Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Monk: “Thelonious Monk – Thelonious Himself” (Riverside)

August 26, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

Thelonious Monk has been labeled “The High Priest of Bebop.” Yes, Monk’s contributions to the bebop era were essential in the development of the music. But Monk was so much more than that. No one played piano like him or thought the way he did when composing or covering even the most popular standards from the American songbook. I don’t like to categorize Monk’s music other than it being Monk’s music; a genre unto itself.

More people play Monk’s compositions today that any other composer in the history of jazz. He’s still my favorite musician and composer in the history of American music. Monk never adhered to the ever changing trends in jazz that took place during his lifetime. He always remained true to his own vision. There are no Monk “fusion” albums or Monk playing “free-form” or trying to please a rock n’ roll audience. Monk’s music was and still is modern and he never had to try too hard to sound that way.

One of the most chillingly intimate recordings Monk ever made was Thelonious Monk-Thelonious Himself on the Riverside label, recorded on April 12th and 16th of 1957. This is a solo piano album, with the exception of “Monk’s Mood,” which features John Coltrane and bassist Wilbur Ware from Monk’s infamous Five Spot Band of that same year.

On “April In Paris,” “(I Don’t Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance,” “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” and “I Should Care,” you get the impression that you’re witnessing a man whose sole purpose in life was to play music and to do so his own way and that everything else in his life were mere distractions. The voicings on these standards are so special and brilliant. Monk’s harmonies were and still are unique to this day. His use of pedal tones and dissonant chords altered the way jazz musicians heard and played their instruments.

Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk

No one else dared to play these compositions this way. At the time of this recording, it was considered sacrileges to alter these harmonies so drastically. Up until 1956, Monk was often dismissed as an eccentric and nothing more by some critics and jazz aficionados. His relationship with Riverside Records (and later with Columbia Records) helped to change that forever. Musicians like Miles Davis, Milt Jackson, Max Roach, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins (who was the first to put Monk on record) Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Art Blakey all knew he was a genius; the rest of the world took a little longer to discover this for themselves.

“Functional” is a stride blues. Monk’s sense of dynamics and spacing makes this piece like no other stride blues you’ve ever heard. Monk was inspired by such stride piano greats as James P. Johnson and Willie “The Lion” Smith, and you can hear tiny traces of those players here, but Monk’s own personality shines through the brightest.

The highlight of the album is Monk doing take after take of his classic “’Round Midnight,” with false starts, breakdowns, studio banter between Monk and Orrin Keepnews, and incomplete takes, lasting over 20 minutes. Each attempt is harmonically different than the last. What you get to hear is a genius and perfectionist pushing and searching within himself for something magical, and often sounding frustrated. All of the takes are magical but Monk’s standards were as high as his level of creativity. It also had to be right for his fans. As complex as Monk’s compositions are from a technical standpoint, his melodies are extremely accessible. You can whistle or hum his melodies very easily in the shower. That dichotomy is what made Monk so amazing. There finally is a complete take of “’Round Midnight” that is breathtaking.

Thelonious Monk

Monk’s take on Irving Berlin’s “All Alone” is so mournful and sincere. When Monk would cover a song, he would understand it completely, the lyrics, the meaning, everything. Monk never made an insincere move during his career. This is harrowing music. Every note and chord has purpose. Monk was never one to thoughtlessly toss his chops around. Duke Ellington’s influence can be heard in Monk’s more delicate nuances.

The album ends with “Monk’s Mood” with John Coltrane on tenor sax and Wilbur Ware on bass. This is the darkest, most beautiful rendition of “Monk’s Mood” ever recorded. Coltrane plays much more thematically than usual, not straying too far from the melody line as he solos briefly. Ware’s bass lines are thoughtful and precise. Monk’s attack on the piano is delicate and less percussive than on the previous selections. With just a piano, tenor sax, and bass, the effect is far more dramatic than if a drummer had been added. Monk knew this would result in something special and timeless.

Thelonious Monk-Thelonious Himself is a clear glimpse into a very intimate session by one of the greatest artists in the history of the American music. Music doesn’t get any better than this.

* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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


Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Saxophone Bop: “The Johnny Griffin Sextet” (Riverside)

July 28, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

By 1958, Johnny Griffin was known as the fastest tenor saxophonist to emerge from the hard-bop era. Griffin’s dexterity combined with his ability to make you feel every soulful note that he played made him one of the most spectacularly brilliant and original musicians in the world.

