Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Bop and Beyond with Roland Kirk’s “Rip, Rig, And Panic” (Emarcy)

July 22, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

By the mid 1960s, Roland Kirk had already established himself as one of the most unique forces in jazz. Being blind and able to play up to 3 horns simultaneously (and even a nose flute) was enough to get people’s attention. But aside from the visual stage performance, Kirk’s music was texturally and harmonically distinct. Kirk played tenor saxophone, manzello and flute and his compositions are still special and timeless.

On January 13, 1965, Kirk was joined by pianist Jaki Byard, bassist Richard Davis, and the great Elvin Jones on drums at Rudy Van Gelder Studios in Englewood, New Jersey to record Rip, Rig, and Panic. This highly experimental album combines hard bop, post bop, and avant-garde jazz in a delightfully peculiar manner that is impossible to forget.

Roland Kirk

Roland Kirk

The album’s opening track, “No Tonic Press” is a tribute to Lester Young. The track has no tonic in the “head” or melody line. Kirk starts out on tenor sax alone, but soon is playing tenor and manzello at the same time. Jaki Byard’s stride piano solo swings beyond belief. Elvin Jones drives this track’s rhythm with some of his typically brilliant drumming.

Kirk and the band’s rendition of “Once In A While” is almost a note for note tribute to Clifford Brown’s own masterful trumpet version from his performance on the live album Art Blakey At Birdland from 1954 on Blue Note.

“From Bechet, Byas, And Fats” is dedicated to Sidney Bechet, Don Byas, and Fats Waller. Kirk’s love of the history of jazz is prevalent throughout this track and the album. You can hear faint traces of Bechet at first when Kirk plays the melody line on soprano sax, and just a dash of Byas when he switches to tenor sax. But mostly you hear Kirk’s own style. There is the influence of John Coltrane in some of Kirk’s tenor lines but most tenor players were heavily inspired by Trane in 1965.

“Mystical Dream” showcases Kirk’s beautifully melodic flute playing. Byard’s solo is short but perfect. Elvin Jones starts off softly but is driven to more aggressive heights by the middle of this piece. Like Eric Dolphy and Yusef Lateef, Kirk brought atonality to the flute, making the instrument swing in new directions.

The title track is an exploration in sound and color. Kirk plays some hard but swinging microtones on the tenor sax until you expect to hear the sound of a glass breaking. The band then takes off, improvising around an ascending melody line. Kirk and the band venture “out” into the avant-garde here. Kirk eventually is playing tenor sax, manzello, and stritch all at once. Byard’s solo sounds like an odd mixture of Cedar Walton and early Cecil Taylor, and Elvin Jones just cooks. Davis’s subtle bass line is perfect for this sonic adventure.

“Black Diamond” is a modal ballad in the style of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” It sounds more like Brubeck on acid. Kirk’s manzello floats atop Byard’s piano comping and the pulsating rhythms of Davis and Jones. Kirk’s lines are harmonically brilliant.

“Slippery, Hippery, Flippery” is another sonic journey that feels slightly like Pharoah Sanders’ music of that time. Eastern music influences are definitely present here. The music is harsh, chaotic, and beautiful.

Roland Kirk’s music becomes even more important with time. Although this may not be one of his most popular releases, Rip, Rig, And Panic is one of his greatest; a true gem on all levels. Do not miss out on this one.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Trumpet Bop: Kenny Dorham’s “Whistle Stop” (Blue Note)

July 18, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

It’s still hard to believe that Kenny Dorham is not mentioned alongside such fellow trumpet masters as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, and Freddie Hubbard. Dorham was one of the most extraordinarily unique musical thinkers to pick up the trumpet in the entire history of jazz. He not only had a highly personal approach to playing, he was also a composer of the highest level.

On Blue Note’s Whistle Stop, recorded on January 15, 1961, Dorham is joined by tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, his longtime partner from his days in the original Jazz Messengers. It would always swing when these two would get together. To quote Horace Silver: “Their work together was so hip you know, it was super hip.” Accompanying Dorham and Mobley are Kenny Drew on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums.

The opening track “Philly Twist” is a cooking up-tempo hard-bop staple. Of course the title is a play on words, referring mostly to drummer Philly Joe Jones whose groove behind the complex rhythm changes of this piece makes everyone swing beautifully. Dorham and Mobley’s solos compliment each other perfectly. Kenny Drew’s blues-flavored piano back-up dances around Dorham and the entire band with taste and soul. Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones both take brief but brilliant solos.

