Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Saxophone BeBop: “Julian Adderley Quintet – Portrait Of Cannonball”

August 24, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

Julian “Cannonball” Adderley was making major waves in the jazz world by 1958. He was in the hippest band in the world; Miles Davis’ Sextet with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. Like most alto sax players of that time, Adderley was often dismissed by critics as an imitator or Charlie Parker, although he had already developed a distinct style of his own by the mid ‘50s. Adderley’s tone was big, fat, and round and his phrasing stemmed mostly from the blues.
Jazz fans and critics started to give “Cannonball” his proper dues in early 1958, after the release of Miles Davis’ Milestones (Columbia) and Adderley’s first and only “solo” album on Blue Note; Somethin’ Else featuring Miles Davis.

Trumpet master Clark Terry had introduced “Cannonball” and his brother and cornet/trumpet player Nat Adderley to Orin Keepnews (Manager of Riverside Records) shortly after Somethin’ Else was recorded. His first session for Riverside was Julian Adderley Quintet – Portrait Of Cannonball; recorded on July 1, 1958. Adderley is joined by Bill Evans, piano (Evans would later appear with Adderley on Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue and Adderley’s Jump For Joy and Know What I Mean), Blue Mitchell, trumpet, Sam Jones, bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. This session is one of the most original and exciting hard-bop albums of the entire genre.

The album starts with three alternate versions of Gigi Gryce’s up-tempo bop masterpiece “Minority.” Some might find this to be excessive but each take is special in its own right. Adderley is on fire. His blues-bop alto lines are bold and burning. Blue Mitchell sounds a lot like Art Farmer, playing very melodic and thoughtfully sparse trumpet lines that are the perfect counterpoint to Adderley’s frenetics. Bill Evans is forced to play a more subtle, subordinate role than usual. Those big classical chords that would establish an entire mood of a composition are traded in for some tasty comping and brief but imaginative solos.

Cannonball Adderley

Cannonball Adderley

On the soulful ballad “Straight Life,” Adderley’s lines remind me of Coleman Hawkins if The Hawk played alto sax instead of tenor. Adderley’s confidence and articulation on this original has always given me that impression. Bill Evans’ true personality shines through a little bit here as he plays some beautiful block chords. Blue Mitchell’s trumpet work is superb. Sam Jones’ bass playing is relaxed and supportive of Philly Joe Jones’ wonderfully bombastic drumming.

“Blues Funk” is a pure 12 bar blues. Adderley opens up all harmonic possibilities of a “simple” blues progression here and there’s plenty of room for Mitchell, Sam Jones, and Philly Joe to stretch out.

“A Little Taste” is one of Adderley’s most exhilarating compositions of that period. He leaps from the lower register of his alto sax to the upper with confidence and ease. Blue Mitchell’s solo is thematic and perfect. Philly Joe Jones’ bebop drumming pushes the band to reach even further.

The band’s rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “People Will Say We’re In Love” is just gorgeous. Adderley’s lines are not only purposeful, but they also tell a story. A truly great jazz soloist can take you on a journey without sounding repetitious. Bird did it, Bean did it, Sonny Rollins is still doing it, and “Cannonball” did it too.

To celebrate Adderley’s first session with Riverside, Miles Davis wrote the modal “Nardis” for the occasion. It’s amazing how Adderley and this group of superb musicians can go from bebop, blues, and standard ballads to a dark and more explorative piece like “Nardis”. There’s a haunting quality to this composition. Adderley’s sound is always joyful, even in a darker setting like this, but Blue Mitchell’s solo here gives me chills. Mitchell’s trumpet lines sounds like they could lead a funeral procession. Evans’ piano accompaniment is equally as menacing, especially as he solos over the minor chords changes. This piece gives the listener a good insight into where Miles Davis was headed as a composer and his plans to utilize the incredible talents of both Adderley and Bill Evans as a part of his new sound that would change jazz forever a year later.

