MAGA Z INE
Number 2. Spring 2014
The Music Is Paramount
BRIAN BLADE FELLOWSHIP Fellowship Is More Than Just A Word
AMBROSE AKINMUSIRE Painting Saviors
TAKUYA KURODA Rising Son
DERRICK HODGE Raw, Unabashed Honesty
THE JAZZ PHOTOGRAPHY OF FRANCIS WOLFF Blue Note Cover Art | Rudy van Gelder | Bruce Lundvall Special Edition Celebrating...
BLUE NOTE RECORDS 75TH ANNIVERSARY
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CONTENTS 10. From The Publisher 12. Ambrose Akinmusire Painting Saviors 20. Don Was The Music Is Paramount 34. Takuya Kuroda Rising Son 46. The Jazz Photography of Francis Wolff Photo Gallery 61. Brian Blade Fellowship, More Than Just A Word 74. The Blue Note Reissue Series From The All About Jazz Archive 83. Blue Note Cover Art from the 1960â€™s 94. Fabian Almazan Espejos 99. Derrick Hodge Raw, Unabashed Honesty 110. Genius Guide to Jazz A Brief, Yet Largely Incomprehensible, History Of
116. Celebrating Blue Note Records 75th With Delicious Vinyl 120. Mosaic Records: Making Jazz History 126. Rudy van Gelder From The All About Jazz Archive 133. Bruce Lundvall From The All About Jazz Archive 138. Album Reviews
All About Jazz 1693 Meadow Glen Drive Lansdale, PA 19446, USA Publisher
All About Jazz in association with MFM Media (VOF)
To Advertise in this Magazine or request a media kit please contact us at email@example.com
Senior Editor Michael Ricci
Paul Naser, R.J. Deluke, Jeff Fitzgerald, John Kelman, C. Michael Bailey, Phil Barnes, Mark F. Turner, Mark Corroto, Bruce Lindsay, Eugene Holley, Jr., Greg Simmons, Franz A. Matzner, Mike Oppenhiem, Chris May, DanMichael Reyes, Bob Kenselaar, C. Andrew Hovan & Victor L. Schermer
Emra Islek, Todd Chalfant, Caroline Rutland, Matt Marshall, Autumn DeWilde Gabi Porter, Robert Ashcroft, Hiroyuki Seo, Francis Wollf, Kristian Hill, Lurah Blade, Joe Harley, Ron Rambach, Cris Baldwin. Additional photos Courtesy of, Blue Note records and Mosaic Images, LLC.
Cover Photo Francis Wollf
Graphic Design & Layout Andrew Read MFM Media (VOF) Tuindorpstraat 61 7555CS HENGELO The Netherlands firstname.lastname@example.org
The publisher, authors and contributors reserve their rights in regards to copyright of their work. No part of this work covered by the copyright may be reproduced or copied in any form or by any means without the written consent of the publisher. The publisher, contributors, editors and consultants disclaim any and all liability and responsibility to any person or party, be they a purchaser, reader, advertiser or consumer of this publication or not in regards to the consequences and outcomes of anything done or omitted being in reliance whether partly or solely on the contents of this publication ands related website. The publisher, editors, contributors and related parties shall have no responsibility for any action or omission by any other contributor, consultant, editor or related party.
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From the Publisher
elcome to the Spring 2014 edition of All About Jazz magazine. Our maiden issue eclipsed 100,000 readers, which kicked off a series of raucous celebrations that lasted throughout Jazz Appreciation Month.
We’ve packed this issue with classic Francis Wolff photos, Reid Miles’ iconic album cover designs, vinyl and CD reviews, all topped off with another must-read Genius Guide to Jazz installment, “A Brief, Yet Largely Incomprehensible, History of Blue Note.”
And the party continues...
Enjoy, and please share this edition with your friends through the issuu.com platform or through your favorite social network or social bookmarking website.
We’re all in, and we’re doing our part to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Blue Note Records with a special issue: Over 150 pages focused solely on Blue Note, spanning the label’s storied past up through the present day and with a peek into the future. We’ve interviewed some of Blue Note’s rising new stars and we’ve compiled material from All About Jazz’s rich archive including past chats with Chairman Emeritus Bruce Lundvall and legendary recording engineer Rudy van Gelder. And that’s not all! 10 All About Jazz Magazine
We’ll return with a new edition this Summer. Until then, stay current on all things jazz by visiting us at allaboutjazz.com and jazznearyou. com. All the best, Michael Ricci Publisher, All About Jazz
All About Jazz - Website News All About Jazz Relaunches News Section
to raise the awareness of the musician and their music, and to drive traffic to their events.”
