modaljazz

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

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

Harold Land ‘A New Shade of Blue’

The musical partnership of Bobby Hutcherson (vibes) & Harold Land (tenor sax) had become a true brotherhood over the course of several releases on Blue Note in the 60s. All of those records are worth hearing, and most worth owning. But there’ are five additional chapters of their story told outside of @bluenoterecords, one on Cadet (the outstanding ’The Peace-Maker’), one on Jazz Music Yesterday (1990’s ‘Blow Up’ which I’ve never heard), one on Muse (1981’s ‘Xocia’s Dance’ which looks terrific but another one I’ve not heard) and two for Bob Shad’s Mainstream label, of which this one ‘A New Shade of Blue’ is the first, recorded & released in 1971. Take the already incredible dynamic duo—the Hutcherson/Land frontline—add the rhythm section from Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi sextet (Buster Williams-bass and Billy Hart-drums) and inject some additional groove courtesy of Bill Henderson (piano/electric piano) and Mtume (congas) and you’ve got a killer line-up. Despite several online “meh” ratings (all of which I disagree with), there’s a lot to like (if not love) here. Blues, modal, hard bop, advanced soul jazz, and spiritual jazz flourishes abound, and this 2017 reissue courtesy of @wewantsounds sounds TERRIFIC. While I don’t have an original to compare, it’s a lovely gatefold with new session photos unearthed for this reissue, as well as new liner notes. The standout track is “Mtume”, previously delivered with a bit more urgency by Hutcherson/Land on Hutcherson’s ‘Head On’ LP, though the more deliberate approach here actually works beautifully. It’s a long, deep, modal journey that’s a terrific showcase into what makes the Hutcherson/Land partnership work so well. Digital/CD versions have a bonus track called “Dark Mood

Woody Shaw ‘Rosewood’

A moment of reflection for Woody Shaw who flew from this world 30 years ago today. Shaw was a brilliant musician with top shelf skills in many areas—an innovative and nearly flawless technique, perfect pitch, and a photographic memory for charts; in addition to widely admired skills as arranger, composer, improviser and band leader. All of these were put to the test on his major label debut ‘Rosewood’ and he passed with flying colors. There’s hard bop, freebop and modal journeys from a fantastic band, with notable work from Mighty Joe Henderson whose solo on the closing ballad “Maxine” alone is worth the price of admission. Sonically, this record is a beast—beautifully recorded. It’s also really easy to find, widely available across all digital platforms and readily available on vinyl for only a few bucks. While it received many accolades in its day—from Grammy Nominations to Album of the Year/Readers Poll awards in the music press—it feels under-acknowledged and often overlooked these days. Well if you’ve passed it over for some reason, do yourself a favor and give it a spin—it’s sure to please. Groove for groove, it’s probably my favorite jazz record @woodyshawlegacy