Posts by Syd

I’m Syd Schwartz, jazz vinyl enthusiast, digital marketing exec at Sony Music and Consigliere for the band Umphrey’s McGee. Posts here are ported from my Instagram feed @jazzandcoffee. DM me there if you’re looking to get in touch.

Curtis Counce Group ‘Landslide’

Bassist Curtis Counce formed his working quartet in 1956, and over 15 months they cut roughly four LPs of material for producer Lester Koenig’s Contemporary label. ‘Landslide’ was the first to be released in 1957 (also issued in mono as The Curtis Counce Group C-3526). All of the Curtis Counce quintet’s albums are worth hearing, but I’m particularly drawn to this one and the follow-up ‘You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce!’ ‘Landslide’ has several notable performances. The title track by Harold Land is a burner with an extra gold star going to Jack Sheldon—his trumpet work across the album is uniformly terrific but on this track in particular it’s STELLAR. (Side note—Sheldon is the voice of School House Rock’s “Bill on Capitol Hill” and “Conjunction Junction” for those with fond memories of 1970s morning television). The other album highlight is the quintet’s take on Kenny Clarke/Gerald Wiggins’ “Sonar” which to my ears is the album highlight. The quintet blends “west coast” cool jazz and hard bop brilliantly, and while each player brings their “A” game, please direct your ears towards Frank Butler’s superb drum work. Butler is *SO* dialed in to every moment, leading or supporting with a nearly telepathic ease. He’s not an especially flashy player, so when he steps up with a fill or roll to accentuate a moment, or when he puts a bit of extra muscle into his bass pedal work, it changes the vibe of the entire group dynamic and the feel of song. Remarkable. Finally, high marks for how well engineer Roy DuNann captured this session—every instrument is clear and perfectly balanced. Great listen! Curtis Counce (bass), Jack Sheldon (trumpet), Harold Land (tenor sax), Carl Perkins (piano), & Frank Butler (drums

J-Jazz Vol 2: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969-1983

Best jazz release of 2019! Yes, it’s only September, and there’s wonderful and interesting stuff to come like an unreleased Coltrane session and a deluxe box from Tubby Hayes. Earlier this year we had stellar records from modern talents like Nérija and Theon Cross. However, J-Jazz Volume 2 is THE ONE to beat and the bar is high. Since Volume 1 was my favorite release of 2018, my anticipation has been high. So, how does Volume 2 measure up? It’s even better, but hyperbole isn’t particularly useful. Here’s a bit of J-Jazz context: There is a small, dedicated, crew of subject matter experts about the amazing 1960s-1980s Japanese jazz scene who pooled their knowledge and talents to create two volumes of some of the finest jazz you never knew existed. They’ve curated some of the most musically interesting, rare tracks from the era and presented them in a beautiful package boasting excellent sound, fascinating/detailed liner notes and thoughtful sequencing. Interested? Well here’s the great news: it’s available across every streaming/digital platform, CD and vinyl…take your pick (oh, and @bandcamp FTW…vinyl + lossless digital=❤️). Multiple jazz sub-genres represent here: modal, hard-bop, spiritual, jazz-funk and fusion. Each track is its own highlight, and there’s no greater praise for a “various artists” collection. There is just so much great jazz here I have difficulty calling out any one particular track as being “the best”…the choices are all A+. This outstanding job in curation is what makes this collection so fantastic. I’m personally and professionally fascinated by algorithms for music discovery—when they work and bring to light music that might otherwise go unheard, their value is clear. But no algorithm in the world could have done what Mike Peden and Tony Higgins have achieved here. Their passion for and knowledge of J-Jazz has uniquely positioned them to create a collection that is *SO* satisfying in every way—from music to sequencing—that even hundreds of the brightest engineers at the biggest streaming companies in the world armed with limitless Red Bull and processing power couldn’t ever hope to come close. Essential

Wayne Shorter ‘The All Seeing Eye’

