Jazz

Buster Smith “The Legendary Buster Smith” (Atlantic, 1959)

Legendary_Buster_SmithPlaying with the great Count Basie and hailing from the same Southern locale as sax-savant Ornette Coleman (Fort Worth, TX), Buster Smith was one of those jazzmen who kept blues and jazz traditions together as tight and coarse as jute rope.

Unlike Coleman who ventured further out nationally while exploring free territory, and later amplified acts like Prime Time, Buster remained a Southern treat and and had his own way of delivering standards alongside great conventional numbers; a purist. His barebones “September Song” variant, a glum pop standard, goes well before original “King Alcohol,” featuring tumbling drums acting hardly more than brash timekeepers with Buster’s grainy blues-sax spillage upped on top. Get me a drink…

On side two “Kansas City Riffs” has some of the best interplay on the disc, and everybody makes a modest solo, even the seldom heard piano that only appears on half of the cuts. “Late Late” sounds like what could reasonably aftermath of “King Alcohol” and is as expected, a downer. Buster even switches from sax to blues guitar and shows he has chops on a six-string. For fans of Basie, Charlie Christian and even Charlie Parker with whom he affiliated, Buster Smith’s only official release is of definite interest. -Wade

Minnie Riperton “Adventures in Paradise” (Epic, 1975)

220px-Adventures_In_ParadiseA modest album after some initial direct hits, Minnie was one of those up and coming R&B divas set to rival Aretha Franklin. After losing Stevie Wonder as super-producer however, this ’75 release instead opted for an even softer and smoother production, bringing it into the fold of Quiet Storm, the pristine music reflecting the promise of Black middle-class quality of life that was expected to stick around.

The entirety of the album isn’t made up of slow-jams, however… “When It Comes Down To It” has some popping bass lines and sharp instrumental work, while “Minnie’s Lament” showcases real signs of life vocally on top of, what seems to me, like a Xenakis “Rebonds A” sort of drum loop. Really! It’s no wonder Quiet Storm and sophisticated R&B are the next forms up for assimilation by our current musical underground. On one level, the hippest kids are more empathic than ever before and are less likely to dismiss it for classy connotations, and on another, the form is still ripe for mining outside of Hip Hop. It seems only natural that people like Sade and Minnie are new points of reference for genre-appropriating youth. This stuff is reactionary socially and at times, it’s otherworldly sounding.

But how about at the time of release? Of course this was an important album to those whose young lives were being enriched by hopes of a better home and life, an opportunity to raise a family, more cosmopolitan integration. That’s what makes this release so beautiful. It’s an album about love on deeper levels. The most recognizable track drifting through Adult Contemporary stations could be “Inside My Love,” which should be noted, isn’t about sex…“will you come inside me / do you wanna ride inside my love?” But to get back to Black upward mobility, Minnie’s popular album track for radio play, “Love and it’s Glory,” was never released as a single. Yet it had massive air play and it’s message bounded out:

It’s a lonely world my children
You’ve got to do the best you can
If you’ve found a chance to love
You’d better grab it any way you can -Wade

Arto Lindsay “Invoke” (Righteous Babe, 2002)

51MuII-GVFL._SY355_A culmination of noise, Bossa Nova and The Face have wrought the career of “pop musician” Arto Lindsay. He made a big splash as one of New York’s favorite noisemakers in the three-piece of DNA. His Latin roots set in more firmly later on, when he fronted Ambitious Lovers and began work on his solo albums.

Arto became comfortable making sultry Brazilian music and made exception to cover Prince’s “Erotic City” plenty of times in the 90’s. “Invoke” shows Lindsay treading new ground away from his jet-setting idea of soul and into cerebral mood music of sorts… With his newfound confidence in sampling abilities, he plays with these forms as much as he did earlier with Brazilian crooning and detuned guitar. It’s a pretty tall order, but in Lindsay’s hands these styles come together well. Not that he’s some fancy fashioner; Arto remains earnestly self-taught and his stints in North and South America lead to genuine results and a modern, international sound.

