Playlist: 11/27

REINCARNATION OF A LOVE BIRD, Paul Motian and the Electric Bebop Band ; JMT, recorded June 1994. Motian had a way of layering his sound against the ring of electric guitars and for a while in the ’90s had bands that doubled up on them and saxophones (see Garden of Eden, below). Here’s it’s Kurt Rosenwinkel and Wolfgang Muthspiel adding sustained atmospherics and plucky bebop lines. This may be the best example of Motian’s skill at choosing and reworking jazz standards, taking them from innovators including Monk, Miles, Mingus, Bird and Gillespie. And while there’s only one Motian original, “Split Descision” performed twice, beginning and  end, it illustrates how Motian, that most color-conscious drummer, was extending the moods and harmonic construction of the greats he covers. Would we have pulled this out if the man hadn’t passed? Eventually. Motian’s in our infrequent rotation list, someone we return to again and again as time rolls on.

GARDEN OF EDEN, Paul Motian Band; ECM, recorded November, 2004. We pulled this out a couple weeks back when the man was still on the planet and haven’t let go. Another example of Motian’s two-guitar,-two sax ensemble; this time with seven Motian originals of the kind that send us (the drummer also gets great contributions from his sidemen; hear Muthspiel’s “Waseenonet” from Reincarnation above, saxophonist Chris Cheek’s “Desert Dream” here. What we said before: “Paul Motian plays drums like Bill Evans played piano. Here’s it’s in support of a larger group; the tangle of guitars (Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder, Jakob Bro), brother saxophones of Chris Cheek, Tony Malaby, the try-this-on-for size bass of Jerome Harris. Some Mingus, some originals from the band. But it’s Motian’s “Mesmer” that has a mesmerized. It’s like an Ornette tune at half-speed; inviting, entrancing and ultimately about the human condition.” I forgot to mention the great rework of Mingus’ “Pithecanthropus Erectus.”

MICHAEL TIPPETT DIVERTIMERNTO ON “SELINGER’S ROUND,’ LITTLE MUSIC FOR STRING ORCHESTRA, THE HEART’S ASSURANCE, CONCERTO FOR DOUBLE STRING ORCHESTRA, City of Londo Sinfonia condcuted by Richard Hickox; Chandos, recorded March, 1995. There’s a variety of music here, indicating a range not often associated with the 20th century English composer. Sure, the dancing  “sprung” rhythms of the Concerto catch our off-beat ears but it’s the audible empathy for simple lives, especially heard in the Lament from “Sellinger’s Round” that sticks with us, so much that tenor John Mark Ainsley has to wrestle us back in “The Heat’s Assurance” with a display of  compassion (the music ponders a woman’s suicide, inspired by poets killed in World War II) and passion lost.

APPEARING NIGHTLY,Carla Bley and Her Remarkable Big Band; ECM, 2007. Lively, playful, wonderfully arranged music that jumps jives and gets serious all in a matter of moments. Full of respect for the tradition as well as inside jokes and running gags, the bulk of them perpetrated by trumpeter Lew Soloff. The 25 minute suite that lends the disc its title is a historical overview with the band shouting jive to accent the period feel. “Greasy Gravy” and “Bad Coffee” burns with sax and trumpet reflux (although at different tempos). Emotional highpoint: when the trombone (is it Beppe Calamosca?) blares a warning above the groove and shimmer from Bley-mates bassist Steve Swallow and Karen Mantler on organ. Did I mention Steve Swallow? Who else could play with this noisy of a band and sound like an entire section on his own?

Paul Motian: Time To Keep

I first saw Paul Motian in the early ’70s with the Keith Jarrett Quartet. The group came to our modest Midwestern university one cold Saturday night and set up on risers in the student union ballroom. Except for Motian, none of the group, which included bassist Charlie Haden and saxophonist Dewey Redman, seemed glad to be there. Jarrett, reportedly upset with the condition of the piano, spent most of the concert prowling around the make-shift stage shaking things and beating his fists on the piano box. Occasionally, he would reach inside and grab at the instrument’s strings as if trying to pluck something out of it. For a brief moment in the second set, he sat down on the bench and began to roll out his signature harmonic churn. But he soon grew bored of it and walked off the stage leaving Redman, as he had done all night, to solo at length.

