Zumwalt Poems Online

Posts tagged ‘jazz’

Fifty Year Friday: Far Out 1967, Part Two

10-sun-ra-w710-h473

If one is looking to highlight the best representation of “Far Out” in jazz music, one may very well settle with placing the spotlight on musician and philosopher Sun Ra, more formally known as Le Sony’r Ra.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama in May 1914 with the more mundane name of “Herman Poole Blount”, and early on nicknamed “Sonny”, Sun Ra was a precocious and highly intelligent child soon writing his own compositions at the age of twelve as well as exhibiting good sight reading skills and piano technique.  Living in Birmingham,  he was able to hear many famous bands and jazz artists including Fletcher HendersonDuke Ellington, and Fats Waller.  It is said that Sun Ra, much like other gifted musicians like Wolfgang Mozart, had the ability to hear a single performance (in this case a big band performance) and then later accurately transcribe the music that had played.  He attended college for a year on a scholarship as a music education major, but dropped out: according to Sun Ra this being due to an extra-terrestrial  experience as initiated by aliens.

In Sun Ra’s own words: “They wanted me to go to outer space with them. They were looking for somebody who had that type of mind. They said it was quite dangerous because you had to have the perfect discipline. I’d have to go up with no part of my body touching outside of the beam….It looked like a giant spotlight shining down on me, and I call it ‘transmolecularization’ — my whole body was changed into something else…. I call that an energy transformation because I wasn’t in human form. I thought I was there, but I could see through myself.

“Then I landed on a planet I identified as Saturn. First thing I saw was something like … a long rail of a railroad track coming out of the sky, … then I  found myself in a huge stadium, and I was sitting up in the last row, in the dark… They called my name, and I didn’t move. They called me name again, and I still didn’t answer. Then all at once they teleported me, and I was down on that stage with them. They wanted to talk with me. They had one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me. They told me to stop [my college music teacher training] because there was going to be great trouble in schools. There was going to be trouble in every part of life….”

After leaving college, Sun Ra formed his own band, “The Sonny Blount Orchestra”, with intense rehearsals only surpassed by Sun Ra’s own committment to music. When drafted in 1942, Sun Ra declared himself a conscientious objector, ultimately ending up performing alternative civilian service, assigned to forestry work during the day and played the piano at night.

In 1945 he moved to Chicago, part of the wave of migration of American slave descendants from the south to the north and got a job arranging for Fletcher Henderson in 1946. He also had work accompanying Billie Holiday and played in a trio with saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and violinist Stuff Smith.

In 1952, Sun Ra forms a “space trio” and changes his name to “Le Sony’r Ra” — the trio later becoming an orchestra, the Sun Ra Arkestra, as he starts to simply refers to himself as Sun Ra.  In 1957, he and his friend and business manager, Alton Abraham, establish the “Le Saturn Records” label, perhaps the first African-American record label. From 1957-1966, album after album is released, with well over one hundred albums recorded during Sun Ra’s career.  Sun Ra’s catalog displays a wide range of musical styles.  Some notable titles include the 1957 release, “Super-Sonic Jazz” with some particularly unusual albums in the mid-sixties, including not only his free-jazz or more exotic material, but even more accessible albums like  “Impressions Of a Patch Of Blue” with Walt Dickerson, and the Sun Ra Blues Project’s “Batman and Robin”, both from 1966.

Less accessible, and one of his furthest-out albums, is his LP, “Strange Strings”, recorded in 1966 and released in 1967.

The first track “Worlds Approaching”, is brilliant — one of those original works that defy categorization: structured, somewhat tonal, dramatic, and ablaze with intensity and energy. This is music that might have really come from Outer Space!

The second track of the first side “Strings Strage, and the entire second side, “Strange Strings”,  share common ground with some of the “concert hall” aleatoric music (music that incorporates elements of chance) of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Basically, after assembling the widest and wildest variety of string instruments  including UkulelesMandolinsKotosKoras, Pipas and any other string instruments that could be located, supplemented by a sheet of metal, and miked “sun columns” (golden metal tubes with rubber bottoms), Sun Ra assembled his orchestra, the Sun Ra Arkestra, distributed the instruments, and told his musicians: “You’re playing from ignorance–it’s an exercise in ignorance. We’re going to play what you don’t know and what you don’t know is huge”, both acknowledging their lack of training and experience in playing these instruments and instructing them to perform music representing their general metaphysical ignorance.