The real standouts seem to sound as lush as luxury in NYC. “Ultra Privileged” and “You Decide” are bright tracks of mood music. Arto’s signature guitar work has been subdued from terrible noise to playful chirps, asserting itself into many song rhythms. More a studio effort than a document of his live abilities, “Invoke” is, in short, an Arto album to hear while drinking wine and wearing silk pajamas, particularly with a hip lover. -Wade

John Coltrane “Ascension” (Impulse! 1966)

albumcoverJohnColtrane-AscensionOh boy, don’t let the opening blowout scare you, there is plenty of great form and “fun” to be had listening to this transitional album from Coltrane. Since the members recorded here run a list as long as my arm, I’ll just let you know that this was a big band of all-stars veering into free jazz like a great ship running through a tropical storm.

Crewman here can obviously play, and every last one of them went on to do great things (apart from one young trumpeter who, apparently not long after this recording, lost his mind). The album itself is made up of two long takes, two sides only. It’s the same piece performed with some solo changes. When the ensemble is working together it’s often claustrophobic, difficult finding room to breath, but just as often solos open up for a minute to two, giving each member a chance to grate their timbres.

And once in the midst of a beautiful solo from Hubbard or Tyner, or in the final duet between Davis and Garrison, you may find your own footing and wonder how you arrived where you are. A feeling you get when your overstressed mind finally makes a realization that whatever the challenge, it’s all just noise and it’s all of no real consequence. Tension and release. It’s what makes this music so appealing to those that charge on. -Wade

Miles Davis “Live – Evil” (Columbia, 1971)

Miles_Davis_Live-Evil

Ah, the magic of 70’s Miles is timeless. And while some would claim “On The Corner” to be his best disc produced by the ace Teo Macero, I’d voice that “Live – Evil” has got it beat by a mile. Cut up from a number of performances in a seamless fashion, maybe inspired equally by the Dead and Hendrix, Miles and company plus John McLaughlin produce spacious skeletal rhythms, full-on extended funk medleys, feedback tinged segments that never meander and short, affecting balladry.

Opening track “Sivad” spills out immediately in a gush of percussion and slows down a touch to show off the new bastardized, amplified direction of Miles work. “Little Church” and “Selim” go solo-less, with each track being surprisingly pastoral, melancholy. Those last two cuts are by Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal, who went on to play with Davis, and they stand as some of the best highlights on this disc.

Also worth mentioning is the great panoramic interplay between McLaughlin and Davis on the side one closer “Gemini / Double Image.” Sounds like a walk home from a particularly hard night and not far off from what today’s noiseniks might try to emulate (with a bit more high end), only by way of swapping instruments for an array of effect pedals and industrial clangor…

Go on? James Brown might be cited just as much as Hendrix for influence on “What I Say” or “Funky Tonk,” syncopation minus the vocal commands. Miles is really modern and on top with this piece, he runs the voodoo down and his synthesis of styles works well… Critics of the day wouldn’t call it jazz; but who needs a label for it when it’s so ahead of it’s time? Miles ahead, as usual. -Wade

 

Nina Simone “Nina Simone and Piano” (RCA Victor, 1969)

f01d45705f1de5c9d8bfb7d72e7f7339In Sartre’s “Nausea” there is a moment when the protagonist, disgusted by the emptiness of life, snaps back to reality while hearing a beautiful voice on a jazz record; it grounded him and he felt flush with relief to live back in the moment, where life and love still exist.

That existentialist paperback was published about thirty years or so before Nina Simone put out “Nina Simone and Piano,” but I’ve always synced the two together, since this disc has some of the most touching arrangements I’ve heard pressed under her name, or ever really. She chooses to play skeletal arrangements of Randy Newman and Johnathan King… It’s the stark instrumental work she shows and the sureness of her voice that makes these pieces work so well.