Ambitious website redesign effort continues with Jazz News Central.
To view a complete musician profile, check out our friend Anton Schwartz’s page here. It includes photos, his biography, social links, new release information, free downloads, a SoundCloud player, a Bandcamp player, events, his teaching credentials, videos, articles and more.
What started with Jazz Near You and the Jazz Musician Database, continues with the relaunching of Jazz News Central—the longest running and leading source for jazz news on the internet. “Our jazz platform consists of five websites: Jazz Near You, the Jazz Musician Database, Jazz News Central, the Jazz Photo Gallery and last but not least, All About Jazz. We’re implementing our new design site by site—so that’s three down and two to go,” stated All About Jazz founder, Michael Ricci. “For news, expect improved navigation, improved readability, a more convenient method to recommend announcements, and new features like a trending box.” About Jazz News Central All About Jazz aggregates press releases sourced from industry publicists, republishes stories from select jazz blogs, and vets industry news from Hypebot and other music sources. All published news stories are syndicated through the All About Jazz News RSS feed and the All About Jazz News Widget.
Ricci concludes, “The latest version of the musician section was styled after the new Jazz Near You website, and our work with the section itself is ongoing. We’re in the process of adding discographies to most profiles and we’ll continue to explore API opportunities and strategic partnerships.” If you’re a musician and do not have a member account, sign up, claim your musician profile and update it. If you have admin access to your musician profile, please make sure it’s current. If you are not a member and do not have a musician profile, please sign up and create one. More: Check out the musician toolkit page and learn how we distribute your event information.
Jazz Musician Database Retooled and Relaunched at All About Jazz All About Jazz’s musician section, home to 60,000 profiles, was redesigned for improved navigation and to shine a more intense spotlight on features including musician tracking, musician discovery, crowdfunding support, teaching credentials, and a musician’s SoundCloud player and Bandcamp player. “A musician’s profile is center to their activities at All About Jazz and is fully integrated with the website and with Jazz Near You,” said Michael Ricci, All About Jazz’s founder. “We continue to add value to the profile service in an effort
“Blue Note is not just jazz it’s about the entirety of creative expression, it’s about documenting art. I feel the label is back where it belongs and it’s an honor for me to be on Blue Note” –José James All About Jazz Magazine 11
Ambrose Akinmusire Painting Saviors
By DANMICHAEL REYES Photos MATT MARSHALL, EMRA ISLEK & AUTUMN DeWILDE
Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire (pronounced ah-kin-MOO-sir-ee) is as imaginative as the sonic soundscapes he creates and as informative as the titles that he bestows on his songs. Ambrose Akinmusireâ€™s allure stems from the complexity of his albums; a complexity that requires the listener to fully participate and engage with the artist and ask questions as to who the characters are, what events are taking place, and the emotions that the composer is trying to convey. This type of intricacy is the one that jazz was once associated with, not the one that has left audiences complaining that the music is too hard to understand . While super human displays instruments are part of the audienceâ€™s dalliance with jazz, the musical idiom that grew up in Storyville is far richer when a plot is driving it. 12 All About Jazz Magazine
As a testament to his virtuosity on the horn, the trumpeter won the Thelonious Monk Competition and the Carmine Caruso Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition in 2007. Later that year, Akinmusire released his debut album as leader on Fresh Sounds, Prelude... To Cora. In 2011, the Oakland native shared his critically acclaimed sophomore album under Blue Note, When The Heart Emerges Glistening. Recently, the 31-year old trumpeter released his second Blue Note album, The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint (2014). Akinmusire is joined by familiar faces like Walter Smith III on sax, pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown. Charles Altura also lends his guitar on the record along with vocalists, Theo Bleckmann, Becca Stevens, and singersongwriter Cold Specks. The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint also includes collaborations with the OSSO String Quartet and flutist Elena Penderhuges. The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint (2014) isn’t just about how killing the music sounds. While the playing on The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint is definitely dazzling, Ambrose Akinmusire’s third album is a collection of stories, characters, and emotions written to give the listener more than an album of just technical flaunts. All About Jazz: Congratulations on the new record. I had the chance to listen to it last week and it sounds amazing. Ambrose Akinmusire: Thanks! AAJ: You made a comment about how jazz was getting stagnant three years ago when you last spoke to us. A lot has happened since 2011, do you still feel the same way?