It’s clearly music that would be more interesting to experience live than on an LP or CD.  It’s noteworthy that these are talented musicians, experienced in free jazz expression, and guided during the performance by some direction from their leader. It’s also particularly interesting that no effort was made to tune these instruments and so the result is extreme microtonal free jazz.

From a historical perspective, it’s important to acknowledge Sun Ra’s role in Afrofuturism and in asserting his own and others’ civil rights.   Groundbreaking individuals like Sun Ra and George Russell extended the role of the African-American jazz musician from on-demand performers to innovators, thought leaders and philosophy- artists.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

12″ Vinyl

All songs by Sun Ra
Side A:

  1. “Worlds Approaching”
  2. “Strings Strange”

Side B:

  1. “Strange Strings”

Musicians

  • Sun Ra – electric piano, lightning drum, timpani, squeaky door, strings
  • Marshall Allen – oboe, alto saxophone, strings
  • John Gilmore – tenor saxophone, strings
  • Danny Davis – flute, alto saxophone, strings
  • Pat Patrick – flute, baritone saxophone, strings
  • Robert Cummings – bass clarinet, strings
  • Ali Hassan – trombone, strings
  • Ronnie Boykins: bass viol
  • Clifford Jarvis – timpani, percussion
  • James Jacson – log drums, strings
  • Carl Nimrod – strings
  • Art Jenkins – space voice, strings

One of the leading modern composers during the 1960s and 1970s, Karlheinz Stockhausen is one of the fifty-plus people displayed on the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s cover, and the only musician or composer on the landmark cover besides the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

One of his most notable works, is “Hymnen”, a nod to various national anthems (it is divided into four “Regions” each corresponding to a national anthem) and was first performed on November 30, 1967. It must be a challenging work to listen to live; it is long and comes across as somewhat random: it is particularly challenging to listen to a recorded version.  The work consists of a recorded backdrop (tape) which the musicians interact with by improvising and following scored cues provided by the composer.  It is claimed to be a masterpiece by some, but like many of the products of this period created by Stockhausen and his fellow composers, it relies heavily on what the listener brings to the experience.  In a concert hall, with one being part of a seated (captive) audience, one is much more likely to engage with the music than if one puts on an LP or CD of this work.  For me, it’s hard to listen to more than twenty or thirty minutes without feeling compelled to switch to something else, particularly when having a fairly large music library of more accessible music.

Hymnen

Hymnen Recordings

  • youtube (Hymnen Elektronische und Konkrete Musik. Deutsche Grammophon DG 2707039 (2LPs). Reissued on CD as part of Stockhausen Complete Edition 10)
  • BBC Broadcast 2009  and 2016
  • Ausstrahlungen: Andere Welten: 50 Jahre Neue Musik in NRW. Koch / Schwann 2-5037-0 (2 CDs). Includes Hymnen: Dritte Region mit Orchester Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Köln conducted by Peter Eötvös (recorded 1979)
  • Hymnen Elektronische und Konkrete Musik; Hymnen Elektronische und Konkrete Musik mit SolistenAloys Kontarsky (piano), Alfred Ailings and Rolf Gehlhaar (amplified tamtam), Johannes G. Fritsch (electric viola), Harald Bojé (electronium). Stockhausen Complete Edition: Compact Disc 10 A-B-C-D (4 CDs)
  • Hymnen Elektronische Musik mit Orchester. Gürzenich-Orchester der Stadt Köln, conducted by Karlheinz Stockhausen. Stockhausen Complete Edition: Compact Disc 47.

01

There’s no shortage of far-out pop/rock albums in 1967.  In May 1967, Elektra records releases this narrative concept album (poems read over and integrated into a musical background) of twelve tracks — one for each of the signs of the Zodiac.  Like the the Sun Ra album and Stockhausen’s “Hymnen”, this work benefits from being played in a dark room or with one’s eye’s closed, however, in this case, the producers of this work made sure to include the instructions “Must be Played in the Dark” on the back of the album — and one is well advised to follow such instructions.