“Buffalo” is a pure blues. The thoughtful lyricism in Dorham’s solo makes this one of my all-time favorite solos by this master. And nobody can make the blues swing like Hank Mobley. Every note of his solo on this composition is sweet, honest, and hard at the same time.

“Sunset” is a Dorham masterpiece. Dorham’s muted trumpet solo is thematic and beautifully melodic. Mobley too solos without losing sight of the composition’s theme. Like most of Dorham’s compositions, a unique mood is established from the first four bars on.

The title track and “Windmill” swing like a tornado. If one was to present two examples of why Kenny Dorham and Hank Mobley were true pioneers of the hard-bop genre, “Whistle Stop” and “Windmill” would exemplify this perfectly. Dorham’s distinct knowledge of the bebop language combined with some swinging blues is what helped to define this sub-genre. And Mobley plays some of the finest solos of his career here in a style that is just as unique and timeless as Dorham’s. The rhythm section is relentless. Jones and Chambers are so in sync with each other and they make every nuance burn with love and dedication.

“Sunrise In Mexico” features some of the most delightfully syncopated trumpet lines ever played by Dorham. This modal style ballad gives Dorham, Mobley and Drew plenty of space to stretch out.

The album closes with the soft and elegant “Dorham’s Epitaph.” Dorham stated that he wrote it to be just that. It’s a very brief piece but it cements all of the compositions together perfectly.

Whistle Stop is one of the most potent and timeless releases on the Blue Note label.

It just doesn’t get much better than this. This is a must for all music lovers.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


CD Review- Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 (Columbia/Legacy)

July 16, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

Many jazz aficionados like myself have been waiting for a live box set like this one for most of our lives and it’s finally here. Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 consists of 4 CDs featuring 20 years of Miles Davis performances (8 shows in total) showcasing Miles at different stages of his prolific career. The official release date is Friday, July 17th.

 

The first CD kicks off with a stellar set by Miles at Newport on July 17, 1955. Joining Miles is a “Who’s Who” of the bebop era: Thelonious Monk on piano, Zoot Sims on tenor sax, Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax, Percy Heath on bass, and Connie Kay on drums. After a delightful introduction by Duke Ellington and Gerry Mulligan, Miles and the band perform three pieces: “Hackensack” and “’Round Midnight,” both by Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Parker’s “Now’s The Time.” There’s a laid back yet stark beauty to this short set. Miles and Monk compliment each other perfectly. Miles proves that he understood Monk’s music better than most. The melodic beauty of Sims on tenor and Mulligan on baritone sax is a perfect joyful juxtaposition to the haunting beauty of Monk and Miles.

The Newport show from July 3, 1958 has been available on CD for many years, but it just sounds even more inspirational on this box set and the sound is vastly improved. This is the same band as on Kind Of Blue ( except for Wynton Kelly), released a year later: John Coltrane, tenor sax, Cannonball Adderley, alto sax, Bill Evans, piano, Paul Chambers, bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. Miles’ lyricism on trumpet is breathtaking. That elegant swing that Miles created at that time really shines through this performance. Coltrane on the other hand plays like a mad man, ripping through “Ah Leu Cha,” Fran Dance” and “Bye Bye Blackbird” like a man on fire. You just cannot believe what you’re hearing. Coltrane was that incredible by 1958. Cannonball Adderley swings hard with his distinct blues- bop driven alto sax style and the rhythm section cooks. Evans takes a more subordinate role on piano but what he plays is perfect.

Hearing Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet (Wayne Shorter, tenor sax, Herbie Hancock, piano, Ron Carter, bass, and Tony Williams on drums) at Newport on July 4, 1966 is a true highlight of this box set. The energy of these brilliant players feels unearthly. Miles’ chops are in top form. Tony Williams’ drumming is hip, imaginative, and adventurous. On “Gingerbread Boy” and “All Blues,” Williams often changes the tempo and the rest of the band is right there with him without missing a breath. Shorter, Hancock, and Carter swing beyond belief. “All Blues,” “Stella By Starlight” and “R.J.” are some of the most spectacular live jazz recordings I’ve heard in my entire life. The band takes the material to new places and the vitality of the players is jaw-dropping. The sound is so clear that it feels as if Miles and the band are performing right in front of you. This set alone makes this box set an essential purchase.

That same infectious energy is felt on Miles’ Second Great Quintet performance on July 2, 1967. The band stretches out on Shorter’s masterpiece, “Footprints” and on “’Round Midnight.” Miles and the band even keep the older compositions sounding fresh with new ideas and boundless energy.

