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Fifty Year Friday: Silver Apples and Horace Silver’s Serenade to a Soul Sister

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Silver Apples was what was left of the cover band, The Overland Stage Electric Band, after vocalist, Simeon Coxe III,  incorporated old-fashioned 1940’s technology audio oscillators into their performances at Café Wah in Greenwich Village, annoying, exasperating, and eventually alienating all other members of the band except the drummer, Danny Taylor.  Now, with only two of the five original members still on board, the band was renamed and, with a set of thirteen oscillators connected together, soon recorded an album for the small label, Kapp, which had recently been purchased by MCI after Kapp had repeatedly proved itself, including recording Louis Armstrong’s very successful single, “Hello Dolly”, in 1964 and recording the original cast album of “Man of La Mancha” in 1966.

For those that would propose that all the new music in any decade following the sixties is truly based on something already recorded prior to 1970, this first Silver Apples album, Silver Apples,  makes a good exhibit A for such a case. Here, in this album, we can hear many of the key ingredients of the music of Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, techno-rock, and various pockets of underground dance music and indie rock that followed. To their credit, Beck, the Beastie Boys, Stereolab and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow have all publicly acknowledged the influence of Silver Apples.

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Heralded by John Lennon and Gary Booker of Procol Harum, and joined by Jimi Hendrix for jam sessions, Silver Apples appeared to have a future that looked interesting, if not particularly promising commercially.  Unfortunately, the actual longevity of Silver Apples was brief, even in rock-career years, as a result of the album cover content of their second LP, Contact, which shows the band in a PanAm cockpit with the PanAM logo clearly visible in the upper right on the front, and Simeon and Taylor sitting amidst the wreckage on the back cover perhaps humorously hinting they weren’t up to handling all the sophisticated electronics.  Ironically, the agent of their “crash and burn” was not due to any misuse of electronics, or lack of public recognition, but was solely due to that back album cover itself, which precipitated a lawsuit from Pan Am Airlines; though PanAm had had originally approved the group’s use of the Pan Am logo for the front cover, they were completely taken by surprise with the wreckage portrayed on the back cover.

 

“They sued us, big‑time,” Simeon stated in a 2010 Sound on Sound interview.  “They sued Kapp Records, they sued us as a band, they sued us personally, they sued our management, they got some judge in New York to issue a cease‑and‑desist on us performing. All the records had to be taken off the shelves in all of the record stores. They put some sort of a lien on our equipment and they actually came to a club where we were playing and confiscated Danny’s drums. Fortunately, my stuff wasn’t there. That photograph led to the lawsuit that broke the band up. No record label would touch us from that point on. That was the end of Silver Apples.”

Let’s forget about this tragic demise for now (the band, like so many sixties band, have reunited for concert appearances), and celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of this influential and historical significant album.  It is rough in spots, with generally weak vocals, but there is no scarcity of interesting content — such content bookended by the strongest tracks, “Oscillations” and “Misty Mountain.”  Youtube audio doesn’t do this track justice, but still conveys that this music sounds more like a composition from the late seventies than the late sixties:

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side A

#

Title

Writer(s)

Length

1.

“Oscillations”

Simeon, Taylor, Warren

2:48

2.

“Seagreen Serenades”

Simeon, Taylor, Warren

2:55

3.

“Lovefingers”

Simeon, Taylor, Warren

4:11

4.

“Program”

Simeon, Taylor, Warren

4:07

5

“Velvet Cave”

Simeon, Taylor, Warren

3:00

Side B

#

Title

Writer(s)

Length

1.

“Whirly-Bird”

Simeon, Taylor, Warren

2:41

2.

“Dust”

Simeon, Taylor, Warren

3:40

3.

“Dancing Gods”

Navajo Indian Ceremonial

5:57

4.