From its air-raid like opening to its tranquil conclusion, this album is exploration of 1967 psychedelia, far out, but within convenient reach of most listeners. Notable is the presence of the moog synthesizer, electronic keyboards, sitar, and jazz musician Bud Shank  on bass flute, all in support sixties-styled melodiously cool lyrics read in the most mellow delivery possible. The tracks vary in tone and style and are generally quite interesting  including the more progressive sections of music found in tracks like “Scorpio” with its heavy percussion, dark suspenseful bass line and mixed meter passages and the adventurous “Sagittarius” (also laden with interesting percussion work and a playful mixed meter riff.) One can make the case for this as being both the first rock concept album (it precedes Nirvana “The Story of Simon Simopath by a couple of months) and the first progressive rock album (coming out several months before “Days of Future Passed” and apparently a few days before “Sgt. Peppers.”)  To what degree this adventurous “Zodiac Cosmic Sounds” influences later concept albums, such as The Moody Blues’ “Days of Future Passed” which covers times of the day as opposed to Zodiac signs, is something I invite speculation on. Feel free to muse about this on your own time or in the comments section of this post.

Anyone who prides themselves on understanding the history of progressive rock should consider this album to be required listening. Lyrics are available here.  Album currently not in print, but available used from multiple sources and youtube.

b

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All lyrics written by Jacques Wilson

  1. “Aries – The Fire-Fighter” – 3:17
  2. “Taurus – The Voluptuary” – 3:38
  3. “Gemini – The Cool Eye” – 2:50
  4. “Cancer – The Moon Child” – 3:27
  5. “Leo – The Lord of Lights” – 2:30
  6. “Virgo – The Perpetual Perfectionist” – 3:05
  7. “Libra – The Flower Child” – 3:28
  8. “Scorpio – The Passionate Hero” – 2:51
  9. “Sagittarius – The Versatile Daredevil” – 2:06
  10. “Capricorn – The Uncapricious Climber” – 3:30
  11. “Aquarius – The Lover of Life” – 3:45
  12. “Pisces – The Peace Piper” – 3:19

Personnel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When drafted

Advertisements

Fifty Year Friday: Dizzy Gillespie in 1967

 

live_at_the_village_vanguard_28dizzy_gillespie_album29

First and most important: Happy Birthday, John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie.  Born one hundred years ago, on October 21, 1917 and blessing us music lovers with his presence until Jan 6, 1993, leaving a catalog of excellent to must-listen-to music for many generations of listeners.

I was lucky enough to see him live in Oslo, Norway in 1978 and hear him and his group play “Night in Tunisia.”  He was personable, relaxed, and loved being in front of a small auditorium of very attentive listeners.  The music was excellent and the time raced by.  At the end, I realized how lucky I was to get a ticket that very evening an hour or two before the performance, and thus be able to witness such amazing music.   I am also thankful that I had a friend, who earlier, in California, had persuaded me to go with him to listen to jazz artists like Sonny Stitt and Milt Jackson, leading my onto the path of developing my love for bebop.

You see, Dizzy was one of the founding fathers of bebop, along with other giants like Charlie ParkerThelonious Monk, and Bud Powell.  The recordings he made in the 1940s with Charlie Parker are essential listening, and are as an important part of musical history as the premiere of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” (aka “Le Sacre du printemps”), Alban Berg’s two amazing operas, or the British Invasion and the rise of The Beatles and development of progressive rock.

We are very fortunate that on October 1st, 1967, three sets of music were recorded at the Village Vanguard, the famous jazz New York City jazz club.  The Solid State LP includes three tracks, one from each set, with Dizzy, Pepper Adams on baritone saxophoneRay Nance on violin, Chick Corea on piano, Richard Davis on bass, and, on drums, Elvin Jones on “Dizzy’s Blues”, and  Mel Lewis on the other two tracks.  Later, Solid State releases two more LPs of material, which Blue Note later releases on CD in a 2 CD set.