The performance proved a showcase for the drummer. Motian, smiling and slapping sticks at his kit, played in an off-beat fashion that seemed odd to our young ears. When we thought the accent should come just there, he brought it a split second later. When we anticipated an extended press roll, he cut the rumble short. At the break, we foolishly described his playing as sloppy and carefree,  as if he’d had one too many beers (we didn’t know if he’d had any, and probably not). By the end of the show, especially after his sonically-rich solo that highlighted the second set even more than Jarrett’s brief stint at the keys, we better understood what he was doing, how it fit in and what all the color and shading he applied did for the quartet’s sound. Motian had made us believers in a different kind of timekeeping.

Today, with his passing  , I’ll lament not only his loss  –recent recordings showed he had much left to add — but also the loss of my vinyl copy of Conception Vessel (scroll far down), his 1972 date with Haden, Jarret, violinist Leroy Jenkins and others.. I’ll pull out I Have the Room Above Her to hear him with long-time mates guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano, Monk In Motian to enjoy his comprehension and extension of the Monk sound and some of those wonderful JMT recordings of the ’90s (I’m listening to the cymbal-shimmered twang of Trio i sm  now) and to Reincarnation of A Love Bird  with its two guitars, two saxes and fine Steve Swallow bass work (truly a reincarnation of Monk, Miles, Mingus and Gillespie). And I’ll listen to what he’s done for younger emerging artists, like pianist Anat Fort whose music seemed the perfect canvas for Motian’s painterly ways (he’s on her first ECM recording Long Story, the opening and ending cuts of her latest are titled “Paul Motian”). Recordings make it too easy to miss our lost musicians.

Maybe Richard Cook and Brian Morton say it best in The Penguin Guide To Jazz Recordings:

Time will tell how important Motian is ultimately considered to be in the development of jazz since the war; but if all revolutions in the music turn out to be upheavals in the rhythm section, then it seems likely that he will be seen as a quiet revolutionary.

Cabbage Rabbit




Playlist: 11/13

THE THIRD MAN  Stefano Bollani, Enrico Rava; ECM, recorded November 2006. The combination of Rava’s scissor-sharp trumpet and Bolani’s velvety piano work makes for designs cut from whole cloth. The opening tune “Estate” is a marvel of interwoven mood and method. Like a long-married couple, these two seem able to complete each others thoughts as well as argue without hard feelings. Soothes and stimulates. About the latter: On “Cumpari,” they makes as much noise — psychic noise — as two men can make. Then resolution.

KEN BENSHOOF “TRAVELING MUSIC,” “SON OF TWENTY SHADOWS,” AND ASTOR PIAZZOLLA “FIVE TANGO SENSATIONS,” “FOUR FOR TANGO,”  Kronos Quartet; Nonesuch, released as  Kronos Quartet: 25 Years, 1998. The programming of Benshoof’s rural, post-Americana, Grant Wood-influenced quartets with Piazolla’s urban, melancholy bandeon-and-strings romances comes together like mice in a closet. The warmth of movement, the slightly human twists in both sets of music, makes us smile. Is there such a thing as contemporary nostalgia?

REVERIE, Joe Henry; Anti-, recorded February-March 2011. Joe Henry’s latest is, as he writes, “a raucous and fractured and noisy affair…” like his previous recordings, but without the chaotic cacophony of background buzz. The music actually seems stripped down without the jazz personae and random overdubs. But it’s certainly gruff and hard-edged, reminding us of the way Tom Waits used to sound.  It’s even more literate than past efforts ; there’s something of a short story-character sketch in the liner notes that doesn’t quite make sense of the trembling content and, well, any recording with a song titled “Odetta”  (“Odetta, Odetta–/Please come and take me down/Nothing is now as it appears/And there is no law that speaks to that,/Just an ocean’s roar between my ears…”) has our attention. More on this after further listens.

