postbop

Jackie McLean ‘Demon Dance’

Don’t judge a book by its cover. The artwork on the jacket might give one the impression that the music within falls somewhere on the electric/funkified/psych-tinged end of the late 60s/early 70s jazz spectrum, but that is *NOT* what’s going on here. ‘Demon’s Dance’ is a terrific acoustic jazz record that sits right on the border of hard-bop and post-bop. On the one hand, it’s not as far out as some of McLean’s inside/outside records of the early 60s like ‘Destination…Out!’ or ‘One Step Beyond,’ which some may view as a step backward. On the other hand, I’d argue that this was progressive hard/post-bop of the highest caliber and very advanced, even if it was more accessible. The session is led by Jackie McLean’s alto sax, though the record could just as easily have been co-billed with young trumpet virtuoso Woody Shaw who has as many stellar, spotlight moments as McLean. Props also to the perpetual motion artistry of young Jack DeJohnette on drums, which blends swing and propulsion in equal measure without ever sounding show-off-y or heavy-handed. Scott Holt (bass) and LaMont Johnson (piano) complete the quintet. McLean and Shaw each contribute two compositions, and there are also two tunes written by trumpeter/composer Cal Massey. ‘Demon’s Dance’ was McLean’s 21st and final album for Blue Note after an incredible decade of releases. McLean would shift his focus to educational pursuits for the rest of the decade and then began a series of releases on Steeplechase in the early 1970s. I missed acknowledging Jackie McLean’s birthday yesterday and was reaching for ‘Consequence’ (Lee Morgan’s playing is just devastating on that LP) to spin and review, but as you can see from the album artwork, ‘Demon’s Dance’ does tend to draw the eye! This record has gotten ridiculously difficult to find on vinyl, but it is available on streaming services. ‘Demon’s Dance’ would make a great release

Wayne Shorter ‘Juju’

The exceptional compositions and phenomenal musicianship on ‘Juju’ takes every song supernova. Charged with energy, passion, and adventure, it’s often described as Shorter’s most “Coltrane-esque” album, and given the presence of McCoy Tyner-piano, Reggie Workman-bass & Elvin Jones-drums, no wonder. However, while Trane’s spirit is a clear (and welcome) presence, vive la différence: Shorter’s travels were with an occasional glance in the rearview mirror, returning to variations of his beautifully written melodies; whereas Trane took the scenic route, and would worry about finding his way back later on. Not that Shorter’s playing here is conservative—his torrents of ideas and emotions were equally relentless, but they were Wayne Shorter’s; even if he was playing with a big, bold sound that may feel like an homage to his mentor. Coltrane-isms aside, the overall vibe of the record is uplifting which I find inspiring as the day’s first spin, but it’s equally at home in the small hours of the night—you can easily lose yourself in Tyner’s spiraling piano lines and Shorter’s odes to joy. Everyone plays superbly, though the true hero is bassist Reggie Workman, the gravitational force providing the center around which everyone orbits. His bass is precise and muscular when necessary, driving to coalesce the team around an idea. Other times, his sinewy counter-leads duck and weave like an Olympic-caliber fencer, light on his feet and challenging the others to find an opening. Then there’s Elvin Jones whose power and dexterity on this record puts the full range of his skills on display—it’s one of my favorite performances from him, EVER. 1964 was some kind of year for Shorter, recording three classic LPs for Blue Note—this one, ‘Speak No Evil’ and ‘Night Dreamer’—as well as joining Second Great Quintet. Fifty-five years later, he’s still recording and touring…more power to you Wayne! This is a Music Matters 2XLP 45RPM pressing, which sounds AMAZING. Hard to pick a favorite among these 1964 albums but today, it’s this one

Booker Ervin ‘The Freedom Book’