Julian Adderley Quintet-Portrait Of Cannonball is a stellar album, featuring “Cannonball” Adderley’s best hard-bop playing. The album also gives the listener a brief glimpse into Adderley’s illustrious future as he is joined by some of the greatest jazz stylists of the day. This is essential listening.

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


Doc Wendell’s Prescription for Swing: “Pres And Teddy-The Lester Young And Teddy Wilson Quartet” (Verve)

August 22, 2015
Devon "Doc" Wendell

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

The sound of Lester Young’s tenor saxophone is sheer ecstasy. “Pres” (as he was nicknamed by Billie Holiday) was one of the most important, original, and brilliant musicians in the history of jazz. There’s not much in life better that listening to “Pres” blowing that sweet and burning Kansas City swing in Count Basie’s Orchestra during the 1930s. Young played mostly in the upper or altissimo register of the tenor sax, creating a tender and intimate sound with a smooth and lush tone. His style influenced a countless number of players, including Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon, Zoot Sims, Buddy Tate, Hank Mobley, and many, many more.

Teddy Wilson was the quintessential master pianist of the swing era. In the late 1930s, Wilson made some stellar recordings with such jazz masters as Red Norvo, Roy Eldridge, Charlie Shavers, Billie Holiday and of course, Lester Young. Wilson’s recordings with Holiday (or “Lady Day” as she was nicknamed) and “Pres” are some of the greatest ever made in the history of American music.

During the 1950s, Lester Young was suffering from poor health. The President of Verve records, Norman Granz, had signed Young to his label during this time. Although his chops weren’t always what they used to be, on the right day and time, Young could play better than he ever had in the past. January 13, 1956 was the right day and time and Young was surrounded by the right people. This was a reunion between not only Teddy Wilson and Lester Young, but also Young and bassist Gene Ramey and drummer Jo Jones, both of whom had played with Young during his tenure with Count Basie. The results were assembled into Pres And Teddy-The Lester Young-Teddy Wilson Quartet.

This album is a phenomenal labor of love. “All Of Me” and “Prisoner Of Love” are exquisite. Young’s tenor lines are much more economical than say Coleman Hawkins’. His sense of melody and slight vibrato can only be described as wonderfully decadent; the sound of bliss. Very few instrumentalists could reach that place like “Pres” did. Teddy Wilson cooks behind Young. ‘Louise” and “Love Me Or Leave Me” feature some of the most tasteful yet potent swing piano playing ever put on tape. Wilson had gotten even better with time. It sounds like Young and Wilson had been playing together all of their lives on this album and you add the master of swing drumming, “Papa” Jo Jones, plus Gene Ramey’s steady walking bass lines and you get music that is truly irresistible.

The rendition of Vernon Duke’s “Taking A Chance On Love” is an album highlight. Wilson’ stride style piano lays down the melody and “Pres” plays one of the most superbly lyrical solos that I’ve ever heard on any instrument. His phrasing brings to mind some the greatest singers of all time. I think of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday when I hear “Pres” sing his heart out through his horn on this standard.

I’ve heard many versions of George Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here To Stay” but the one on this album brings tears of joy to my eyes. This is real jazz at its best. Just listen to Teddy Wilson’s spacing and Jo Jones’ subtle drumming as “Pres” caresses you heart and ears with each soulful nuance. This is the stuff that makes life wonderful.

“Press Returns” is a bonus track on the album. It’s a pure Kansas City blues. No one could make a blues swing like “Pres.” Every line played on his saxophone speaks volumes about where this incredible artist had been throughout his life. You can feel all of his joy and his pain and the band is right there with him.

Pres And Teddy-The Lester Young And Teddy Wilson Quartet is an essential classic recording of American art at its best. This is music that sums up an entire genre and takes the listener through the history of jazz with soul, love, and dedication.

