Joe Henderson: Power to the People 

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I’ve been wanting to do a deep dive on this album since the first time I listened to “Black Narcissist”.  For one reason or another it’s been years and I still haven’t listened to this album from front to back. So I amended this issue this month and would like to share my thoughts on the album Power To The People.

The album begins on an incredibly high note with “Black Narcissist” definitely my favorite track on the entire album. I love the 3/4 time signature, love the slash chords and the melody cuts like a knife through this harmony. It’s just a brilliant tune, an instant classic and a jazz standard.

The following track “Afro- Centric” is  also a jazz standard and was really quite a progressive tune for the time. This tune shows where jazz was heading, lots of electronics, funky rhythms and experimental “out” soloing. I like this track, but I don’t live it. I feel like the general population embraces this tune more than I do.

This album is rather short at 7 tracks so I won’t go into every one of them in depth. I will say that all tunes fall into 2 categories. Out experiential jazz, or mother traditional jazz music. If you cut this album in half into 2 EP’s you would have two dramatically differ works. In general I’m more of a progressive experimental jazz person, but on this album I tend to like the more “traditional” songs better. My personal favorites are “Black Narcissist” and “Opus-One-Point-Five”.
Overall I have to recommend this album because of “Black Narcissist” alone. I love that tune that much. Still even looking at the other 6 tunes it’s a worthwhile listen. The album is short and sweet with a variety of different styles and sounds. It may have taken me a few years to give this album a thorough listen to, but I’ll be returning to it much sooner than that.

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Art Pepper meets The Rhythm Section



The first time I heard anything about Art Pepper was in college. A professor was telling stories of Art Pepper’s life; the multiple wives, the jail time, and of course, the music. My professor spoke fondly of the album Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section. He mentioned how it was the rhythm section for Miles Davis and how well Art Pepper played as the lead. The title stayed stuck in my mind and I purchased it the first chance I got. Now several years later, I’ve decided to revisit the album and give it a full review.

The album is fairly short being nine tunes long and clocking in at 43 minutes. The opening track “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” Starts with a Red Garland piano intro and Pepper takes care of the melody from there. This is a classic jazz album and this is a classic jazz quartet. With such an experienced rhythm section Pepper is really able to express himself and plays the head eloquently. His solo is inspired and blends beautifully with the head. Garland solos next followed by bassists Paul Chambers. The band then proceeds to trade fours before going back into the melody. A classic tune and a fantastic start to the album. There are a couple of other tunes I’d like to highlight from this album, “Waltz Me Blues” is one of my personal favorites. I especially like the piano line that accompanies Pepper. It’s a nice texture that I rarely hear during a solo. “Straight Life” swings so hard! Fast tempos, burning solos, can’t recommend it enough. “Tin Tin Deo” is a fantastic Latin tune and I love Garland’s solo on it.

If you’re in the mood for some classic jazz music in a combo setting this album should suffice. I really don’t have many complaints. Nice variety between tunes, great solos, excellent selection of standards. My only complaint is with audio quality. I have the album on CD and listened to it on Apple Music. The bass lines and even bass solos felt a bit muddy to me. I’ll have to check and see if there is a remastering that solves this issue. Other than that I highly recommend this album.

 

 

Ellington at Newport

 

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This album is another case of a jazz classic that somehow I have avoided most of my life. I understand the importance of this performance to Duke Ellington’s career, but somehow I never picked up this album and have only heard a couple tunes randomly throughout the years.  So I’ve taken some time the last couple of weeks to really dig into ELLINGTON at NEWPORT and here are some of my thoughts on the album.

The track listing is long and really captures the feeling of hearing this performance live at Newport. I love hearing the announcer speaking and Ellington briefly taking about certain pieces or soloists on given tunes. This gives the recording an added charm and personality that is lacking from many live albums. Just about every tune on here is gold, but “Pt. I- Festival Junction”, “Diminuendo in Blue”, and “Tulip or Turnip” stood out from the rest.

“Pt. I- Festival Junction” I love the introduction with just the lead melody and piano. The tune slowly builds and integrates the rest of the band. The solos here are spectacular and some of my favorite in the album. “Diminuendo in Blue” is known for the Paul Gonsalvez solo,  making this a must listen to track ok the album. “Tulip or Turnip” is classic jazz. This tune is the kind of music most people think of when they think of jazz. Me not being a fan of big band music, or singers, this tune still resonated with me. Not much else to analyze, on paper this tune wasn’t set up for me to like, but I love it. Swings like hell.

