Tuesday, October 20, 2009

BG's Coventry Jazz Mix - A Few Of My Favorite Things

scol (by bg_poker)

(I'm taking the liberty of refreshing this classic post from April of 08)

Hey y'all, BG from Gambling Blues here. Dr. Pauly and I were talking music the other day, and, as usual, I started to get evangelical about my love of jazz.

See, all you jamband lovers who dig it when Trey plinks around on that guitar of his for twenty solid minutes know where improvisational American music was born, right? Louis Armstrong begat Duke Ellington, who gave rise to Charlie Parker, with Miles Davis, John McLaughlin and those guys from Galactic as your logical heirs from there.

So give my guys from the 50s and 60s some love, and let me introduce you to a few of my favorite performances, conveniently located in a zip file on Rapidshare, and burnable to a single CD for your listening enjoyment.

Download BG's Coventry Jazz Mix... here.

Favorite Piano Solo: "Bags' Groove (take 1)" - from Bags' Groove by Miles Davis (1954) Miles Davis (tpt), Milt Jackson (vibes, songwriter), Thelonious Monk (p), Horace Silver (p), Percy Heath (b), Kenny Clarke (d).

You know the old saying, "Two wrongs don't make a right?" Thelonious Monk, starting at 6:45 of the track, sets out to prove that thesis incorrect. Monk is famous for his ability to stretch and twist rhythm and melody, and this solo is all about playing with the empty spaces around his untraditional phrases to allow you, the listener, to fill in the blanks and resolve them in your own head.

The blues, as a structure, is to make a statement, repeat that statement, then resolve it. AAB structure. Something like:

I got my mojo workin', just don't work on you
I got my mojo workin', just don't work on you
I wanna love you so bad, don't know what to do

This song is very clearly a blues structure. Monk will make his A statement, muddy the waters with a seemingly wrong chord and misplaced rhythmic beat in the repeat, and then play something in his B statement resolution that, while wrong "on paper," makes enough sense to your ear from the context of the "AA" lead that it seems to work out in your head.

I'm not very well versed in music (can't read it, am no scholar), but once I read a quote about this solo that essentially said, "Monk expects the notes to resolve themselves in the empty space," it made perfect sense to me.

Favorite Non-Traditional Take on a Standard - "On Green Dolphin Street" - from Outward Bound by Eric Dolphy (1960) Eric Dolphy (bass clarinet), Freddie Hubbard (tpt), Jaki Byard (p), George Tucker (b), Roy Haynes (d).

My friend Gracie doesn't like Eric Dolphy. She thinks he sounds like a shrieking goose.

Well, to be fair, he is playing the bass clarinet.

This version of this song is likely my favorite jazz cut of all time. Dolphy, still a couple albums away from stepping more fully into "free jazz" (music without melodic underpinnings), seems to have an instinct through his bass clarinet to push at the outer edges of the chords in the melody without fully breaking any of the rules. Regardless of all this pseudo-intellectual crap about tonality, this shit just fucking swings. My favorite part is the restatement of the theme after all parties have soloed. Dolphy makes this yelping noise with his horn as he leaps into the final verse that just gets me every time.

Favorite Original Jazz Composition - "Gingerbread Boy" - from On The Trail by Jimmy Heath (1964) Jimmy Heath (tsax, songwriter), Kenny Burrell (g), Wynton Kelly (p), Paul Chambers (b), Al Heath (d).

It was relatively simple in the 60s to get lost in the tenor sax shuffle. Coltrane was killing it, Sonny Rollins was an established star, and Blue Note Records seemed to be able to land a new Hank Mobley, Johnny Griffin or Stanley Turrentine LP on the shelves with frightening regularity.

Jimmy Heath is, in my opinion, a founding member of the 1960s All-Underrated Team. Jimmy came from a jazz family (his brother Percy is on the Miles Davis track above, and his brother Al sits in on this one), and really made his mark as a composer more than soloist. This track in particular is likely his best known contribution to the standard songbook, and it burns. Kenny Burrell has a pretty solid solo on the guitar to lead off, with Jimmy following with a serpentine dance around the melody.

Between Dolphy, Heath and Mal Waldron below, I feel like I should be going door-to-door to casual jazz fans, trading them their Coltrane Greatest Hits albums straight across for something just as interesting from a lesser-known artist. It's a shame that guys like these end up largely forgotten, except by collectors willing to dig through the era carefully enough to unearth a gem. Forty years later, all this stuff still sounds fresh to me.

Favorite Saxophone Solo - "Blue 7" - from Saxophone Colossus by Sonny Rollins (1956), Sonny Rollins (tsax, songwriter), Max Roach (d), Tommy Flanagan (p), Doug Watkins (b).

There are guys who play a lot of notes, and there are guys who thoughtfully play the right notes. Rollins is in the latter camp. Look, I like Coltrane as much as the next guy, but listening to the guy blister through "Chasin' the Trane" for eighteen minutes gets tiring. Rollins is a guy who tells a linear story, almost has a conversation through his horn, and it's largely absent the byzantine hyperkineticism that marks Coltrane's style.

