Sunday, June 19, 2011

Long Island summers and the need for jazz...

I have a habit of remembering mostly the good things from times gone by.  The '90s were sort of a black hole in my life. I lived alone in what would pass more for a shack than a house in Selden, NY. In the summer - wow! would that house get hot. On the worst days I'd head for the beach.

I remember one killer day in July I stopped first at "Record World" and picked up a cassette.  There was almost no jazz in my collection then, but that day I got the bug. The selection in particular was mostly for it's length (the vinyl version is 2 lps), since I could only afford one purchase. A budget release with more bang for the buck was "The Best of Miles Davis" from CBS Special Products; I owned it only for a short time, but it left a permanent mark on me.

What a way to get acquainted: Corcovado, Joshua, Summertime, Seven Steps to Heaven, Basin Street Blues, The Duke, Miles Ahead, The Maids of Cadiz, Someday My Prince Will Come, My Ship, I Thought About You, Will O' The Wisp, My Funny Valentine, Two Bass Hit, 'Round Midnight, Stella by Starlight although I'm not sure the cassette had every track. I remember being impressed by the overall breadth and scope. "Seven Steps to Heaven" was a delight to my sensibilities, I was not expecting the enchanting dirge that is "Basin Street Blues", the harmonies to "Summertime" scintillated, and the delightful creep factor of "Will o' the Wisp" made it an instant favorite. This was also my first introduction to John Coltrane. Outside of a once-through of "My Favorite Things" at a noisy dinner party, I hadn't really heard him before - but I knew what I was experiencing had to be him.

With blaring sun and no breeze, the beach wasn't a relief that day; my drink was hot within no time, so I soon wanted to leave; but I stayed 'til the album was over. Apart from the music, there was nothing real special about the day, but I'll never forget it.

A few summers later, "Record World" became "The Wall". Another facet of the shack in Selden was it's proximity to the Selden Firehouse (slash extravagant ballroom), which meant on patriotic holidays access to and from my house was blocked off due to parades. It became a habit then to run to The Wall and get a new cd an hour or two before the road closures. On one such holiday I grabbed my first digital Miles - the sizzlin' "Miles and Coltrane".

Nothing that bothers the critics about this album, in particular his biographer Jack Chambers, bothers me nearly as much. The frenetic tempos which Chambers seems to think are some sort of nervous mistake on the part of Miles, are indeed half the appeal to me. There's a certain urgency and wildness that is only sealed by Coltrane - who's in the midst of his 'sheets of sound' thing, and new drummer Jimmy Cobb who is the very picture of "on fire". Cannonball is at my favorite point in his career, favorably influenced by Trane. Mile's skills as both a bandleader and music visionary come across loud and clear throughout the concert. It is true - aside from his solo, you cannot hear Paul Chambers' bass. This used to bother me just a little, but the absence of that grounding only makes the faster numbers seem wilder and more 'out there'. In between the uptempo selections are "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Fran Dance"  - ballads which epitomize cool and showcase Davis' (and Bill Evans') lyricism and panache. 

Following the live set are 2 tracks from the very first recording session of the 'classic quintet' in 1955. Miles' version of  the Jackie McLean composition "Little Melonae" is an exercise in slow-burning restraint, hitting a mood that would not be touched upon again until "Kind of Blue". Of particular interest is Red Garland's weird, macabre and swinging single-handed solo in the lower register of the piano. Overall this track encapsulates and is a harbinger of the marvelous things to come from this group. Lightening the mood for the closer is an uplifting version of "Budo" - everyone sounds happy to be there and happier to be playing.

Columbia has since re-released this album as "Newport 58" adding the verbal introduction and the closing theme to the concert, and omitting the 2 studio tracks. Although re-mastered, reviewers still complain about the absence of bass. I'd recommend instead a used copy of "Miles and Coltrane" - "Melonae" and "Budo" - are essential. And really - who needs another 2 minute version of "The Theme" anyway?

Perhaps by association,  these albums sound and feel like summer to me. (In fact, the Newport concert was recorded on July 4th!) I think, however, that as the more austere music from Mile's later periods remind me more of winter; that where he was 'at' from 1949 to 1961 - all the wonderful moods and style preferences that are a running thread through each session - just align themselves in character to the many thrilling and memorable moods of summer. He'd no doubt scoff at such a summary, but what the heck, I'm a part time romantic. - KM

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

More CD packaging intrigue + Joel Dorn

Now that's an album cover. Back when this first came out - a friend of mine wanted to buy it simply for the humorous photo/title. I didn't want to spoil his fun by telling him I already had it. At the time I was a budding Sonny Stitt fan, teaching myself saxophone by transcribing and playing his solos.