“Misty Mountain”

Simeon, Taylor, Eileen Lewellen

2:47

Silver Apples Personnel

  • Dan Taylor – drums, percussion, vocals
  • Simeon – oscillators, flute, vocals

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With a series of excellent albums on the Blue Note record label since he first signed with Blue Note in 1952, Horace Silver delivered another with Serenade for a Soul Sister released in early June 1968.

This is a high energy album, musically positive, with strong forward momentum; in addition, it conveys that special Blue Note quality captured in so many of the albums engineered by Rudy Van Gelder.  The first three tracks include Stanley Turrentine on tenor sax, sounding better than on his own 1968 album, “The Look of Love”, which is marred by overdubbed strings added into an otherwise surprisingly good performance of mostly contemporary pop tunes.  The very first track, “Psychedelic Sally” swings, bops, and rocks, brimming with a level of energy more commonly associated to electric guitars and electronic keyboards than a small acoustic jazz group.  The second and third tracks are in 3/4,  and the fourth track is in a fast 5/4 with a recurring syncopation between the second and third beats which extends its way with an added beat into a 6/4 bridge-like section that returns to the original theme followed by strong improvisation by Bennie Maupin, Charles Tolliver, and then Silver followed by the return of the ensemble.  The fifth track, “Kindred Spirits”, takes a slower and more casual tempo, and the last track, “Next Time I Fall in Love”, is a calm, relaxed, and somewhat carefree piano solo by Silver that nicely ends this upbeat and generally energetic album.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Horace Silver.

  1. “Psychedelic Sally” – 7:14
  2. “Serenade to a Soul Sister” – 6:19
  3. “Rain Dance” – 6:21
  4. “Jungle Juice” – 6:46
  5. “Kindred Spirits” – 5:55
  6. “Next Time I Fall in Love” – 5:19

Personnel

Musicians

on tracks 1 – 3 (February 23, 1968)

on tracks 4 – 6 (March 29, 1968)

Production

 

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Fifty Year Friday: McCoy Tyner, Time for Tyner and Quicksilver Messenger Service

TforT517910Recorded on May 17, 1968, and released in August of 1968,  McCoy’s Tyner sixth albums feature the trio of Tyner, Herbie Lewis on bass and Freddie Waits on drums with the addition of Bobby Hutcherson on vibes for the first side of the two lengthier Tyner compositions and the the first two tracks on side two, Tyner’s “May Street” and Richard Rodger’s “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” from the 1939 Musical, “Too Many Girls.”

Tyner is in excellent form here, with every note contributing, even the rapid Art Tatum like scales.  The three musical show tunes are all given special treatment, with “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” performed as a captivating piano solo, and the three Tyner compositions are all excellent, with African Village recalling Mongo Santamaria’s  Afro Blue from the amazing “must have” 1963 recording, “Live at Birdland” with Tyner, Coltrane, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones.

Track listing

  1. “African Village” (McCoy Tyner)- 12:11
  2. “Little Madimba” (Tyner)- 8:34
  3. “May Street” (Tyner)- 5:22
  4. “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” (HartRodgers) – 7:10
  5. “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” (Hammerstein, Rodgers) – 5:12
  6. “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” (LernerLoewe) – 4:27

Musicians

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Not just another San Franciscan psychedelic rock band, but a particularly talented set of musicians that were part of the new direction of album-oriented rock.  There are jazz and even traces of classical music influences in the structure, group work, and solos on this album.  This, their very first album, is relatively short in length and not exactly a coherent work as it includes recordings spanning two years of musical development with tracks from 1966, 1967 and 1968.  “Gold and Silver” is the strongest track, with the first half of “The Fool”, being also quite good.   Album was released in May of 1968.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one

  1. Pride of Man” – 4:08 (Hamilton Camp)
  2. “Light Your Windows” – 2:38 (Gary DuncanDavid Freiberg)
  3. “Dino’s Song”[4] – 3:08 (Dino Valenti)
  4. “Gold and Silver” – 6:43 (Gary Duncan, Steve Schuster)