Without question the boldest album Shorter had made in the 18 months since leading his first album for Blue Note in April 1964. His tenure @bluenoterecords had started years before, participating in legendary sessions with Donald Byrd (‘Free Form’), Lee Morgan (’Search For The New Land’), Freddie Hubbard (‘Ready For Freddie’) and several Jazz Messenger sets with Art Blakey. His skills and reputation as both player and composer grew rapidly during that time, kicking into overdrive as he grew into his leadership role which occurred only months before assuming the role of tenor sax man and compositional linchpin in @milesdavis Second Great Quintet. So by Fall 1965 having led a number of now-classic albums like ’Speak No Evil’, ‘Juju’, ’Night Dreamer’ and ‘Et Cetera’, his aspirations for ‘The All Seeing Eye’ were bigger, his compositions bolder and his approach grander. This was a “concept album” about life, the universe and everything; brimming with edgy hard bop, chaotic modal grooves, and explorations that often tap into the dark side of The Force. The true stars of the session are Shorter’s compositions: their framework provides ample freedom for exploration yet enough structure to keep things from collapsing into into freeform cacophony. Shorter’s well-chosen band makes the most of this: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) Alan Shorter (flugelhorn) Grachan Moncur III (trombone) James Spaulding (alto sax) Herbie Hancock (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Joe Chambers (drums)…the largest line-up he’d led so far. These players sound truly liberated and inspired. The results aren’t for everyone (the three star review at Amazon has probably scared away more than a few folks unfortunately), but if you’ve got the patience and open-mindedness to take joy in the abstract enigmas of tracks like “Chaos” and the title track, this record may become a favorite sooner than you’d think. I find this a riveting listen @wayne.shorter @herbiehancock

Horace Tapscott ‘The Call’

Knockout. This record is relentlessly kicking my ass. It’s a futuristic big band romp in modal/spiritual territories with a swing *SO* mighty, you’d best be sitting down when listening, lest you be knocked flat by its gargantuan wallop. “The Call” takes flight immediately, launching skywards with gusto. It’s an intergalactic big band epic that—at times—reminds me of Hoyt Curtin’s theme music from The Jetsons. On acid. Powered by urgent drums and backed by brass amassed in a sonic wall of power, pianist Linda Hill’s solos elegantly, gracefully, playfully and awesomely. This segues into a serpentine, intertwining alto clarinet/bass led section with tricky interplay, but the pocket never collapses—the groove here is unshakeable. Moving on to “Quagmire Manor at Five A.M.”, a lovely, soothing, albeit brief vocal/piano groove lulls you into a false sense of complacency as your moment of zen quickly gives way to a frantic, double time rhythm section workout while Hill’s piano tears it up, leading into a passionate tenor solo that’s teeters on the edge of “out” but never falls off, another massed horn section, brief bass solo, then back to the vocal head. Phew! Fortunately you get a moment to catch your breath and refill the coffee because it’s time to flip the record! Side B opens with “Nakatini Suite”. If you think you’re familiar with it from Lee Morgan’s “Leeway” album, or perhaps from Coltrane’s “The Believer”, take your familiarity, crumple it up and give it to the cat to play with. Tapscott’s Pan African People’s Arkestra take the first few bars to construct it as a demented waltz for people with two left feet, and then take the next nine minutes to explore its melodic potential. Gorgeous. The album closes with “Peyote Song No. III”, a large scale modal exploration a la mid 60s Impulse-era Coltrane. Deep, introspective, searching and beautiful playing abounds. So yeah…I’m completely smitten by this record. Originals from 1978 on Nimbus West are difficult to find but the recent @outernationalsounds reissue is widely available, inexpensive and sounds good

Charles Tolliver’s Music Inc.