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


Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Dixieland Jazz: “Wild Bill Davison & The Jazz Giants” ( Sackville/Delmark)

August 13, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

Wild Bill Davison was a truly unique and brilliant cornet player. He was one of the bright stars from Eddie Condon’s band since the 1920s. His thick exaggerated vibrato and dynamic attack created a truly distinct sound. He could play soft and gentle one moment, and in the next one of his punctuated phrases would hit you like a Mack truck. Of course you can hear the influence of Louis Armstrong in much of his playing but Wild Bill took that inspiration to new places.

By the 1960s, big band jazz was suffering and Dixieland jazz had almost been forgotten by the jazz press, audiences, and record buyers. But that didn’t stop the music’s greatest pioneers from playing what they knew was loved more than anything.

In March of 1968, pianist and musical director Claude Hopkins (who also played in Eddie Condon’s band) led a session at Toronto’s Colonial Tavern with Wild Bill Davison, joined by the incredible Benny Morton on trombone (Morton played in Fletcher Henderson’s band in the 1920s), Arvell Shaw, bass (from Louis Armstrong’s band) Herb Hall, clarinet (also a Condon mainstay for many years), Buzzy Drootin, drums, and Hopkins himself on piano. The session was billed as “The Jazz Giants” and the results were phenomenal.

The album kicks off with a steaming reading of Louis Armstrong’s classic “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue.” Davison’s cornet slurs and distorts beautifully. His lines are rough and tough, yet hard swinging and beautiful. Morton plays one of the most exquisitely melodic trombone solos I’ve ever heard. And Hall’s clarinet dances gloriously around each soloist with precision and jubilance.

On the tender “Dardanella,” Hall’s lyrical clarinet style just cooks. Shaw’s bass lines swing tightly with Drootin’s subtle, in the pocket drumming. Hopkins’ piano is sparse but perfect.

Wild Bill Davison

Wild Bill Davison

Davison makes the cornet scream and cry on a delicate rendition of Fats Waller’s “Black And Blue.” Morton and Hall play a beat behind Davison’s mournful phrasing in true Dixieland fashion.

The beauty of this session is that it feels more traditional as it goes on. This is certainly the case on “I Would Do Anything For You,” “I Found A New Baby,” “Blue Again” and “Them there Eyes.” It’s obvious that each band member knows the material intimately. Both Davison’s and Morton’s style is so masterful that it could easily fit in just about any genre of jazz as did Sydney Bechet’s (Who also worked with Davison on Blue Note Records.)

There’s something universal about Dixieland jazz. You truly hear the entire history of jazz; the past, present, and future are all there when it’s played at such a high level as this.

Davison and the band’s versions of “I Surrender Dear” and ‘Yesterdays” both showcase Davison at his best. He plays stronger than he did in his youth. No one could sound so rough and sweet simultaneously. His tone had the dichotomy of sounding thick and rich yet sharp and piercing.
Hopkins’ piano sets the mood with precision and elegance. Shaw and Drootin lock in the groove and everyone cooks there, right in perfect time. Shaw plays some truly haunting bowed bass lines on “Yesterdays.”

The album finishes with an up-tempo, barn burning rendition of “Three Little Words” and a stellar alternate take of “Black And Blue.” On the first, Hopkins is the only soloist, playing ragtime piano at a breakneck pace. The second take of “Black And Blue” is vastly different from the first. Davison plays like his life depends on it. Morton and Hall offer a softer contrast to Davison’s harder phrases. The mood created is both sad and joyful. The sheer pleasure of playing this music is felt in every line played at a time in history when so few were actually paying attention.

Wild Bill Davison: The Jazz Giants is a true gem. It features some of the most brilliant musicians in jazz who had been playing this music for over 40 years by the time of this recording. This album is a reminder of how important, exciting, and timeless Dixieland jazz will always be. This is essential listening.

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


CD Review: Jason Miles And Ingrid Jensen “ Kind Of New” (Whaling City Sound)

August 11, 2015
Devon Wendell

Devon Wendell

By Devon Wendell

I can’t believe I missed out on Kind Of New by Jason Miles and Ingrid Jensen when it was released this past spring. It’s been a busy few months but after finally “discovering” this album recently, I thought it certainly merited a write up.