And while on the topic of existentialism, “Who Am I” and “Another Spring” will make even the most devout unbeliever sit on the edge of their seat. This is not an album to play in the background; more like something you take, like a pill, to ensure a more healthy life. “Another Spring” in particular is a roundabout of emotion, brought on by an elder faced with winter and possible death, feeling for the moment she will emerge to the warmth of the new season. It ends joyously.

The album itself comes to a close with a rare bit of overdubbing on “The Desperate Ones,” all whispers, talk of moths near flames, sunsets and the dreams that fall behind with them. A real treat for those looking to reconfirm their purpose or validate their lives, “Nina Simone and Piano” may give more affection than you have ever allowed yourself to receive… -Wade

Charles Mingus “Blues & Roots” (Atlantic Records, 1960)

115405940What might be seen as a regressive move from the current post-bop experiments of the time to doing extended takes on blues and church songs was actually a great percolation of styles in Charles Mingus’ hands. What we have here are six tracks that play off of blues sensibilities quite well, makes you want to dance more often than not and comes across as quite modern.

Nine players appear on this record (with one swapped for piano on the final track) and what’s presented are layers of the same parts played just about at once, making rather simple, swinging music with plenty of room for subtle shifts and surprises. Opener “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting” is a case in point, with joyous horns and a galloping rhythm charge set by Mingus. Most of the tracks presented herein are fairly loose (though not disorganized) and give a snap shot of ground-breaking performers taking a break and having a good time recording an album more suitable for a party rather than something set up for your rapt attention.

Not that there are tracks you can’t be pulled into, however; killers like “Moanin’” and “Tensions” have so much going on that repeated listens will be inevitable to take in all the action presented to you. For tracks that are so rich, the swing is also pretty undeniable. Mingus seems to be at a crossroads here, between the blues of his past and the modern tug of his jazz progressions. The result is a record you can’t help but wear a smile to. -Wade

Wayne Shorter “Speak No Evil” (Blue Note, 1964)

Enough said? No, I’m afraid I can’t help but gush about my favorite jazz album.

I can’t figure why this album seems to sometimes be lumped in with the “avant-garde”, because all of it is eminently listenable. In fact, perhaps what makes this record so uniquely great is how consistently accessible and ear-pleasing it is, yet never shallow, commercial or boring. The tunes are uniformly fantastic, the charts always interesting, and the playing is wonderfully subtle and dynamic all around; perfect moments of musical interaction abound. Highlights include the irresistibly swinging “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum”, the intriguingly geometric and mysterious “Dance Cadaverous”, and the breathtakingly gorgeous ballad “Infant Eyes”.

Wayne Shorter mixed-and-matched a lot with his ensembles as a leader, never recording an album with the same band twice, leading bands anywhere from a quartet to a sextet (and the odd octet). But on Speak No Evil he seems to have hit on the perfect band for his music. All props and praise to McCoy Tyner, who also recorded a lot with Wayne, but Herbie Hancock, with his inimitable subtleties and tonal shadings, is the perfect pianist to accompany Wayne. Elvin Jones on drums is a welcome addition to any lineup, needless to say. He really accentuates and underlines the *swing* inherent in the tunes here. The bright tone and spry exuberance of Freddie Hubbard on trumpet is a perfect counterpoint to Shorter’s somewhat melancholy lyricism. Ron Carter anchors the bass quite admirably with a lot of nice touches of syncopation, but he’s not as noticeable as he would later be with the Miles Davis Quintet.