RHYTHM OF THE SAINTS, Paul Simon; Columbia Legacy, originally released October 1990; reissue October, 2011. We always preferred this recording to Simon’s Graceland. It’s somehow darker, less frivolous. And it has some of our favorite musicians: Randy and Michael Brecker, Milton Nascimento, Hugh Masekela, Adrian Belew. The outtakes, highlighted by the unreleased “The Coast,” a tune with obvious failings among its brilliant moments, make the reissue worthwhile even to those who have a (well-worn) original.



Generational Tribute

In a sense, every jazz performance is a tribute to one –or more likely many — jazz greats. We Four: Celebrating John Coltrane, the collaboration between drummer Jimmy Cobb, saxophonist  Javon Jackson, bassist Nat Reeves and, for this appearance, pianist Eric Reed that appeared Saturday at Vanessie’s in Santa Fe, was as much a tribute to the talents of these four established jazz artists as it was to the concert’s namesake. Produced by the Friends of Santa Fe Jazz, the scintillating show was a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

In a single, glowing set of music written and/or associated with saxophone innovator who died in 1967, the group assimilated jazz past to showcase its present. The four-decades difference in the musicians’ ages—Cobb is 82 and Reed 42 – figured for little.

Cobb’s long experience with everyone from Earl Bostic and Billie Holiday to Miles Davis and Coltrane himself meshed perfectly with the influences of his younger cohorts who hail from a generation that has integrated the instrumental and expressionistic advances pioneered by the drummer’s then contemporaries. To Jackson, Reed and Reeves, the startling musical breakthroughs made by Coltrane, Davis and their sidemen are now second-nature. Together, age be damned, the four men demonstrated how the music continues to build on those foundations.

Miles and Coltrane weren’t the only spirit hovering nearby. The presence of Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley and Bill Evans, among others, was palpable, both in the music and in Jackson’s between-tune talks.

The nine tunes aired here avoided Coltrane’s radical, avant-garde style of the mid-‘60s, concentrating instead on his post-bop and romantic explorations. By default, the band also gave a nod to trumpeter Davis’ landmark Kind Of Blue recording of 1959, a disc that included Coltrane and drummer Cobb, the last surviving member of that famous septet.

Davis’ “Freddie Freeloader” from that recording (notably, as Jackson pointed out, the best selling  jazz recording of all time) made for a direct link to that period as well as pointing out a half-century of evolution. Cobb, dressed to work in blue collar, black suspenders and a National Aeronautics and Space Administration-logo ball cap, propelled the tune with varied rhythmic accents and off-beat spacing that moved beyond his straight-ahead timekeeping of some 50 years past. Reed made a nod to Kind of Blue pianist Evans’ original lines as he began his solo, then brought strong blues touches that gave gritty counterpoint to Evans’ more reserved play. Jackson, following Reed’s bluesy example, sounded more Cannonball than Coltrane.

Jackson, recalling Coltrane’s recognizable tenor attack at various times during the evening, mostly played his own man. His tone was somewhat softer than the celebration’s namesake and the references he made to the saxophonist’s signature phrases always came with an asterisk. At one point during his solo on “Naima,” he dwelled on Coltrane’s trademark, repeated four-and-six tone warbles but left pregnant space between, giving them time to sink in, before placing the next series at an unexpected interval. On Coltrane’s “Like Sonny,” he looked more towards Rollins in narrative flow and resolution. On “My One and Only Love,” he was warm and personal in ways like no other saxophonist but himself.

Reed likewise eschewed imitation for genuine identity. He never once sounded like longtime Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner and little like Wynton Kelly. His graceful play did sometimes suggest Coltrane-associated pianist Red Garland when it veered into harmonically dense blues lines. On Monk’s “I Mean You,” Reed’s smooth and flowing sound was far removed from the herky-jerky attractions of the tune’s composer.

