Brief Holiday!

Bop And Beyond is enjoying a brief holiday but will return after the Fourth Of July with a Blue Note 75 for 75 wrap-up and more!

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.

Blue Note 75 for 75: Don Cherry’s Where Is Brooklyn?

Our seventy-fourth (and second-to-last) feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is Don Cherry’s Where Is Brooklyn? If you are looking for a hard-charging, emotively radiant record full of heady passion and strident avant-leanings, you couldn’t pick better. Cherry’s previous Blue Notes were long-form symphonic suites that required deep, almost meditative attention. Not so Where Is Brooklyn?, which is as immediate a jazz album as I have ever heard.

Cherry, on cornet exclusively, is joined by the volcanic Pharoah Sanders on tenor sax. Like Cherry, Sanders is an expansionist player, going in all directions at once, yet somehow the two of them manage to find an overarching mindset on a series of tunes that lack any semblance of melody on which to hang your hooks. Rhythm is the key, set large by bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Ed Blackwell —  a seething, shimmering, terse wave of rhythm that liberates the front men to wail in omnidirectional fashion. Check what I mean on the thunderous “Awake Nu”:

For those of you slightly put-out by such intensity, it is but a facet of this record. There is a gentler, more playful side to both men. Pharoah’s playing particularly channels Sonny Rollins on “There Is The Bomb” (Cherry who played with Rollins often may have inspired this emphasis):

This record has recently become hip again as its title lends itself a slight hipsterian mystery (I see this LP for sale all over Brooklyn lately) and Cherry’s ever-morphing musical reputation will always draw ears from those both in-and-out of the jazz world.

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75… (the last one!)

Blue Note 75 for 75: Andrew Hill’s Time Lines (2006)

Our seventy-third feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is Andrew Hill’s Time Lines, a stunning return to the label, though sadly Hill’s final album. It is a powerful, moody, mysterious work of art from a unique artist whose piano work perfectly bridges all the gaps of the post-bop framework. Check out Hill’s stunning, haunting ode to his friend Malachi Favors:

Andrew Hill had been an obscure, neglected figure in jazz for quite some time. His best known album, Point Of Departure, was known more for the contributions of sideman Eric Dolphy than for the leader’s own compositions and playing. That started to change in the late 80’s and by the time of Time Lines release in 2006, Hill’s reputation had been thoroughly rehabilitated. It was the perfect moment to release a new record, one that bridges the gaps of his career. The title track nails the sort of shifting post-bop that marks Hill’s innovation in genre:

Trumpeter Charles Tolliver had played with Hill on-and-off for decades and is a welcome voice here. Multi-reedist Greg Tardy harkens back to Dolphy with his bass clarinet work particularly and the rhythm section of John Hebert on bass on Eric McPherson on drums nail the sliding scale of time signatures and halting swing. As for Hill himself, his piano playing is as elusive yet engaging as ever.

I had the good fortune to see Hill perform just weeks before his passing in 2007 and this album is a bittersweet reminder of just how much music Hill still had inside him.

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75… (two more to go!)

Blue Note 75 for 75: Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ A Night At Birdland, Vol. 1 (1954)

Our seventy-second feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 and finally we get to a record by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers! I can’t believe I had almost completed this seventy-five album survey without including something from Blakey — in an overview of Blue Note Records, that seems almost sacrilege!

Sunday, February 21st, 1954 was a special evening at Birdland, thankfully recorded for posterity as it featured an early incarnation of the Jazz Messengers in powerful, elemental form. Anchored and inspired by co-founders Horace Silver on piano and Art Blakey on drums (with bassist Curley Russell rounding out the rhythm section), this Messengers line-up was fronted by then rising (seriously almost blazing) star Clifford Brown on trumpet and the quick-witted, still Parker-esque Lou Donaldson on alto. Though later incarnations of this group were more known for their soul, blues, and gospel drenched hard bop, this quintet kicks it straight be-bop and ballads, the resulting pyrotechnics of which cemented the Messengers reputation as a live band par excellence and clearly on the rise. That evening, after a brief announcement by Pee Wee Marquette, Blakey & co. launched into “Split Kick” and my guess is many a jaw hit the floor, particularly during Clifford Brown’s solo:

Brownie was really catching ears in 1954 as the heir apparent to Fats Navarro and his Messengers work helped draw attention to his combo with Max Roach. The tragedy of Brown’s passing (just two years after this recording) is still hard to bear. While Brown clearly shines immortal on this record, Lou Donaldson also acquits himself nicely. This was before he transitioned almost entirely to soul jazz as a way to break out of Parker’s shadow. Though his playing is clearly Bird-ish on “Quicksilver,” it is still quite enjoyable:

The original 10″ release also featured a Clifford Brown ballad feature (“Once In Awhile”) that is simply breathtaking! Later re-issues in 12″ LP, CD, and digital appended more tracks from this evening, eventually bringing both volumes plus all alternates together into one nice package.

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75… (only three left!)

Blue Note 75 for 75: Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder (1964)

Our seventy-first feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is one of the most successful releases in Blue Note’s long history: Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder. If you haven’t heard it in awhile, its time to get reacquainted:

The legends behind this tune are all true: at the session, Morgan and co. (Joe Henderson on tenor, Barry Harris on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass, & Billy Higgins on drums) had four solid tunes but Al Lion felt the album lacked a hook and requested one more piece. With nothing ready, Morgan locked himself in the bathroom and wrote out a scrap of melody on toilet tissue, this melody became the vamp intro to “The Sidewinder” and the band quickly ran through a rehearsal before banging out a master take. Here bassist Bob Cranshaw expounds on what happened:

Needless to say, the tune exploded, sending the album up the Billboard charts, peaking at #35. The single did well too, reaching #81 on the Billboard Hot 100 (though that doesn’t include jukebox plays which some experts figure were triple that of radio). It was a huge, huge tune and the royalties alone made Blue Note and Morgan rich. As well, the song entered the zeitgeist, being used in commercials and radio jingles. Once James Brown covered it though, the crossover was complete:

As with anything the crosses over into mainstream appeal, the legacy of The Sidewinder became a complicated one. For Lee Morgan in particular, and Blue Note in general, its success ensured the health of the label through the turbulent sixties, though Al Lion’s quest for a successful sequel started to cramp the label’s artistic ambitions, particularly for Morgan who seemed obsessed with crafting similar tunes for awhile. As well, flush with cash, Morgan’s heroin habit escalated dangerously and he struggled to work regularly at a time when he was in high demand as a performer.

In hindsight too, the other four songs seem like after-thoughts but a serious re-listen reveals the slinky, sinuous pleasures of “Totem Pole”:

Unlike the title track, which Morgan dominates thoroughly, the other musicians particularly stand-out on this number. Joe Henderson delivers a corker of a solo and Barry Harris kicks out another funky jam. The spirit of all the tunes hinges on Billy Higgins bright, expressive drumming. I dig these other tracks a lot.

A Blue Note classic, The Sidewinder is a great hook for anyone new to jazz or looking to understand how music now so niche was once entirely populist.

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75… (only four more to go!)

EDIT~: Here is the listing for a class I recently taught on Morgan:

http://brooklynbrainery.com/courses/hard-bop-heroin-heartache-lee-morgan-s-jazz-story