Kind Of New is far from being just another run of the mill, fusion-steeped Miles Davis tribute album.

Keyboardist and producer Jason Miles is a humble visionary who has always followed his own path since his debut release Cozmopolitan in 1979, featuring Marcus Miller, Michael Brecker, and Badal Roy. Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen too has proven to be one who chooses the road less traveled yet most rewarding.

The chemistry and energy created between Miles and Jensen on this album is relentless. Their musical choices are unique on this stellar recording which also features an all-star lineup of some of the most seasoned studio musicians in the business such as: bassists James Genus, Adam Dorn, Amanda Ruzza and Jerry Brooks, bass, Jay Rodriguez, bass clarinet, tenor and baritone saxophones, Jeff Coffin, soprano, baritone and tenor saxophones, Nir Felder, guitar, Mike Clark, Brian Dunne, Steve Wolf, Gene Lake and Jon Wikan on drums, and Cyro Babtista on drums and percussion.

The album consists of 11 originals and a sublime version of Miles Davis’ “Sanctuary” (by Wayne Shorter).

Among the originals, “Ferrari (by Michael Brecker) “Faction Of Cool,” “Super City,” “Shirley,” “Film Noir Interlude,” “Ferrari” and “Seeing Through The Rain” are reminiscent of Miles Davis’ post Bitches Brew electric sound, but only slightly.

Jason Miles

Jason Miles

 

Jason Miles’ Fender Rhodes keyboard improvisations are stunningly original and unpredictable. His sense of texture and harmony help create a truly distinct mood within each carefully crafted piece.

 

Ingrid Jensen

Ingrid Jensen

 

Jensen’s trumpet lines go from sweet and tender to stark and menacing. The way these two masters play off of each other is the something special that so many musicians of all genres wish to achieve in a collaborative work.

“Street Vibe” (by Tom Harrell and Jason Miles) is swinging and funky with more of an ‘80s Miles Davis vibe to it.. Miles’ Hammond B3 comping cooks beyond belief and Jensen’s trumpet lines are dynamic and thoughtful.

Despite the slick and lavish production of this album, there’s a sense of freedom and stretching out that surely would have pleased Miles Davis.

As you get further into Kind Of New, you feel that you’re not only getting to know an intimately soulful side of Miles’ and Jensen, but you also get straight to the heart of Miles Davis. Not in some cliché, copy-cat fashion, but in what Davis wanted most from musicians, which was to stretch beyond one’s comfort zone to create something fresh.

This album will long be remembered as one of the most impressive and masterful Miles Davis tributes recorded by two outstanding artists.

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


Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Bop ‘Bone: J.J. Johnson The Eminent Volume One (Blue Note)

August 6, 2015

Devon ‘Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

What could be better than trombonist J.J. Johnson joined with Clifford Brown, Jimmy Heath, John Lewis, Percy Heath, and Kenny Clarke all in one band? I can’t think of anything at the moment.
This was the band on J.J. Johnson The Eminent Volume One on Blue Note Records, recorded on June 22, 1953. No one spoke the language of bebop on the trombone better than J.J. Johnson. This album exemplifies Johnson’s unparalleled contributions to bebop and its sub-genre hard-bop beautifully.

It also gives you a chance to hear a young Clifford Brown (before The Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet) who was already one of the most masterful and eloquent trumpeters on the scene.

The album opens with a delightful reading of Gigi Gryce’s “Capri.” Johnson’s arrangement is sweet and elegant but still swings like nobody’s business. Johnson’s solo sings and dances gently around the melody line. Jimmy Heath’s tenor sax solo is frenetic and burning. Heath had (and still has) the ability to play fast but make every single note heard with true precision and clarity. Clifford Brown takes off like a ball of lighting. His solo is the most impressive here (and that’s saying a lot.) Although you can still hear the influence of the late Fats Navarro in his playing, you can hear Brown growing into his own voice with each beautifully executed trumpet line.

