Recent listening, current

Saturday, December 12, 2015

208. Lionel Hampton / Hamp: The Legendary Decca Recordings (1996)

This two-disc set by Decca Jazz was produced by Orrin Keepnews and released in 1996. Its 36 tracks present two decades of music from a motley handful of bands, strong selections that amply demonstrate the bands' power and talent. Its main attraction for me is the inclusion of several scorching live cuts. But the track sequence isn't plagued by the problems inherent to retrospective collections like an excess of vocal numbers, songs in the same key, or long runs of tracks by the same group. The disc starts live in 1945 with a wild, careening orchestra whose high energy and charm inspires jealous visions of what a swing concert was like during the heyday. Throughout, the soloists are wide and varied (Jacquet, Gillespie, Shavers, Grey, et al) and, like many of the era's best known bands, Hamp's rosters are a veritable skeleton key to the door of jazz greatness. While Hamp is not an authoritative guide nor a complete collection by any means, it is an immensely enjoyable and astutely compiled survey of one of the 20th century's most influential bandleaders and his equally influential players. Recommended.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

207. Stan Getz / Captain Marvel (1972)

Here, we find Getz in good form alongside the boys from Return to Forever. His own notes tell us it was Chick Corea who arranged the date, and most of the music is from his pen. But it is the tenor man from another era who craftily renders the smoothly stated leads that flavor the proceedings -- Stan Getz. He's a melodic monster, and a little like Zoot Sims, just can't seem to put a note wrong. At this point in his career, Getz's tone and the agility of his fingers were still intact, and his technique even thriving. So I hear the overlay of the players' contexts and their respective styles as the key to the session, with Getz relinquishing little of his modern cred, leaving the Corea contingent to provide the updated message. Remember, in 1972, Return to Forever was still newly formed. Miles Davis was active, the impact of fusion was unseen, and it was all still very fresh. Appreciate this disc for its personnel pairings as much as for its place in the later Getz canon. And it's got Tony Williams, reason enough for me to plop down for a listen. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

206. Frank Sinatra / In the Wee Small Hours (1955)

Though not as languished as 1959's No One Cares, this album of ballads sets the bar for melancholy, as well as being the first of the themed (and innovative) full-length LP's that Sinatra recorded for Capitol. Gordon Jenkins arranged and conducted on No One, but originally it was Nelson Riddle at the stand. The collaboration is magical. Riddle's restrained treatments underscore the mood of each lyric and magnify their impact. Sinatra expertly uses breath control and different vocal textures to interpret the material while Riddle's charts employ orchestral color at all the right incidental moments. Sinatra sings the passages carefully, sounding deeper and more mature than ever before. The frankness of songs like "Last Night When We Were Young," "I See Your Face Before Me," and "When Your Lover Has Gone" have secured In the Wee Small Hours a permanent place in the hearts of many fans. It remains one of  his most satisfying and moving performances on wax. More than a routine set of ballads, it only takes a few notes to know that Sinatra is making these songs his own. At the same time, they're yours too.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

205. Coleman Hawkins with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis / Night Hawk (1960)

Enough has been said about Hawk's invention of the wheel when it comes to the tenor sax solo. His influence extends over both horizons and has touched untold numbers of musicians both directly and indirectly. But his work, especially that of the transitional 50's and early 60's, is also a lot of fun to listen to. Hawk's professionalism was so cool it was casual, his technique an enigmatic balance of technical innovation and instinct. Here, in a 1960 session for the Swingville imprint and recorded by Rudy Van Gelder, he is heard with fellow tenor Eddie Davis, Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter, and Gus Johnson. The title track, 10 minutes of slow blues loosely organized around a theme, is a pickup number that demonstrates the players' knack for the above. The contrast between the tone and styles of Hawkins and Davis on tracks like "In a Mellow Tone" provides an added dimension. Flanagan is in top form playing tastefully between the leads, Carter and Johnson a sympathetic unit whose attention to the music goes beyond timekeeping. As with Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins recorded for Impulse two years later, a good result from such a meeting of the minds was not a foregone conclusion, but in both cases the outcome was memorable.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

204. Don Cherry / Art Deco (1988)

Credited to Cherry, this session belongs to the same unit that worked together before Cherry, Haden, and Higgins historically joined ranks with Ornette Coleman. It's a beautiful straight set, comprised of cooly executed standards, originals, and several Coleman covers. The quartet is familiar and tight. I haven't listened to much of James Clay's past work, but now I wish I had more of it on hand to explore. His deep, supple lines in "Body and Soul" put a fresh coat on the old song, mixing wry bop phrasing with bursts of unexpected tonal color and bluesy swagger. Cherry takes a rest while Higgins and Haden nimbly sidestep one another before Haden builds a short solo. The ensemble picks up again behind Clay's last chorus and the plaintively emotive outro for solo tenor. Monk's "Bemsha Swing" comes next, where Cherry and Clay get most of the spots, but leave room for Higgins. Higgins, Cherry, and Haden each get time alone on "Passing," "Maffy," and "Folk Medley," quiet, introspective spaces that give listeners a chance to appreciate their individualism. Eight-bars-and-blow gets old, I agree, but these renderings sagely belie that trope with wit, spirit, and a genuine enjoyment for the music Do you love great jazz? Find it, buy it.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