On July 5, 1969, Miles played The Newport Festival with his new electric sound. Maybe the audience didn’t “get it” yet but who cares? This music demonstrates that Miles was still moving, growing, and leading the way in the jazz/fusion movement. Joined by Chick Corea on electric piano, Dave Holland, bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums, Miles’ reinvents his sound once more. Listening to the band perform “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down” and “Sanctuary” from Bitches Brew is both loud and wonderfully funky. Corea’s distorted psychedelic electric keyboard work is nasty in all the best ways. Holland and DeJohnette’s chemistry was already very strong by this point.

As great as the ’69 set is, the show from November 1, 1973 at The Newport Jazz Festival in Europe in Berlin, Germany is even hotter. Here we have Miles with Dave Liebman on soprano, tenor sax, and flute, Pete Cosey, guitar and percussion, Reggie Lucas, guitar, Michael Henderson, electric bass, Al Foster, drums, and James Mtume Forman on percussion. “Turnaroundphrase” and “Tune In 5” are just preposterous. By this time, Miles had out psychedelicized the psychedelic rock bands of the day. This set is more of an exploration in sound and freedom than executing perfectly arranged compositions to fit a brief festival set.

The Avery Fischer Hall show on July 1, 1975 features Sam Morrison on tenor sax, Pete Cosey, guitar and percussion, Reggie Lucas, guitar, Michael Henderson, electric bass, Al Foster, drums, and James Mtume Forman on percussion performing Miles’ original “Mtume.” Like the Berlin set, this is electric Miles leaving the past behind as he and the band explore new sounds for a more youth-oriented audience. But the results are transcendent on another level than Miles’ more bop oriented performances from the first 2 CDs of this box set. Sam Morrison burns on tenor sax and Mtume’s thoughtful percussion is original and matches the funkiness of the great Al Foster’s drumming.

The box set finishes with an amazing performance in Dietikon, Switzerland on October 22, 1971. Here is one of Miles’ greatest bands from the ‘70s with Gary Bartz, soprano, and alto sax, Keith Jarrett, electric keyboards and organ, Michael Henderson, electric bass, Ndugu Leon Chancler, drums, Don Alias, percussion, and James Mtume Forman on percussion. This is without a doubt the tightest of Miles’ electric performances on this box set. Henderson’s bass locks in with Chancler’s drums, creating some truly innovative funk grooves. Gary Bartz’ soprano work on Joe Zawinul’s “Directions” cooks. The set consists of material mostly from Bitches Brew. “What I Say” sounds both beautiful and wicked at the same time. Henderson is one of the greatest bassists of all time and the proof is right here in this performance. The combination of the tight grooves and psychedelic rock sounds is further proof that Miles was not only in touch with the funk rock of the early ‘70s but was also an original, key contributor to that sound.

No music lover and especially no Miles Davis fan should go without this wonderfully historic box set. Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975 The Bootleg Series Vol.4 is a further glimpse into the genius of Miles Davis as it went through constant changes. Each performance defines a specific genre in jazz as only Miles Davis could do.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

 


Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Bop: Sonny Rollins’ “Worktime” (Prestige)

July 13, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

To many critics and part-time jazz enthusiasts; Saxophone Colossus is considered to be Sonny Rollins’ greatest studio recording. Yes, Colossus brought Rollins much worldwide acclaim, but it also overshadowed one of Rollins’ most masterful recordings: Worktime, recorded a year earlier on December 2, 1955. Saxophone Colossus was much more accessible. Even non-jazz lovers enjoy it to this day. But Worktime is considered to be the superior quartet album by Rollins of that period by jazz musicians and hardcore Rollins fans alike.

At the time, Rollins had just replaced Harold Land as the tenor player in The Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet. Both Roach and bassist George Morrow of the Brown/Roach band are the featured rhythm section on Worktime, along with Ray Bryant on piano. This album not only showcases Rollins at one of his many peaks; it also features some of the most inspired drumming of Max Roach’s entire career. This is essential listening.

The band starts things out with “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Rollins can take a banal show tune or pop hit and make it swing like no one else. Rollins’ angular lines, uniquely shaped phrasing, and sense of humor make me think of Thelonious Monk. If Monk played the tenor sax, he would play like Sonny (which is why Monk and Rollins played so perfectly together). That sense of space, syncopation, harmonic brilliance, and wit are all there.

“Paradox” has a Latin feel to it and sounds as if it might be a precursor to “St. Thomas” from “Saxophone Colossus.” Roach’s polyrhythmic drumming pushes Rollins to swing harder and harder.