In fact, back then in the late '90s, these releases from 32 Jazz only had some appeal to me. The peculiar packaging, with the chunky black plastic and the paper artwork glued on gave off an air of cheapness. They were, in fact, quite affordable compared to many other jazz releases. Most of the catalog were 70's recordings from people like Stitt, and others who the average Joe wouldn't know much about. (Perhaps one of the biggest boons to posterity were the many Rahsaan Roland Kirk releases they brought back to light.)

Finally, around that time, one had the false impression he/she had all the time in the world to pick these curiosities up and experiment with the non A-listers they seemed to specialize in.

Fairly recently, my mom said in passing she'd like to learn more about jazz. So this past Mother's Day I found myself being thankful for compilations like the one above, which have instant visual/emotional appeal. With that in mind, I just typed "Summer Jazz" into the search box at Amazon and voila. I liked the idea of so many different sax players - since everybody loves saxophone. Poor Mom (who said she enjoyed it - while doing other things...) got a used copy of the long out-of-print cd.

Since I now cannot get enough of either 70's jazz or weirdo media packaging like that of 32 Jazz, I ordered myself a very cheap used copy as well. Aside from the beach chairs, umbrellas and yellow throughout the artwork, the only thing outwardly summer-y is the first track, "Summertime" - done quite distinctly and baroque by the Modern Jazz Quartet. It's summer alright - but a different kind of sizzle - like a dog day in August when it's too hot and humid to do anything. The fine impressionism and ambient mood setting remind me very much of Vivaldi's 2nd movement for the "Spring" concerto, just add 30 degrees.

I was taken quite aback by the rest of the cd and did not expect to be so blown away. I can't stop listening to it. Compiled by label owner Joel Dorn and his son Adam, it is a joyous jazz feast for the ears. Standout tracks include an exuberant, elated and delightfully uptempo "Skylark" by David "Fathead" Newman, (I had caught him live around 2002 at Village Vanguard and dismissed him - this track sets things straight!); Eddie Harris is going for it (and getting it!) on "It Was a Very Good Year", the intensity and energy are very satisfying ; Hank Crawford soars and seduces with "Stardust", complete with luscious strings behind him; and for "Stay With Me" the flute of Yusef Lateef is romantic and lazy like a vacation, in nice contrast to all the horns. Not one performance disappoints - the platter (can I call it that?) is rounded out by Wallace Roney, Red Garland, Sonny Stitt, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Nat Adderley. If you like jazz (and summer, or yellow) you shouldn't pass it up - I've put some convenient buy links at the bottom of this post.

Joel Dorn was a positive force in jazz music and, from interviews I've read - an intuitive and loveable character. (Part of the charm of 32 Jazz cds are his forwards, printed on the inside of the case, behind the insert. Usually a story of remembrance, he caps each one off with "I'll talk to you later. Keep a Light In The Window".)

He began as a radio dj in Philadelphia, pestering and finally convincing Nesuhi Ertegun at Atlantic Records to let him produce. His first album as producer was a peach - Hubert Laws' debut "Laws of Jazz" (fine, catchy material and performances with a young man named "Armando" Corea playing piano). As Dorn's wiki page will tell you, by 1967 he was Ertegun's right hand man; signing and producing artists like Bette Midler and Roberta Flack - who won him 2 grammys - "Killing Me Softly" and "The First Time Ever". Fast forward to 1995 (you really oughta read the wiki page) and he's forming 32 Records, and later M Records and Hyena Records.

He reshaped jazz marketing permanently with his "Jazz For A Rainy Afternoon" series, a best-seller in the history of jazz, and spawning many take-offs from other labels like the successful one above. He died in 2007 at 65 having led a very full and fruitful life - putting forgotten recordings, artists and songs back on the shelves; inspiring others to do the same; and with the "Rainy Day" compilations, making jazz both palatable and desirable to a much larger and younger market - to which I say, Thank you Joel! - KM

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Chinny Chin Chin (live)

One of the radio favorites from the "There You Are" cd. We were playing at La Crepe en Haut in Ormond Beach - where we now play the first Friday of every month. This was a very interesting evening...Scott did not have this date in his book (oops!) so I gave the gig to Marc Koblick on trumpet, who happened to be there. Scott then surprised us by showing up with Gloria his wife, and his drums! - that last set was so nice. I wish our version of Cal Tjader's "Curacao" was recorded, it was entirely groovin'! This one is pretty happenin' as well. Marc is hidden from view in all the footage, but he is most likely playing what he refers to as his "main instrument" - the cabasa! lol

Thanks to Gloria for filming! Hope you enjoy & thanks for stopping by - KM