Side two

  1. “It’s Been Too Long” – 3:01 (Ron Polte)
  2. “The Fool” – 12:07 (Gary Duncan, David Freiberg)

Musicians

Fifty Year Friday: 1968 Jazz-Rock and Fusion

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In the late 1960s, rock music’s commercial value to the record companies far exceeded that of their jazz and classical products.  This led to many dismal outcomes, including two particularly appalling trends.  One was to try to commercialize and update jazz, with the record companies convincing (and in many cases failing to convince) reluctant jazz musicians to include rock tunes in their albums, often resulting in half-hearted attempts that included some token improvisation between the initial statement of one or more verses and the chorus and their return.  The other was to try to elevate rock music, or provide a more palatable version of it to older consumers, by saccharine orchestral or quasi-big band arrangements.  The cultural impact and commercial success of such attempts were thankfully very limited.

At the same time, a diverse range of rock groups were incorporating jazz elements into their music, and, musicians with varying degrees of jazz experience or jazz exposure were being included in some bands. Soon Miles Davis and John McLaughlin would make jazz fusion history and reap wide commercial recognition and compensation.  But prior to that, the talented and innovative vibraphonist Gary Burton, looking to make the move away from straight-ahead jazz and appeal to younger audiences drew upon his own love of popular music and started to blend jazz and rock elements in a series of four notable albums in 1967 and 1968.

Gary Burton worked with Stan Getz from 1964-1966,  during the period of Getz’s continuing ascendancy into fame from his successful merging of samba, bossa nova and jazz — Getz achieving significant recognition and acclaim from the 1963 Getz/Gilbert album that included the incredibly commercially popular “Girl From Ipanema.”  Perhaps Burton learned invaluable lessons of the breadth and flexibility of jazz, and that when it honestly and sincerely embraced and fully incorporated other elements, how it could extend its capabilities and capacity to appeal and captivate to a wide range of listeners.  Or perhaps Burton just followed his instinct of embracing the music he loved and creating music that, most of all, appealed to himself.

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During this period that Gary was working with Stan Getz, the first historically significant jazz-rock group, The Free Spirits, formed in 1965.  Playing in New York as opening acts or at very small venues, their music ranged from rock and roll to psychedelic rock,  similar to other rock bands — with the exception of the jazz background of four of their five members.  For the most part, the jazz element present was similar to the jazz element in contemporaneous rhythm and blues.  The songs on their 1967 Out of Sight and Sound album are appealing and accessible, with solid, often frenetic and dynamic drumming from Bob Moses, soulful, bluesy saxophone from Jim Pepper (no relation to Art Pepper),  and catchy compositions and expressive guitar work from Larry Coryell.  Additional band members were rhythm guitarist Columbus “Chip” Baker and bassist and vocalist Chris Hills.

After the Out of Sight and Sound album, Larry Coryell, and then later,  Bob Moses, joined up with Gary Burton.  Just as Larry Coryell significantly influenced the sound of the Free Spirits towards a contemporary rock sound, Larry Coryell would have a significant impact on the sound of the four Gary Burton albums he was a part of.

The first of these four important Gary Burton quartet albums, Duster, recorded in April 1967, and sometimes referred to as the very first fusion recording, includes guitarist Larry Coryell, talented bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Roy Haynes.  Larry Coryell had further sharpened his skills as can be heard on this indisputable example of early jazz fusion, “One, Two, 1-2-3-4” available on Youtube here.

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The second album, Lofty Fake Anagram, with Bob Moses now on drums,  was recorded in August 1967, and is a little more mellow, with continuing impressive interplay between Burton and Coryell and impressive bass work from Steve Swallow.

