release. Cook and Morton memorably describe this as ‘Miles’s first attempt to make Ellington dance with Stockhausen’ (one of the lovely turns of phrases which makes the Penguin Guide such a pleasure to browse through). Jarrett turns in an early 1971 solo set on ECM, Facing You. This finds him at his most lyrical and intuitively melodic, with more concision than in later years. He has also yet to indulge in his annoying vocalisations, those ‘ecstatic’ moans and squeaks which sound like a munchkin being slowly lowered into boiling oil. To my ears, these ridiculous noises make his music utterly unlistenable, particularly as he seems to take perverse pleasure in setting up the recording specifically to capture them in all their close-mic’d agony. Mind you, I’m put off by his whole precious artist routine, his evident contempt for his audience, who only have to utter the slightest sigh or evince the remotest deviation from complete reverence to let loose one of his lecture tantrums on not disturbing the delicate balance of the creator’s direct communion with God. Someone should set up a dedicated let’s heckle Keith Jarrett society. It’d do him good.

John Coltrane is amply documented in all his guises, beginning with the Miles groups mentioned above. There are a couple of the Atlantic sessions in which he began to fully assert himself as band leader and composer. The Plays the Blues session, one of the lesser known records in the Coltrane discography, dates from 1960 and features the nascent 'classic' quartet minus Jimmy Garrison (one Steve Davis is on bass here), with McCoy Tyner on piano and Elvin Jones on drums. Tyner drops out on some numbers, leaving them as muscular tenor, drum and bass trios. Coltrane makes some of his first excursions on soprano saxophone on this and the other Atlantic LPs. This is particularly prominent on the title track of Ole, which has a strong Spanish and modal flavour and is an indication of Coltrane’s growing fascination for non-Western musics (the Spanish music here being Southern and deriving from Arabic forms) which would come increasingly to the fore in his 60s work. This features a significant contribution from Eric Dolphy, who was to collaborate further with Coltrane, both as a member of his live group and as an arranger, and whose flute blends particularly well with Coltrane’s soprano at the lighter end of the sound palette on the side long title track. The back cover manages of this re-issue manages to misspell the names of McCoy Tyner and Reggie Workman, but luckily makes the effort to get Coltrane himself right. Other musicians in this expanded ensemble are George Lane (flute and alto sax), and Art Davis, whose bass is sometimes effectively bowed to provide a contrasting darker, underlying colour. The Impulse years are generally considered to contain Coltrane’s finest achievements, and to have defined the label (as reflected in the title of Ashley Khan's book on Impulse, The House That Trane Built), particularly the recordings made with the ‘classic’ quartet of Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. Dolphy’s contributions in live and studio contexts are documented in The Other Village Vanguard Tapes and The Africa Brass Sessions Volume 2, both containing music made in 1961. The Village Vanguard LP (which has a regrettably crap cover) contains alternative Recordings from the New York club made in November 1961 which didn't make it onto the original At the Village Vanguard LP (currently on the shelf in the shop, jazz-loving Exeter citizens). Whilst Coltrane is joined by regular quartet cohorts McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, bassist Jimmy Garrison is replaced by Reggie Workman on most of these tracks. Garvin Bushell provides extra oboe and contrabassoon colours on India and Spiritual on the second LP, with Ahmed Abdul-Malik supplying oud backing on India (although it always sounds more like a tamboura drone to me). The entry of Dolphy’s bass clarinet on India always gives me a thrill, providing such a plunging contrast to Coltrane’s soaring shehnai soprano. The Africa Brass Sessions Volume 2 collects alternative versions and initially unreleased pieces (everything’s now available in our age of digital surfeit, of course) from the sessions which produced the Africa/Brass LP. These feature Dolphy’s brass arrangements, which achieve a startling impressionistic effect on the lengthy Africa, honking and braying like the great creatures of the plain (you can imagine it as an accompaniment to a documentary in which Attenborough makes an inevitable safari-shirted appearance, breathily announcing ‘I’m here, at the edge of the Ngorongo Crater). The Song of the Underground Railroad is a genuinely thrilling, dynamic (and danceable!) number, and the modal workout on Greensleeves, with its swells of brass at beginning and end, should bring a smile to the lips of limey’s like me for whom the melody is instantly recognisable.

