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.

Sam Rivers ‘Fuchsia Swing Song’

Some of my fave jazz records are those that never quite stray specifically into free or “out” playing, but hover right on the edge…sessions where the players experiment with the boundaries of melody, harmony and time while never losing sight of the groove. Enter ‘Fuchsia Swing Song’, a record that oozes hard bop and blues, but morphs them into mutant versions of themselves—recognizable, but different. This was tenor sax/flautist Sam Rivers’ debut for Blue Note, having just come from a brief stint in the sax chair in @milesdavis Second Great Quintet. Miles didn’t find what he was looking for in Rivers and replaced him with Wayne Shorter, but Rivers borrowed a couple of his bandmates from his brief stint with Miles for this session. Joining Rivers is Ron Carter (bass) and Tony Williams (drums) from the SGQ as well as Jaki Byard (piano) to complete his quartet. There’s a lot going on here—the dialogues between the players can move pretty rapidly and it may take a couple of spins for everything (or anything) to sink in. Moments that start out as a toe-tapping, blues-based theme can turn on a dime, the structure blurring as one player deviates from the path and others follow. Tony Williams in particular is fond of implying the beat and then toying with it…his sense of playfulness adds a LOT to the overall vibe as it keeps everyone on their toes. Jaki Byard has a knack for dropping the perfect block chord at just the right time to accentuate a point or change the tone of the conversation, and Williams is right there with him…it’s really impressive. Through all the intricacies, looser moments and flirtations with throwing the rule book out the window, the album still swings pretty hard. Both this and Rivers’ follow-up LP ‘Contours’ are essential records IMO, and great places to start for those looking to dip their toes into edgier jazz waters. This is a 2 X LP 45RPM pressing that sounds FANTASTIC

Grant Green ‘Born to Be Blue’

Another must-own title from the Tone Poet series. More specifically: Here we have Green paired with one of his best melodic foils, pianist Sonny Clark. If you’ve not heard their quartet work together (four LPs, all of which are essential) stop what you’re doing right now and right that wrong. The Green/Clark symmetry is superb, bordering on magical. Add tenor sax ace Ike Quebec (whom Green had also done several sessions with), power the affair with the Sam Jones (bass)/Louis Hayes (drums) engine, and you’ve got a ticket to hard bop heaven with tight, turn-on-a-dime, conversational interplay. Take the title track for instance: a smokey, dimly-lit scene is setup by Quebec and Clark. Quebec’s playing is pensive. Measured. Heartfelt. As he seeks a silver lining in his world-weariness, Green begins to quietly make his presence known, gently arpeggiating a couple of chords before commenting on Quebec’s parting thoughts with clean, single-line precision. Then Quebec claps back with a forceful, anguished wail before adding a few final musings. He and Clark gently bring this soul-searching ballad to a close before Quebec’s final words, and Clark sends everyone back into a misty night…no happier, no wiser, but perhaps a bit more resolute. An achingly beautiful ballad that’s superbly delivered by this quintet. There’s an interesting alternate take on the digital version that doesn’t carry nearly the same emotional impact for those who care to compare. Great job by Joe & the Tone Poet team—great sound, lovely packaging and the price is right. I’m pleased to see this continued focus on sessions that were shelved when originally recorded like Wayne Shorter’s ‘Etcetera’ and Donald Byrd’s ‘Chant’. Often their initial appearance in the 1980s wasn’t exactly with much fanfare, and the cover art used in that series was—compared to the inspiring photos and art of @bluenoterecords heyday—crap. That wrong has now been righted. This one was recorded in March 1962 but put on ice until 1985. Highest recommendation

Umphrey’s McGee Hall of Fame 2018

Why are @umphreysmcgee the most relentlessly exciting, improv-oriented rock band out there? Easy: they’re masterful players, clever songwriters and extraordinary improvisers who draw from both a wide array of influences, and deep bench of covers. In other words, one’s attention tends not to waver at an Umphrey’s McGee concert…go see them and you’ll see what I mean. But if a gig is not in your immediate future, this collection highlights roughly 4.5 hours of top shelf moments from the ~85 gigs the band did in 2018, as chosen by online fan voting and band input. The annual Hall of Fame release—now in its ninth year—is a deep dive into what makes a night with Umphrey’s McGee special. The tracks run the gamut from groovy dance throw-downs to soaring tension/release workouts with the kind of instrumental high wire acts that reduce aspiring air guitarists to dislocated fingers and broken dreams. Hard to pick a highlight among highlights but I am drawn to “Wizard Burial Ground”—a full contact instrumental cage match between Dream Theater, Yes and Deep Purple that should be the fight song for the Slytherin Quidditch team. Then there’s the demented rave-up of “Phil’s Farm” which evolves into an intricate soul stew with on-the-fly instrumental *AND* lyrical interplay that’s pretty much the reason why people drive long distances to go see this band night after night. The aesthetics of this years vinyl are sharp—that lurid red vinyl almost pulsates on the platter