AA: I don’t think that I ever really felt—even back then— that jazz was at a stand still. I think the people that were influencing things aren’t the most forward thinking musicians. My beliefs about music are very different from that point of view. I think that creative music will always be here and it will always go forth. I don’t know whether or not people will hop on to that and go along with it, but I think that even if this generation doesn’t, then generations further down the line will. I think that music is always progressing [regardless] of people playing it or not. AAJ: Speaking of forward thinking musicians, what would be your advice to young musicians who have a lot of history to learn from but also want to push the boundaries of this music? AA: There’s so many ways to approach it. The people I consider as forward thinking musicians are also backward thinking. You do have to check out the tradition, but this notion of checking out all of the history in order to pursue your own voice [is] false. There’s so much history and we don’t live forever; you’re never going to get to the point where you say, “I’ve learned it all.” The ideal thing would be to check out stuff from the past, where you are in the moment, and check out where you want to be in the future. So there are three components that are there and that have to be mixed equally. I think that there is also so much focus on bebop in a lot of institutions, but the bebop movement wasn’t very long. If you want to talk about learning tradition, then you have to go back to New Orleans and before that, like West African music. That’s why I really respect someone like Steve Coleman or Wynton Marsalis. I really respect them for diving deep into the music and All About Jazz Magazine 13
Ambrose Akinmusire: Cont. that’s what people have to do. You have to be equally avant-garde as you are traditional. I feel like a lot of students nowadays don’t know records. Could you imagine being a philosopher and having studied and not having read certain books? It’s impossible. You can’t just come up with your theory based on what you think. I guess you can, but it’s not going to be as concrete and it’s not going to reach as many people as it could reach if you’ve studied a little bit more. I do think it’s important to study tradition, but I do think that you have to know that you’re going to be studying it for your whole life; that’s the beauty of it. AAJ: You’re an avid record collector. Does going out to a record store and purchasing a physical
six months, finding it, then sit down with a coffee. I think a lot of this generation doesn’t really get to experience that excitement and that part of music doesn’t really exist nowadays. But the other side of it that there is no excuse not to know a bunch of records if all you have to do is Google it. AAJ: You’ve spoken about making a record that requires the listener to listen to the album from front to back in order to understand it. Do you think that you achieved it with this record? AA: The honest answer is that I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve that. I don’t think that I’m very far away from doing that and I guess I’m getting closer to that but I don’t really know. AAJ: Is this a continuation from When The Heart Emerges? Or are you shooting for something different?
“When you talk to a woman when she’s pregnant, they’ll tell you that they can feel the baby but describing the baby is a different level. That’s why I think I’ll continue to produce my own records, because I know what the music wants to be. It’s almost like I’m pregnant.” copy make a difference versus streaming it or buying it on the Internet? Do you think that the way we consume music has an impact on the way music is produced? AA: It definitely does! It has a lot to do with it! I’m only 31, but I do remember when CDs came into effect. The way I was brought into this music was through local musicians taking my friend and me to the local flea market so we could go through the record bins. There’s so much that you can get. You pick up the record and you read the back and you see the personnel. You read about these things that you don’t get when you’re dealing with something digital. And because everything is so easily obtained, the searching part of it doesn’t really exist. I remember searching for a record for six months! There’s no excitement when you download it. There’s nothing like [searching] for a record for 14 All About Jazz Magazine
AA: I hope that it will always be a continuation. These albums are really just [about] me stamping the time and where I’m at during that moment. That’s really all it is. I’m more concerned about who I am today and trying to inch forward to tomorrow and to fulfill all the roles I have in my life as a friend, artist, son, and a partner. Those are the things that I’m worried about; I’m not really worried about things I did three or four years ago. If that’s the case, then there’s going to be traceable elements from the last record. The only thing that I thought about consciously was the “My Name Is Oscar” and “Rollcall For Those Absent.” Those two songs have very specific threads, but commonalities for everything else purely coincidental. AAJ: Can you talk about your decision to have three vocalists on the record?
AA: I hear vocals on my album. My first album has an opera singer and the second one doesn’t have it due to budgetary reasons from Blue Note. So if anything, the second one is the weird album. I really hear the voice so much. Not necessarily lyrics, but just the voice as an instrument. I sing the melody during the process of composition, so they fit the voice very naturally. And these vocalists... I’m just a huge fan of them. Theo Bleckman, Becca, and Cold Specks just bring a whole new element to it as artists. That’s what I really love about the musicians I picked from this record and the musicians that I’ve had the opportunity to play with. They are all such stylist and individualist that eat the music, digest it, and spit it out as a living thing. It was dead before, but it becomes a living organism once it comes out of their mouth. AAJ: Jason Moran produced your last album, what was it like producing this one?