"Blue 7" was really Rollins' first great step forward as an individual voice. It's a thoughtful, intelligent and maybe even witty solo, that is as much planting the flag on his own territory as it is a reaction against the prevailing Charlie Parker and bebop freneticism of the day. Max Roach and Doug Watkins give Rollins all the room he needs, and he proves you can stretch out without filling every available empty moment with a sixteenth note. This whole album can be had for cheap, and comes highly recommended.

Favorite Guitar Solo - "Unit 7" - from Smokin' at the Half Note by Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly Trio (1965) Wes Montgomery (g), Wynton Kelly (p), Paul Chambers (b), Jimmy Cobb (d).

Speaking of high recommendations, this is a jam band blog, and this is the standout track from one of the great live jam records of the jazz era. Some people even list it in the top three all-time.

I'm not one to argue.

Wes Montgomery had a fairly unfortunate career arc, mainly because someone showed him a series of big fat checks to play elevator music. It's a shame, too, as his limited output prior to selling out really highlights the guy's talent. Smokin' is a true jam date, with the greatest working rhythm section of the mid-60s letting Wes sit in for these sessions. This track in particular has, in jazz guitarist Pat Metheny's eyes, the greatest jazz solo ever played.

I'm not one to argue.

Favorite Obscurity - "Duquility" - from The Quest by Mal Waldron with Eric Dolphy and Booker Ervin (1961) Mal Waldron (p, songwriter), Eric Dolphy (alto sax), Booker Ervin (tsax), Ron Carter (b), Charlie Persip (d).

Booker Ervin was rooted in the blues, Ron Carter a Philharmonic-schooled classicist, and Eric Dolphy a dissident of dissonance. With Waldron and Persip providing a thin pencil sketch framework around which to play, it's really interesting to hear these three styles come together, especially through headphones. In both channels, you get Carter's plaintive bowed cello work, with Ervin anchoring to tradition in your right ear, Dolphy pushing against tonality in your left. It's really Carter's show though. No fireball solos in this cut, just four minutes of mood music that ends far too soon. Carter wouldn't join Miles Davis' second great quintet until 1964, but this cut foreshadows some of that group's greatest work - especially works like "Mood," "Orbits," and the classic deconstruction of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints."

Favorite Trumpet Solo - "Moanin'" - from Moanin' by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (1958) Art Blakey (d), Lee Morgan (tpt), Bobby Timmons (p, songwriter), Jymie Merritt (b), Benny Golson (tsax).

Ow! The Lee Morgan! It buuuurrrrnnnnsss! The kid was 20 years old when he laid down this swaggering solo. How good were you at anything but bong tokes and inventing reasons to skip Econ lectures at age 20?

Thought so.

Favorite Guest Appearance - "Someday My Prince Will Come" - from Someday My Prince Will Come by Miles Davis (1961) Miles Davis (tpt), Hank Mobley (tsax - first solo), Wynton Kelly (p), Paul Chambers (b), Jimmy Cobb (d), John Coltrane (tsax - second solo at the 5:55 mark).

This was the first album Miles recorded post-Coltrane, and the first with his new-and-soon-to-be-ex-tenor sax player Hank Mobley. Now, I like Hank. I like Hank a lot, actually. He's a bluesy player, full tone, swings hard. But listen to the difference between Hank's solo, then Coltrane's. Thom Jurek at the All Music Guide says, "Mobley plays a strictly journeyman solo, and then Coltrane blows the pack away with a solo so deep inside the harmony it sounds like it's coming from somewhere else."

That's about right. It's graduation day for Coltrane, who had learned all he could from Miles. Miles, Coltrane and Mobley went off in different directions after this album, each having a great deal of success as leaders on their own, but for this one song on this one album, Coltrane is clearly a man among boys.

Enjoy! Let me know in comments if you've got favorites I've missed...


BG said...

I'm just leaving a comment so I can get emailed if/when there's another left here.

Hope you guys enjoy the music.

the joker said...

Awesome post! Thanks and welcome. Your post burrrrnnnnssss!

BTreotch said...

Wow.. Cant wait.

Anonymous said...

I know you are not looking for agreement but Wes' latter day music was hardly "elevator" music with the deft arrangements by Don Sebesky, Oliver Nelson and others. There is still a lot of fine guitar to be studied there--the Jobim tunes and all the rest. Yes, elevator if you intend to be elevated... and we musicians have bills to pay.
Zafar Saood

BG said...

You're right, Zafar. I simplified it down to an insulting point.

One of the hallmarks of Wes' "sellout" period was that the quality of his playing and improvising was never really in question. It was simply that he let his producer Creed Taylor overproduce his commercial stuff beyond the point of so-called "pure" jazz.

Wes certainly made a nice living, and was probably one of the top selling jazz artists of his day as a result of Taylor's machinations. Still, the reputation as a sellout did leave a lot of jazz purists wondering what might have been.