I just can’t say enough about this LP. It is gorgeous, it is stunning, it is perfect jazz. —Micah

Nina Simone “Nina Simone at Town Hall” (1960)

Nina Simone at Town Hall is a magnificent showcase for one of music’s most versatile talents. Simone’s voice is remarkably expressive, but it’s not enough to have a strong instrument. It’s her ability to utilize her instrument for maximum effectiveness that makes her one of my favorite singers. On this live performance, she mostly explores the somber range of emotions, with unfaithful lovers being a prominent cause of the sorrow. On “I Don’t Want Him Anymore”, Simone sings volumes of emotional back-story into a six-minute song. At first sounding resigned as she gently spurns her lover while confronting his mistress, she goes on to outline the many ways that she adored him. Instead of bitterness, she betrays her true feelings of devotion as she recounts each small act of love, only to again ironically claim that she doesn’t want him anymore. The heartbreak is palpable, as it is on the song “The Other Woman”, which cleverly inverts our expectations by spending the back half describing how devastating it is to be the home-wrecker, not just the betrayed wife. Although Nina is widely recognized as a gifted singer and interpreter of songs, she is equally adept as a piano player, an attribute which is largely overlooked. Here, with minimal accompaniment, she really shines in this regard. Her playing is some unlikely hybrid of jazz, blues and classical, in which every note is as carefully played as her words are sung. This is a tremendous album for lovers of vocal jazz or torch songs. It’s definitely a late night album, due to its intimacy and the way it rewards your complete attention. Highly recommended. –Lucas

John Coltrane “Olé Coltrane” (1962)

Wow! I’ve been looking for the perfect Coltrane album to match my taste and here it is. Some people might say that the title track is very similar to Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, but I also detected a hint of music from Tijuana Moods by Charles Mingus. Of course, nobody would dare mention Mingus. ;) That aside, this is beautiful jazz. Coltrane’s plays extremely well on soprano and tenor sax. When I saw the rest of the lineup for Ole Coltrane I knew it would be one of my favorites. It was definitely a stroke of genius to mix these two bassists. The interplay between them is incredible throughout. What’s great is that Coltrane steps back and lets the others shine. While everyone plays admirably, in my opinion it’s Eric Dolphy that steals the show. He pretty much steals the show on every album that he appears. When he plays a solo on the alto sax, you can almost feel him reaching into your chest and squeezing your heart. Even the extra track, “To Her Ladyship”, is great. Don’t forget to pick this album up. It would be a serious loss. –Rob

Weather Report “Weather Report” (1971)

If you know Weather Report primarily from their latter-day funk-groove thang, this may come as a surprise — perhaps even a pleasant one. For one thing, Joe Zawinul is restricted mostly to organ and piano, with none of the synthesizer excess of later albums. The balance between Zawinul and Wayne Shorter, too, is much more even (and Shorter’s “Eurydice” is my favourite piece on the record). With bassist Miroslav Vitous on acoustic instruments, the album may remind you of Miles Davis’s In A Silent Way, on which, of course, Zawinul and Shorter played crucial parts. There’s a kind of calm and serenity hanging over the music, even when the playing gets furious (which, with these guys involved, it often does). “Orange Lady” was also recorded by Miles Davis as “Great Expectations” (for which he cheekily took the composition credit). –Brad

McCoy Tyner “Sahara” (1972)

Tyner recorded prolifically for Milestone throughout the 1970s, and produced a number of fine recordings. “Sahara” might be the best. It represents the state of the art for the time of its release, 1972.

The greatest strength of this recording lies in its varied aural landscape. If you want Tyner’s signature thunderous chords and lightning right-hand runs, cue up “Ebony Queen” and “Rebirth.” Need some spiritually rich solo piano? Move to “A Prayer for My Family.” Then try the 23-minute title track, which has his reedman, Sonny Fortune, playing flute, his bassist, Calvin Hill, playing reeds, and the group joining drummer Alphonse Mouzon with various percussion effects. As far from a blowing session as you can get, this extended performance is a well-planned trip across a variety of endlessly fascinating terrains. As if all this isn’t enough, on “Valley of Life,” Tyner picks up a kyoto, a Japanese stringed instrument and produces a delicate impressionistic sketch, aided by Fortune, again on flute.

“Sahara” represents the best that jazz had to offer in the early ’70s. The musicians aren’t afraid to display their chops (Fortune adds blazing soprano and alto sax to his delicate work on flute), but Tyner clearly is intent on finding new territory and expanding the definition of jazz, and he succeeds brilliantly. —Tyler