Full-contact jazz that challenges every big band cliché. Way beyond one giant swing-a-long, you’ve got a core quartet of Charles Tolliver (trumpet) Stanley Cowell (piano) Cecil McBee (bass) and Jimmy Hopps (drums) going toe-to-toe with a thirteen-piece brass section. The core four handle the majority of the solos while the big band summon a tsunami of sound, sometimes supporting and sometimes challenging the quartet in a battle of groove. Props to bassist Cecil McBee, who to my ears is the hero of the session, laying down sinewy, elastic bass lines that are a masterclass in soulful inspiration. This record sounds modern, fresh and HUGE. Music Inc. was recently reissued by @purepleasurerecords. The original was the debut release on Strata East, Tolliver/Cowell’s artist-oriented label of the 1970s. Brilliant stuff. The big band: Jimmy Heath, Clifford Jordan, Bobby Brown, Wilbur Brown (saxes); Richard Williams, Virgil Jones, Larry Greenwich, Danny Moore (trumpets); Garnett Brown, Curtis Fuller, John Gordon, Dick Griffin (trombones); Howard Johnson (tuba, baritone sax

Kenny Dorham/Jackie McLean ‘Inta Somethin’

Great set of advanced hard bop recorded live at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco 13 Nov 1961. The set is mostly standards, plus a blues-based original and (most notably) the first appearance of Dorham’s “Us” (aka “Una Mas”) which he’d truly nail in April ’63 with Mighty Joe Henderson in the sax chair. But back to Nov ’61, the Dorham/McLean frontline work marvelously together. McLean—who was definitely wearing a bit of Coltrane on his sleeve that night—was slowly inching towards the more progressive sounds he’d find in 1963, and Dorham was also enjoying the edges of hard bop but there aren’t yet many sharp angles in their playing. Instead, they channel their more adventurous impulses into intensity, with “Lover Man” and “It Could Happen To You” being exceptionally well-played. All-star points to pianist Walter Bishop Jr. who sounds like he’s been playing with these guys for years. Bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Art Taylor bring plenty of finesse and swing—if you like your hard bop served up sizzling, you’ll be happy the tape was rolling that night. This is Japanese reissue from 1978 via King Records GXF-3119 of Pacific Jazz PJ-41, stereo

Duke Pearson ‘The Right Touch’

One of pianist Duke Pearson’s best sessions that leverages his full range of talents—great songwriting, excellent playing, clever arrangements and leading a top shelf octet: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), James Spaulding (alto sax), Jerry Dodgion (alto sax/flute), Stanley Turrentine (tenor sax), Garnett Brown (trombone), Gene Taylor (bass) & Grady Tate (drums). There is a LOT of star power on the frontline and Pearson develops its potential—you get the kickass solos you’d expect from names like Hubbard or Turrentine but the arrangements keep things tight and focused. No meandering, no grandstanding. This original pressing (BST 84267, VAN GELDER in the dead wax) was clearly well-loved by its previous owner. Worn but still sounds pretty good. Happy birthday Duke Pearson

Don Rendell Ian Carr Change Is

Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet ‘Change Is’

Toto, we’re not in Landsdowne anymore. Well, OK we are, but this record shows that we’ve come quite a distance from where we started with ‘Shades of Blue’. ‘Change Is…’ would be the fifth and final album from the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet. At this point, they’d developed a bit of seven-year itch (after only five years!) and had decided to “see other people”…we all know how that usually ends. Rendell would soon form his own outfit and Carr would spin up his groundbreaking proto-fusion combo Nucleus. Yet they clearly had enough fuel in the tank for another go as the RCQ, augmented by a few guests: Mike Pyne (piano), Jeff Clyne (bass), Stan Robinson (sax) and Guy Warren (percussion); joining the core quintet of Carr (trumpet/flugelhorn), Rendell (tenor/soprano sax, flute), Michael Garrick (piano), Dave Green (bass) & Trevor Tompkins (drums). The music here builds upon their British take on modal/hard bop developed over the past four records, retaining an audible measure of swing but adding even more colors to the sonic palette (world music anyone?) while taking more liberties with rhythm and structure. One only has to hear the sinewy, contrapuntal bass dance between Dave Green and Jeff Clyne (another example of a “are those cobras fighting or fucking?” moments) to know that if this was their swan song, they were going out on a high. And hey…after five great-to-brilliant records and a LOT of guts in being the first British jazz act to cut all-original material in an increasingly jazz-unfriendly landscape, they went out on top. Well played gents. So high marks for playing, compositions AND this Jazzman reissue, now widely available after some initial stock shortages earlier this year. It’s a near-exact replica of an original, and at around $25US for an excellent transfer from the masters, it’s a great buy vs the $800 the last one in mint condition sold for on eBay. Also available digitally. Highly recommended, though those new to the Rendell/Carr Quintet or British jazz in general are advised to start with ‘Shades of Blue’ first, then ‘Dusk Fire @jazzmanrecords