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The third album, recorded a month earlier in July 1967 and released in 1968, is the dramatic concept album, Genuine Tong Funeral, written by composer and pianist Carla Bley and subtitled “A Dark Opera without Words.”   Focused on the topic of death and mourning, this mixture of third-stream and avant-garde composition covers a wide range of emotion and even includes passages of irony or dry humor reminiscent of Kurt Weill.  Besides some amazing, prodigious vibraphone work by Gary Burton, using his usual four mallets and to fine effect,  there is some outstanding, pushing-the-envelope soprano sax from Steve Lacy, some nicely-miked acoustic bass work from Steve Swallow, and some welcome tuba passages performed  by Howard Johnson. The album’s last track, with a chaotic free jazz section breaking from the confines of the suite’s structural boundaries, perhaps indicating some level of relief or release from grief is followed by a return of the “Survivors” theme, providing an appropriate and proper closure to the suite.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Carla Bley
  1. “The Opening / Interlude : Shovels / The Survivors / Grave Train” – 6:37
  2. “Death Rolls” – 1:36
  3. “Morning (Part 1)” – 1:43
  4. “Interlude : Lament / Intermission Music” – 4:28
  5. “Silent Spring” – 7:58
  6. “Fanfare / Mother of the Dead Man” – 2:51
  7. “Some Dirge” – 7:47
  8. “Morning (Part 2)” – 1:17
  9. “The New Funeral March” – 2:40
  10. “The New National Anthem / The Survivors” – 6:34
  • Recorded in New York City in July 1967.

Personnel

The fourth of these four Burton/Coryell albums, recorded live at Carnegie Hall on February 23, 1968, is simply titled “Gary Burton Quartet in Concert.”  Of particularly note is the amazing contrapuntal duet between Burton and Coryell in the recording of “Lines” and the overall excellence of the group’s performance of “Walter L.”  The album ends with an avant garde treatment of “One, Two, 1-2-3-4”, notably different than the original performance on Duster.

Track listing

All compositions by Gary Burton except where indicated
  1. “Blue Comedy” (Mike Gibbs) – 9:02
  2. “The Sunset Bell” – 5:17
  3. “Lines” (Larry Coryell) – 3:06
  4. “Walter L.” – 6:36
  5. “Wrong Is Right” (Coryell) – 6:14
  6. “Dreams” – 5:49
  7. I Want You” (Bob Dylan) – 3:06
  8. “One, Two, 1–2–3–4” (Burton, Coryell) – 10:45

Personnel

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In early 1968,  former Stan Kenton big band saxophonist, Steve Marcus, New Zealand born jazz keyboardist, Mick Nock,  and three former members of The Free Spirits,  guitarist Larry Coryell, bassist Chris Hills, and drummer Bob Moses,  recorded two jazz-rock albums, produced by jazz flutist Herbie Mann under Steve Marcus’s name.

The first album, Tomorrow Never Knows, appropriates five well known rock tunes and either imposes jazz commentary on them (“Mellow Yellow”) or develops and transforms them (“Tomorrow Never Knows”).  Added at the end, as a sixth tune, is Gary Burton’s “Half a Heart.”  This is one of those albums that may sound initially bizarre, with the band still wrestling to establish an overall sound and approach, but becomes more sensible and coherent after repeated listenings.

Track listing

  1. Eight Miles High” (David CrosbyHarold E. ClarkJames McGuinn) – 4:44
  2. Mellow Yellow” (Donovan Leitch) – 4:50
  3. Listen People” (Graham Gouldman) – 2:25
  4. Rain” (John Lennon, Paul Mc Cartney) – 7:02
  5. Tomorrow Never Knows” (John Lennon, Paul Mc Cartney) – 11:07
  6. Half A Heart” (Gary Burton– 5:21

Personnel

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The second album, though, Count’s Rock Band, (“Count” referring to Steve Marcus’s nickname and not that of William James Basie) is more organic, polished, and finely finished. There are only two rock covers here,  “Scarborough Fair” which is a straightforward rendition, based on Simon and Garfunkel’s version, arranged exquisitely with single focus, not straying a single step outside of its intended character, and Mick Jagger and Keith Richard’s Backstreet Girl; this modest tune is placed in an finely-crafted French cabaret-like setting with accordion  accompaniment, followed by an spellbinding jazzy middle section that evolves from straight-ahead, highly accessible jazz to wildly aggressive free jazz, followed by the return of the calm and tender original section.  The album also includes two compositions by bassist Chris Hills, which both work convincingly as final, unified outcomes of blending blues, rock and jazz.