This music is not to be missed, the musicians are excellent and the playing is riveting. If you want to sample the first LP released by Solid State, you can find it on youtube:

Track listing (all compositions by Dizzy Gillespie)

 

  1. Dizzy’s Blues (aka”Birk’s Works”) – 14:30 (This is edited and the complete, nearly eighteen minute version is available on the Blue Note 2 CD set)
  2. “Blues for Max” – 9:10
  3. “Tour de Force” – 9:45  (This is edited and the complete, nearly twelve minute version is available on the Blue Note 2 CD set)

Personnel[edit]

As great as this music is, I would advise to supplement it with another live album,  “Sweet Low, Sweet Cadillac.” The Impulse record label brings together recordings from three different concerts in May 1967, one in NYC and two in L.A. to provide another glimpse of what a Dizzy-led 1967 live performance was like.  The playfulness and charm of the master is captured as well as some great music. This is the only recording I have where Dizzy sings, and, though not at the level as the 1967 Village Vanguard recordings, this is a treat not to be missed.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Dizzy Gillespie except as indicated
  1. “Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac” – 7:17
  2. Mas que Nada” (Jorge Ben) – 6:15
  3. “Bye” – 1:15
  4. “Something in Your Smile” (Leslie Bricusse) – 2:40
  5. “Kush” – 15:50
  • Recorded at Memory Lane in Los Angeles, California on May 25 & 26, 1967

Personnel

Fifty Year Friday: Larry Young “Contrasts”; Joe Zawinul, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Stream”

Front Larry Young Contrasts

Trained in classical and jazz piano, playing as a teenager in R&B bands, then recording soulful jazz for the Prestige label as a leader, then switching to the Blue Note label, Larry Young records one strong album after another, including the innovative 1965 Unity album with Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson and Elvin Jones which includes a progressive jazz version of the exuberant victory march from Zoltan’s Kodaly’s opera, Háry János.

Young’s 1967 release, “Contrasts”, may not have the stellar personnel of Unity (Larry picks fellow Newark musicians that he knew or played with previously), but the musicianship and chemistry is excellent, and though “Contrasts” is not the classic that “Unity” is, it provides a magnetically engaging first side, and a diverse second side that includes a particularly evocative vocal sung by Althea Young (his wife, which as far as I know appears only one one other album, Young’s next Blue Note album), and ends with a free jazz track, “Means Happiness”.  Per the liner notes, Young was particularly fond of this last track, which is based on the word “Hogogugliang.” Unfortunately, an internet search on this term returns no matches, and I can find nothing that elaborates on the purpose or meaning of this track, except for the liner notes, which simply just indicates that “Hogogugliang” means happiness and is derived from Eastern thought.

Fans of modern jazz will not want to miss hearing the first side of this album, or the very tender and beautifully soulful version of Tiomkin’s “Wild is the Wind.”

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Larry Young except as indicated.
  1. “Majestic Soul” – 11:58
  2. “Evening” – 7:12
  3. “Major Affair” – 3:50
  4. Wild Is the Wind” (Dimitri TiomkinNed Washington) – 4:31
  5. “Tender Feelings” (Tyrone Washington) – 6:51
  6. “Means Happiness” – 4:47

Personnel

William Fischer  and Joe Zawinul were first introduced to each other in New Orleans, then, by chance, met a second time in Vienna (Zawinul judging an Austrian sponsored International Jazz Festival and Fischer working on an opera sponsored with a State Department grant),  and then once again by chance, met a third time at the Apollo Theater in New York where the got to know each other a little bit.  After some musical exploration together, in 1967, they recorded the music on “The Rise and Fall of the Third Stream” — the music composed and notated by William Fisher with one additional title composed by Austrian pianist and composer Friedrich Gulda. (Gulda also composed an interesting theme and variations on the Door’s “Light My Fire” and a Prelude and (jazzy) Fugue performed both by Gulda, and in an altered form during live concerts in the 1970’s, by Keith Emerson.)

Recorded in the latter part of 1967, beginning on October 16th, the “Rise and Fall of the Third Stream” is a thoughtfully composed and arranged album with a non-traditional string quartet (one bass, one cello and two violas), Joe Zawinul on piano, prepared piano, and electric piano, the composer, William Fischer on tenor sax, Jimmy Owens on trumpet, two hard bop jazz drummers, and classically trained Warren Smith on percussion.