Many jazz musicians had already made the haunting Davis-Ramirez-Sherman ballad “Lover Man” a classic, such as Billie Holiday and Bird. But Johnson’s rendition on this album always makes me cry. It’s a stunning work of beauty. His solo is one of the great recorded trombone ballad performances of all time. I’d love to hear a truly great singer try to emulate Johnson’s “Lover Man” solo. John Lewis’ piano work is perfectly tasteful and melodic. Jimmy Heath and Clifford Brown harmonize to the changes softly behind Johnson, Lewis, Percy Heath, and Clarke.

On Johnson’s up-tempo piece “Turnpike,” “Brownie” and Jimmy Heath soar. Heath quotes a few of Bird’s alto lines on tenor sax. The energy of the band is infectious. Kenny Clarke’s drumming and Percy Heath’s bass lines can make anyone swing harder than ever and both are in top form here.

This Johnson original is an example of what a brilliant composer/arranger he truly was. His sensitive, romantic horn arrangements were at times reminiscent of Tadd Dameron’s greatest charts from the ‘40s and ‘50s. Johnson understood how to transform the big band bop sound to fit smaller groups like this magnificent sextet.

John Lewis’ “Sketch” is a gorgeously tender ballad. Lewis plays a more gospel flavored solo over the changes, creating a lush yet dark atmosphere. You can hear traces of Roy Eldridge during Brown’s brief muted trumpet solo.

J J Johnson

J J Johnson

And of course a ballad is the perfect vehicle for Johnson to play the most beautifully soulful and thoughtful lines on his trombone. Johnson and the band’s version of “It Could Happen To You” is another fine example of this. Johnson’s spacious and often beautifully stark lyricism on the trombone isn’t far from what Miles Davis (whom recorded with Johnson many times during this period) was doing on the trumpet.

The album finishes with a relaxed, swinging bebop version of “Get Happy.” Johnson’s solo is much harder and faster than on the previous album tracks. Jimmy Heath and Brown take off with wild abandon. This is an example of early ‘50s bop at its very best.

J.J. Johnson The Eminent Volume One is not only historically important in that it features J.J. Johnson playing with Clifford Brown (who died tragically 3 years later in a car crash)

But it also showcases some of J.J. Johnson’s most innovative work with some of the greatest musicians from the bebop era. This is essential listening.

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


Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Bass BeBop: Paul Chambers: “1st Bassman” (Vee Jay Records)

August 3, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

Paul Chambers or “Mr. P.C.” was one of the most prolific and inventive bassists to emerge from the hard-bop era. His presence was so strong on classic albums by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, J.J. Johnson, Sonny Rollins, Art Pepper, Bill Evans, and Thelonious Monk, (to name only a few) that his aggressive playing often rivaled the many jazz icons he “backed up.” He never overstepped his boundaries and he could be a very subtle player. But like bassists before him such as Oscar Pettiford, Milt Hinton, Ray Brown, and Percy Heath , he helped to bring the bass to the forefront of jazz. Chambers was young and hip. He took chances which gave him an edge that was relentlessly burning.

Paul Chambers

On May 12, 1960, Chambers lead an all-star band (Wynton Kelly, piano, Lex Humphries, drums, Curtis Fuller, trombone, Yusef Lateef, tenor saxophone and flute, and Tommy Turrentine on trumpet) for what turned out to be his last studio session as a band leader. The results were fantastic.

Lateef wrote all of the material for the album – 1st Bassman – (with the exception of Cannonball Adderley’s “Who’s Blues.”) Chambers creates some of the hardest swinging, funkiest grooves imaginable. On “Melody” and the modal “Bass Region,” Lateef’s tenor lines are tasteful and wonderfully original. Lateef had already established a style that was unique and that could fit in both hard-bop and more avant-garde settings. Humphries’ drumming is subtle and in the pocket, in the vein of Art Taylor or Kenny Clarke.