If none of these musicians had ever recorded a note, jazz and rock would inevitably come together, just like twins separated in later years through pursuing different careers and interests, but meeting again in their more mature years.  In the case of rock, though, it’s relation to other music is more complex than simple siblinghood.  The young rock and roll looked very much, and acted very much like a young, somewhat clueless child of blues and jazz (and the baby sibling of the more capable rhythm and blues) but as rock and roll matured into rock, it developed its own identity, eventually accepting not only the best of what it’s parents could offer, but exploring all other available musical influences, examining and absorbing recorded and written music of all accessible areas of the globe and all accessible time periods.

Track listing

  1. Theresa’s Blues” (Chris Hills) – 12;19
  2. Scarborough Fair (Traditional,  Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel)” – 2:39
  3. “Drum Solo” – 3:55
  4. Ooh Baby” ( Chris Hills) – 12:14
  5.  “C’est Ca” ( Chris Swansen) – 0:19
  6. Back Street Girl” (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards) – 5:46
  7. “Piano Solo”  – 0:51

Personnel

Fifty Years Ago: Anthony Braxton, 3 Compositions of New Jazz

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Though generally not a fan of free jazz, I do enjoy the music I have purchased and heard from Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Sam Rivers.  I also find John Coltrane’s forays into free jazz particularly appealing, but let’s face it, John Coltrane could have made interesting music just playing rising and falling whole tone scales.

There is also a spectrum of free jazz from semi-structured to complete chaos.  Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch album is the kind of free jazz that I love the most — it has much in common with traditional jazz and it doesn’t sound chaotic or random, but unfolds logically and musically.  I am generally a fan of Sun Ra and have no challenges setting aside time to listen to his explorations into free jazz.

As I music major, I listened to hours of the so-called avant-garde including Boulez, Stockhausen, Crumb, Xenakis, and many others. Truthfully, I like this type of music better than much of what is played today on the top 40 radio stations, but not by a lot.  My interest in second-half twentieth century classical music gravitated towards composers like Oliver Messiaen or the minimalists, like Philip Glass.

However, listening to a wide range of music expands one’s appreciation for music in general and listening to the so-called avant-garde, aleatoric (music based on chance), or free-jazz expands one’s ability to listen fully and comprehensively.  I once spent a little bit of time around John Cage in Europe, attending concerts and talking with him, and I learned much about how to listen to and appreciate music, organized sounds, random sounds, and the wide array of sensory input available to us.   I do enjoy hearing the rain against the house, or the sounds of wind in a forest or the music of the ocean when out on the deck of a ship.  And the beauty of music is not only determined from the labor and skill of the composer, but from the skill of each and every once of us to organize the sounds we perceive into a meaningful experience.

And so, though I prefer Anthony Braxton’s occasional excursions into standard jazz over his completely free jazz recordings, I still respect the talent and the skills he applies to free jazz, starting with his very first album as a leader,  3 Compositions of New Jazz, recorded in March and April 1968.  And I still value the part I personally play in making a coherent, and hopefully, enjoyable or even uplifting experience,  when listening to this or any other work of music.

And there is a lot of talent and skill that has gone into the three tracks on 3 Compositions of New Jazz. The variety (wide arrange of sounds, textures, and instruments employed by the four musicians) and the thoughtful quality of the music, makes this worthy of an initial listening, even if you then set it aside for a decade or more — or never pick it up again.  What works best for me, is the second track on side two, Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith’s “The Bell”, which I find attractive for its purity and beauty.  And in general, I particularly like Leroy Jenkins violin and viola playing throughout this album.