AA: That first Blue Note album is a little bit different because I produced my first record on Fresh Sound. I don’t believe that the music I create can be described in words before it’s put out so it’s hard to have a producer. It’s hard to have someone sitting in front of you expecting you to be able to explain this thing. It’s sort of like, “Hey! Describe this baby that your wife is about to have.” I can tell you how big I think they’re going to be, but I don’t know the baby. When you talk to a woman when she’s pregnant, they’ll tell you that they can feel the baby but describing the baby is a different level. That’s why I think I’ll continue to produce my own records, because I know what the music wants to be. It’s almost like I’m pregnant. AAJ: One thread that does run throughout the three albums are the elaborate titles you have for your songs. AA: Most of my tunes are complicated. It’s not just blue or green. They’re not just happy songs, All About Jazz Magazine 15
Ambrose Akinmusire: Cont. these are stories. They are stories with characters and emotions so the title just has to be that. It’s like a movie; it’s hard to give a title for a movie in one word if it’s a very complicated movie. What you can do is have a title that sort of brings out other parts of the story, but to describe the story itself that contains characters and emotions with one word? That’s hard. It’s not coming from me trying to have a certain vibe, that’s just what it is. It’s hard to describe something in one word when there are so many emotions in it. AAJ: Could you take us through some of the stories with some of the songs? Maybe a song like “Bubbles (John William Sublett)?” AA: Sometimes I just geek out. I have an Apple TV and I get on YouTube and say, “What do I want to learn about today?” I was going through minstrel shows and it led me to Buck and Bubbles—not that they were minstrel shows—and I was just so taken. I was like, “Wow! Look at these cats! They can sing and they can dance!” They could really really sing like Nat “King” Cole style. And the pianist, Buck, he could have a career as a jazz pianist; he was really dealing in that level. I just thought that these cats were never talked about, maybe among tap dancers and among black intellectual historians and things. So I was just checking out Bubbles and I was like, “Man! This cat is doing moves that James Brown and Michael Jackson.” So I did some research and I found out that people like Michael Jackson stole his moves verbatim. I mean Michael Jackson’s monkey was named after Bubbles. There are certain clips with him and Duke Ellington; all the jazz musicians back in the day really checked him out. I really believe that a lot of jazz musicians stole a lot of rhythmic things from him. From that point I checked out a lot of clips from YouTube and I found a few rhythms that I liked. So I wrote them down just as rhythms, then I came up with a pitch order that felt like Bubbles, and I kind of inserted that into the rhythm. I just manipulated that throughout the tune so it became more like an exhibition on a theme. There’s a theme that’s changing so slowly and it 16 All About Jazz Magazine
sounds like it’s the same thing, but it never is. There’s a part in the middle of a song where I look back to “Dreams Of The Manbahniese.” When I was composing “Bubbles” I looked back and realized I’ve come so far with my compositional voice. So I was thinking about my first album and I thought about “Dreams of the Manbahniese,” and there are parts in “Bubbles” where I insert a section from “Dreams of the Manbahniese.” For the bass solo, Harish recorded a take of an amazing solo because he’s Harish and that’s just what he does. But afterwards I said to him, “Pretend you’re Bubbles and you’re doing a tap solo.” So that’s how that solo came about. At the end of the song, we were just vamping out. I wanted it to vamp for a long time to act like a nod so that if Bubbles were here, it would be like I’m opening up the stage for him to tap. It’s sort of like how in the community I grew up in you pour out your beer or alcohol for your friends that have died, this is kind of a moment for Bubbles to come back and tap. I’m pretty anti-vamp most of the time, but that seemed like one where it had some use or purpose to it. AAJ: Can you talk about “J.E. Nilmah (Ecclesiastes 6:10)?” AA: J.E. Nilmah is this person that I knew who always felt like she was in control of things. She was always stressing out and she was super religious. I always found it interesting that she was super religious, but it was almost like she didn’t have faith. So the Bible verse is just talking about how things are already pre-planned and ordered. So basically, just go along with it. AAJ: Who is the inspiration for “As We Fight (willie penrose)?” AA: No, not at all. Willie Penrose is a fictional character I made up. He’s a guy who fought in the Vietnam War and has mental issues because of the war. He’s in a cabin with a rifle in a dark room with a television that is black and white— like one of those old televisions. They’re sitting in one of these old tattered chairs, rocking back and forth. He’s a black man from the south and he’s watching the Trayvon Martin case. So that’s what
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Ambrose Akinmusire: Cont. that’s about and that’s why it has this military march thing going. The tempos change because some things rile him up then he calms himself back down. The beginning part is his emotions, and it’s just the narrative view of it. When it speeds up, that’s like his speech pattern. AAJ: Trayvon Martin’s name comes up over and over again for “Rollcall for Those Absent.” AA: The thing about the Trayvon Martin case... there’s just so many angles to it. Just the fact that it happened the way it happened, and the fact that it has been happening so often. As a person with a platform, especially as a young black man with a platform (no matter how small this platform is in the grand scheme of the world), I think it’s good to use that platform to say something and to educate people. I told another interviewer recently about the number of people that have come up to me around the world and asked me about Oscar Grant. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to them about it or point them in a certain direction just to say, “This is what’s going on in my country. This is my experience,” not as any type of rebel nor am I trying to change anything. It would be nice to change things, but mainly just to educate people. You look back at John Coltrane and the tunes he wrote; a lot of it really tells you about what was going on and what he was affected by during that