A part of me is embarrassed that it’s taken me so long to listen to this album. A bigger part of me is happy I still have classics left to dig into. Despite being fully involved in my Jazz Studies for several years there are still many classic albums left for me to explore, and that exploration and mystery continues to drive my passion for this art form.

Album Review:Sarah Vaughan wIth Clifford Brown

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In general I am not a big fan of vocal jazz. Nothing against the singers, I do not have a rational explanation, it’s just not one of my favorite styles of jazz. So today I decided to step out of my comfort zone and review a vocal jazz album I have never heard before. This album is a 1954 release and is considered to be a jazz classic. Despite my lack of enthusiasm with vocal jazz will I love this record? Let’s dig into it and find out.

This record is as classic jazz as classic jazz can get. If you are a casual jazz listener and you close your eyes and imagine what jazz music sounds like it, this is what will come to mind. Still, just because it’s a very popular form of jazz music that doesn’t mean it is good. So the question still remains, Is this a good album? Lucky for us, Clifford Brown and Sarah Vaughan are some of the best musicians to ever walk the earth, and this album reinforces that statement. This 9+ track album (Some versions have alternate takes) is fantastic at creating an intimate performance of a small combo. Even with my lack of enthusiasm for vocal jazz I found this album to be quiet enjoyable.

Clifford Brown does a great job of playing accordIng to the setting. This is a soft, gentle, recording. He doesn’t try to shed like crazy, doesn’t try to show off his chops, or play too loudly. He understands these are beautiful slow tunes and plays them appropriately. Sarah Vaughan fits this record like a glove. Obviously she is at the forefront, but it truly feels like she is an equal part of the band, not just an addition to a ready-made combo that wanted a singer. Songs like “Lullaby of Birdland”, “April in Paris”, and “Jim” are some of my favorites.

My only  complaint of this album is the lack of diversity in the repertoire. A couple of latin tunes, an uptempo track, a few extra solos, some variety would have been nice. Still the album is barely 50 minutes long so I feel it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome even with the lack of variety. For those who love vocal jazz, classic jazz, listening to this album is a must. If you are like me and not a big fan of vocal jazz, this is still a must listen to record. I highly recommend it and can’t really imagine a scenario where this album shouldn’t be in your collection. Continue reading “Album Review:Sarah Vaughan wIth Clifford Brown”

Album Review                  The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall


Despite consuming as much jazz as I possibly can there are still a few classic albums I haven’t gotten around to listening to. So I’m using the album review category of this blog to address the gaps I have in my classic jazz album knowledge. This week I listened to The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall. This album was recorded from a performance at the Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada and the best musicians of the bebop era were on the gig. Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, and Max Roach made up the Quintet and created this now iconic album.        

I’m coming from this album from a different perspective. Many of these tunes I’ve heard hundreds of times and have played them many times as well. So these performances were not as fresh as I’d hoped. The album is still of tremendous quality, but having so much knowledge of every standard did minimize my enjoyment a bit. Still, these are arguably the best versions of these tunes and anyone in the mood for some classic bebop should reach for this album immediately.        

The tunes I enjoyed the most were “Wee (A.K.A. Allen’s Alley)” and “A Night in Tunisia” I enjoyed the first tune mainly because I haven’t heard that tune as much as the others and “A Night in Tunisia” I just never get tired of. Overall the songs are performed at a very high level and the reason you will like one over the other will probably be minor. All the songs stay within the bebop world, not really any “out” playing so as long as you enjoy bebop music I can’t imagine hating any of these tunes.   

If you have never listened to this album I recommend giving it a listen. If you have not really listened to any bebop music I highly recommend this album. This would be a fantastic introduction to bebop music and an essential album for musicians looking to become acquainted with these standards. Personally I will definitely be returning to this album, but only when I’m using it to help me with my own playing of these songs or when the mood strikes me. 

Album Review: Jaco Pastorius

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Reviewing  Jaco Patstorious’ debut album has been one of my most challenging reviews to date. For those of you who are unaware, Jaco is considered to be one of the greatest bassists to ever grace the earth. His solo work, and his brief stints with  Weather Report and Pat Metheny have made him a jazz icon. Personally I’ve loved Jaco since I first heard him with Weather Report. Only a handful of bassist are in his class and one could argue on electric bass, he stands alone. Despite loving Jaco’s work on Weather Report I’ve never listened to his debut album until this review, and to my surprise my initial response was not a positive one.

