October 2019

Prince Lasha Ensemble ‘Insight’

Farewell London! It was a VERY memorable 36 hours. Feels appropriate to leave with another memorable UK session—a rare “in the box” session from Prince Lasha (alto sax/flute) who was living in Kensington in 1966 mixing it up with a British jazz cast including Stan Tracey & Mike Carr (piano); Rick Laird, Jeff Clyne, Bruce Cale & Dave Willis (bass); John Mumford (trombone), Joe Oliver (drums) and Chris Bateson (trumpet). However the SECRET SAUCE of the session is Dave Snell on harp which elevates this collection of standards and two Lasha originals into something truly special. It’s wild how the harp sounds so unexpected yet it fits perfectly. This is an amazing record, and for those who’ve struggled a bit with Lasha’s more challenging, edgy work (like the masterful follow-up ‘Firebirds’ with Sonny Simmons) this is something you could easily play without clearing the room. Much to my surprise, this session was for a big player—CBS Records UK (CBS-BPG 62409, stereo, issued 1966) though it never saw US release. The vinyl is elusive, the 2009 Dusty Groove CD reissue is around and a reasonable alternative. The two Lasha originals are the standout tracks but everything is really well played. Recommended

The John Coltrane Quartet Plays

Standing in the long, tall, wide, deep shadow of its predecessor ‘A Love Supreme’, this record deserves your undivided attention. Recorded in Feb & May 1965 with @johncoltrane doubling on tenor and soprano saxophones, he and his classic quartet proceed to make quite the exploratory epic out of Disney’s “Chim Chim Cheree” which—depending on how firmly it’s stuck in your head—is either the most interesting or most annoying tune from ‘Mary Poppins’. In a sense, the approach is similar to the modal masterpiece of ‘My Favorite Things’—a moment or two on the core melody and then toss the rulebook out the window. That’s where the similarity ends though. Whereas MFT was built on an undercurrent of joy, CCC is more restless. Unsettled. Busy. In search of. Occasionally chaotic. None of these observations are criticisms. If anything they underscore the depth and breadth of Trane’s artistry, and his ability to approach another popular waltz without necessarily repeating himself. This familiar-yet-different mindset holds true for ‘Brazilia’ as well—he’d debuted this song a few years earlier on ‘At the Village Vanguard’ but the studio version here is even more visceral, edgy and powerful. This track alone makes me reach for this album over and over again. The other two tracks on the LP veer closer to the spiritual questing vibe of ‘A Love Supreme’, with bassist Art Davis joining Jimmy Garrison on “Nature Boy” to add another layer of low end gravitas. Enjoy this record on its own merits, not in comparison with what came before. This is the 2011 Analogue Productions reissue, 2XLP 45RPM and sounding wonderful

Paul Chambers ‘Bass on Top’

Sophisticated. Elegant. Marvelous. I disagree vehemently with the All Music Guide regarding Paul Chambers ‘Bass on Top’. Not in its numerical judgement (9/10 is about right) but it refers to this record as “straight ahead jazz” and I think that sells this record far short. While there’s no knotty, angular/avant or out-of-the-box structures or compositions here, Chambers’ instinct for creating an atmosphere and savvy choice of material/bandmates puts this session a cut above. The lack of horns and prominent bass in the mix leaves much of the melodic heavy lifting to guitarist Kenny Burrell and pianist Hank Jones, while drummer Art Taylor is brilliantly understated in his playing and presence. “Chamber jazz” was the term someone once used when describing this record to me some years back, and I think that’s just about perfect. You be the judge—it’s an excellent listen and Chambers arco (bowed) playing sounds particularly EXCELLENT. The liner notes also sent me down the rabbit hole and when you absorb all that Chambers accomplished, it’s kinda mind boggling. In 1957 alone at age 21, this was his third LP as a leader, and remarkable to think he even had time for it in between playing on Coltrane’s ‘Blue Train’, @milesdavis ‘Miles Ahead’, Curtis Fuller’s ’The Opener’, Red Garland’s ‘Groovy’, Oliver Nelson’s ‘The Blues and the Abstract Truth’, Art Pepper ‘Meets the Rhythm Section’, Johnny Griffin’s ’The Congregation’, Lee Morgan’s ‘Vol. 3’ and other legendary records by Bud Powell, Sonny Rollins, Clark Terry, Kenny Burrell, Sonny Clark, Hank Mobley, Donald Byrd and Gil Evans. Don’t even get me started on what he did the years before (Monk’s ‘Brilliant Corners’ for starters) and after (ya know…’Kind of Blue’), only to succumb to tuberculosis in 1969 at age 33. He left quite the recorded legacy, and while I’m not familiar with his other sessions as a leader (recommendations anyone?) this record is a keeper. This is a 2014 Japanese reissue DBLP-060, part of the “From The Original Master Tapes” series which are mono cuts by Kevin Gray, and heavy stock/glossy jackets meant to replicate the original pressings. Beautiful job @bluenoterecords