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time. That’s kind of what I want to do. Just as a Black person, you have a certain responsibility to your community. AAJ: You studied with the late Laurie Frink who recently passed away. Is there anything you’d like to say about her? AA: Yeah that’s really hard. I studied with her for a very long time. I studied with her from 2001 to I don’t know when. There were times when I was in New York and I’d go take lessons with her. I’d call her on the phone or write her emails before going off on tour up until recently. Her passing is really unfortunate. The trumpet world will definitely, and already has, felt the effect of that. I owe her so much. Before I came to her, I didn’t really know how to play the trumpet and how the trumpet works. I was just manhandling the horn and going for what I knew, but she really sat me down and was really patient with me. She went inside of me realized how I understood information and gave me a lot of information to keep me on track in terms of the trumpet for the rest of my life. AAJ: Is there anything you’d like to say in closing? AA: I’m just really grateful for the attention and support I’ve gotten over the years. It’s inspiring and it’s definitely enough to keep me going forward. It’s the thing that keeps me getting out of bed and keeps me searching.
“MOST MUSICIANS WO U L D R A T H E R VISIT THE DENTIST THAN SPEND TIME ON MARKETING AND PROMOTION”.
We b u i l d you r c r ow d f or you I t ' s w h a t we ' r e goo d a t ! W W W. M FM M E D I A . CO M All About Jazz Magazine 19
â€œGrowth and revolution are the purest outcome of the jazz experienceâ€?- Don Was
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The president of the iconic Blue Note Records, the man who is stewarding the label as it marches into it’s 75th anniversary year celebration, comes from the wrong side of the tracks, in a sense. He’s not a gut in a suit. He came up through the trenches as a working musician. He liked jazz and played gigs in bunches during his years in his hometown of Detroit. But his adaptability to all kinds of music brought him to fame in rock, R&B, country and funk.
The Music Is Paramount By R.J. DELUKE Photos GABI PORTER
Don Was, co-leader of the 1980s group Was (Not Was) and producer of every Rolling Stones album since 1993, took the baton from Bruce Lundvall in 2012, the latter having spearheaded the revival of the label in 1985. They walk in the footsteps of the fabled Alfred Lion, an immigrant who founded the label in 1939 and steered it into a special place in American music and culture. Lion was ably assisted by Francis Wolff, also an immigrant, who blended his extraordinary photography skills with his producing activities. The place that Blue Note carved out by the 1950s and 1960s is revered by musicians—both those fortunate enough to have recorded for the label, and younger musicians inspired by those recordings. “I think they were radical records,” said
Was, who was a teenager in the ‘60s when he discovered the vinyl with the smoldering photos by Wolff and the cover design of Reid Miles that often drew eyes to the product before ears. “Even if it was something inside, like Jimmy Smith. What Jimmy Smith was doing on the organ, it was radical. Never mind Unit Structures by Cecil Taylor (1966) or Ornette Coleman At the “Golden Circle” Stockholm (1965), which is actually one of the first Blue Note records I ever got. It was radical, but they were so good about the total package. The playing, the writing, but also the way Rudy [Van Gelder, engineer] recorded the music. The way Reid Miles designed the package and Francis Wolff ’s photographs. It had quality, ya know? It was one of those few labels you could just drop the needle down and wherever it landed ...You may not know who the leader was on the All About Jazz Magazine 21
Don Was: Cont. session, but you recognized it was a Blue Note album and you could probably pick out players from the repertory company.” Was looked at with wonder, like it was sterling silver and not cardboard. Wolff ’s artful photos of musicians in action, but the backgrounds dark and mysterious. “You can’t see the walls. You don’t know
what kind of space these guys are in. There’s cigarette smoke everywhere. They’re dressed really cool. Holding a saxophone. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be one of them. It had incredible allure. Not just music to listen to, but as a lifestyle. That’s what it meant to me then,” says Was, now 61. Now that he’s filling big shoes, 22 All About Jazz Magazine
the Blue Note brand “means the same thing, except I feel a responsibility to maintain that. That’s the only real difference. To this day, when I put on Speak No Evil [Wayne Shorter, 1965]. From my teenage years, that’s always been the music I went to when I lost myself or lost my way or was just feeling blue. When I put that record on, I was in touch with myself and my feelings by the time
the side was over, which was about 15 minutes or so. I want it to still be a record company that brings that kind of relief to people,” he says in earnest. “I want the music to be released to mean something. Not just there because someone has an idea. We try to have every record, hopefully, get under somebody’s skin and become part of the fabric of their lives.”