Third Stream is the term composer  Gunther Schuller coined for music that blends elements of jazz and classical together, or in Schuller’s words exists “about halfway between jazz and classical music”, including jazz-like improvisation.  Although the title of this album seems to show a disdain for this term, the music embraces the concept fully, in the very best sense.  This is an excellent album from first track to last.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

  1. “Baptismal” (William Fischer) – 7:37
  2. “The Soul of a Village – Part I” (William Fischer) – 2:13
  3. “The Soul of a Village – Part II” (William Fischer) – 4:12
  4. “The Fifth Canto” (William Fischer) – 6:55
  5. “From Vienna, With Love” (Friedrich Gulda) – 4:27
  6. “Lord, Lord, Lord” (William Fischer) – 3:55
  7. “A Concerto, Retitled” (William Fischer) – 5:30

Personnel

 

 

Fifty Year Friday: Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington

Recorded in December 1966, released in June 1967,  and winning a Grammy for  Best Instrumental Jazz Performance – Large Group or Soloist with Large Group in 1968,”Far East Suite” is one of the finest concept albums of the 1960’s.  A collaboration between Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, as is the case with much of the Ellington catalog between 1939-1967, this work is a set of reflections of the Ellington band’s 1963 world tour that included visits to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, and then later, their 1964 visit to Japan. All the music with the exception of the last track on the LP, “Ad Lib on Nippon”, is inspired by their 1963 exposure to locations of the Near East.  This is not music based on music of those locations, but music inspired by impressions of these locations. The construction and quality of each composition blending crafted arrangements, colorful chords and chord voicings, and including solos that enhance and not detour from the arrangements, make this recording one of the gems of anyone’s LP or CD collection (the CD including alternative takes of tracks 1-3 and track 8.)

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

(All compositions by Ellington & Strayhorn except 9. by Ellington.)

  1. “Tourist Point of View” – 5:09
  2. “Bluebird of Delhi (Mynah)” – 3:18
  3. Isfahan” – 4:02
  4. “Depk” – 2:38
  5. “Mount Harissa” – 7:40
  6. “Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues)” – 3:00
  7. “Agra” – 2:35
  8. “Amad” – 4:26
  9. “Ad Lib on Nippon” – 11:34

Personnel

Billy Strayhorn initial inclinations were towards classical music, but the oppressive social barriers at the time made an entry into the classical realm much more difficult than one into the  jazz world. Strayhorn was talented enough to excel in either, and given the nature of classical composition in the 1930s-1960s, it’s fair to comment that the more meaningful and relevant new music was being produced as jazz and not the “avant-garde” school music composed for the concert hall and academia, which received limited performance and provided limited commercial recognition and compensation.

Billy Strayhorn was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 1964, and bravely fought on, continuing to compose, even at the end when hospitalized, with his last year including works like “Blood Count” and “U.M.M.G. (Upper Manhattan Medical Group).”  On May 31, 1967, he lived his last day in Billy Strayhorn’s body, but continued to survive through his arrangements, compositions and recordings, with this memorial album, “… And His Mother Called Him Bill”, a timeless work of deep love and respect from Mr. Ellington and his orchestra, providing an everlasting, very personal homage to this great 20th Century giant.

On the original LP, the last track is a fortuitously captured recording of Duke Ellington reflectively playing  Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom” with bass player Aaron Bell, however the chance recording only has one working microphone and captures only the piano portion of this private performance.  Later, a trio version of this was recorded, but the producer found the spontaneous version more emotional and selected that. Both versions are particularly poignant with the solo piano version more personal and the trio version more polished. One can get both versions either in the Duke Ellington Centennial Edition 24 CD set or in the most recent (2016) CD reissue.  The tracks on the original LP are all excellent and transcend any stylistic classification.  If you love listening to the very best music, whether classical, jazz, rock or anything else, and attentively, actively listen to music, not just having it on as background but diving deeply into its innermost fabric, then you will find this album enormously rewarding.

Original LP [from Wikipedia]

  1. “Snibor” (Billy Strayhorn) – 4:16
  2. “Boo-Dah” (Strayhorn) – 3:25
  3. Blood Count” (Strayhorn) – 4:16
  4. “U.M.M.G. (Upper Manhattan Medical Group)” (Strayhorn) – 3:09
  5. “Charpoy” (Strayhorn) – 3:05
  6. “After All” (Strayhorn) – 3:28
  7. “The Intimacy of the Blues” (Strayhorn) – 2:55
  8. “Rain Check” (Strayhorn) – 4:34
  9. Day Dream” (Ellington, John La Touche, Strayhorn) – 4:18
  10. “Rock Skippin’ at the Blue Note” (Ellington, Strayhorn) – 2:59
  11. “All Day Long” (Strayhorn) – 2:56
  12. “Lotus Blossom” (Strayhorn) – 3:52