John Carter/Bobby Bradford ‘Flight for Four’

Quite a record, but not for the timid, and if you’re looking for melodic, mellow grooves to begin/end your day, you might wanna look elsewhere. Be prepared to spend some time wandering the multitude of harmonic pathways herein—this is music for the mind. John Carter (saxes/flute/clarinet) and Bobby Bradford (trumpet/cornet)—both originally from Texas but transplanted to Los Angeles—discovered they were of similar musical mindsets after becoming acquainted through mutual friend and fellow Texas expat Ornette Coleman. Recruiting bassist Tom Williamson and drummer Bruz Freeman, they recorded this gem in 1969 for the Flying Dutchman under the supervision of producer Bob Thiele. ‘Flight for Four’ has become a bit of an underground legend—a marriage of post-bop and free jazz that packs A LOT into its grooves. The album is deeply conversational…dialog ebbs and flows freely, shifting rapidly from quartet to double duo to soliloquy and then back again. However unlike many freer jazz records, this one never explodes into an onslaught of high velocity honking, or descends into droning atonality. Instead, it has the feel of a complex murder mystery series, where there’s no one central character, no urgency to find the killer, and it’s never quite clear who is on which side of the law. Ultimately it doesn’t matter—the storytelling is so compelling you just hope it gets renewed for another season. There’s also a perpetual blues undercurrent that keeps things firmly in the realm of post bop jazz, even in its furthest-out moments. Ultimately, while this doesn’t always swing in any sort of obvious way—sometimes the pulse is thready—the compositions retain enough structure and players enough interpersonal groove that it rarely sounds chaotic. I still don’t fully understand this album, but I’m having a blast trying! Flying Dutchman FDS-108, stereo, 1969

Makoto Terashita Meets Harold Land ‘Topology’

Worth the wait! West meets Far East as @bbemusic @the_jazz_dad and @bacoso unleash the latest in their BBE Masterclass Series. This is an album *SO* rare most jazz fans (myself included) weren’t aware of its existence. As we all know, sometimes rare, buried treasures are notable simply due to rarity, and the substance is underwhelming. None of that here—the curators of this series have added another title to the top shelf of J-Jazz reissues. ’Topology’ was recorded in a single session on 11 June 1984 and released on the Aketa’s Disk label in Japan. The history of the session and the players is beautifully detailed by Tony Higgins in the liner notes which grace the gatefold of this double LP, which has issued at 45RPM for optimal sound quality (and I must say the sonics on this record are STELLAR). The opening track “Dragon Dance” (which also opens BBE’s fantastic J-Jazz Vol 2 compilation) is a modal monster. Beginning with a gorgeous solo piano workout from Makoto Terashita that becomes a full band exploration of ideas, themes and modes unfolding with perfection over twelve glorious minutes, this track is EXTRAORDINARY. It sets the bar incredibly high for the rest of the record. Great news—while not everything hits the lofty heights of “Dragon Dance”, most of the tracks come damn close. All were written by Terashita save one which is contributed by Harold Land, whose tenor sax work throughout retains the strength of prior decades—tone, speed and versatility are on point.
Bassist Yasushi Yoneki, percussionist Takayuki Koizumi and drummer Mike Reznikoff complete the quintet and are all great players, but this is very much the Land/Terashita show. So again, kudos to the J-Jazz team for spelunking this one out from the depths of obscurity to the world of reasonably-priced-reissues, and going the extra mile in sound quality, packaging (the obi is a nice touch) and liner notes that provide the additional context. Combined, it creates a completely great listening experience. Oh, it’s also available across digital platforms! One of the best jazz releases of 2019 thanks to all involved…don’t miss it