John Coltrane ‘Coltrane’s Sound’

Coltrane’s studio work in the final week of Oct 1960 produced the acclaimed and hugely popular ‘My Favorite Things’, the lesser-known but essential ‘Coltrane Plays the Blues’, and the middle child whose strengths and qualities have only become more apparent over the years, ‘Coltrane’s Sound’. I could pontificate about the track “Equinox” for hours—far and away my favorite @johncoltrane original, and one of my favorite jazz songs, EVER. The emotional wallop this tune packs knocks me flat every time. The power, gravitas and solemnity that pours forth from the speakers when this song plays is felt as much as heard. If it doesn’t give you the feels, see a doctor immediately. The other three originals and two standards are also amazingly played, and I underscore the word “amazing” because this is only the THIRD TIME pianist McCoy Tyner and the SECOND TIME drummer Elvin Jones had recorded with ‘Trane. It’s certainly fun to over-analyze the three albums that these sessions produced, comparing, contrasting and discussing them to rank them within the pantheon of Coltrane’s @atlanticrecords era. When I’m in that frame of mind, I tend to reach for this album more often than the other two. But ultimately it’s more satisfying to consider them as one body of work and play them all! This pressing is a Japanese reissue, mono, part of the Jazz Analog Premium Collection produced by Kouki Hanawa WPJR-10053/Atlantic ‎– 1419 @mccoytyner

Bobby Hutcherson ‘Stick up’

Tight! Marvelous post bop/hard bop set from leader Bobby Hutcherson who leads a razor sharp ensemble across five originals and a take on Ornette Coleman’s “Una Muy Bonita”. Stylistically this one takes a more straightforward approach than say ‘Components’ or ‘Dialogue’. The band: Bobby Hutcherson-vibes, Joe Henderson-tenor sax, McCoy Tyner-piano, Herbie Lewis-bass, Billy Higgins-drums. The MVP: Billy Higgins, who leans into the groove with gusto, putting more emphasis on swing rather than intricacy. On tracks like “8/4” his deft touch doesn’t require heavy-handedness to keep the groove locked, and that light touch makes it effortless for him to drop into tricky, interlocking unison lines with the rest of the band and before banking right back to swingtown. Masterful. That highwire act is followed by the languid “Summer Nights” which floats with a serenity that’s atmospheric and almost fragile—I find myself holding my breath for fear of disturbing the mood. Don’t let a sense of complacency set in however as “Black Circle” dives into some adventurous spaces without ever going fully “out” or bringing a sense of abrasiveness to the sonic palette. You’d never know from listening to this gem that this was Hutch and Tyner’s first studio session together—they’re as simpatico as peanut butter & jam. Jam being the operative word here, as Tyner’s long-running partnership with Henderson allows for buttery smooth handoffs between them and Hutch. This is a terrific session, originally recorded 14 July 1966 and released in April 1968

Prince Lasha Ensemble ‘Insight’

Farewell London! It was a VERY memorable 36 hours. Feels appropriate to leave with another memorable UK session—a rare “in the box” session from Prince Lasha (alto sax/flute) who was living in Kensington in 1966 mixing it up with a British jazz cast including Stan Tracey & Mike Carr (piano); Rick Laird, Jeff Clyne, Bruce Cale & Dave Willis (bass); John Mumford (trombone), Joe Oliver (drums) and Chris Bateson (trumpet). However the SECRET SAUCE of the session is Dave Snell on harp which elevates this collection of standards and two Lasha originals into something truly special. It’s wild how the harp sounds so unexpected yet it fits perfectly. This is an amazing record, and for those who’ve struggled a bit with Lasha’s more challenging, edgy work (like the masterful follow-up ‘Firebirds’ with Sonny Simmons) this is something you could easily play without clearing the room. Much to my surprise, this session was for a big player—CBS Records UK (CBS-BPG 62409, stereo, issued 1966) though it never saw US release. The vinyl is elusive, the 2009 Dusty Groove CD reissue is around and a reasonable alternative. The two Lasha originals are the standout tracks but everything is really well played. Recommended

The John Coltrane Quartet Plays

Standing in the long, tall, wide, deep shadow of its predecessor ‘A Love Supreme’, this record deserves your undivided attention. Recorded in Feb & May 1965 with @johncoltrane doubling on tenor and soprano saxophones, he and his classic quartet proceed to make quite the exploratory epic out of Disney’s “Chim Chim Cheree” which—depending on how firmly it’s stuck in your head—is either the most interesting or most annoying tune from ‘Mary Poppins’. In a sense, the approach is similar to the modal masterpiece of ‘My Favorite Things’—a moment or two on the core melody and then toss the rulebook out the window. That’s where the similarity ends though. Whereas MFT was built on an undercurrent of joy, CCC is more restless. Unsettled. Busy. In search of. Occasionally chaotic. None of these observations are criticisms. If anything they underscore the depth and breadth of Trane’s artistry, and his ability to approach another popular waltz without necessarily repeating himself. This familiar-yet-different mindset holds true for ‘Brazilia’ as well—he’d debuted this song a few years earlier on ‘At the Village Vanguard’ but the studio version here is even more visceral, edgy and powerful. This track alone makes me reach for this album over and over again. The other two tracks on the LP veer closer to the spiritual questing vibe of ‘A Love Supreme’, with bassist Art Davis joining Jimmy Garrison on “Nature Boy” to add another layer of low end gravitas. Enjoy this record on its own merits, not in comparison with what came before. This is the 2011 Analogue Productions reissue, 2XLP 45RPM and sounding wonderful