2016 CD reissue

  1. “Snibor” (Strayhorn) – 4:16
  2. “Boo-Dah” (Strayhorn) – 3:28
  3. “Blood Count” (Strayhorn) – 4:18
  4. “U.M.M.G.” (Strayhorn) – 3:14
  5. “Charpoy” (Strayhorn) – 3:07
  6. “After All” (Strayhorn) – 3:52
  7. “The Intimacy of the Blues” (Strayhorn) – 2:58
  8. “Rain Check” (Strayhorn) – 4:37
  9. “Day Dream ” (Ellington, Latouche, Strayhorn) – 4:25
  10. “Rock Skippin’ at the Blue Note” (Ellington, Strayhorn) – 3:02
  11. “All Day Long” (Strayhorn) – 2:58
  12. “Lotus Blossom [Solo Version]” (Strayhorn) – 3:54
  13. “Acht O’Clock Rock” (Ellington) – 2:23
  14. “Rain Check [alternate take]” (Strayhorn) – 5:22
  15. “Smada” (Ellington, Strayhorn) – 3:21
  16. “Smada [alternate take]” (Ellington, Strayhorn) – 3:20
  17. “Midriff” (Strayhorn) – 4:35
  18. “My Little Brown Book” (Strayhorn) – 4:13
  19. “Lotus Blossom [Trio Version]” (Strayhorn) – 4:56

Personnel

Check out Must Listen To Music for recommendations of other classic works.

Previous Fifty Year Friday Posts:

The Beatles

Arthur Rubinstein/Pink Floyd

Marta Argerich and Carlos Paredes

Jimi Hendrix

David Bowie, Marc Bolan, John’s Children

John Coltrane/Jefferson Airplane

Thelonious Monk/McCoy Tyner

Hindustani Classical Music

The Doors

The Velvet Underground

Aretha Franklin/Simon Dupree and the Big Sound

Mahler recordings

Rolling Stones

Zappa/Beefheart

 

Fifty Year Friday: Thelonious Monk “Straight, No Chaser”; McCoy Tyner “The Real McCoy”

 

2evhqIn launching a Google search for lists of Jazz albums of 1967, one finds lists like this that include many fine albums:

1967

  1. Sun Ra: Atlantis (1967)
  2. Gary Burton: A Genuine Tong Funeral (1967)
  3. Sam Rivers: Dimensions And Extensions (1967)
  4. Roscoe Mitchell: Old Quartet (1967)
  5. Bill Dixon: Intents And Purposes (1967)
  6. George Russell: Othello Ballet Suite (1967)
  7. Muhal Richard Abrams: Levels and Degrees of Light (1967)
  8. Archie Shepp: The Magic of Ju-Ju (1967)
  9. Jackie McLean: New and Old Gospel (1967)
  10. Roland Kirk: The Inflated Tear (1967)
  11. Don Ellis: Electric Bath (1967)
  12. John Coltrane: Interstellar Space (1967)
  13. Frank Wright: Your Prayer (1967)
  14. Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Withdrawal (1967)
  15. Peter Broetzmann: For Adolph Sax (1967)
  16. Chick Corea: Now He Sings Now He Sobs (1967)
  17. Miles Davis: Nefertiti (1967)
  18. Don Ellis: Live in 3 2/3/4 Time (1967)
  19. Jackie McLean: Demon’s Dance (1967)
  20. Miles Davis: Sorcerer (1967)
  21. Gary Burton: Duster (1967)
  22. John Coltrane: Expression (1967)
  23. McCoyTyner: The Real McCoy (1967)
  24. Wayne Shorter: Schizophrenia (1967)
  25. Lee Konitz: Duets (1967)
  26. Paul Bley: Virtuosi (1967)
  27. Lester Bowie: Numbers 1 & 2 (1967)
  28. Paul Bley: Ballads (1967)

(from http://www.scaruffi.com/jazz/60.html#1967)

However, notably missing from all such lists (I have seen) is one of the best jazz albums of 1967, Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser.”