To that end, Was seeks musicians with something to say. He’s not trying to get the same groove, musically, that Lion and company were so successful at. He seeks the same impact. A peek at something different. Music of today, and maybe a glimpse of the future. Something that can elicit emotion. “There was a moment in time where, if you put on the first Jazz Messengers album, the one with both Horace Silver and Art Blakey, you hear Horace Silver throwing in funky church stuff on piano. Art Blakey’s playing back beat. You’d have gotten kicked off the band stand at Minton’s [famed Harlem night spot where early bebop was hatched] for doing that. If you listen to it now, it sounds very mainstream and conservative. But it was a radical album when it was made and it was pushing the boundaries,” says Was. “As a musician who played improvisational music night after night for years, I live at the first rule of improvisational music: don’t play the same thing twice. You should always be pushing the boundaries.” Was, born Don Fagenson, played jazz during his time in college and at gigs around Detroit into his 30s. His first breakout, though, was when he formed a group with a buddy, David Weiss. He became Don Was. His partner became David Was and Was (Not Was) was born. It was the 1980s. The group had four albums and forged some funky hits. Eventually, Was
turned to producing. (Though he never stopped playing and often contributed on bass or keyboards to albums in which he was producing). Over the years, he has produced projects for an array of heavyweights including Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Al Green, Joe Cocker, Carly Simon, Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, Roy Orbison, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Waylon Jennings, Kurt Elling, Randy Newman and many more. He has received multiple Grammy Awards, including Producer of the Year in 1995. His outlook toward signing artists to Blue Note, the venerable jazz label, may not coincide with everyone’s view. “Jazz is a very loose term,” says Was. “A lot of people don’t like it. It means different things to
different people. But I think we know kind of the type of music we’re talking about when we say this. If we’re talking about jazz, even in its broadest sense, the idea is: Do something new every time. That’s built into the DNA of jazz. Don’t play the same thing twice. So, growth and revolution are the purest outcome of the jazz experience. It should always be changing.” Was is respectful, reverential, about following in the footsteps of Lundvall, he’s making his own mark on Blue Note, according to his own inner voice and feel for music, his lifelong pursuit. “Bruce is a real hero to me. He’s probably the only record executive out there who goes back to the ‘60s with the big labels, who is universally beloved. [chuckles] I’ve never
heard anyone say an unkind word about Bruce. To stay in big record companies like that for an entire career and not have people pissed off at you, that’s an incredible testament to the strength of Bruce’s character and his integrity and honesty.” Was says he still gets frequent notes from Lundvall suggesting musicians he should check out. But running a label, Was discovered, isn’t just waiving a magic wand and producing good music. “That was actually the most shocking thing, to me, coming into a record company. You can do maybe 1 percent of all the things you want to do. You can actually manifest one percent of your ideas. If you were playing baseball and batting .010 you wouldn’t last very long,” he says with a knowing laugh. Nonetheless,
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Don Was: Cont. Blue Note is forging ahead with plenty of product in its anniversary year, and plenty of exposure. “I’m really happy. This year we probably have a jazz release coming every month, and it’s a really wide range of records. From Bobby Hutcherson with Joey DeFrancesco and David Sanborn and Billy Hart; all the way to Chris Dave. It’s a wide spectrum. There’s something new coming every month. It’s not easy to make that happen.”
and even if the music might take different twists. “We’re just trying to make good things and be creative and innovative. I want it to be the kind of label that it’s always been, whereby a 15-year-old musician goes home and practices because one day he wants to be on Blue Note Records. Which is what I did.”