Billy Stayhorn’s “Raincheck” is built around a simple motif but Rollins and Roach just fly by the seat of their pants and burn though this number like it’s the last thing they’ll ever be playing on this planet. At times, Rollins plays frenetically and at other moments he chooses a few long tones or two or three fast licks. Rollins’ unpredictability makes the music even more tantalizing.

On the album’s ballad “There Are Such Things,” Rollins stretches out in contemplation, searching for new, unexplored turf on his instrument. It’s the subtle minutiae that makes this one of Rollins’ greatest album ballad performances. Some ideas fly by so quickly that if you blink you could miss them. Ray Bryant’s piano solo is melodic and swinging.

The album finishes with Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me.” Rollins and Roach are on fire on this up-tempo standard. The virtuosity of both men on this composition is unparalleled. This is one of the great hard-bop performances of that entire era. The ideas just keep flowing from Rollins’ horn and Roach’s drum kit.

According to jazz historian Ira Gitler, he sat with Miles Davis in the office of Bob Weinstock (the president of Prestige Records) on West 50th Street in N.Y.C. in early 1956. Gitler had the test pressings of what would become Worktime. Miles was so blown away by every track that he played them over and over, returning to certain lines and segments, smiling and getting off from the incredible music. He even called bebop tenor saxophonist Allen Eager and played the album over the phone, especially “It’s All Right With Me.”

I’m with Miles on this one. I can replay many of Sonny’s lines on any of the five numbers on this album many times over and always find something new. After I heard this record in high school, Rollins became my favorite tenor player and still is to this day.

In case you missed or overlooked Worktime, grab it now or take it off of the shelf and play it loud.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Hard-Bop: Gene Ammons All-Stars – “The Happy Blues” (Prestige)

July 1, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

“Blowing sessions” are a pivotal aspect of jazz history. You get a bunch of musicians together to jam, have fun and show off their chops. Sometimes it’s about competing and the actual compositions are really not important. Blowing over a simple blues progression is all that is needed.

At Prestige records, producer Bob Weinstock designated Fridays as “session day.” Every Friday he would hire some of the finest players to form an all-star group to jam over some standards and blues. On Friday, April 23, 1956, Weinstock brought the great Chicago tenor sax giant Gene Ammons into the studio with Jackie McLean on alto saxophone, Art Farmer on trumpet, Duke Jordan on piano, Addison Farmer on bass, Arthur Taylor on drums, and Candido on percussion.

Gene Ammons Happy Blues CDThe band kicks off with the title track, “The Happy Blues,” which is a slow blues progression. Jackie McLean’s solo is adventurous, frenetic, and raw. McLean plays slightly behind the beat like Dexter Gordon did on tenor. Art Farmer’s lyricism on the trumpet is sweet and melodic as a great singer. And then you have Gene Ammons with that fat, round, bluesy tone that makes any note he plays swing beautifully. Lester Young’s influence can be heard in Ammons’ phrasing on this 12 bar blues.

“The Great Lie” is loosely based on the chord changes to “I Got Rhythm” (These had become standard chord changes for jazz musicians to jam over since the ‘30s.) Drumer Art Taylor’s subtle groove is always perfect behind anyone and he just locks right in with Addison Farmer, Candido, and Duke Jordan. This tune features one of my favorite solos by Art Farmer during this period. Every note is clean, precise, and melodic. McLean’s solo picks up where Farmer’s left off, repeating some of the same lines on alto sax. Ammons honks and swings with that one of a kind rough pitched Chicago tenor sound.

Ammons shines the most on the tender ballad “Can’t We Be Friends.” He takes his time and makes every bent note count. His solo unravels beautifully and tells a story. That tone just caresses every note with love and soul. This is the performance of a true master who understands his instrument and sound intimately. Art Farmer’s muted trumpet solo swings with dexterity and grace.

The album finishes with the up-tempo “Madhouse,” based on the changes to “What Is This Thing Called Love?” It is evident that these tremendous musicians are having a blast and not worrying about time or anything else. Ammons, Farmer, and McLean trade fours and then twos. Candido takes a long but thoughtful conga solo and quickly locks back in with Taylor and Addison Farmer. This is joyful music.