Why is this? Why do fairly knowledgeable jazz listeners fail to include an album of such exceptional music?

The clear-cut answer is that Monk is competing against himself.

By 1947, when Monk first started recording for Blue Note, five days after his thirtieth birthday, his style, approach and individual voice were already established, making those Blue Note recordings exceptional statements by a fully mature artist. From 1947 to 1951, many of the most celebrated Monk compositions were captured forever for all of us: “Ruby, My Dear”,  “Well, You Needn’t”, “Round Midnight”, “Evidence”, “Misterioso”, “Epistrophy”, “Criss Cross” and “Straight, No Chaser.”

Over the next two and half decades, as jazz in general continued to expand beyond Bebop with Hard Bop, Cool, West Coast Jazz, Third Stream, Post Bop, Soul Jazz and Fusion, Monk’s approach and stylistic traits remained relatively stable.  In the sixties, Monk was no longer viewed by some as a unique innovator, but rather, just simply unique. The innovation was there — not stylistic, but in playing freshly, honestly, and incisively, continuing to balance silence against sound and expressing himself naturally, logically and directly.  His music still evolved, but slowly. and more in terms of refinement than in alignment with the other changes happening in jazz.

By this album, “Straight, No Chaser”, Monk has established a continued level of excellence — connecting directly and succinctly. That this was one of the best albums of the year could only be overlooked by those comparing this music to Monk’s work from the late 1940’s on the Blue Note label, recognizing the historical influence of that music and finding no such historical significance in this 1967 Columbia album.

The personnel for this album:

Clearly, the quality of the only non-rhythm section soloist (Monk goes way beyond being part of a rhythm section, of course) is going to have a considerable impact on the overall merit and quality of this recording, and Charlie Rouse, at this point, after working with Monk since 1959, has become the ideal tenor sax partner.  In one sense, he is an extension of Monk’s brilliance, and yet he still has his own voice and ideas.

The album I am using for this trek back through time is the LP version without the bonus tracks available on the CD version.

  1. “Locomotive” (Thelonious Monk)
  2. “I Didn’t Know About You” (Duke Ellington)
  3. “Straight, No Chaser” (Thelonious Monk)
  4. “Japanese Folk Song (Kōjō no Tsuki)” (Rentarō Taki)
  5. “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” (Harold Arlen)
  6. “We See” (Thelonious Monk)

“Locomotive”, opens the album, slow and steady, initially creating a sound picture of a locomotive chugging out of the station and then giving way to one of those “every note counts” Monk solos, a solo that is cognizant of, and at points includes fragments of, the original melody.  Rouse solos follows with Monk accompanying and the piece ends in typical bebop fashion, repeating the opening section.

The fourth track, “Japanese Folk Song” is particularly of note. On the LP the length is around 11 minutes.  On the CD reissue, the length is listed at 16:42, indicating that the LP version has been edited.  The folk song melody that opens the piece is Rentarō Taki’s “Kojo No Tsuki” (The Moon Over the Desolate Castle), originally written in 1901 as a school-book lesson in “Songs for High School Students”, and later recorded in the 1920’s becoming a well-known tune throughout Japan that was so associated with Japanese nationalism that the tune was banned by the Allies during their post WWII occupation of Japan.

Monk takes the original tune and twists it with syncopation, runs and Monk’s own distinct dynamic approach to striking the keys. Rouse comes in playing the melody eerily evenly on the beat before journeying more distantly away. At the 4 1/2 minute mark on the LP we have the start of an extended, mesmerizing solo by Monk.  (I am guessing this is where the edit is, dropping out a solo by Rouse to accommodate the time limitations of the LP.)  The last 3 minutes Rouse and Monk wind their way to the finish with interwoven, intertwined, Monk-trademark counterpoint before a brief and satisfying coda.

“The Real McCoy” is McCoy Tyner’s seventh album, but please notice that the label is no longer Impulse but Blue Note.  Blue Note Records, founded in 1939, historically seems to be the label that takes artists to their next level and so it is here with Tyner, who had recorded his last album with John Coltrane in 1965 and was not aligned with the direction Coltrane was pursuing.  Tyner: ” All I could hear was a lot of noise. I didn’t have any feeling for the music, and when I don’t have feelings, I don’t play.”