Griffin had replaced John Coltrane in Thelonious Monk’s band in 1958. Griffin proved to not only understand the harmonic complexities of Monk’s music, but he also “got” that playing with Monk meant having to be able to improvise thematically instead of just blowing over some chord changes.

Johnny Griffin

Johnny Griffin

Griffin applied those same thematic sensibilities to his own playing and writing as a fearless bandleader. Griffin was a unique arranger whose love of both bebop and big band jazz were prevalent throughout his illustrious yet unpredictable recording career.

The Johnny Griffin Sextet was recorded for the Riverside label on February 25th, 1958. It features Griffin paired with some of the all-time greatest musicians in jazz: Kenny Drew, piano, Donald Byrd, trumpet, Pepper Adams, baritone sax, Wilbur Ware, bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums.

The Album opens with “Stix Trix” which is a loving tribute to drummer Philly Joe Jones. The song’s arrangement brings to mind Dizzy Gillespie’s big band bop sound of the mid- to late 1940s. Drew’s masterful piano solo is percussive yet elegant. Pepper Adams delivers one of the hardest swinging solos of his career. Donald Byrd’s solo soars. Griffin comes in playing more economically than usual, singing confidently through his horn in perfect time. He then swings in a more syncopated fashion, gleefully playing with the song’s tempo.

Griffin and the sextet’s version of “What’s New?” is a definite highlight of his entire career and my favorite rendition of this Johnny Burke and Bob Haggart ballad. Griffin plays soft and sweetly. Lester Young’s influence can be heard in each note that rings out with a rich, slow vibrato and long, soulful bends in the horn’s upper register. Byrd’s amazingly cocky and frenetic solo is the perfect counterpoint to Griffin’s. Adams almost steals the show with his mournful and harmonically stellar baritone lines.

Philly Joe Jones’ rhythmically complex drumming on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody N’ You” makes this one of the most original arrangements of this daddy of all bebop songs. Griffin and Ware “stroll” alone as the rest of the band lays out, a style first made popular by Sonny Rollins when Rollins recorded with Miles Davis in 1954 on the Prestige label.

Jones eventually comes back in and trades eights with Griffin, Ware, and Drew. Ware’s bass is the perfect anchor for Jones’ rhythmic explorations. The entire band is burning.

“Johnny G.G.” and “Catharsis” also have big band style arrangements to them. Everyone is grooving in time here, and there isn’t much fast pyrotechnics or over blowing which makes these number swing even harder. The rhythm section of Ware and Jones are the driving force and the rest of the band not only knows it, but relishes in this fact. These are two of the hippest sextet recordings made during this time. Byrd and Adams play a little double time but quickly fall back into the groove. Wilbur Ware (who also played in Monk’s band shortly before this recording) lets it be known that he was one of the most original and tasteful bass players to emerge from the 1950s.
The Johnny Griffin Sextet showcases Griffin’s complex yet soulful approach to soloing as well as his uniquely distinct abilities as a master arranger and composer. This album is a perfect example of how Johnny Griffin could transform his love and mastery of both bebop and big band jazz into something fresh and timeless.

* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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


A Remembrance: Horace Silver

June 18, 2014

By Devon Wendell

When I think of Horace Silver I think of how challenging it must have been to bring that old style of blues and gospel back into jazz during the heyday of bebop. Sure the blues was a part of bop; Bird, Dizzy, Miles, and Monk loved it, played it, and used it in their compositions but in a more abstract and modern fashion. Silver’s blues, even when mixed with Latin jazz and bebop was more “old timey” or “back home” blues that many lovers (and some of the players) of the newer jazz sound veered away from and even felt ashamed of.

Horace Silver

Horace Silver

I first heard Horace Silver in high school on the album A Night At Birdland By The Art Blakey Quintet on Blue Note Records with Lou Donaldson, Clifford Brown, Curley Russell, and Blakey of course. His style jumped out at me. A young Clifford Brown was playing much like Fats Navarro and Donaldson was using up all of his stock Bird licks. Russell and Blakey too were in that bebop groove but then this aggressive, cocky, and percussive blues piano sound came in and it was like a left hook to the face.