If you don’t think jazz is about fun and feeling good, pick up The Happy Blues. This album is just one of countless examples of why jazz makes life so much better.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Big Band Jazz: Jimmy Heath’s “Really Big!” (Riverside)

June 28, 2015

Devon Wendell

By Devon  Wendell

By 1960, Jimmy Heath was known as a true bop titan on the tenor saxophone. But on Riverside’s Really Big!, recorded that year, Heath’s big band arrangements and the incredible artists who made up his orchestra (Jimmy Heath, tenor saxophone, Clark Terry, trumpet, Nat Adderley, cornet, Tom McIntosh, trombone, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, alto saxophone, Dick Berg, French horn, Pat Patrick, baritone saxophone, Tommy Flanagan and Cedar Walton pianos, Percy Heath, bass and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums) made this recording one of the most spectacularly original releases on the Riverside label. And it’s one that still holds strong today.

This is Jimmy Heath’s first leading a big band exploration consisting mostly of bluesy originals such as “Big P,” “Old Fashioned Fun,” and “Nails.” Heath’s elegantly swinging horn arrangements and sense of contrary motion make each composition special and timeless.

Heath’s love and understanding of big band jazz really shows throughout Really Big!  Solos by Heath, Terry, Nat, and “Cannonball” Adderley are burning and fit beautifully with the theme of each carefully crafted piece. The Heath brothers’ (Percy and Albert “Tootie” Heath) rhythm backing is both subtle and melodic.

“Mana’s Mood” is a stunning ballad. It stands alongside the finest big band ballads composed by Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington. Both Walton’s and Heath’s solos are so graceful and soulful that they bring tears to my eyes every time I hear them.

Bobby Timmons’ “Dat Dere” is a well known hard-bop classic but Heath’s fresh big band arrangement opens up more solo space for Heath and Terry and makes it hard to believe this could have been written for anything but a ten piece ensemble like this.

Although Bronislaw Kaper and Ned Washington’s “On Green Dolphin Street” has already been done by many artists in the jazz world such as Mel Torme, Miles Davis, Urbie Green, Ahmad Jamal, Jack Sheldon, Bill Evans, and Wynton Kelly, Heath’s rendition on this album makes you feel as if you’re hearing it for the very first time. “Tootie” and Percy’s bass and drum intro is beyond funky. Tom McIntosh’s trombone solo glides along beautifully with Tommy Flanagan’s slick and precise piano comping. “Cannonball” Adderley’s alto sax solo cooks with true dynamics and blues driven soul.

Not much in life swings harder than the up-tempo “The Picture Of Heath.” If you’re not yet into big band jazz, this piece would be a perfect introduction. Clark Terry, Tom McIntosh, and Nat Adderley briefly trade eights before Cedar Walton’s harmonically brilliant piano solo. This composition is a highlight of Heath’s entire career. Jimmy Heath made this album during a time in which big band jazz was being pushed under the rug. For the most part hard-bop, modal jazz, and the beginnings of avant-garde jazz were at the center of attention of the jazz buying public and press. This means Heath and his ten piece orchestra made this record out of sheer love and that love is felt all the way through Really Big!.

Grab this one quick if you don’t already have a copy.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Bop: Sonny Stitt/BudPowell/J.J. Johnson (Prestige)

June 22, 2015

 

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

This album consists of three separate recording sessions between 1949-1950 lead by the great Sonny Stitt on tenor saxophone. The first two sessions from 1949 feature Stitt with Bebop piano master Bud Powell, with Curly Russell on bass and Max roach on drums

This is bop at its finest. Stitt consistently swings hard. Powell is in great form, and the rhythm section cooks. “Bud’s Blues” is phenomenal and the chemistry between Stitt and Powell on this track alone makes this an essential purchase.

Jazz fans will immediately recognize “Sonnyside” as being a rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Dexterity.” The renaming was most likely done by Bob Weinstock or someone at Prestige rather than the musicians. By this time, Stitt had found his own voice as a musician and had for the most part escaped Bird’s dominating influence from his earlier years with Dizzy Gillespie’s band.

The second half of the album is comprised of a session in 1950 in which Stitt is joined by Trombonist J.J. Johnson, with John Lewis on piano, Nelson Boyd on bass, and Max Roach on drums. Johnson’s blues flavored lyricism and deep understanding of the bebop language matches perfectly with Stitt’s hard hitting, virtuosic tenor lines. Lewis’ thoughtfully melodic accompaniment and the burning rhythm section of Boyd and Roach on J.J. Johnson’s originals — “Elora” “Teapot” and “Blue Mode” – make clear that bebop was still going strong in 1950 when many thought the music was starting to fade.

This is timeless music played by some of the greatest pioneers in jazz history. Do not wait until this goes out of print.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

 

 


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