Cobb participated in the 1959 take of Coltrane’s “Naima” heard on the saxophonist’s landmark Giant Steps recording. Its presentation here, with bassist Reeves’ spare and studious backing, gave the audience another chance to hear how the drummer’s play, now more percussively varied and responsive to the others in the band, had changed over a half-century.

Like all great art, this performance had a takeaway that transcended the actual music; that we should all aspire to be like Jimmy Cobb, a man who’s never stopped growing, who’s never stopped working to perfect his music. Giant strides, as Cobb’s career shows, result from persistent and continual smaller steps that keep pushing ahead. His example gives us hope, not only for the future of jazz, but our own as well.–Cabbage Rabbit

Playlist 11/6

***I hope our countless fans around the globe will forgive the delay of this Playlist…a winter storm took out our internet and the company formerly known as Qwest took four days to repair it. Hope this isn’t the norm in Santa Fe.

SOULTRANE, John Coltrane; Prestige, recorded February, 1958.  I was preparing to see a Coltrane tribute band with Jimmy Cobb—no, he’s not on this recording— and wanted no Kind Of Blue clichés. Pulling Soultrane out was genius, not just for its foreshadow of Coltrane’s later, denser play but for the amazing bass work of  Paul Chambers, the grace of Red Garland and the shing-a-ling of drummer Art Taylor. I have a feeling that saxophonist Javon Jackson of the We Four Coltrane tribute band did the same thing before touring with his Cobb-included quartet. And yes, I pulled out Giant Steps to hear Cobb on “Naima,” the only track from that landmark recording on which the drummer appears.

KIND OF BLUE, Miles Davis Septet, Columbia, recorded  March and April 1959. You move into a new home, set up your well-traveled sound system and what do you want to hear? Something you know (and love) well. Yeah, I know it’s a cliché. But it’s a classic cliché. And besides, I was feeling all “Blue In Green.” Not to mention that fact that I was looking forward to seeing Jimmy Cobb, now a spry 82, perform with the next generation. Final report: yes, my speakers were in phase.

GARDEN OF EDEN, Paul Motian Band; ECM, recorded November 2004. Paul Motian plays drums like Bill Evans played piano. Here’s it’s in support of a larger group; the tangle of guitars (Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder, Jakob Bro), brother saxophones of Chris Cheek, Tony Malaby, the try-this-on-for size bass of Jerome Harris. Some Mingus, some originals from the band. But it’s Motian’s “Mesmer” that has a mesmerized. It’s like an Ornette tune at half-speed; inviting, entrancing and ultimately about the human condition.

SCHUBERT IMPROMPTUS, OP.  90 & op.142, Mitsuko Uchida; Philips, recorded 1996. Serious music for serious times performed with respect and sensitivity. With the possibility of dark moments on the horizon, I want to be prepared. And Schubert’s an expert at resolution.

Playlist: 10/8

SONGS OF MIRTH AND MELANCHOLY, Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo; Marsalis Music, recorded January, 2010. Teamwork metaphors may seem apt for this recording even if there are few sports, other than tennis, that make a team of two. And there’s no straight-man-comic presentation, as happens so often in duos, apparent here either. What is apparent is familiarity — the old friend metaphor — and the pair’s commitment to melody, be it Brahms or originals. They open with the keyboardist’s “One Way” that’s all raggy and tenor honk. Then they move to Branford’s “The Bard Lachrymose” which is as clean and classic as the Brahms they take on later.Marsalis’ soprano has that broad, brassy sound that glides like a slick-shoe kid on ice. There’s a long-view, historical grasp of music here that extends beyond Chick and Herbie, even beyond Fats to pre-jazz genres. An amazing show of empathy, timing and grace. Music that moves…in all ways.

AND IF, Anat Fort Trio; ECM. When I have trouble writing, the introspective, honest personal stuff, sure, but even simple exposition, I turn to music to find my way back to clear, honest expression. Pianist Fort seems to lay her soul in front of us, easily, melodically, in ways that relate to our own existence. Yes, I know that her playing is often seen in terms of her heritage and a sort of homeland identity (she’s Israeli). But even in the folk influences and cultural rhythms she expresses something universal, something to strive for. As heard, hers is a beautiful story. I envy the way she tells it.