Am I impressed by how Braxton and team abandon conventionality and move forward with bold freedom?  Not so.  Braxton was twenty-three when this was recorded, and such youthful musical courage is not unexpected.  What is unexpected is the amount of variety, artfulness, and ability to make such unstructured music work and hold one’s attention.

Do I recommend this?  Not necessarily.  There are plenty of other jazz and even free-jazz albums I find more appealing.  Is this of historic importance?  Perhaps.   It is noteworth for its place in the musical landscape of 1968 and its blend of what is very much a John Cage approach with jazz music, but I suspect the history of free jazz would have been much the same if Delmark had shelved this album and failed to release it until forty years later.

Music is never completely driven by chance, unless it is generated by chance and performed by a computer, and this music, even with the following of the simple diagrams provided to the musicians for the first two tracks, is less about chance and more about musical and spiritual expression without the confinements of a set sequences of chord changes, a verse and chorus or other melodic framework, or recurring rhythmic patterns.  What is of interest here is just as engaging and potentially captivating as sitting outside of Penn Station in New York and watching hundreds of people a minute go on their way to work, listening to the birds sing in the forest, or listening to strangers’ conversations  on a bus, subway, or in a restaurant. It’s certainly better than listening to most radio talk shows, watching most youtube videos, or being bombarded repeatedly by some of the popular music of today or even some of the lower-quality popular music played on AM radios fifty years ago.

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Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Anthony Braxton, except where noted.

# Title Length
1 “(840m)-Realize-44M-44M (Composition 6 E)” 20:03*
2 “N-M488-44M-Z (Composition 6 D)” 12:57*
3 “The Bell” (Leo Smith) 10:31

*These first two tracks are graphically titled. This is an attempt to translate the title.

  • Recorded at Sound Studios, Chicago, IL on March 27 (track 1) and April 10 (tracks 2 & 3), 1968

Personnel

 

 

Fifty Year Friday: Miles Davis Quintet “Nefertiti”

 

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Recorded in June and July of 1967 and released, as best as I can determine, around February 1968, give or  take a month, Nefertiti is the ever-exploring, adventurous Miles Davis’s last all-acoustic instrument album. I also consider this one of the first albums to take significant steps into both Fusion and New Age territory.

Miles Davis time at Julliard is partially evident here (just as Tony Scott’s time at Julliard is partially evident in what some consider the very first New Age record, the 1964 album, Music for Zen Meditation.)  Miles seems to infuse Bartok and Satie, whose music he admired, into some of this work,  as well as possibly (this is maybe a reach on my part, based only on the nature of some of the rhythmic and melodic patterns) Olivier Messiaen.  Miles also drives his fellow musicians to further reaches of creativity producing a work like no other work recorded in 1967 or released in 1968.  Some call this free-bop, and there are elements of free jazz present, but overall this is generally an accessible album, very much a predecessor to the fusion jazz and progressive-jazz psychedelic/rock-impressionism that will soon follow in so many albums of the 1970s.

The title track, “Nefertiti”, recorded on June 7, 1967 as a single take, is named after the Egyptian queen, Neferneferuaten Nefertiti who, with her Pharoah husband, brought about a religious revolution in Egypt by narrowing religious worship from many gods to only one. And with this first track, “Nefertiti”, there is a singularity of focus.  Missing are solos from the trumpet and saxophone.  Instead, the two instruments blend into an ambient, cleverly crafted circular sonic stream (well done, Wayne Shorter!), much as when drifting into alternative realms of consciousness prior to sleep.  The piano, bass and drums provides the greater variety and commentary here, the entire work thoroughly and unapologetically breaking from the traditional be-bop approach to ensemble sections and solos.  We have a strong case for this being jazz minimalism despite the richness of material provided by Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, based on the foundational, hardly perceptible variations provided by Miles and Wayne Shorter.

