November 2019

Sam Rivers ‘Fuchsia Swing Song’

Some of my fave jazz records are those that never quite stray specifically into free or “out” playing, but hover right on the edge…sessions where the players experiment with the boundaries of melody, harmony and time while never losing sight of the groove. Enter ‘Fuchsia Swing Song’, a record that oozes hard bop and blues, but morphs them into mutant versions of themselves—recognizable, but different. This was tenor sax/flautist Sam Rivers’ debut for Blue Note, having just come from a brief stint in the sax chair in @milesdavis Second Great Quintet. Miles didn’t find what he was looking for in Rivers and replaced him with Wayne Shorter, but Rivers borrowed a couple of his bandmates from his brief stint with Miles for this session. Joining Rivers is Ron Carter (bass) and Tony Williams (drums) from the SGQ as well as Jaki Byard (piano) to complete his quartet. There’s a lot going on here—the dialogues between the players can move pretty rapidly and it may take a couple of spins for everything (or anything) to sink in. Moments that start out as a toe-tapping, blues-based theme can turn on a dime, the structure blurring as one player deviates from the path and others follow. Tony Williams in particular is fond of implying the beat and then toying with it…his sense of playfulness adds a LOT to the overall vibe as it keeps everyone on their toes. Jaki Byard has a knack for dropping the perfect block chord at just the right time to accentuate a point or change the tone of the conversation, and Williams is right there with him…it’s really impressive. Through all the intricacies, looser moments and flirtations with throwing the rule book out the window, the album still swings pretty hard. Both this and Rivers’ follow-up LP ‘Contours’ are essential records IMO, and great places to start for those looking to dip their toes into edgier jazz waters. This is a 2 X LP 45RPM pressing that sounds FANTASTIC

Grant Green ‘Born to Be Blue’

Another must-own title from the Tone Poet series. More specifically: Here we have Green paired with one of his best melodic foils, pianist Sonny Clark. If you’ve not heard their quartet work together (four LPs, all of which are essential) stop what you’re doing right now and right that wrong. The Green/Clark symmetry is superb, bordering on magical. Add tenor sax ace Ike Quebec (whom Green had also done several sessions with), power the affair with the Sam Jones (bass)/Louis Hayes (drums) engine, and you’ve got a ticket to hard bop heaven with tight, turn-on-a-dime, conversational interplay. Take the title track for instance: a smokey, dimly-lit scene is setup by Quebec and Clark. Quebec’s playing is pensive. Measured. Heartfelt. As he seeks a silver lining in his world-weariness, Green begins to quietly make his presence known, gently arpeggiating a couple of chords before commenting on Quebec’s parting thoughts with clean, single-line precision. Then Quebec claps back with a forceful, anguished wail before adding a few final musings. He and Clark gently bring this soul-searching ballad to a close before Quebec’s final words, and Clark sends everyone back into a misty night…no happier, no wiser, but perhaps a bit more resolute. An achingly beautiful ballad that’s superbly delivered by this quintet. There’s an interesting alternate take on the digital version that doesn’t carry nearly the same emotional impact for those who care to compare. Great job by Joe & the Tone Poet team—great sound, lovely packaging and the price is right. I’m pleased to see this continued focus on sessions that were shelved when originally recorded like Wayne Shorter’s ‘Etcetera’ and Donald Byrd’s ‘Chant’. Often their initial appearance in the 1980s wasn’t exactly with much fanfare, and the cover art used in that series was—compared to the inspiring photos and art of @bluenoterecords heyday—crap. That wrong has now been righted. This one was recorded in March 1962 but put on ice until 1985. Highest recommendation