Clark Terry

Continued excellence from SAM records! Clark Terry (trumpet) leads several of his fellow Duke Ellington Orchestra colleagues through three originals (“Serenade to a Bus Seat” is especially terrific) and a few standards. This session was recorded in Paris circa October 1959 and released in 1960 as Decca 153.924. Paul Gonsalves (tenor sax) is a well-matched sparring partner for Terry, and they’ve got a fantastic rhythm section that includes Raymond Fol (piano), Jimmy Woode (bass), and G. T. Hogan (drums). The opening, ten-plus minute track is a laid back masterclass in building narrative—it’s clear that everybody arrived with their “A” game—and whether romping through Monk’s “Pannonica Ou Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 No 2” or Ellington’s “Satin Doll”, this quintet is eager to showcase their skills beyond their work with the Ellington Orchestra. So the music is great, but that’s only half of it… @samrecordsfr has a well-earned reputation for EXTREMELY high quality vinyl reissues and this one is no exception. Remastered from the original tapes on 180gram vinyl with a glossy, flipback album jacket, this is a near-perfect reproduction of the original, and includes a double insert with a great shot by original photographer JP Leloir. They also inspect each record by hand to check for defects—this one as well as any other Sam Records reissue I’ve gotten has been perfect…centered, flat and quiet. Sonics are top shelf. Highly recommended but act quickly as this edition is limited to 2000 copies worldwide, and previous Sam Records editions have sold out and secondary market prices have gone WAY up

Jackie McLean One Step Beyond

Jackie McLean ‘One Step Beyond’

Mysterious. Innovative. Gripping. Endlessly fascinating. Jackie McLean’s ‘One Step Beyond’ is the first in a loose “trio” of albums that includes McLean’s ‘Destination…Out!’ and trombonist Grachan Moncur’s ‘Evolution’ as they all share quite a bit of musical DNA and personnel. I hesitate to call them a trilogy as I’m not certain that was anyone’s artistic intent, though hearing them together in any sequence feels like a “whole” listening experience. This album is extremely well-titled: McLean had clearly heard the war cries of Ornette Coleman and @johncoltrane pushing the boundaries of modal jazz, and this session reflects McLean’s desire to put his own stamp on their approach by keeping hard bop in the mix and forming a unique melodic frontline (vibes, trombone and alto) who create that mysterious atmosphere that does feel “beyond”. Trombonist Grachan Moncur’s two compositions have an eerie, somewhat dark approach and an occasional unsettling undercurrent (“Ghost Town” is well-titled) that veer into somewhat disonnant territory—the band isn’t exactly out to lunch here, but definitely waiting for a table. McLean’s two songs go down a bit smoother, but just a bit—his alto still retains its acerbic bite and the while the structures and playing are rooted in blues/hard bop, it’s swing with sharp elbows. Bobby Hutcherson wields two instruments of power: vibraphone and space. The effortlessness with which he wields both is often mind-blowing. While bassist Eddie Khan holds the rhythmic ebb and flow accountable, he and the rest of the group are perpetually challenged, underscored by, and inspired by 17 year old drummer Tony Williams. In particular, the dialogue between Williams and Hutcherson is MESMERIZING and sounds especially clear on this Music Matters 45RPM 2XLP edition. This is one helluva band, and they made one helluva record. For awhile, I was obsessed with ‘Destination…Out!’ and thought it was the best of the three. Then I got sucked into the vortex of Moncur’s ‘Evolution’ and that LP rose to the top of the heap. Guess which record is in heavy rotation now?