I found the album to be underwhelming. Is this a fusion album? What’s with the random soul track? This nonchalantness I felt for this album was awkward. I’m suppose to love this. It’s a jazz classic. What wrong with me? Can I really not like this? As I do with all my reviews I took my time and continued to listen to this album. After multiple listens my opinion on this album has continued to develop and I no longer feel underwhelmed by this recording.

SORT OF. 

 

THINGS I LIKED

“Continuum” and “Portraits of Tracy” are a couple of my favorite tunes on this record. These tunes are some of the most emotional and beautiful compositions I’ve ever heard. I also love “(Used To Be A) Cha-Cha” and “Forgotten Love”. On “Forgotten Love” Herbie Hancock really takes center stage and shines. Jaco really shows his humility here be giving Herbie a couple of tunes to be essentially be the front man.

Things I didn’t like

I still don’t feel like the album is well balanced. The early tracks are a bit too different for my taste. The album begins with Donna Lee, then a soul track, followed by a more jazz fusion based tune. By track 4 I think the album finds its stride and flows well. Individually every track is brilliant, but as a holistic album,the beginning starts off a bit too random for my taste.

Overall I enjoyed listening to this album and I enjoyed going through the process of better understanding the music I was listening to. This is an absolute must own album along with all other projects Jaco was a part of (except for things released after his death, a lot of those releases were just money grabs). I still feel the beginning of the album is a bit too sporadic for my tastes. It was almost as if Jaco wanted to show all the styles he was into at the time. As if he wasn’t sure if he’d have another opportunity to be fully in control of a major album release. Unfortunately for us Jaco is no longer alive. He battled with physical and mental health issues throughout his life and it ultimately caused him to have a shortened life. Still, despite the brief time he was with us, Jaco’s work has influenced all of us. He changed how how we viewed the bass, we viewed fusion, and how we viewed music itself.

Album Review: Thelonious Monk- In Italy

 

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Thelonious Monk is one of the most unique pianist in the history of music. His original compositions, his dissonant chords, and his wild clothing and dancing made him a unique figure in the Jazz community. He has several must own jazz albums and I count Thelonious Monk ]n Italy as one of them. Recorded live in Milan, this album gives us an inside peak into a performance of one of the world’s greatest pianist at the peak of their career. Only recently have I been listening to this album and it has been a joy to listen to so many of Monk’s standards played live. Here are a few of the standout  tracks.

JACKE-ING – The album begins with this original and Charlie Rouse wastes no time getting into the shedding. Rouse plays with confidence and knowledge of bebop verbiage. Monk’s solo follows and is vintage Monk. He hints at the melody, plays with a lot of bebop and whole tone scales, and dissonant/altered chords. With the tune being under five minutes, it is short and sweet, and a perfect beginning to the album.

BODY AND SOUL– I picked this tune because it’s not a Monk original, it’s a ballad, and the only piano solo track. I love hearing Monk playing alone. It’s just such an exposed, intimate setting, and I think it really brings out the best in Monk.

San Francisco Holiday– Charlie Rouse is why I listen to this track. His solo is straight up monstrous. He plays running eighth and sixteen note lines flawlessly, and I love the chromaticism he uses. Monk has a nice solo, but Rouse makes this track special.

Overall this is a delightful and must own Monk album. Clocking in at 45:42 it gives you just enough without overstaying it’s welcome. Highly recommend this one if you don’t already own it. It’s also a good starting point for people unfamiliar with Monk because it’s goes through quiet a few of his famous tunes. It’s almost like a best of, but wrapped into a top live performance.

Album Review: Esperanza Spalding D+Evolution

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I began listening to this album filled with skepticism. Since her debut I’ve been a huge fan of Esperanza Spalding’s music. However, as I saw her style change dramatically in the last couple of years, I was less and less excited about the release of D+Evolution. This evolution and alter ego felt rather odd to me and I began to wonder who convinced her this was a good idea. Still, I am generally a fan of her music and was willing to give the album a chance with open ears and an open mind. After a few listens I feel comfortable saying this album exceeded my expectations. I can’t say everyone will like it, but I think many will be pleased.

The Jazz Police will probably hate this album. No swinging going on here! This is very much so a rock/ fusion album. The appeal of this album is lyric based. There is very little improvisation and this album fits a rock setting much better in my opinion. Also, as a fusion album, it would be on the lower end, kind of like Mahavishnu Orchestra lite. That may sound like an insult, but there is nothing wrong with being, Mahavishnu Orchestra lite.

So with all these criticism I have of the recording how can I recommend it? Well, the melodic ideas are catchy and the compositions are daring. “Good Lava” and “Rest In Pleasure” are notable tracks where the melodies ended up stuck in my head for hours after I listened to them. Tracks like “I Want It Now” and “Ebony and Ivy” are unlike anything Spalding has ever made and some of the most unique Jazz compositions I’ve ever heard.