Umphrey’s McGee Hall of Fame 2018

Why are @umphreysmcgee the most relentlessly exciting, improv-oriented rock band out there? Easy: they’re masterful players, clever songwriters and extraordinary improvisers who draw from both a wide array of influences, and deep bench of covers. In other words, one’s attention tends not to waver at an Umphrey’s McGee concert…go see them and you’ll see what I mean. But if a gig is not in your immediate future, this collection highlights roughly 4.5 hours of top shelf moments from the ~85 gigs the band did in 2018, as chosen by online fan voting and band input. The annual Hall of Fame release—now in its ninth year—is a deep dive into what makes a night with Umphrey’s McGee special. The tracks run the gamut from groovy dance throw-downs to soaring tension/release workouts with the kind of instrumental high wire acts that reduce aspiring air guitarists to dislocated fingers and broken dreams. Hard to pick a highlight among highlights but I am drawn to “Wizard Burial Ground”—a full contact instrumental cage match between Dream Theater, Yes and Deep Purple that should be the fight song for the Slytherin Quidditch team. Then there’s the demented rave-up of “Phil’s Farm” which evolves into an intricate soul stew with on-the-fly instrumental *AND* lyrical interplay that’s pretty much the reason why people drive long distances to go see this band night after night. The aesthetics of this years vinyl are sharp—that lurid red vinyl almost pulsates on the platter

John Coltrane ‘Coltrane’s Sound’

Coltrane’s studio work in the final week of Oct 1960 produced the acclaimed and hugely popular ‘My Favorite Things’, the lesser-known but essential ‘Coltrane Plays the Blues’, and the middle child whose strengths and qualities have only become more apparent over the years, ‘Coltrane’s Sound’. I could pontificate about the track “Equinox” for hours—far and away my favorite @johncoltrane original, and one of my favorite jazz songs, EVER. The emotional wallop this tune packs knocks me flat every time. The power, gravitas and solemnity that pours forth from the speakers when this song plays is felt as much as heard. If it doesn’t give you the feels, see a doctor immediately. The other three originals and two standards are also amazingly played, and I underscore the word “amazing” because this is only the THIRD TIME pianist McCoy Tyner and the SECOND TIME drummer Elvin Jones had recorded with ‘Trane. It’s certainly fun to over-analyze the three albums that these sessions produced, comparing, contrasting and discussing them to rank them within the pantheon of Coltrane’s @atlanticrecords era. When I’m in that frame of mind, I tend to reach for this album more often than the other two. But ultimately it’s more satisfying to consider them as one body of work and play them all! This pressing is a Japanese reissue, mono, part of the Jazz Analog Premium Collection produced by Kouki Hanawa WPJR-10053/Atlantic ‎– 1419 @mccoytyner

Bobby Hutcherson ‘Stick up’

Tight! Marvelous post bop/hard bop set from leader Bobby Hutcherson who leads a razor sharp ensemble across five originals and a take on Ornette Coleman’s “Una Muy Bonita”. Stylistically this one takes a more straightforward approach than say ‘Components’ or ‘Dialogue’. The band: Bobby Hutcherson-vibes, Joe Henderson-tenor sax, McCoy Tyner-piano, Herbie Lewis-bass, Billy Higgins-drums. The MVP: Billy Higgins, who leans into the groove with gusto, putting more emphasis on swing rather than intricacy. On tracks like “8/4” his deft touch doesn’t require heavy-handedness to keep the groove locked, and that light touch makes it effortless for him to drop into tricky, interlocking unison lines with the rest of the band and before banking right back to swingtown. Masterful. That highwire act is followed by the languid “Summer Nights” which floats with a serenity that’s atmospheric and almost fragile—I find myself holding my breath for fear of disturbing the mood. Don’t let a sense of complacency set in however as “Black Circle” dives into some adventurous spaces without ever going fully “out” or bringing a sense of abrasiveness to the sonic palette. You’d never know from listening to this gem that this was Hutch and Tyner’s first studio session together—they’re as simpatico as peanut butter & jam. Jam being the operative word here, as Tyner’s long-running partnership with Henderson allows for buttery smooth handoffs between them and Hutch. This is a terrific session, originally recorded 14 July 1966 and released in April 1968