Archive for jazz

Take Five, Austin

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on 15 August, 2009 by Ally

Yesterday I shared a video by Hisae Nakajima. It was a performance demonstrating great technical proficiency, an innate understanding of music theory and, most importantly, soul. Today I present another jazz luminary of equal, possibly even greater talent. I speak of none other than the legendary Austin McBride.

To cleanse your palate, enjoy a true example of 5/4 time by the supreme Max Roach.

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Song of the Day: “Ruby, My Dear”

Posted in Music, Of the Day with tags , , , , on 14 August, 2009 by Ally

Today I happily stumbled upon Hisae Nakajima’s beautifully angular performance of Thelonious Monk’s (already quite angular) ballad Ruby, My Dear. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Album of the Week: Members, Don’t Git Weary

Posted in Music, Of the Week with tags , , , , , , , , on 12 August, 2009 by Ally
Max Roach - Members, Don't Git Weary (1968)

Max Roach - Members, Don't Git Weary (Atlantic 1968)

Max Roach was one of the premier drummers of the bebop era and beyond. As well as playing on landmark sessions with jazz legends like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, he recorded several celebrated albums as a leader. In the words of fellow drummer Stan Levey, thanks to Max Roach “drumming no longer was just time, it was music.”

Although best known as a bebop player, Max Roach flirted with post-bop and the avant-garde. His 1968 album Members, Don’t Git Weary is one such flirtation. The ensemble consists of Gary Bartz (alto sax), Charles Tolliver (trumpet), Stanley Cowell (piano), Jymie Merritt (electric bass) and Roach himself (drums).

Despite the use of electric instruments, Members is far from a fusion album. However the electric bass does lend an edge of funk to opening track Abstrutions; a short ‘n’ groovy piece punctuated by angular brass fanfares, but grounded by that funky bass and Cowell’s bluesy rolling piano.

My favourite track Libra takes us further out. During the main theme, the rhythm and horn sections appear to be playing in separate time signatures. The effect is equally compelling and unsettling, the divided ensemble conjuring complex and stimulating syncopations. The group eventually joins forces to provide a propulsive backing for solos by Bartz and Tolliver. Roach then blasts a furious drum solo before the group restates the theme to close.

Title track Members, Don’t Git Weary features a gospel-inspired vocal performance by Andy Bey, and is an uplifting call for strength and unity in the society of the time. When you consider the album was recorded soon after Martin Luther King was killed, it becomes all the more potent. Other tracks include Effi; a dreamy waltz which is oddly reminiscent of The Stranglers hit Golden Brown, Equipoise; a gentle modal piece with especially lyrical playing from Charles Tolliver, and Absolutions; the closing track to which Cowell’s electric piano and Merritt’s mantra-like bassline give an exotic quality.

I only bought the album yesterday, and have listened to it several times both for enjoyment and reviewing purposes, and could happily listen to it again tomorrow. Critics and experts may not see it as an essential album, but I couldn’t recommend it more highly. I won’t git weary (a-ho-ho-ho) of it any time soon.

The Unique Melodious Thunk

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on 5 July, 2009 by Ally
Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk

The listener’s relationship with Thelonious Monk seems to follow a common pattern — years of puzzled indifference, then an epiphany followed by ever-increasing affection and devotion. So it was with me.

A few years ago I bought my first Monk album, but it left me cold so I left it languishing on the shelf. Skip to earlier this year, when BBC Four broadcast a documentary about Monk’s friend and patron, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. The story intrigued me, and for the first time I found myself moved by Monk’s music. I had to hear it again. And again. Mere months later I’m gradually running out of Monk albums to buy. It has become an addiction.

But what can I add to the discussion? I’m late to the party by 50 years. Critics and fans have already waxed lyrical about his unconventional straight-fingered piano playing, his goofy syncopated rhythms, his beautiful melodic ideas and his enigmatic personality. I can but add myself to the list of admirers, and hope that my enthusiasm will inspire others to give themselves the second, third or fourth chance it might take to unlock this musical treasure.

Blue Monk (1958)

Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on 12 May, 2009 by Ally
3wishes

Three Wishes by Pannonica de Koenigswarter

Until recently, my knowledge about Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter (née Rothschild) was extremely limited. Born to a reknowned English banking family, Nica was compelled to move to New York City in the 1950s after hearing Thelonious Monk’s haunting tune ‘Round Midnight. She became a great patron of jazz, befriending legendary figures like Charlie Parker (who died in her house) and Thelonious Monk (who wrote another haunting tune in her honour). She became known as the Jazz Baroness.

Last month BBC4 screened a documentary entitled The Jazz Baroness. Written and directed by her great-niece Hannah Rothschild, it told the tale of Nica’s eventful life, her importance on the jazz scene from the ’50s onwards and the strong bond she shared with Monk. The programme also sparked my interest in Monk’s music, which had previously eluded me. I have since bought and assimilated many of his wonderful recordings, and allowed Monk into my heart.

Thelonious and Nica

Thelonious and Nica

So when I discovered Nica wrote a book, I had to read it immediately. And I did. It arrived today and I’ve finished it already. Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats is the product of Nica’s passion for jazz. Over the years she asked hundreds of musicians what their three wishes would be, eventually compiling them into a book (accompanied by blurry and decaying polaroid snaps). Answers range from the predictable stock answers of “world peace” and “money” to touching, hilarious and occasionally embarrassing admissions. John Coltrane wishes for “three times the sexual power I have now,” Art Blakey wishes for a divorce so he could marry Nica and Miles Davis bitterly quips that his only wish is “to be white!” But perhaps the most beautifully-expressed sentiment is from legendary drummer Louie Bellson:

3. “I am hoping that music will mend the entire world. It has been proven that our relations with other countries has been one hundred percent pure in friendship because of music. I feel that music will blossom into a flower, and that flower will express one great thought, and that is: We belong to the human race and we all learn the same notes.”

– Louie Bellson

Freddie’s Dead

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , on 30 December, 2008 by Ally
hub-tones

Hub-Tones -- a fine example of Blue Note's brilliant sleeve designs

It must be the time of year when people just quit. I read that Freddie Hubbard has passed. He was an influential trumpeter, and an outstanding sideman on some of my absolute favourite records — John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass, Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch (“pfft, I’ll say he is!”), Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz and (one of my recent discoveries) Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth. Not to mention his own post-bop classic Hub-Tones, to which I am now listening in order to pay my respects.

Song of the Day: Stolen Moments

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on 17 December, 2008 by Ally
nelson03612

Oliver Nelson

The Internet is a wonderful thing. It’s also a terrible thing, but that’s not why I’m making this post, so moving swiftly on… It was thanks to the Internet that I found Oliver Nelson and his wonderful 1961 album The Blues and the Abstract Truth. I discovered it thanks to the involvement of Eric Dolphy, a multi-instrumentalist who played on far more than his fair share of fucking great jazz albums — including classics by John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman and Max Roach.

So, song of the day… I’m sure you can’t wait. Stolen Moments is the first track on the album, and it’s (to quote some nonsense from Annie Hall) transplendent. There are only four horns playing, somehow it sounds like far more. Ahh, it’s just great. Words constantly fail me when it comes to music. Have a listen instead:

Oliver Nelson – Stolen Moments (on last.fm)