Paul Chambers ‘Bass on Top’

Sophisticated. Elegant. Marvelous. I disagree vehemently with the All Music Guide regarding Paul Chambers ‘Bass on Top’. Not in its numerical judgement (9/10 is about right) but it refers to this record as “straight ahead jazz” and I think that sells this record far short. While there’s no knotty, angular/avant or out-of-the-box structures or compositions here, Chambers’ instinct for creating an atmosphere and savvy choice of material/bandmates puts this session a cut above. The lack of horns and prominent bass in the mix leaves much of the melodic heavy lifting to guitarist Kenny Burrell and pianist Hank Jones, while drummer Art Taylor is brilliantly understated in his playing and presence. “Chamber jazz” was the term someone once used when describing this record to me some years back, and I think that’s just about perfect. You be the judge—it’s an excellent listen and Chambers arco (bowed) playing sounds particularly EXCELLENT. The liner notes also sent me down the rabbit hole and when you absorb all that Chambers accomplished, it’s kinda mind boggling. In 1957 alone at age 21, this was his third LP as a leader, and remarkable to think he even had time for it in between playing on Coltrane’s ‘Blue Train’, @milesdavis ‘Miles Ahead’, Curtis Fuller’s ’The Opener’, Red Garland’s ‘Groovy’, Oliver Nelson’s ‘The Blues and the Abstract Truth’, Art Pepper ‘Meets the Rhythm Section’, Johnny Griffin’s ’The Congregation’, Lee Morgan’s ‘Vol. 3’ and other legendary records by Bud Powell, Sonny Rollins, Clark Terry, Kenny Burrell, Sonny Clark, Hank Mobley, Donald Byrd and Gil Evans. Don’t even get me started on what he did the years before (Monk’s ‘Brilliant Corners’ for starters) and after (ya know…’Kind of Blue’), only to succumb to tuberculosis in 1969 at age 33. He left quite the recorded legacy, and while I’m not familiar with his other sessions as a leader (recommendations anyone?) this record is a keeper. This is a 2014 Japanese reissue DBLP-060, part of the “From The Original Master Tapes” series which are mono cuts by Kevin Gray, and heavy stock/glossy jackets meant to replicate the original pressings. Beautiful job @bluenoterecords

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

Makoto Terashita Meets Harold Land ‘Topology’

Worth the wait! West meets Far East as @bbemusic @the_jazz_dad and @bacoso unleash the latest in their BBE Masterclass Series. This is an album *SO* rare most jazz fans (myself included) weren’t aware of its existence. As we all know, sometimes rare, buried treasures are notable simply due to rarity, and the substance is underwhelming. None of that here—the curators of this series have added another title to the top shelf of J-Jazz reissues. ’Topology’ was recorded in a single session on 11 June 1984 and released on the Aketa’s Disk label in Japan. The history of the session and the players is beautifully detailed by Tony Higgins in the liner notes which grace the gatefold of this double LP, which has issued at 45RPM for optimal sound quality (and I must say the sonics on this record are STELLAR). The opening track “Dragon Dance” (which also opens BBE’s fantastic J-Jazz Vol 2 compilation) is a modal monster. Beginning with a gorgeous solo piano workout from Makoto Terashita that becomes a full band exploration of ideas, themes and modes unfolding with perfection over twelve glorious minutes, this track is EXTRAORDINARY. It sets the bar incredibly high for the rest of the record. Great news—while not everything hits the lofty heights of “Dragon Dance”, most of the tracks come damn close. All were written by Terashita save one which is contributed by Harold Land, whose tenor sax work throughout retains the strength of prior decades—tone, speed and versatility are on point.
Bassist Yasushi Yoneki, percussionist Takayuki Koizumi and drummer Mike Reznikoff complete the quintet and are all great players, but this is very much the Land/Terashita show. So again, kudos to the J-Jazz team for spelunking this one out from the depths of obscurity to the world of reasonably-priced-reissues, and going the extra mile in sound quality, packaging (the obi is a nice touch) and liner notes that provide the additional context. Combined, it creates a completely great listening experience. Oh, it’s also available across digital platforms! One of the best jazz releases of 2019 thanks to all involved…don’t miss it