jazz

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

Wayne Shorter Speak No Evil

Wayne Shorter ‘Speak No Evil’

Wayne Shorter’s entire @bluenoterecords run is great, but if pressed I’d have to say this one is my favorite. Every time I play it I enjoy it a bit more—I don’t know that there’s a bigger or better endorsement of an album. It’s everything one could ask for: thrilling compositions that are hummable, memorable, engaging and full of surprises; a band that plays with gravitas, swing and telepathy; and a recording that captures the energy, power and nuance of the session. If this were the first jazz record you ever heard, you’d have picked a fantastic entry point. Veteran jazz listeners return to it again and again for good reason. The year was 1964 and Wayne brought along 2 of his Miles Davis second great quintet band mates Herbie Hancock (piano) and Ron Carter (bass) who by this point had both stage & studio experience enough with Wayne’s music to knock it out of the park. Add firebrand trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and drum powerhouse Elvin Jones and it’s no wonder that ‘Speak No Evil’ rises above great. This record should loom large in every jazz collection. This is Music Matters MMBST-84194, reissued in 2015 and sounding SPECTACULAR

Kenny Drew Undercurrent

Kenny Drew ‘Undercurrent’

One of the most underrated, underdiscussed and underappreciated record in the @bluenoterecords catalog. Love to hear arguments for/against this notion so fire away in the comments. Breaking this down a bit further:
1. This is easily pianist Kenny Drew’s best album as a leader, though he’s better known as a sideman (“Blue Train” for example). He’s nimble and fleet-fingered, capable of dropping jaws during a solo but he’s also got mad swing and a gorgeous approach to balladry: “Ballade”, the album’s sole downtempo track and the album’s closer, is also it’s highlight.
2. The one-two punch of Hank Mobley (tenor sax) and up & comer Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) who basically say “screw fire & ice, how about fire & more fire!” Here in this pure hard bop context, these two have mad rapport with both each other and Drew, making for a captivating frontline.
3. They rhythm section of Louis Hayes (drums) and Sam Jones (bass) are relentless and dynamic, driving the frontline with freight train intensity—they’re not going to let the frontline have all the fun.
I suppose the title could set expectations that won’t be met—“Undercurrent” might imply an atmosphere that’s laid back or tranquil but other than the closing ballad, this is an uptempo affair. Don’t sleep on this one! This is a Music Matters 33RPM pressing MMBST 84059, stereo

Shelly Manne & His Men ‘At the Black Hawk’

Among the finest live jazz recordings ever. The tl;dr—excellently recorded and not a dull moment across 4LPs/5CDs. In more detail—drummer/bandleader Shelly Manne’s style is tasteful, favoring a less-is-more approach. He’s a true Jedi, controlling the groove and velocity with what appears to be a series of effortless, light percussive touches. Victor Feldman—better known as a vibes player—proves himself a badass pianist, with a sharp attack and keen sensibility for when to support and when to turn up the heat. The brass frontline of Richie Kamuca (tenor sax) and Joe Gordon (trumpet) are great players and even greater listeners, preventing what could have easily become a grandstand-y blowing session into a team effort that’s now viewed as one of the great live runs in small combo jazz. To my ears, the true hero of the session however is bassist Monty Budwig. His ability to anticipate the beat and determine how to make it more musical is superhuman. It’s a masterclass in LISTENING. You’ve got to hear it for yourself and while these records may not have the marquee value of more famous jazz combos, they are for the most part their equal and in many cases superior…I find myself reaching for these recordings often and they never fail to pull me in. As the story goes, after the first Black Hawk gig is was Manne himself who phoned Contemporary label boss Lester Koenig and told him something special was going on and he should grab a recording rig and come to the Black Hawk to record the remaining shows. Good call Shelly. Mandatory listening! “Cabu” from Vol 4 a personal fave

Don Rendell/Ian Carr-Shades of Blue

Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet ‘Shades of Blue’

A British take on the modal grooves of the classic Miles/Trane quintet. Get to your streaming service of choice and play the elegant cut “Blue Mosque” and the introspective title track “Shades of Blue” which should give you a good feel for going deeper. This session from Oct 1964 was the first of the “Landsdowne Recordings” from the Rendell/Carr Quintet who were amongst the best-known and highly regarded British jazz combos of the sixties—the first to play all original material which in the world of jazz at the time was a BIG DEAL. Like other original jazz combos in the mid 60s, the RCQ couldn’t have had worse timing as the Fab Four, Rolling Stones and The Who were driving jazz to the outskirts of popular music culture. As a result, although this was initially an EMI/Columbia affair this record was pressed in TINY quantities (~500), becoming perhaps the rarest/most expensive British jazz album EVER: last sold on eBay for a wallet-busting 2000 pounds sterling. So this reissue is MOST welcome…way more people have heard OF it than HEARD it. Kudos to @jazzmanrecords for what was apparently nearly 20 YEARS worth of work to track down the masters and negotiate the licensing for five Landsdowne RCQ titles, of which chronologically this is the first. I love how “Big City Strut” closes the LP—tight, uptempo, hard bop swing that you’d expect to come in for a predictable landing but noooo…just as the song winds down there’s a slight left turn into disparate melody lines which intertwine with faint dischord as the improv fades to the deadwax. That feels somewhat prophetic—as great as this session is, they seem to know they have more to say. A LOT more over the course of the next several records. Side note: trumpeter Ian Carr would later go on to form the influential jazz/rock outfit Nucleus, and write a widely acclaimed biography of @milesdavis Band: Dave Green, bass; Trevor Tomkins, drums; Colin Purbrook, piano; Don Rendell, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Ian Carr, trumpet, flugelhorn; recorded London, October 1 – 2, 1964