Terumasa Hino ‘Into Eternity’

Terumasa Hino’s ‘Into Eternity’ is an epic, visionary double LP that covers a lot of ground in the J-Jazz space. Dig the manic modal mood of “Mr. Happiness”…the fabulous flute workout during “Song of Bumiji”…the soaring, uplifting spiritual jazz realms of “Horizon” and “Eastern Egg”…the stark, forlorn musings that unfold during the closing ballad “Midnight”. These alone would make this a pretty great record but there are two additional centerpieces on this Japan-only release: There is the weird, wired, borderline-frenetic, quasi-fusion workout of “Cycle Circle”, which over the course of fourteen minutes veers between a 3500 calorie spin class and an LSD trip. Then there’s the highlight, “Ode to Workman”. This would be the third appearance of this track on a Hino record and the longest, clocking in at over twenty minutes. The piece made its debut on Hino’s 1971 LP ‘A Part’ which featured Reggie Workman on bass (that track also graces the excellent J-Jazz Vol 1 compilation from last year, as a vinyl bonus track), then again later that year on his live ‘Hino at Berlin Jazz Festival ‘71’ LP. The reading on this record is a masterclass in “the build”. Once you get past the mood setting (read: mucking about) in the opening few minutes, they settle into the familiar “Ode” groove after about four minutes. On this track, the core quintet is augmented by the addition of guests Isao Suzuki (bass) and Yuhji Inamaru (congas) who meld with the existing bass/drum combo to create a four-headed, eight-armed, rhythmic multi-beast. The dual-bass interplay here while Masuda goes APESHIT on piano is just ridiculous. All in all, an incredible J-Jazz album that’s a must for fans. The more I listen, the more I like which is about as strong an endorsement one can give. Lineup: Terumasa Hino-trumpet/flugelhorn, Hideo Miyata-saxes/flute, Mikio Masuda-piano, Tsutomu Okada-bass, Motohiko Hino-drums. This is a 1977 reissue CBS/Sony ‎– 38AP 670~1. For a Japan-only release, this seems to turn up with surprising regularity in the US, both on LP and an excellent CD remaster on the Mastersound series @terumasahino_official

Bertil Strandberg Kvintett ‘Cirrus’

Killer!! Another hard-to-find European jazz obscurity miraculously sees the light of day, and I’m starting to run out of superlatives for these reissues! Falling into the category of “notable because it’s rare *AND* because it’s excellent” the Kvintett on this LP is a hard swinging, post-bop group led by trombonist/percussionist Bertil Strandberg, who also wrote the title track. His brother Göran (piano) composed the rest of the tracks on the album. Both are top notch players, though bonus points are awarded to Göran for his inventive solos, creative improv, and terrific technique. Whether stepping up to lay down some fleet-fingered but thoughtful lines up front, or propelling the proceedings with powerful block chords, Göran’s presence has a “rightness” in his timing and the mix…he steals the show more than a couple of times. Not to be overlooked are the rhythmic anchor of Ove Gustafsson (bass/guitar) and Bjarne Boman (drums) as well as US ex-pat Ed Epstein (tenor sax). This Swedish jazz rarity was recorded in ‘73—against all odds in the wake of a massive snowstorm—and against all logistical and licensing odds (much worse than a blizzard) @frederiksbergrecords (in a real labor of love) has spent the last couple of years creating this first-ever digital/vinyl reissue. It’s a fantastic package—40 minutes of spectacular, moody, modal jazz that’s expertly played, the reissue sound is stellar, the packaging/liner notes are excellent and the @bandcamp price of $24(US) is a steal. I also want to point out the one outlier track which I may like best of all. The closing track “Elegi” is really unique with gorgeous, intricate finger-picking acoustic guitar weaving between a contrapuntal bass/piano piece that sets up a trombone solo for the ages—powerful, emotional and memorable. Don’t sleep on this one—prior vinyl reissues on this label like For Friends and Relatives” by the Christian Schwindt Quintet and “To You” by the Carsten Meinert Kvartet (both excellent) have gotten elusive