Live dates on which the Quartet stretch out (particularly on My Favourite Things, which Coltrane could at times seem reluctant ever to let go) include (in addition to the Village Vanguard sessions): The 1962 European Tour, with Tyner shining on The Promise and a lovely, tender version of the ballad Naima; more European excursions from 1963 on Afro Blue Impressions, on which the band play a great version of Mongo Santamaria’s Afro Blue; and a couple of festival dates from 1965 (Live in Paris) played in the scorching July heat of Antibes and Salle Pleyel. The compilation The Mastery of John Coltrane Vol.2: To the Beat of a Different Drum collects material from various periods. The different drummer in question is Roy Haynes, who appears instead of Elvin Jones in these recordings. McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison are present throughout, however. Studio sessions were recorded in April 1963 and May 1965 and the live performances at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1963. Crescent, the 1964 studio LP, is a fairly subdued affair, the penumbral shadow before the illumination of A Love Supreme which was to follow. Meditations, from 1966, which is anything but meditative in the traditionally understood sense (ie calm, serene) is a transitional Coltrane LP, with the classic quartet joined by extra drummer Rashied Ali and saxophone firebrand Pharoah Sanders. This is one of Coltrane's fiercest, most intense studio LPs, with his old musical partners McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison pushed to the very limit. Set the controls for the stratosphere! Inside is a good superimposed photo of Coltrane, expressive of the intense (and to some ears, jarring – the likes of Amis and Larkin could never stand this sort of stuff) nature of the music and a sleeve note by Nat Hentoff. The latter part of Coltrane’s musical development, his charting of ever wilder freeform territory, is sampled on the Impulse collection entitled, with some justification, His Greatest Years, although whether Kulu Se Mama and Om can be included in such a feted period is a matter of some dispute. As with Ayler and Miles’ late 60s music, they betokened an attempt to produce a grand synthesis of musical styles, and were an early indication of work in progress, never completed.