Well, there’s not any dispute about Tyner playing on this album. From the opening upbeat, contemporary “Passion Dance” to the more traditional “Blues on the Corner” spiced with Tyner’s harmonics and his energetic, almost frenetic solo, this is an excellent album.

With Tyner are three world-class jazz artists:

I am often disinterested in the obligatory bass solo (whether that is once each track or even, as in this case, once on an album), but Ron Carter, is always exceptional as he shows here on his solo, in the introspective second track, “Contemplation.”

Elvin Jones was the ideal drummer for the many Coltane albums he is on, and an excellent fit for Tyner’s compositions and Tyner’s playing.

Joe Henderson made important contributions on Blue Note albums starting in 1963, appearing on important albums for Grant Green, Andrew Hill, Horace Silver and Lee Morgan as well as Larry Young’s incomparable “Unity” album. He shimmers and sparkles on this album with inventive, engaging and compelling soloing and ensemble work.

If one compares the quality of Tyner’s piano work to Monk’s, which, of course, really isn’t fair to either artist, Tyner does come in second place in terms of overall musical intensity and economy of expression. This is evident in the exceptional track “Contemplation.” From almost the beginning Tyner includes these short repeated scalar phrases (some would call this “noodling”) which, unfortunately, remind me a little too much of some of the soloing filler of the guitarists in the 1980’s hair bands, and is not so distant to some of the unnecessary busy-ness that one can even find in earlier pianists like Art Tatum.  This is only a slight distraction, and less annoying on repeated listenings of this track; particularly as Tyner treats this as an integral part of the composition and so once one has heard the composition, these quick spurts of adjacent notes become part of the performance’s fabric.

Putting such a minor quibble aside, Tyner has put together a diverse set of compositions. The modal “Passion Dance” is exceptionally vibrant and vital. “Contemplation” is an introspective ballad.  “Four by Five” is an aggressive, wild work starting with a 4 against 5 theme and highlighted by amazing soloing by Joe Henderson. From the Blue Note Liner Notes: “McCoy explains … ‘Four By Five receives its title because the melody is constructed as if there’s a middle -it’s in 4/4 on the outside and 5/4 on the inside. But we improvise as if there weren’t a middle; we improvise only in 4/4’.”

“Search for Peace” is a soothing statement about the value of peacefulness and tranquility.  The album ends with a casual, relaxed blues-based tune, “Blues on the Corner”, nicely wrapping up an album that covers a range of emotions and attitudes, accessible and yet solidly fresh, modern music for 1967 that is as engaging today as ever.

Track listing 

All compositions by McCoy Tyner

  1. “Passion Dance” – 8:45
  2. “Contemplation” – 9:10
  3. “Four by Five” – 6:35
  4. “Search for Peace” – 6:25
  5. “Blues on the Corner” – 6:05

Fifty Year Fridays

Stealing a page — no,  a series of pages — from fellow blogger, Rich Kamerman at kamertunesblog, the current administrator of this site will be posting a new post each Friday covering a single album from 1967.

In the meantime, check out Mr. Kamerman’s blog and these other review sites:

jazzreview.com

planethugill.com

progreport.comprogreport.com

classicalcdreview.com

musicweb-international.com

classical-cd-reviews.com

pitchfork.com

jazzviewscdreviews.weebly.com

progressivemusicplanet.comprogressivemusicplanet.com

jazzwax.com/

Please reply with any CD review sites you would like to recommend.  The more, the better!

Note from administrator

I’ts been a while since we have posted a new Zumwalt poem, but Zumwalt is alive and well and one never knows when one will receive something in the mail that we can post here.

Appreciate those that still follow this blog and in the meantime, will try to keep this site from completely vanishing from the google search engine by posting now and then.

For those that like music, there are a few pages on this site addressing that topic.  They aren’t easy to find, so I will call out one in particular: Must Listen To Music

The author that provided this page, believes that music is music, and that even classifying music as great, good, mediocre and poor is a worthless and impossible activity.  However, there is some music you should check out and this is what is listed here.

Whether you have heard everything listed or you haven’t heard any items on the list, you can do the author a favor and in your reply to this post, list music that you think the author should listen to.  If I just get one reply back, I will know this site is again attracting readers and can then maybe use this to entice Zumwalt to eventually provide another poem for us to post.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: