Duke Ellington’s Money Jungle

All About Jazz has a brilliant article up about Duke Ellington’s Money Jungle:



I’d been toying with the idea of teaching a class about this album but this article basically makes that idea irrelevant — it captures everything about what made this album special.

Lana Del Rey: In The Jazz Tradition?

This will be a controversial post perhaps but I have long been a fan of Lana Del Rey. Her music is far from standard pop and can easily be considered within the jazz tradition. Take the title track from her most recent album:

The somber ambiance, the smoky yet slightly shimmering strings, the melancholy melody, Lana’s drowsy contralto — all these components align in a manner not to dissimilar from her known influences: Billie Holiday and Nina Simone (its no accident that Lana has their names tattooed on her shoulder). Indeed, Lana has a history of covering Nina’s tunes:

Here is a side-by-side comparison track:

And as strong as these influences seem on her music, the jazz singer I most hear in Lana’s tunes is another jazz-pop crossover artist: Peggy Lee, whose tunes Lana has recently started covering live:

One could argue that this is all ersatz posturing or image appropriation. A cliched attempt at jazz cache from an ironic pop artist seemingly divorced from the traditions she’s imitating. I don’t agree. To me there is great sincerity in her love and approach to jazz, updating the iconic post-WWII jazz diva into a contemporary figure that both romanticizes a past sound while demonstrating its present viability. She treats standards with appreciation and love, not as novelty, and her original music doesn’t truly match current pop templates. If Lana wants to reclaim the pop aspects of the jazz diva tradition, she is certainly — in my mind — welcome to try.

An Interview with Scott Wenzel: Mosaic Records Producer (Revisited)

Back in 2008, I was fortunate enough to interview Scott Wenzel of Mosaic Records. That interview help draw eyes to this blog and I’ve been curious about a follow-up for awhile. This summer, Scott and I e-mailed back and forth about how things have changed for Mosaic:

Q1: In our last interview, we briefly discussed emerging technology in music. At that time, Mosaic had mostly ceased to issue vinyl in favor of CDs. Yet here we are almost seven years later and vinyl is back in a big way. With CD sales dropping precipitously, is there pressure on Mosaic to release music digitally (perhaps in a lossless audio file format)? Where do you see Mosaic heading in terms of format. Is streaming an option?

Streaming is not an option at this point as we’re actually caught in a legal net that is dictated by the parent record companies. For the most part, Mosaic is routinely cleared by the parent company for re-release on either LP or CD but currently we are not given the rights to put the music out in any type of audio file. And although downloading is the way most people obtain the music of their choice these days, we have stayed afloat and are dedicated to do what we have been doing for as long as we can by offering listeners an opportunity to physically collect, hold and cherish the music in a tangible way. Would you believe that we still have customers calling us for a printed catalog (which we offer annually) since they don’t own a computer! So, even with CD sales dropping, Mosaic has this niche that very few labels, if any, can claim to and until something else of a physical nature can replace the LP or CD, I see us as continuing in this format indefinitely. (By the way, many of our customers take our LPs and CDs and then download it themselves onto whatever device they use for listening so it’s kind of a “win-win”).

Q2: I am a big fan of Mosaic’s Daily Jazz Gazette. How did this come about and has it helped drive traffic to your site and product? The internet has been a great leveler in terms of access to jazz in all forms (from all eras). Is this wealth of availability a good thing for the music or has piracy and streaming undercut an already niche market’s profitability? 

There’s a richness of great writing, photos and videos available across the world that we come in contact with when putting together sets and we thought it would be a worthwhile service to have a place where we could curate this info and share with jazz fans. I’m not sure how much traffic or sales it drives but it certainly brings the music a lot closer to people. It also sparks a number of phone calls from customers ready to order the music they saw on our website! The availability of music is, of course, a good thing, however piracy obviously hurts any musician and small labels.

Q3: Has Mosaic discontinued its Select line? There hasn’t been a new one in quite awhile. I was a big fan of the Tyner, Chambers, & Moncur selects, though much of that music has since been re-issued by the originating labels. Was that a factor in the decision?

The reason for the discontinuation of the Mosaic Select and Mosaic Singles line is plain and simple. Financial. Although our hearts dictate the passion of what we release, the bottom line is that we make enough of a profit off of each set to continue in our mission. Generally speaking we need to produce sets that are at the minimum 4 CDs worth of music. Anything less than that is suicidal. It’s too bad since the Selects and Singles were price friendly for our customers and served as a ways and means of making available certain chunks of music that normally would not be feasible in a larger set.

Gospel Trane: The Devotional Music Of Alice Coltrane (1982-1995)

When Alice Coltrane retired from secular life in the early ’80s to devote herself fully to the Ashram she founded outside of L.A. (Sai Anantam Ashram), consensus was that her music making life was “on hold.” This didn’t prove entirely correct. Alice did fulfill her contractual obligations to Warner Bros. Records with Transfiguration in 1978 and didn’t release another commercially marketed album until 2004’s Translinear Light on Impulse! but turns out there wasn’t a big gap of nothing in between.

In researching Alice’s life for a class I taught recently, I stumbled upon information about a series of cassette-only releases Alice made between 1982 and 1995. These tapes, available only via her Ashram, were until recently extremely rare. Increased interest in Alice’s music though has led to their re-appearance on-line. Dublab posted a long essay and DJ mix of the sessions on their site and soon after the full tapes started appearing on YouTube:

The music is ridiculously beautiful, as far from jazz as one can get yet a through-line exists all the way back to Alice’s work with her husband. Alice’s voice is particularly hypnotizing:

The more one delves into Alice’s complete discography, the easier it is to ascertain her particular genius, one that fully assimilated the genius of her own late husband and refined it into something uniquely her own.

Blue Note 75 for 75: The Master List

  1. Blue Mitchell – Step Lightly (1963)
  2. Andrew Hill – Grass Roots (1968)
  3. Lee Morgan – City Lights (1957)
  4. Donald Byrd – Free Form (1961)
  5. Ike Quebec – Blue Harlem (1944)
  6. Lee Morgan – Vol. 3 (1957)
  7. Horace Silver – Blowin’ The Blues Away (1959)
  8. Ornette Coleman – The Empty Foxhole (1966)
  9. Pete La Roca – Basra (1965)
  10. Jimmy Smith – Cool Blues (1958)
  11. Dexter Gordon – Our Man In Paris (1963)
  12. Dizzy Reece – Comin’ On (1960)
  13. Andrew Hill – Dance With Death (1968)
  14. Louis Smith – Smithville (1958)
  15. Tina Brooks – Minor Move (1958)
  16. Donald Byrd – Ethiopian Knights (1971)
  17. Sonny Rollins – A Night At The Village Vanguard (1957)
  18. Grant Green – Feelin’ The Spirit (1962)
  19. Duke Pearson – Profile (1959)
  20. Larry Young – Mother Ship (1969)
  21. J.R. Monterose – J.R. Monterose (1956)
  22. Grant Green – The Final Comedown (1972)
  23. Clifford Brown – A New Star On The Horizon (1953)
  24. Wayne Shorter – Juju (1964)
  25. Booker Ervin – Tex Book Tenor (1968)
  26. Stanley Turrentine – Mr. Natural (1964)
  27. Jutta Hipp – At The Hickory House (1956)
  28. Sonny Clark –  Cool Struttin’ (1958)
  29. Kenny Dorham – Una Mas (1963)
  30. Benny Morton’s All-Stars – The Sheik Of Araby (1945)
  31. Don Cherry – Complete Communion (1963)
  32. Johnny Griffin – Introducing Johnny Griffin (1956)
  33. McCoy Tyner – The Real McCoy (1967)
  34. Freddie Hubbard – Open Sesame (1960)
  35. John Coltrane – Blue Train (1957)
  36. Lee Morgan – Charisma (1966)
  37. Herbie Nichols – The Prophetic Herbie Nichols, Vol. 2 (1955)
  38. Blue Mitchell – Bring It Home To Me (1966)
  39. Stanley Turrentine – Look Out! (1960)
  40. Dexter Gordon – Clubhouse (1965)
  41. Ike Quebec – Blue & Sentimental (1961)
  42. J.J. Johnson – The Eminent J.J. Johnson, Vol. 1 (1953)
  43. Lee Morgan – Live At The Lighthouse (1970)
  44. Freddie Hubbard & Woody Shaw – The Eternal Triangle (1987)
  45. Cannonball Adderley – Somethin’ Else (1958)
  46. Wayne Shorter – Adam’s Apple (1966)
  47. Fats Navarro – The Fabulous Fats Navarro, Vol. 1 (1947)
  48. Larry Young – Unity (1965)
  49. Hank Mobley – Quintet (1957)
  50. Herbie Hancock – Speak Like A Child (1968)
  51. Charlie Rouse – Bossa Nova Bacchanal (1962)
  52. Harold Land – Take Aim (1960)
  53. Bennie Green – Minor Revelation (1958)
  54. Jackie McLean – Destination… Out! (1963)
  55. Freddie Redd – Redd’s Blues (1961)
  56. Joe Henderson – The State Of The Tenor, Vol. 1 (1985)
  57. Horace Silver – Further Explorations (1958)
  58. Miles Davis – Vol. 3 (1954)
  59. McCoy Tyner – Cosmos (1976)
  60. Dizzy Reece – Blues In Trinity (1958)
  61. Horace Parlan – Headin’ South (1960)
  62. Lee Morgan – The Gigolo (1965)
  63. Kenny Burrell – Blue Lights, Vol. 2 (1958)
  64. Frank Foster – Here Comes Frank Foster (1954)
  65. Bobby Hutcherson – Total Eclipse (1968)
  66. Paul Chambers – Bass On Top (1957)
  67. Hank Mobley – Soul Station (1960)
  68. Jutta Hipp – With Zoot Sims (1956)
  69. Horace Parlan – Happy Frame Of Mind (1963)
  70. McCoy Tyner – Extensions (1970)
  71. Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder (1964)
  72. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – A Night At Birdland, Vol. 1 (1954)
  73. Andrew Hill – Time Lines (2006)
  74. Don Cherry – Where Is Brooklyn (1966)
  75. Ornette Coleman – At The Golden Circle, Stockholm (1965)