There are movements away from the tradition, even if they have come through it. Like much of jazz since its beginnings. Pianist Robert Glasper is creating music with a soul and groove foundation. Closer to Isaac Hayes than Was is proud of the direction Bud Powell. Singer Norah the label is going, even if some Jones has a sound that bows of the roster might not be to the pop world, even as it considered “jazz” by the purists, creates interesting textures.
Ambrose Akinmusire plays the trumpet unlike anyone, and has a musical curiosity that has nothing to do with his instrument. Young trumpeter Takuya Kuroda has a melange of rhythms, beats and grooves on his label debut Rising Son. “I think Robert Glasper is a very pure jazz artist, even on the R&B flavored records he does,” states Was. “I’ve seen him in the studio. Even when it sounds like they’re using loops and all that stuff, it’s all played live. It’s not worked out. It is improvisation. He’s picking up the elements of the time that he lives in and reflecting it in the music. That’s what all artists are supposed to do. He reflects the moment that he’s in. What he’s
“I think Robert Glasper is a very pure jazz artist, even on the R&B flavored records he does,” states Was.
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doing in 2014 is as ‘jazz’ as what Herbie and Wayne were doing in the ‘60s on Blue Note. They were reflecting the times.
he was talking about. I have tremendous respect for him. I knew he had something in mind, but I really didn’t know what in the world he was trying “Like Miles Davis did. Miles, to do. Ultimately, I gave up you could never nail him down. trying to make him verbalize The minute you could pin it ... It was like, ‘Just do it. You down what he was doing, he felt don’t have to describe it.’” compelled to shock everybody and move on to something Was adds, “It’s a real gamble, else. What’s shocking today? but it’s the most rewarding part I don’t think Glasper’s record of the gig so far. When you is shocking ... What is there have an artist that you respect about it that’s not jazz? It’s and you trust them to come essentially a trio going into the up with something and they studio and improvising on the deliver something beyond your foundation of a song. Where wildest expectations. I think the chords and the modes are it’s an amazing, brilliant record quite complex. Even if the cycle he created. If you listen to it is short. There are more chords repeatedly, you start to pick than ‘So What.’” up on the dynamics among all the different musicians ... In He says the roster of artists feel terms of the dynamics and the compelled to move the music group interplay, it really kind of in a positive way. And they do reinvents it. I love what some so with different personalities. of—I don’t even want to say “The way Glasper does it is some of the younger musicians, completely different than because Wayne Shorter is one the way Jason Moran does it. of the main promulgators of Yet the two contemporaries this kind of playing. It’s no actually went to the same high longer: you take the first solo, school. [High School for the I’ll take the next solo. It’s a Performing and Visual Arts in group improvisation. They’re Houston] But they approach all working together. No one it differently. You listen to is stepping out. It reinvents Derrick Hodge, he approaches the concept of a group. I think it differently than anybody else, Ambrose has taken that to a as does Chris Dave, who has an whole other level. It’s beautiful album coming in the summer writing. He’s a great player.” on Blue Note. Speaking of Shorter, the master Was has high praise for returned to Blue Note last year the Akinmusire album,The with his acclaimed Without a Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Net CD. Paint, due for a March release. “It’s incredible, man. When “It’s amazing,” says Was. “He’s I first took the gig, he was such a hero of mine. I’d met trying to describe what he was him a couple times. He came hearing in his head, and words in and played on a Rolling failed him. I didn’t know what Stones record once [Bridges
“To me, Blue Note means people getting together trying to make some kind of surprise. I hear Alfred Lion saying things like ’Don’t give it away, keep it a secret.’ It’s incredible when you think about it, how Alfred Lion’s intentions are still underlying something that’s going on today. It permeates through to the people who are there, Bruce Lundvall and Don Was, and even the lawyers, everybody. That’s a singularity, the same way music is. When you’re doing something like that with a purpose, and with respect, eventually that gathers steam and becomes part of the spirit of the planet.” –Wayne Shorter All About Jazz Magazine 25
Not only new stuff. Orpheus, they play everything. But it’s their openness ... There’s a classic science fiction novel coming out with it. By an artist who used to work with marble and things like that. He’s independent now. He lives in Switzerland with his family. I’ve seen his stuff. He is the guy. Among other people, but he’s the guy.”
people my age. You can’t just travel around the country and go to every city and find a jazz station anymore. Sadly. There are only a few fortunate cities where you have a 24-hour jazz station, turning you onto new things. There are new ways that people discover music and it’s imperative that people keep up with it.