Many musicians built on the achievements of Coltrane, Miles and also Ornette Coleman, a compilation of whose recordings on Atlantic from 1959 to 1961 is also included here. This includes material from four of his groundbreaking LPs: Change of the Century, The Shape of Jazz to Come, This Is Our Music and Ornette! The core group is Coleman plus Don Cherry on pocket trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass and Ed Blackwell or Billy Higgins on drums. On C&D from the 1961 Ornette LP, Scott LaFaro from the Bill Evans trio replaces Haden. Free jazz in the 70s is represented by some great LPs. There’s Sam Rivers’ Black Africa, a trio/quartet session, with Don Pullen guesting on piano on some of the sides, duetting with Rivers on tenor and flute. The other musicians in this unconventional ensemble are Joe Daley on tuba and euphonium (brass as bass) and Sidney Smart on drums and percussion. Rivers was an exemplar of the self-organising nature of the 60s and 70s free jazz scene, setting up Studio Rivbea with his wife Bea, a loft space in New York where fellow spirits could perform. Andrew Cyrille, a drummer who had shown himself fully equal to the task of accompanying Cecil Taylor’s polyrhythmic percussive piano playing, offers the 1975 Celebration with his group Maono (shame about the ropy cover). This has an interesting mix of vocals (from Jeanne Lee), electronic music (from Romulus Franceschini’s primitive, rather thin-sounding synthesiser) and poetry (from Elouise Lofting) combining with free jazz. There was a widespread interest at the time for combining the arts, creating cross-disciplinary works. The ensemble also features one of the giants of the second wave of free jazz, tenor sax player David S.Ware. Other musicians are Alphonse Cimber (Haitian drum), Ted Daniel (trumpet), Donald Smith (piano), and Stafford James (bass violin). Roscoe Mitchell, one of the multi-instrumentalist members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, made Sketches from Bamboo in 1979 on the German Moers Music label (this music was often better cared for on the continent). Mitchell’s Creative Orchestra mixes free jazz with modern composition, densely written passages with improvisation. There are some fantastic players involved here (besides Mitchell himself), including Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Marilyn Crispell and, most surprisingly, Kenny Wheeler. Other musicians are Douglas Ewart, Wallace MacMillan, Dwight Andrews, Marty Ehrlich (reeds), Hugh Ragin, Mike Mossmann, Rob Howard (trumpet), George Lewis, Ray Anderson , Alfred Patterson (trombones), Pinguin Moschner (tuba), Wes Brown (bass), Pheeroan ak Laff (drums, percussion) and Bobby Naughton (vibes). On the other side of the Atlantic, there are a couple of LPs related to the Blue Notes, the multi-racial South African group who moved over to England in 1964, never to return. Dudu Pukwana and Spear (this one went yesterday) appeared on the Virgin Caroline label in 1973 (complete with Roger Dean photographic ‘twin’ design), with Dudu on alto, Mongezi Feza on trumpet, Bizo Mngqikana on tenor, Louis Moholo on drums and Harry Miller on bass. They produce a dancing music with the fierce passion of free music combining with the infectious rhythms of the townships. Moholo leads his own band on the 1978 LP Spirits Rejoice on the Ogun label, and the line up indicates what a significant impact the musicians of the Blue Notes diaspora had on British jazz and free music. He is joined by his fellow ex-band mate Johnny Dyani on bass and a stellar line up of great British players. The octet is completed by Evan Parker (tenor sax), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Nick Evans (trombone), Radu Malfatti (trombone), Keith Tippett (piano), and Harry Miller (bass). A lost classic of fiery but joyful British free music, mostly played in ensemble, in spiritual unity.

Moving into the 80s, the Henry Threadgill Sextet LP Subject to Change continues the development of the compositional side of the experimental side of 70s jazz (which can no longer really be termed free when it is so carefully composed) which sometimes takes it closer to modern classical music (but remains somehow distinct from it). The Music Revelation Ensemble’s No Wave from 1980 seems to claim affinity with the New York punk/noise movement of the time, some of whose musicians and bands, like James Chance, The Lounge Lizards and DNA drew on free jazz. They continued the approach to music taken by Ornette Coleman in his harmolodic mode, with an embrace of electric instruments and a broken funk rhythmic basis (free funk, as some have described it). The group features tenor sax giant David Murray alongside James Blood Ulmer on guitar and vocal, Amin Ali on electric bass, and Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums. Jackson had also played in the 80s purveyors of sublime terror, No Exit, alongside the Coltrane of guitar Sonny Sharrock, vein bursting tenor sax shrieker Peter Brotzmann and bassist Bill Laswell. Leroy Jenkins’ Sting finds the violinist who played with Andrew Cyrille in the Revolutionary Ensemble in the 70s leading a string based ensemble (hence the rather strained pun, I guess, something which jazz musicians often seem unable to resist). Urban Blues is a live recording from the Sweet Basil club in New York made on 2nd January 1984, and features two violinists, two guitarists, a bassist and drummer. Terry Jenoure takes up the other bow, with James Emery and Brandon Ross on guitars, Alonzo Gardner on bass and Kamal Sabir on drums. Jazz’s other free violinist (yes, there are more than one) was Billy Bang, who died earlier this year. His marvellous and uplifting 1981 LP Rainbow Warrior features the pianist Michele Rosewoman. Rosewoman is a rather neglected musician who has recorded several LPs with her group Quintessence. This is the first under that name, and finds her playing in a similar manner to Geri Allen and Marilyn Crispell, with a mixture of lyricism and free jazz attack. She's accompanied here by Steve Coleman (tenor sax), Greg Osby (soprano and alto sax), Anthony Cox (bass) and Terri Lynne Carrington (drums).

And that’s about it – for now. There’s still plenty to be dug out of those boxes, though, so watch this space…

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