I was so used to straight-up bebop players like Bud Powell, Dodo Marmarosa, Al Haig, John Lewis, and Barry Harris. Although I heard remnants of Teddy Wilson and Count Basie, Silver’s approach, reminded me more of the Chicago blues pianists I had grown up on like Otis Spann, Little Johnny Jones and Eddie Boyd. But the purity of Silver’s blues/gospel style somehow fit perfectly in the bop idiom. It complimented it and brought more of the blues out in the soloists in his many groups or artists he backed up on a countless number of classic sessions.

After my encounter with the live Blakey album, I sought out other recordings by Silver such as Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers, Blowin’ The Blues Away, 6 Pieces Of Silver, Finger Poppin,’ and Song For My Father.

Horace silver

Horace silver

I also heard Silver’s piano work on Sonny Rollins Vol.2 (With two pianists consisting of Silver and Thelonious Monk) and Miles Davis’ Bags Groove. No matter what the musical setting or with whom he was swinging with, Silver let it be known that pure blues and gospel are and will always be valid in jazz. It helped to create the music. It’s the heartbeat of jazz that makes everything swing.

Silver (along with drummer and collaborator Art Blakey) wanted jazz to be more accessible and danceable to people and less of a secret society of highly skilled players who may have seemed harmonically, rhythmically, and socially unapproachable to the masses. And so hard-bop was born and many of its greatest practitioners played and honed their skills in Silver’s bands – players such as Junior Cook, Hank Mobley, Louis Hayes, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Blue Mitchell, Art Farmer, Clifford Jordan, and James Spaulding to name only a few. Silver schooled musicians back into the blues at a time when many players were studying Ravel and Schoenberg looking for something new outward.

Silver’s style changed jazz. Even though he isn’t on the recording, Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers Moanin’ was a direct reaction to Silver’s influence. Bobby Timmons who wrote the hard- bop anthem was a descendant of Silver’s style. Silver’s classic composition “Song For My Father” continues to reach audiences of all ages, even many of whom aren’t jazz geeks like myself. For me, Horace Silver’s sound will always be synonymous with Blue Note Records.

Horace Silver passed away Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at his home in New Rochelle N.Y. at the age of 85. From now on, whenever jazz musicians try to ditch the blues and gospel roots — as has happened many times throughout the music’s history– I hope the ghost of Horace Silver will come down from Heaven, kick their tight butts and remind them where the swing came from. Goodbye “Senor Blues.”

* * * * * * * *

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

 

 

 

 


A Twist Of Doc: Hank Mobley – The Unsung Hero Of Bop.

February 7, 2014

By Devon Wendell

For tenor sax players, the late ‘50s and early ‘60s were a time for hard blowing, fitting in as many notes as possible within a few bars, and trying to break free from familiar patterns.

Sonny Rollins was the reigning king of articulation and might on tenor sax until Coltrane’s second stay with Miles. Although his was more of a cult-like following at the time, and there were plenty of people who didn’t like what he was playing, Coltrane would change the direction of the instrument forever. Rollins was still loved and began to play even harder and faster as a result of Coltrane’s impact on jazz.

Rollins, Coltrane and Johnny Griffin were considered to be the fastest tenor men in the game. Although these men were genius players and writers, many other fantastic contributors were left in the shadows. It’s always been difficult for music journalists and the media to pay attention to more than a few groundbreaking artists at once.

Hank Mobley

Hank Mobley

One such artist who never seemed to get his fair due during his time was Hank Mobley, who died in 1986 at 55. Mobley’s round tone and nimble, melodic blues based phrasing helped define the entire hard-bop genre.

Not only was Mobley a member of the original Jazz Messengers led by Horace Silver, he recorded and composed some of the most original, hard swinging compositions in the entire history of jazz. He also recorded with the top musicians of the day, both new on the scene like Lee Morgan, Grant Green, and Freddie Hubbard, as well as older legends such as Art Blakey, Art Taylor, and Kenny Dorham.

His two most heralded albums, Soul Station and Roll Call, both recorded in 1960 on Blue Note are among the most sophisticated and thoughtful albums recorded for the label.

The albums consist mostly of Mobley originals. And the most amazing thing about compositions like “Cattin’,” “B For B.B.” (recorded in 1956 with Donald Byrd on The Jazz Message Of Hank Mobley on Savoy Records), or “Take Your Pick” and “The Breakdown,” both from the Roll Call album, is that one can easily hear these as big band arrangements. Which is hard to say about many of Mobley’s contemporaries, especially as the ‘60s drew near. That sense of the blues that swung all night long that Count Basie, Duke Ellington, as well as Monk, and Dizzy kept with them when composing and playing, were present in Mobley’s writing and blowing. And his sound is immediately identifiable.

Someone could blind fold me and play me a Mobley composition that I’ve never heard, covered by an artist that I’ve never heard and I’d know it was his within the first four bars. There’s still something sweet and endearing to Mobley’s “High And Flighty” tone and his big, bright arrangements. I first noticed it on “Hankerin’” from Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers and Curtain Call (Both on Blue Note) which were given to me by a friend when I was 14.

Leonard Feather may have penned Mobley as “The middleweight champion of the tenor sax,” but I don’t think Feather meant it as a put down. Stan Getz was great and he played softer than Rollins or Coltrane. What’s great about jazz is that there’s room for many styles and sounds. The media may not grab onto it at first or ever, but the musicians and music lovers do. Mobley could and did play hard throughout different periods of his career. Check out his bold, angular lines on Freddie Hubbard’s Goin’ Up album on Blue Note from 1961 or “Hank’s Shout” from Introducing Lee Morgan With Hank Mobley’s Quintet on Savoy. Hank comes out swinging and never stops.

Mobley stayed true to the game until he retired with respiratory problems in the mid-’70s but his music continues to grab the attention of new jazz aficionados’ and keep the love of longtime, loyal fans like myself.

Thanks Hank.

* * * * * * * *

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


Live Jazz: Alan Broadbent at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

May 30, 2013

By Don Heckman

The stage was almost empty Tuesday night at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  Almost, that is, except for one notable exception.

Seated at the club’s large concert grand, pianist/arranger/composer Alan Broadbent performed several generous sets over a memorable three hours.  Originally scheduled as a duo with bassist Pat Senatore, it became a solo night for Broadbent when Senatore had to remain at home to fight the flu.

All of which made for a considerably different musical evening, one that was completely focused on Broadbent’s gifted, far-ranging talents as a pianist, an improviser, a composer and arranger.  All those skills were present, as Broadbent framed each tune – fast or slow with spontaneous arrangements, embraced the melodies, dug into improvised passages, and brought every song he touched vividly to life.

Alan Broadbent

Alan Broadbent

A master of the diverse music in the Great American Songbook, Broadbent filled his sets with classic items, thoughtfully shaping songs such as “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” “Spring Is Here,” “They Asked About You,” “You Go To My Head,” “Sophisticated Lady” and more.  Some of the ballads were offered with soaringly lyrical melodic phrases; some were tinged with rhapsodic classical touches.  And some were propelled forward via Broadbent’s laid-back, easy-going sense of swing. An occasional bebop line such as Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” moved intriguingly from forward-driving bop to a reminder of the ragtime which is at its roots.

There were offbeat choices, as well: Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye” called up memories of its role as the theme song of the Benny Goodman orchestra. A medley of film themes focused on the atmospheric sounds of “Laura.” And John Lewis’ “Django,” a tribute to the great Gipsy jazz guitarist, was played with a sensitive awareness of its roots in J.S. Bach.

A Grammy nominee and a Grammy winner, the New Zealand-born Broadbent had been, until very recently, one of L.A.’s busiest first call musicians.  In addition to his briskly swinging, straight ahead jazz skills, singers such as Irene Kral, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole and others have deeply valued his ability to provide the perfect settings for their very different styles.  And his work with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West has produced some extraordinarily musical recordings and live performances ranging from Broadbent’s imaginative instrumental settings, some of them orchestral, to his compelling vocal arrangements on recordings such as Sophisticated Ladies.

Pianists performing either solo or in duos or trios at Vibrato have been known to be overwhelmed by audience noise, especially from the bar.  But on this evening, Broadbent’s playing was so musically mesmerizing that his listeners seemed completely in tune with the magic he brought to each song.

And, as the evening got thoroughly underway, there was no sense of emptiness on the stage. Operating on his own, with no back up players, Broadbent – on his own — nonetheless filled Vibrato with an irresistible sense of imaginative musical completeness.

Broadbent’s performance at Vibrato was a rare Southland appearance since his move to New York City a year or so ago.  But this listener (and no doubt many others) will happily welcome any future Broadbent L.A. visits – either on his own, or blending with the right compatible players, backing a singer, or displaying the rich complexities of his extraordinary arranging and composing skills.  He is truly one of a kind.

* * * * * * * *

Photo by Faith Frenz.  To see more of her photos click HERE.

.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 255 other followers