“Fall”, “Pinocchio” (two takes) and “Riot” were recorded on July 19, 1967, two days after John Coltrane’s death.  This tragic and monumental event shapes the nature of the performances of these works, particularly Miles’ solos.  The other tracks on the Nefertiti album,”Hand Jive” and “Madness”, are more extroverted and were recorded on June 22 and June 23, respectively.  Though this album may not have been conceived as a whole work (the amazing “Water Babies”, the sharp-edged”Capricorn” and the reflective, surreal “Sweet Pea” [this last a perfect fit for the Nefertiti album] were also recorded during these sessions and released years later, in 1976),  it comes together nicely and provides a general mood of near-mystical introspection.  The performances by all members of the quartet border on mythical, with Miles inspiring and encouraging his fellow musicians in reaching further levels of excellence.

This a particularly subtle, perhaps initially elusive, album — one that many will not fall in love with on the first listening.  Not as accessible as the previous album, the 1967 Sorcerer, it is often considered to be more substantial: pushing jazz into an unexplored territory that soon becomes part of the language of not only jazz, but rock, fusion, progressive rock, new age, and late twentieth century classical music.   Darken the room and give Nefertiti your undivided attention when listening, if not already a devoted fan.

Side One:
 “Nefertiti”  — Wayne Shorter  (7:52)
“Fall” —  Wayne Shorter (6:39) 
“Hand Jive” — Tony Williams (8:54)
Side Two:
“Madness” —  Herbie Hancock  (7:31)
“Riot” —  Herbie Hancock (3:04)
“Pinocchio” — Wayne Shorter (5:08)

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Fifty Year Friday: The Don Ellis Orchestra “Electric Bath”

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Is it possible that the first truly progressive rock album was not a rock album, but a jazz album?  For those that adamantly insist that the most adventurous and exploratory rock music of 1967 and early 1968 is really not progressive rock but “proto-prog, such prog fundamentalists often require that any music to be considered true progressive rock must display a relatively high level of musicianship and deploy mixed meter or unusual time signatures, 20th century instruments, a wide range of dynamics and instrumental combinations, effects such as tape loops or use of quarter tones, and extended length tracks painting a colorful, sonically rich landscape.  If we buy into such requirements, then perhaps we should consider this modern big-band jazz album recorded in September 1967 and released either in late 1967 or early 1968, to validly qualify as the first progressive rock album.

In terms of quality and excitement, The Don Ellis Orchestra’s “Electric Bath” should please any “Close to the Edge”, “In the Court of the Crimson King”, “Thick as A Brick”, “Selling England By the Pound”,  “Brain Salad Surgery”. or “Power and the Glory” fan.

A progressive rock album has to start with a fervently vigorous or otherwise bigger-than-life immersive track such as King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”, Genesis’s “Watcher of the Skies”, or the opening to ELP’s Tarkus.  “Indian Lady” is just that with its fanfare opening, a meter of alternating 3 and 2,  and a strong distinct theme running relentlessly forward, swinging ferociously with a indisputably bluesy orientation.  We also have sitar, electric piano, and most notably, Don Ellis on a four-valve quarter-tone enabled trumpet.

The second track, “Alone”, by far the shortest at less than six minutes, is a basically a samba, a musical form from Brazil that became so popular in the mid sixties, but in 5/4 time without any sense of awkwardness, but just the opposite, fully liberated and unconstrained.

Ending the first side is the brilliant “Turkish Bath” with sitar and a exotically distorted reeds sounding not so much like instruments from Turkey, but from an even more exotic location, probably from another planet in some remote solar system. Sitar and quarter-tones contribute to the appropriate balance of spices.

“Open Beauty” open side two of the original LP, and provides appropriate contrast and musical reflection.  Elegantly executed by the band, this composition is haunting, surreal and evocative, with ebbs and flows of intensity until a little over two-thirds of the way in when we get a tape-delay Don Ellis solo  which initially echoes with layered fifths and then more adventurously explores into more expressive and polyphonically combative territory.