Your enjoyment of this album will depend on your tolerance to a different sound and what you are looking for in a record in general. Like catchy melodies? Want to be challenged with unique compositions? Then you will probably enjoy D+Evolution. Another issue that comes up is “Is this a Jazz album?” Many might consider this album to be a departure from jazz being that it’s lacking some of the main elements needed for something to be called jazz. I won’t give my two cents here, I’ll let you decide for yourself. Overall I enjoyed this album more than I thought I would, but not nearly as much as its predecessors. I’ll keep listening to Esperanza Spalding’s music and I’m looking forward to what she does next, with reserved enthusiasm.

Chicago Artist of the Month: Herbie Hancock

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Yes, I’m aware having Herbie Hancock as my Chicago Jazz artist of the month is a bit mainstream. He’s not a local musician who has a steady gig at the Green Mill. Still, he is a Chicago native and one of our most well known artists. He was born here, starting giging here, and has gone on to become one of the Giants of jazz. While I assume anyone reading this blog is aware of who Herbie Hancock is, if you are not, then your very next task is to go buy yourself one of his albums.

He was as a piano prodigy with his first notable performance happening at age 8, the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata no. 26 in D Major K. 537 at a young people’s concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra  Later on he attended Grinnell College, but left in order to pursue a career in music. During this period he played with Donald Byrd and Coleman Hawkins.  After a couple of years he released his first album for Blue Note Record titled TAKIN’ OFF.
Herbie Hancock has too many notable albums to mention. A few highlights include, but are not limited to MAIDEN VOYAGE, EMPYREAN ISLES, and SPEAK LIKE A CHILD. His ensemble work is also iconic he was a member of Miles Davis’ second great quintet, worked on an album with the Head Hunters, and a duet with Herbie Hancock. All in all Herbie Hancock is one of the most influential Jazz musicians to ever live. His influence on me, personally, is immeasurable. I owe so much to Herbie Hancock, and I’m grateful for all he’s done.

Album Review of the Week: Ari Brown “Live At The Green Mill”

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In an effort to be more Chicago- centric on this blog I’ve decided to feature a Chicago musician every month and also review a album from said artist. This month I chose Ari Brown and his album “Live At The Green Miill”. When I think of Chicago Jazz two things quickly come to mind, Ari Brown and The Green Mill. The Green Mill is an iconic Jazz club in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.  This album was performed live there in the span of a couple days in June 2007. With Kirk Brown on piano, Yosef Ben Israel on bass, Pharez Whitehead on trumpet, and Avreeayl Ra on drums, and of course, Ari Brown on sax, this album is as Chicago as it gets.

The opening tune “Richard’s tune” begins with horns playing the melody while the rhythm section follows up with hits. The next section has the band swinging while the horns play the melody. The melody is simple, but catching and effective in drawing the listener in. By the time they play through the head most could hum along to it. Ari Brown solos first and wastes no time getting right into his shedding. You hear running eight note lines, blues riffs, and melodic and rhythmic development. I especially enjoy how attentive the rhythm section is. They respond and collaborate with Ari Brown on this solo. Ari Brown’s solo ends at 5: 50 with applause from the crowd.

Pharez Whitehead solos next and a lot of his solo reminds me of Freddie Hubbard. He plays with his type of sound and similar licks and trills. I especially enjoy Kirk Brown on piano. He really utilizes the entire band and builds up energy that the rest of the band gives back to him. After Brown’s solo we go back to the head and conclude the tune.

Another notable tune is ” Two Gun V” where which has a more electric funk inspired sound. Here Ari Brown plays both tenor and soprano sax. The crowd goes nuts for this and it really adds to the energy in the room. You can hear the group playing with just a bit more aggression when the crowd roars. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Kirk Brown solos first and plays a lot of good rhythmic ideas and a few chordal ideas as well. Ari Brown solos next and starts with a soft solo. You can hear the dynamics actually go down from the piano to sax solo when usual the opposite happens. These are the only two solos as the rest the tune concludes following with a one minute, free jazz sounding outro.

This album, in short, is brilliant. From beginning to end it’s an enjoyable experience of original compositions being played live. The band communicates and solos at a professional level. I highly recommend that every Chicagoan and jazz enthusiast buy this album. Ari Brown is still very much involved in the scene here in Chicago and he’s an absolute must see artist if you are in town or if he comes to a town near you.