“A Lunar Tune,” which kicks off this record—the first of tenorist Booker Ervin’s terrific “Book” series—embodies the essence of Booker Ervin’s work as a leader: if you want predictability, you’ve come to the wrong place. This quartet hangs together marvelously, though when I listen closely, I also hear them as a double duo—bassist Richard Davis and drummer Alan Dawson are tightly locked in a rhythmic articulation that dares Ervin and pianist Jaki Byard to prove themselves. Challenge accepted: as both were Mingus veterans, they were no strangers to finding a pathway no matter how uppity the rhythm section was, or creating one if necessary. There are also times such as during “Al’s In” where you’re certain that everybody is in search of the “1”, but deep listening reveals the truth—these guys are messing with us and playing a shell game of “hide the 1”. They know EXACTLY where they are! Though the balance of the record tips towards the energetic and uptempo, versatility is on the menu too. Look no further than “A Day to Mourn” (dedicated to the late President JFK) to hear how deeply and heartfelt this quartet/double duo can execute a ballad. A giant of a record, and a must-own (along with “The Space Book” which believe it or not is even BETTER and more exploratory). This pressing is a 2016 Analogue Productions 200gram stereo reissue of a session originally recorded on this day in 1963. Marvelous

John Carter/Bobby Bradford ‘Flight for Four’

Quite a record, but not for the timid, and if you’re looking for melodic, mellow grooves to begin/end your day, you might wanna look elsewhere. Be prepared to spend some time wandering the multitude of harmonic pathways herein—this is music for the mind. John Carter (saxes/flute/clarinet) and Bobby Bradford (trumpet/cornet)—both originally from Texas but transplanted to Los Angeles—discovered they were of similar musical mindsets after becoming acquainted through mutual friend and fellow Texas expat Ornette Coleman. Recruiting bassist Tom Williamson and drummer Bruz Freeman, they recorded this gem in 1969 for the Flying Dutchman under the supervision of producer Bob Thiele. ‘Flight for Four’ has become a bit of an underground legend—a marriage of post-bop and free jazz that packs A LOT into its grooves. The album is deeply conversational…dialog ebbs and flows freely, shifting rapidly from quartet to double duo to soliloquy and then back again. However unlike many freer jazz records, this one never explodes into an onslaught of high velocity honking, or descends into droning atonality. Instead, it has the feel of a complex murder mystery series, where there’s no one central character, no urgency to find the killer, and it’s never quite clear who is on which side of the law. Ultimately it doesn’t matter—the storytelling is so compelling you just hope it gets renewed for another season. There’s also a perpetual blues undercurrent that keeps things firmly in the realm of post bop jazz, even in its furthest-out moments. Ultimately, while this doesn’t always swing in any sort of obvious way—sometimes the pulse is thready—the compositions retain enough structure and players enough interpersonal groove that it rarely sounds chaotic. I still don’t fully understand this album, but I’m having a blast trying! Flying Dutchman FDS-108, stereo, 1969

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

Wynton Marsalis ‘Black Codes From The Underground’

So much has been said and written about Wynton Marsalis, it can be difficult to approach his music with open ears. His arc of ascent was remarkable—he was a teenage member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, then as a solo artist he quickly became an icon of the “young lions” jazz renaissance in the early 80s, winning multiple Grammy awards (in both jazz and classical categories) and capturing media attention with strong views on what jazz was/wasn’t/should be/shouldn’t be. The reaction from fans and critics was deafening, and depending on whom you spoke with or what you read, he was either the greatest thing happening in jazz or the worst thing to ever happen TO jazz. Yet somewhere between the balderdash and beyond the brouhaha, Wynton Marsalis—an extraordinarily skilled composer, bandleader and trumpet player—released quite a few killer records. This record in particular ‘Black Codes From The Underground’ caught my attention. It was described to me as having some shared DNA with Miles’ Second Great Quintet. While I hear that to a degree, to my ears this album evokes V.S.O.P., largely due to a busier and more virtuosic approach to instrumentation taken by Marsalis’s band. Marsalis along with his brother Branford (sax), bassist Charnett Moffett, pianist Kenny Kirkland and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts work hard to capture both your attention and imagination. Mission accomplished—Marsalis has INCREDIBLE technique and his band is equally adept at their respective instruments. Bonus points to the late Kenny Kirkland, whose piano accompaniment and solos are extraordinary; as well as drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts whose rhythms, counter-rhythms and counter-counter-rhythms keep everyone on their toes. The tunes are all interesting and have plenty of depth—there’s certainly that same spirit in exploring what’s possible with time and space that was so frequently channeled by the @milesdavis Second Great Quintet. It’s a gorgeous sounding recording too. Recommended for post bop fans, and an excellent point of entry in exploring the catalog of @wyntonmarsalis