The last track, “New Horizons” is the strongest, longest and most remarkably inventive of the album with relentless energy driven by a 17/8 5-5-7 pattern with amazing ensemble and solo trumpet passages.  The work unfolds like a story with contrast and subplots ending with explosive energy winding down into an emphatic, punctuated coda.

This album should appeal to anyone that loves adventurous and well-written, arranged and performed music whether their preference is classical, progressive rock, progressive heavy metal, be-bop or big band jazz.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Don Ellis except as indicated

  1. “Indian Lady” – 8:06
  2. “Alone” (Hank Levy) – 5:32
  3. “Turkish Bath” (Ron Myers) – 10:16
  4. “Open Beauty” – 8:29
  5. “New Horizons” – 12:20
  6. “Turkish Bath” [Single] (Myers) – 2:52 Bonus track on CD reissue
  7. “Indian Lady” [Single] – 2:58 Bonus track on CD reissue

Personnel

Fifty Year Friday: Jackie McLean “Demon’s Dance”

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Unlike most rock albums of 1967 and 1968, in which there is a focused effort to release the material fairly soon, perhaps partly due to the quickly changing musical landscape in pop, many jazz recording sessions of 1967, did not get released until some time later, partially due to the lack of commercial interest in jazz music at that time: the six tracks that make up Demon’s Dance was recorded in a single session on Dec. 22, 1967 and not released until October of 1970.

One can readily notice a similarity between the Demon’s Dance album cover and Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew cover.  Bitches Brew was released by Columbia records on March 30, 1970, and reached the number one spot on Billboard’s best selling jazz albums  by July 18, holding that position, on and off, for the rest of 1970.  Blue Note engaged the Bitches Brew album cover artist, Marty Klarwein to provide the artwork for the album cover of Demon’s Dance,  with the eye-catching result as shown above.  (Note that this is just a portion of the original painting — shown fully below at the end of this post.)

The music here is particularly ear-catching, with Jackie Mac taking a step back from his more adventurous free-jazz persona, playing modern, sometimes modal, bebop partnered with a twenty-three year old Woody Shaw providing intense, focused, clear, and often beautifully lyrical trumpet and flugelhorn and a twenty-five year old Jack DeJohnette providing dynamic, propulsive percussion with support from LaMont Johnson on piano and Scott Holt on bass.

The three hard bop uptempo tracks, “Demon’s Dance”, full of energy and intensity and enriched with variety by McLean, Shaw and DeJohnette, “Boo Ann’s Grand”, an excellent composition by Shaw, and “Floogeh” are certainly solid, top-notch performances, but the other three tracks are exceptional.

Woody Shaw provides a cheerfully, affirmative bossa-nova-based composition, “Sweet Love of Mine” that sparkles and includes riveting soloing by McLean and Shaw.  Cal Masey, provides the one ballad of the session, “Toyland” which showcases McLean at his reflective, thoughtful best, providing warmth and tender musicality with an appropriate introspective solo by LaMont Johnson.  The album closes with Cal Masey’s particularly intriguing “Message From Trane”, a modal composition with surface similarities to John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.”

Both McLean and Shaw are in top form throughout the album, providing engaging solos that can be enjoyed over and again. Shaw is particularly inventive with his well-controlled, crisp, clear, solid tone that makes him one of the great jazz trumpeters of all time.  This was the last of Jackie’s twenty-one albums for Blue Note (wow!!!) and the second-to-last U.S session prior to McLean’s four year break from recording and his departure to Europe.  As far as I can tell, the next session after this, again pairing Jackie and Woody, has never been released — which, making an evaluation based on the merits of the Demon’s Dance album, is a notable loss to the music world.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Jackie McLean except as indicated
  1. “Demon’s Dance” – 7:09
  2. “Toyland” (Cal Massey) – 5:24
  3. “Boo Ann’s Grand” (Woody Shaw) – 6:57
  4. “Sweet Love of Mine” (Shaw) – 6:04
  5. “Floogeh” – 5:23
  6. “Message From Trane” (Massey) – 5:29

Personnel

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