“Outback”  from OUTBACK, Joe Farrell;  CTI, recorded November, 1970. We all loved Joe Farrell’s tenor playing and admired his soprano work. But the Rabbit’s always felt that flute was his main axe. The ease with which he maneuvered through melodies, the tight phrasing and the moment-to-moment range left us (if not him0 breathless.  The title tune from this recording is grand evidence. Buster Williams is, as always isoutstanding on bass, Chick does his electric thing and Elvin Jones makes his attack appropriate to every mood. Did I forget Airto? Shame.

CHABRIER PIANO WORKS VOL. 1,Georges Rabol; Naxos, recorded December 1993. It lifts, it separates, it makes sane and happy sense of so much.  “Habanera” has been a favorite since the days it severed as theme (in instrumental version) for some long forgotten CBC program when Canadian radio was all I could pull in. “10 Pieces Pioresques” seems to cover every mood I’ve felt in the last few weeks. And believe me, I’ve felt my share. Rabol is crisp , expressive and sensitive to my sensitive feelings, neither too dramatic or too reserved. Good any time of day.


Playlist 10/2

MIRROR, Charles Lloyd; ECM, released September, 2010.  It drives me nuts that certain critics can’t see Charles Lloyd as anything but a Coltrane spin off. Beyond a certain, infrequently heard tonal similarity there’s a world of difference: different mood, different phrasing and yes, different moods. While the intensity of  Coltrane’s music reflects the searcher, Lloyd’s music plays to realization, not the battle to attain it. Mirror is Lloyd’s most realized work, a whirling galaxy of expression and sensitivity, whether in his interpretation of  “I Fall In Love To Easily” or the languid peace of “Dsolation Soud.”  Pianist Jason Moran, bassist Ruben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland, masters in their own right, play as if in the presence of one ascended; respectfully, complimentary and full of aspiration. When speaking of the path to attainment over his rhythm section, Lloyd’s  dulcent tones define his difference with Coltrane. The peace that comes of serenity, the creation that springs from peace.

END OF TH E WORLD PARTY, Martin Medeski and Wood, Blue Note, 2004.  I know its shamefully lame to cite the playing of this disc as an act of solidarity with the Occupy Wall St. protesters so let’s just say it serves as a faraway soundtrack to the hope and tone of that phenomena (see “Bloody Oil”).  MMW’s darkest, deepest and best guest-blessed (Marc Ribot on guitar; sorry Sco’) date ever. Gruesome groove.

LIVE/EVIL, Miles Davis; Columbia, recorded 1970. It’s probably a sign of adult imbalance that I’ve used the furious minor-key bugaloo (and equally furious blues-funk, if a distinction can be made) of the live dates of this original double lp as a touchstone for change in my life…for some 40 years.  I do. DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Keith Jarrett, John McLaughlin and Gary Bartz make it hurt as Miles works in a pinch. Even the butchery of Teo Macero’s  jump cuts seems to work. Inamorata.

TINY VOICES, Joe Henry; Anti, recorded December, 2002. Why do we love this recording so much? Because of the sense it makes from  background noise. And we have a partner who light up a room. Not your usual pop album.

DARIUS MILHAUD La Creation du Monde, Op 81, Ulster Orchestra conducted by Yan Pascal Tortelier ; Chandos, released 1992 (includes Poulnec’s “Les Biches,  Ibert’s “Divertissement” and Milhaud’s “Le Boeuf sur la Toit, Op. 58). Yes, we know that this piece is often credited with being the first piece to bring jazz to classical music (in 1923). Maybe. But then we consider Scott Joplin and many early jazz masters classical musicians.  I like the piece because, in a time when the Rabbit is looking to move above ground, it brings visual impression to creation myths. And when the orchestra starts to swing — very much in the style of the period — I hear it as the same thing.  If only acts of creation were as easy as this.