Sam Rivers ‘Involution’

Birthday boy Sam Rivers would have turned 95 years young today. Many know him for his brief stint in the sax chair in @milesdavis embryonic Second Great Quintet where he replaced George Coleman. Rivers would last only briefly (appearing on ‘Miles in Tokyo’) before being replaced by Wayne Shorter. Rivers then stepped out as leader and sideman for Blue Note, Impulse!, Black Saint, RCA, Horo and his own Rivbea label. Rivbea was a portmanteau of his name and his wife Bea, and also the name of their loft where numerous free jazz sessions were held in NYC during the 70s. This two-fer contains a pair of Blue Note sessions from the 60s: one is a quartet under pianist Andrew Hill’s leadership (later released on CD as ‘Change’) featuring Walter Booker (bass) and J.C. Moses (drums) recorded 7 March 1966; the other a sextet under Rivers’ leadership (later issued as ‘Dimensions and Extensions’) recorded 17 Mar 1967 featuring Donald Byrd (trumpet), Julian Priester (trombone), James Spaulding (alto sax/flute), Cecil McBee (bass) and Steve Ellington (drums). Both share a lot of musical DNA—an elusive tonal center, playing that stretches harmonic boundaries and timekeeping that’s not exactly built for clapping along. The compositions are complex and challenging—there’s a lot of “out” playing here as the knotty heads of each tune serve as a launchpad to some seriously ambitious and adventurous group improvisation. Dig deep—there’s swing and beauty though both can be elusive, and don’t believe anyone who says “it’s out there, but still really accessible!”. It’s not…certainly not in the way that Rivers’ earlier Blue Note records like ‘Fuchsia Swing Song’ or ‘Contours’ can sound like hard/post bop records with occasional sharp elbows. ‘Involution’ isn’t for beginners. Or those who are learning to waltz. This is challenging but ultimately really rewarding music. As I’ve previously noted, this beige-cover Blue Note Classics series is uniformly excellent—great pressings, informative liner notes and material that’s otherwise difficult to find. They are also often reasonably priced and pretty easy to find in the wild. Recommended

Lee Morgan ‘The Procrastinator’

Seductive. If it’s not in your library, it should be. Tied with ’Search For the New Land’ as my favorite Lee Morgan album, this session has star power galore: Lee Morgan (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). Carter, Hancock & Shorter were recording ’Nefertiti’ with @milesdavis when Morgan “borrowed” them for this session, so the freebop sensibility of the Second Great Quintet blends seamlessly with Morgan’s advanced hard bop proclivities. Add a generous dose of Hutcherson’s shimmering, percussive vibes and the result is an immersive atmosphere that draws you in from the opening notes of the title track to the final notes of “Soft Touch”. In between, you’ll find a variety of excellence, from the verbosity of “Start Stop” (that Morgan solo is 🔥🔥🔥) to the album highlight “Dear Sir”, a ballad that quests with the spirit of the Second Great Quintet. This album has a long, convoluted history which I’ve detailed in the comments, but for the time being digital ubiquity is at hand, so head over to your favorite streaming platform and immerse yourself in one of Lee Morgan’s finest records. This is a tremendous session @icalledhimmorgan @herbiehancock @wayne.shorter @roncarterbass @musicmattersjazz