modaljazz

Tyrone Washington ‘Natural Essence’

‘Natural Essence’ is tenor sax enigma Tyrone Washington’s “one and done” as a leader for Blue Note. Recorded 29 Dec 1967 with a formidable lineup of Woody Shaw-trumpet, James Spaulding-alto sax/flute, Kenny Barron-piano, Reggie Workman-bass & Joe Chambers-drums, this is one of those inside/outside records that grabs you on the first listen and then reveals itself even further with repeat spins. Washington’s approach nods to several contemporaries including Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson, though he’s clearly got some Eric Dolphy in him as well. The compositions are all really interesting, requiring a band of this caliber to pull them off so well. Even during the quieter moments, there’s a perpetual restlessness afoot that makes you feel that this band is eager to explore all the potential tangents within the compositional framework. A disappointing fade out and what sound to my ears like one or two unnecessarily shortened solos make me wonder exactly how far out they could have taken some of these tunes! While there are sharp elbows from time to time, this isn’t an avant or “out” record at all. I’d classify it as modal/advanced hard bop, with the occasional left turn into skronkville but those moments don’t occur very often. The last track “Song of Peace” is probably the freest. It’s an environment that Joe Chambers thrives in, and those who’ve enjoyed his work on some of the in/out LPs by Bobby Hutcherson or Grachan Moncur will enjoy his work here a great deal. Washington only made a couple of records as a leader, though he also did notable sideman work on Horace Silver’s ‘The Jody Grind’. He recorded last in 1974 before dropping out of music and finding religion, never to record again. This LP is a bit of a rarity on vinyl but turns up more often than you’d expect, and it is widely available across the digital spectrum. Don’t miss it! While not a household name, it’s a terrific, unconventional title that deserves wider recognition

Muriel Grossmann ‘Reverence’

One of my most eagerly awaited releases of 2019 and it has exceeded every expectation! Muriel Grossman’s ‘Golden Rule’ was one of my favorite (and best) jazz releases of 2018. On her new record ‘Reverence’, she’s painting with even more colors and a wider variety of brushes. The key word: POLYRHYTHMS. If ‘Golden Rule’ set out to explore the cosmos, ‘Reverence’ is about exploring the multiple heartbeats of the earth, while retaining a strong propensity for soaring skywards. The rhythmic DNA of each track sets the tone, and from there the melodies, interplay and improvisations are built, deconstructed and rebuilt, sometimes with subtlety and sometimes with a passion that’ll make your own heart beat a little bit faster. Muriel alternates between tenor, alto and soprano sax, leading her expanded group across the eight original compositions. The “newbie” of the group is Hammond B3 ace Llorenc Barcelo, augmenting her core working group which includes longtime collaborator Radomir Milojkovic-guitar, Gina Schwarz (no relation)-bass, and Uros Stamenkovic-drums. The digital album is released on 12/12 and there’s a limited edition vinyl available RIGHT NOW at RRGEMSRECORDS.COM but like her previous record there are only 1,000 available and they are going FAST. If you like the notion of a record that combines the spiritual vibes of mid-60s @johncoltrane, combined with rhythms that draw from African roots along with some interesting “drone” layers a la Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey to Satchidananda’ album, this album is gonna blow you away. It’s released a bit late this year to make a lot of ‘Best of 2019’ jazz lists which is a shame because it belongs there @murielgrossmann

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