BY FRANK ALKYER
What happens when an artist becomes a legend in his own lifetime? That’s the question raised in the liner notes to Thelonious Monk’s Paris 1969, a new historical CD/DVD package that is a slice of jazz heaven. The music and accompanying film were recorded live at Salle Pleyel in Paris on Dec. 15, 1969, for French television. Monk, 52 years old at the time, was physically and emotionally drained. Columbia Records had just dropped him after a failed attempt to market him as an underground hero to the “peace and love” generation. Drummer Ben Riley and bassist Larry Gales had quit the band. So, Monk picked up Nate Hygelund, a young bassist, and Paris Wright, a 17-year-old drummer, along with his longtime saxophonist Charlie Rouse, and hit the road for Europe.
Monk biographer Robin D.G. Kelley writes in the liner notes that this could be “the most important visual record we have of the mature Thelonious Monk.” That’s high praise considering this show was shot a year after the footage that would eventually become central to the documentary film Straight, No Chaser. The music itself is an important document, and the accompanying film is a beautiful glimpse into an American artistic hero. The cinematography is terrific. On “I Mean You,” there’s a camera angle where Monk’s sweat-drenched concentration is interrupted only by the rapid fire of Wright’s drumsticks flitting between Monk’s visage and the camera lens on the other side of the stage. The film spotlights an oft-overlooked fact: Monk compositions take flight with the contributions of his bandmates. It’s a treat to watch Rouse play saxophone on tunes like “Ruby, My Dear,” “Bright Mississippi” and “Epistrophy”—a reminder of what an integral part he played in Monk’s sound. Also cool are a guest appearance by Philly Joe Jones sitting in on Monk’s “Nutty,” and a sadly abbreviated “Blue Monk,” swinging hard, cool and gracefully. For those who want to see the master alone, the last three songs are solo-Monk perfection, as he holds the audience in the palm of his hand with the encores “Don’t Blame Me,” “I Love You Sweetheart Of All My Dreams” (an amazing link between bebop and Tin Pan Alley) and “Crepuscule With Nellie.”
The DVD also includes a priceless interview conducted by French bassist and critic Jacques B. Hess, who tries to get the resistant Monk to open up. Hess asks him about Duke Ellington’s influence on his work, and the pianist replies, “Well, I’ve been influenced by all jazz musicians before me. All of them influenced me.” Hess becomes slightly peeved—the caricature of an overzealous French critic, asking Monk to comment on the legacy of Charlie Parker, who would have turned 50 in 1969 had he lived. Monk’s response: “I showed him the chords to a lot of my songs.” It didn’t go well for Hess, but it makes for great, uncomfortable viewing for us.
BY BOBBY REED
When tenor saxophonist Stan Getz headed to the Montreux Jazz Festival for a performance (and TV taping) on June 23, 1972, he brought along a talented group of young players with whom he had recently recorded the fusion-flavored album Captain Marvel. Each of his three accompanists is now thought of as a legendary bandleader himself: pianist Chick Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Tony Williams. Five of the seven tracks captured on Eagle Rock’s CD and separate DVD of the Montreux concert are from Captain Marvel—an album that consisted almost entirely of Corea’s compositions. All four musicians excel on Live At Montreux 1972. Corea is equally effective on piano and electronic keyboard throughout the program, and his acoustic introduction sets the tone for a gorgeous rendition of “Lush Life” that also features Clarke’s poignant arco work. Williams presents a stunning drum clinic on “Time’s Lie,” a blistering track that is worth the price of admission alone. This gig, filmed indoors at the Montreux Pavillion, showcases Getz as a masterful balladeer (“Lush Life,” “I Remember Clifford”) as well as a tenorman who could blow fire, as he does on “La Fiesta.” The CD and DVD are each 61 minutes long, and they contain a personal liner-notes essay penned by Corea. Considering that Getz and Williams are no longer with us, these releases (especially the DVD) are welcome treasures, recorded during an era when the saxophonist was moving away from the bossa nova sound that had helped make him enormously popular in the preceding decade.