Fuller and Turrentine play melodically, dancing around the beat. Wynton Kelly always finds a way to explore new harmonic possibilities that fit perfectly within a given arrangement and composition. And Chambers’ solos are adventurous without losing sight of the grooves.

Paul Chambers

Paul Chambers

“Retrogress” and “Mopp Shoe Blues” feature Kelly, Lateef, Fuller, and Turrentine all soloing around Chambers’ bass lines. Lateef’s horn arrangements have a big band feel to them. Chambers is the man in front and on top and everyone present knows how to swing elegantly in orbit around him.

“Blessed” is a gorgeous ballad featuring some of Chambers’ most inventive and soulful bass bowing. The delicate horn arrangements glide softly below, punctuating some of Chambers’ masterful phrasing. Lateef’s flute solo is gracefully melodic and perfect. Turrentine’s muted trumpet solo and Fuller’s trombone lines are brief and poignant. Wynton Kelly’s piano solo is thematic and wonderfully complex.

The album finishes with “Who’s Blues,” a pure, slow blues that opens up even more room for everyone to solo. Cannonball Adderley makes a special guest appearance here (not credited because he was under contract with Riverside Records at the time) and plays one of his trademark hard swinging blues-bop solos on alto sax. Chambers’ leaps from the lower register of the bass to the upper with ease as Kelly’s rollicking solo takes you right to the heart of the blues. Everyone is cooking here and they know it.

1st Bassman is a unique album on all levels. Chambers reprograms the listener into not only accepting the bass as a lead instrument of a jazz sextet, but also makes it feel as though this is how it should be and that nothing else could be as hip. This album is an underrated gem that should heard by all music lovers.

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


HIGHLIGHT OF THE NEW YORK WEEKEND: SINGER/SONGWRITER/PIANIST ELLA LEYA PERFORMS SUNDAY NIGHT AT JOE’S PUB

July 31, 2015

By Don Heckman

Singer/songwriter and pianist Ella Leya makes her New York debut at Joe’s Pub on Sunday night.  It’s a rare performance by a gifted artist who should not be missed.

“It’s the voice of Ella Leya that first grabs you,” wrote the Los Angeles Times in reviewing her first album releases. “Simmering with a dark timbre, its velvet surface is occasionally tinged with flashes of sunlight.”

Add to that gently floating rhythms, and the story telling phrases which bring every song she sings vividly to iife.

Ella Leya

Ella Leya

Ella, who was born in Baku, Azerbaijan and emigrated to the U.S. in 1990, eventually reaching the current identity she describes humorously as a “Russian/Californian living in London.”

All of which is true, as well as a creative history which reaches from a career as a well-known Russian jazz singer to more jazz singing in the U.S., followed by a sequence of albums that includes such well reviewed titles as Queen of Night, Secret Lives of Women and Russian Romance., film and television music for Ocean’s Twelve, Dirty, Sexy Money and more.

Her recent album, Russian Romance showcases one of the most irresistibly passionate Russian art song forms, often described as “Russian blues.” The album features combinations of  the lyrical music she has composed to the passionate, often erotic, poetry of some of her favorite Russian poets, including Alexander Pushkin, Anna Akhmatova and others.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Ella’s first novel, The Orphan Sky — which takes place in Communist Baku of the ’70s and ’80s — was described by the New York Journal of Books as “visceral and exotic as any spy novel and as authentically convincing as The Kite Runner.”

Ella Leya’s performance at Joe’s Pub will touch upon the full range of her creative life, including her captivating vocals, songs and piano stylings as well as a brief reading or two from The Orphan Sky.

Her set will also include a special guest artist: Janina Gavankar, star of True Blood and the Mysteries of Laura.

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Ella Leya sings her song “I Wish I Could” (from The Secret Lives of Women) in a video featuring Janina Gavankar.


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