203. The Jeff Lorber Fusion / Wizard Island (1980)

If you don't listen to jazz, you've probably heard Lorber's music on the Weather Channel while checking your local forecast! The back catalog is a bit more interesting, but not by much. This record was a #1 seller for Arista, and it sounds every bit the part. Cast in the same mold as the heavy hitters like Hancock, Corea, Clarke, et al, it lacks the trailblazing and depth found in those acts (Corea guests on "Rooftops"). Selections are heavy on the funk and Arista Records' special sauce, a superb studio product. It's got a lot of production on it and in spite of the funky corners, some of the songs do take on a two-dimensional pop simplicity. But if you're a fan of good bass playing or vintage synths like Minimoog and the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, Lorber's album might interest you. I'm not a big fan of soft jazz or heavily produced wallpaper, but I do spin it sometimes. Dennis Bradford and Danny Wilson get high marks for drums and bass, respectively. Bland as this example may be, funky fusion grooves were an entry point for countless musicians of the 70's and early 80's, and Wizard Island does well to show you the ropes.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

202. Flying Island / Flying Island (1975)

The self-titled debut from the fruitful but short lived Connecticut group Flying Island has excellent music to offer and deserves wider recognition. Things begin with a sharply executed "Funky Duck," but the material takes interesting turns into weirder territory and more aggressive textures like on "Flying Island" and "I Love to Dance." The music proceeds across shifting time signatures in tradeoffs between Fred Fraioli's electric violin and keyboards by Jeff Bova. Fraioli speaks in squalling, anthemic strokes, sometimes smooth, sometimes menacing, bookended by his fiery runs and escalated, wailing solos. Also present are guitarist Ray Smith, bassist Thom Preli, and drummer Bill Bacon. Smith and Bacon emerge as superb players that make the album much heavier than your typical mid-70s fusion outing. After the violin-keyboard pyrotechnics are over, their work is often the force that distinguishes the band from dozens of similar acts. Flying Island and the follow-up Another Kind of Space should interest fans of higher profile names in '70s fusion like Jean-luc Ponty, Weather Report, or Mahavishnu Orchestra. The musicians are competent and talented, and the total package is professional and well rehearsed. Yet it is not without the spark needed to bring a studio take home for the listener. Highly recommended!

Monday, May 25, 2015

200. Giger Lenz Marron / Where the Hammer Hangs (1976) & 201. Giger Lenz Marron / Beyond (1977)

Peter Giger's career is full of wild one-way streets. It's like he can do it all, equally at home playing it straight, or rattling through an assortment of percussion instruments in jams of thorny, implacable experimentalism. Where the Hammer Hangs and its sister slab Beyond are just a short stop in his considerable career. Both albums are presently out of print, and are obscure considering his other accomplishments in major jazz circles. If you're familiar with Giger's work in more mainstream engagements, it's probably best to come at these from the Dzyan angle (which was actually my introduction to Giger some time back). Hammer and Beyond were released on his own Någarå label, and stylistically speaking, pick up right where the Dzyan vehicle left off. There are differences. Just like Dzyan, you will hear searching group improvisations, hints of Eastern rhythm and instrumentation, druggy, reverb-laden guitar forays, and plenty of crossover from the above. But Giger Lenz Marron has fewer pedestrian handholds, less that is familiar, and seemingly no rules except for limitations imposed by the instruments themselves. It's like the ingredients of a Dzyan album, but set in a different project removed from whatever restriction was imposed by the group moniker. Although not a major pit stop on the timeline of such prolific musicians as these, the GLM trio interests me for its freedom of form as well as its connections to several trends that first emerged ten years prior. It proves that jazz is a many faceted thing that will continue to be wrought anew by the creative hands and minds that shape it.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

199. Ex Ovo Pro / European Spassvogel (1976)

I don't hear enough of the European jazz scene, past and present, simply because of the music's more limited availability where I live. Thankfully, the web makes the world a little smaller and I was able to locate and hear this out-of-print gem from the Amayana label. European Spassvogel ties a lot of pieces together and after listening to many American groups from the same era, it's refreshing, I really like it. The music is exploratory with anchors in moody vamps and dark melodies. Thankfully, funk is only an ingredient, and the band doesn't dwell on it indefinitely, frequently moving away from it. Wild extemporizations of Mandi Riedelbauch ("In a Locrian Mood") are free and noisy, but the band is really tight. Harald Pompl pounds his traps all around the beat, stuffing the cracks with a unique assortment of percussion and technique. Max Kohler's growly electric bass pours the foundation, and while Pompl does his thing, Kohler keeps time. Hans Kraus-Hubner proviides electric piano, often leading, sometimes coaxing the soloists. It's just a good, chill listen. The songs are concise, and the sides wrap before you can get distracted. If you're like me and get burned out on purely funk-based fusion, this could be what you were looking for.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

New content coming soon

This last year was tumultuous as I moved my family moved across the country, twice. We're mostly settled now, and I should find some more time to update 365 Dry Martinis with my thoughts (if you're interested in what I am listening to each day, without reviews, you can still find the material added daily in a list by following the link at the top of the page). Yes, this space has been quieter than usual, but my daily life has been far more chaotic than usual! I'm excited, though. I've got a lot of interesting things to discuss.

Look out for upcoming reviews of LPs by Giger Lenz Marron, BBL, Carla Bley, Kandahar, Nu Creative Methods, and more. Hard bop and classic jazz are still my bread and butter but I'm going to stretch the horizons of this blog and see where it goes. I love that stuff, too. Hang in there.