Amazon DVD | Amazon CD
BY FRANK ALKYER
On Check Cashing Day, saxophonist Bobby Watson is at his best, tackling the issue of inequality in the most positive, powerful and uplifting way possible. This album was recorded in honor of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Watson focuses on a key line from that speech, in which Dr. King told the audience of 300,000 that they had come to Washington to cash a check—a check written in the Declaration of Independence stating that all men are created equal. The album opens with the bouncing “Sweet Dreams,” a direct tip of the hat to the words King spoke on Aug. 28, 1963. The title track lays out the premise of the album, with spoken-word artist Glenn North eloquently discussing how the check still hasn’t been cashed—from welfare mothers to the death of Trayvon Martin to prisons overcrowded with black men. North contributes effectively on several of the album’s pieces, especially when reciting King’s remarks regarding jazz on “MLK On Jazz (Love Transforms),” making Check Cashing Day one part jazz recording, one part poetry slam and one part essential history lesson. It all works beautifully. Watson’s stellar band includes trumpeter Hermon Mehari, pianist Richard Johnson, drummer Eric Kennedy and bassist Curtis Lundy, plus guest artists Pamela Baskin-Watson (vocals on two tracks), Horace Washington (flute on three cuts) and Karita Carter, who adds trombone to “Dark Days.” The sound of this ensemble is laid-back cool and blue. Watson blows brilliantly on “Seekers Of The Sun (Son).” The band swings at a crisp uptempo pace on “Progress,” with Mehari dishing out a soulful solo. In the liner notes, Watson writes, “We do not have ‘Heaven on Earth.’ However, I believe that there is enough intelligence, understanding, and tolerance in this country to elevate our collective humanity.” Keep preachin’, Mr. Watson. We’re listening.
CDBaby | iTunes
BY FRANK ALKYER
On the second volume of his Unsung Heroes project, trumpeter Brian Lynch delivers another seriously enjoyable set of previously unrecorded or little-known music from underappreciated trumpet masters. This set is taken from the same recording sessions that yielded Vol. 1, which received a 5-star review in the July 2011 issue of DownBeat. The band and arrangements here are superb. And Lynch is one of the finest trumpeters we have in jazz. His rich, buttery tone is front and center on Joe Gordon’s ballad “Heleen,” one of my favorite tracks. Lynch is a clean, precise and soulful soloist who always knows how to deliver the essence of a song. His sinewy arrangement of Howard McGhee’s “Sandy” serves as a complex and amazingly executed game of tempo, theme and mood change. He wrenches the heart on flugelhorn during Tommy Turrentine’s “Gone But Not Forgotten.” Lynch throws himself into the “unsung hero” category with two of his stellar compositions: “Marissa’s Mood” and “’Nother Never.” Although I’m not sure that he or the great Donald Byrd belongs in this “unsung” category, I’m certain that Lynch had good reasons for including Byrd’s “I’m Excited By You” to close the proceedings. That track is a great way to highlight his killer band, with Vincent Herring on alto saxophone, Alex Hoffman on tenor sax, Rob Schneiderman on piano, David Wong on bass and Pete Van Nostrand on drums. It’s a tight, cohesive unit that makes these songs take flight. Here’s hoping this “unsung” project gets the recognition all of these artists deserve on next summer’s festival circuit.
Hollistic MusicWorks | Bandcamp
BY BOBBY REED
Pianist and educator George Colligan’s profile continues to rise. He may not be as well known in some circles as his outstanding trio partners on this project—bassist Larry Grenadier and Colligan’s frequent employer, drummer Jack DeJohnette—but he certainly has the chops to hang with them. The Endless Mysteries, Colligan’s 24th album as a leader, contains 10 original compositions, many of which the keyboardist developed while playing with his students at Portland State University. Surprisingly, Colligan, Grenadier and DeJohnette didn’t rehearse before the recording session. These ace players prove that when you’ve got great communication and sensitivity, you don’t need a lot of rehearsal in order to make magic. “Song For The Tarahumera” illustrates Colligan’s great touch, his terrific sense of dynamics and his ability to craft fluid yet complex lines. “Liam’s Lament” is a showcase for his mastery of the melodica. The title track is a ballad that finds these three virtuosos gracefully exploiting the spaciousness inherent in the piano trio format. The album concludes with the poetically titled, melodically jaunty and emotionally powerful “If The Mountain Was Smooth, You Couldn’t Climb It.” Throughout this satisfying program, Colligan proves himself to be the best kind of leader: one who knows when to command the spotlight and when to let his gifted, well-chosen bandmates take over.