Blue Note 75 for 75: Ornette Coleman’s At The Golden Circle, Stockholm (1965)

Our seventy-fifth and final feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is dedicated to the genius and legacy of Ornette Coleman. At The Golden Circle, Stockholm, Vols. 1 & 2 are an absolute master statement from Ornette. Working in an appreciative, accepting environment and backed by an extremely sympathetic rhythm section, Ornette goes for absolute broke eight different tunes that see him switching between three different instruments.

Painting by Alessandro Bazan.

This was the recording that really hooked me on Ornette. It wasn’t the first of his records I heard or even loved but it was the one that most helped me “get” his vision and I’ve worn through multiple copies of this set in recent years (either by overplay or lending them out and never getting them back — which in some ways is a huge compliment). Hearing Ornette on alto blaze like the northern lights over a track like “Faces And Places,” with utterly flexible and energized backing by bassist David Izenzon and drummer Charles Moffett, is an absolute joy:

In many ways it is difficult to write about this record. Not just because of Ornette’s passing, though that is a major factor, but also because I struggle to put into words exactly what it is about this record that lights my ears up — the best I can do is state that At The Golden Circle captures three powerful, like-minded musicians going deeply and emphatically into their art and expressing themselves on a profound musical level, and the audience (though polite) gets that and reciprocates it. You can’t do much better than that!

Take “Snowflakes And Sunshine” as an example. This is a challenging tune with Ornette alternating between violin and trumpet, using both in unconventional manners, and little in the way of “swing,” and yet the result is quite engaging and appealing.

Part of it is that this record just pops! The bass and drums particularly have such life to them and the balance of all three instruments strikes you as being almost equal. Add in the near-telepathic feeling between these three musicians and it is hard not to hear the charge everyone in the room must have felt fifty-years ago. That’s pretty damn cool!

Thank you, Ornette Coleman for this brilliant challenging music! And thank you, David Izenzon and Charles Moffett for helping realize it. And thank you, Blue Note for issuing it. And lastly, I thank all of you who have joined me through this year-and-a-half long journey through seventy-five unique Blue Note reviews.! I’ll be back soon with a master list posting, some analysis, and announcements of other projects to come!

RIP, Ornette Coleman (1930-2015)

Ornette Coleman has passed away. You can read his NYT obituary here: http://nyti.ms/1IJfbpL

I had the extreme privilege of teaching a class about Ornette at Brooklyn Brainery last summer, two days before seeing him perform in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Patti Smith, among many others, feted him that night:

Ornette’s music was formative to my early jazz explorations. I still remember the first time I heard his Free Jazz album. I was maybe fifteen years old at the time and it freaked me way out. My absolute favorite Ornette albums are Science Fiction & At The Golden Circle (which absolutely has to be my final Blue Note 75 for 75 choice now).

Best wishes, Ornette, on your journey onward. May you truly find “Peace”:

Ornette Coleman, alto sax; Don Cherry, cornet; Charlie Haden, bass; Billy Higgins, drums — Atlantic Records, 1959.