Origin | iTunes
BY DAVIS INMAN
In a fruitful year of Keith Jarrett releases on ECM—the label has already issued Hymns/Spheres, Somewhere and Six Sonatas For Violin And Piano and will wrap up the year with a reissue of 1981’s Concerts: Bregenz/München—here is a Jarrett offering out of left field. Recorded in 1986, the two-disc set No End is essentially a solo rock project. Jarrett overdubs piano, guitar, bass, drums and percussion to create 20 meandering grooves that sound like lo-fi psychedelia. This solo studio experimentation is reminiscent of Paul McCartney’s 1980 album, McCartney II, though Macca made prevalent use of synthesizers, where Jarrett does not. The songs here are simply titled “I,” “II,” and so on, up through “XX,” which closes out the second disc. Tracks range from the seven-minute opener, “I,” one of many pieces prodded along by Jarrett’s electric guitar playing, to shorter pieces like “X,” which has a foundation of piano chords, to “XVI,” where bass and cowbell are prominent. Jarrett’s liner notes for the album paint a picture of inspiration amid controlled chaos: “Cables and cords everywhere. A drum set in the corner. … There was really, to my knowledge, no forethought or ‘composition’ (in the typical sense) going on.” While these discs lack Jarrett’s usual display of pianistic virtuosity, they document an important aspect of his ample musicality beyond the 88 keys.
BY BOBBY REED
Ambitious. That’s the word that comes to mind when listening to the new album by Marty Ehrlich’s Large Ensemble. The veteran saxophonist and conductor thinks big here: 75 minutes of music performed by 25 players, including two extended compositions that have running times longer than 20 minutes. The epic title track, which was commissioned by the Sound Vision Orchestra in 2004, is a concerto centered on saxophonist-narrator J.D. Parran’s emotional recitation of Arthur Brown’s poem “A Trumpet in the Morning.” In one section, Parran declares, “I’ve been all night in the dew/ john-revelated in the marshy bottoms/ lazarused in the crook of a willow/ whittled a gospel-boat from a simple reed/ launched that skiff in the spittle of a mule’s jaw.” The lines are followed by a wave of potent turbulence—created by the horns and woodwinds—and spiked by Warren Smith’s vibraphone. The piece concludes with a mood that’s meditative yet celebratory, allowing listeners to reflect on the incredible, winding journey they’ve just taken. Another concerto, “Rundowns And Turnbacks,” takes its title from Johnny Shines’ description of the guitar style of bluesman Robert Johnson. In this Third Stream-flavored composition, the bluesy movements for jazz orchestra strike a balance between funky grit and intellectual conceptualization. Jerome Harris’ versatile guitar work would sound at home in a symphony hall, a jazz club or a country church. This densely rich album, which is chock-full of interesting ideas, yields rewards with repeated spins. Among the other gifted musicians helping Ehrlich pursue his vision on the disc are Uri Caine, Michael Dessen, Curtis Fowlkes, Drew Gress and Matt Wilson.
BY DAVIS INMAN
Los Angeles-based trumpeter Bryan Shaw keeps a surprisingly low profile. It’s been a long time since the release of his last Arbors CD, 2000’s Night Owl, which featured notable players like multi-reedist Scott Robinson, pianist Dave Frishberg and guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli. Shaw’s new album also features some hitters, especially two rising-star hotshots: Israeli-born pianist Ehud Asherie (who released the solo piano disc Welcome To New York on Arbors in 2010) and Vancouver-based clarinetist-saxophonist Evan Arntzen. Trombonist-arranger Dan Barrett is a return guest from Night Owl and figures prominently on this disc. Bluebird nods toward an earlier time period, though Shaw contends the album is “a response to the world as it is today.” What really stands out is the simpatico playing by these ace musicians. On “All My Life,” the band soars, from the trumpet-and-guitar intro to the full-band finale. On “Wang Wang Blues,” the front line plays with impeccable taste. Elsewhere, Shaw and the Hot Shots turn in a soulful, stirring rendition of “Chloe.” Also noteworthy are four original compositions by guitarist-banjoist Brad Roth, who has crafted tunes that hold their own next to the 11 standards.
BY DAVIS INMAN
The debut album from this London-based octet takes New Orleans parade music and mixes it with original jazz compositions. Bandleader Tom Challenger has brought together a talented front line and an airtight rhythm section. Opener “Onnellinen” (Finnish for “happy”) has an earworm melody—a downtempo groove that would work well in a Bonobo or Four Tet song. Challenger supplements 10 of his own compositions here with three traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian tunes. “Indian Red”—which has been recorded by Dr. John, the Wild Tchoupitoulas and Donald Harrison—is given a dutifully celebratory reading. Another traditional tune, “I Thank You Jesus,” is more somber—a slow drag that explores freer terrain. The original songs have a complex relationship with the parade music that inspired the project. On “Don’t Stand Up,” horns take free-flying solos over a funky tuba bass line and crackling drums, while “Wizards” has the feel of a Miles Davis–Gil Evans collaboration. Challenger has worked on a range of other projects, including two intriguing duos that paired reeds and organ. With Brass Mask, he’s found the ideal group to explore his ideas.