Was has children who are musicians. “When I talk to them about how they find “They actually play without out about music, it’s mainly a conductor. The manager of YouTube and things like that. the orchestra does something very eye-opening,” Shorter told They listen to jazz constantly, and they turn me on to All About Jazz in December. things they find online. It’s “Everyone has a voice when imperative that the record they rehearse. Everyone has labels understand that and suggestions. They’re the new thing ... They’re doing new stuff. start addressing the way people discover music these days. Even
“Congressman Jeffries out of Brooklyn came to Capitol Tower [the Capitol Records Building in Los Angeles]. He’s on the [House of Representatives] Judiciary Committee. We talked about protecting the artist, making sure they have a royalty stream coming back. It requires a certain regulation so that people just can’t steal the music.
Don Was: Cont. to Babylon, produced by Was in 1997]. But to get to spend a little quality time with him and be able to work on the music with him is incredible.” Later this year, the next Shorter recording will be released. It’s a project his quartet did with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. But it will also be featured with a book by a famed graphic novelist. Explains Was, “We wanted to do something special with it. There’s a graphic novelist by the name of Randy DuBurke. He did a really great graphic novel of the autobiography of Malcolm X. He lives over in Switzerland. I’ve been a fan of his work for over a decade now. We put him together with Wayne. Wayne is describing the visions in his head when he’s writing and playing this music. He scores imaginary movies, in a way, when he plays. Randy is doing a graphic novel of these visions, to go along with it. The CD is in the book. It’ll be a beautiful book. It won’t be a comic book. It’ll be a really nice thing to have. It will give a whole other dimension to getting inside the music that Wayne creates. It’s magnificent.
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“ People are still selling With technology constantly [concert] tickets. An artist who, changing, and CD sales down, ten years ago, might have sold some say records labels are a 100,000 records and is now thing of the past. Many artists selling 8,000 records, is still have their own small labels selling the same number of and many produce their own tickets. They’re probably still material without giving a selling 100,000 tickets over the record label much thought. Was course of a year. The people are is acutely aware of the changes still there. It’s not like they went in the business. But Blue Note away,” he says. “So it’s important is trying to address the issues record companies learn how and get ahead of the curve. The to get the information out to most important thing is not people. The gig is really simple: to sit still; to ignore the words Make great records, and let as “status quo.” many people know about it as possible. That’s really what we’re Everything is changing all the supposed to do. When you say time. If you just rely on the it like that, it doesn’t sound so methods of doing business that hard. But it calls for a lot of worked in 1983, that worked imagination these days.” in 1995, that worked even five years ago, you’re going to be There also needs to be a in trouble. You have to find revenue stream. Art and new ways to keep up with the commerce have always been audience,” Was says. delicate dance partners.
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Don Was: Cont. I was trying to explain to him in very simple terms: It’s not greed. It’s not so Ambrose can go out and buy a Maserati. It’s simple. If money doesn’t come back in, there’s no bread to make the next record. We’ll only be able to stream and download for free old music. There’s a lot of great old music out there, but I feel a tremendous responsibility to keep making new music and to serve young musicians.” Was said Blue Note now has an app on the music website Spotify that was developed by people within the company. “It was a labor of love. We didn’t have the bread to develop it,” and it is growing in popularity. Says Was, “The Spotify Apps, they have all the statistics. The average time for most users is three minutes before they leave the app and go back to Spotify. The average engagement time per sitting for the Blue Note app was two and a half hours. What I love about it is you get the same endorphin rush, the same emotional feeling, that you
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get with 12-inch vinyl albums, turning it around and reading the notes on the back, and reading the personnel. You get that same sense of discovery. It’s an app with emotional texture to it. That’s very mysterious. I know how to do it in music. I don’t know how to do it in an app. I’m very proud of that. “ Speaking of vinyl, Blue Note is still producing it. The label has organized a network of independent record stores that are going to be authorized Blue Note dealers for the vinyl being produced. “We’re launching a series of low-cost, but really high quality, re- mastered vinyl ... We’re going to be doing five reissues a month, indefinitely, for years,” he says. The initiative starts at the end of March. “That was a very interesting experience, going back and re-mastering our catalog. It’s been re-mastered over and over and over again and there are a number of philosophical approaches you can take. They’re radically different. We went through and listened to everything. From the initial
vinyl pressings, right through to the latest CD master. We blindfold tested. In terms of the feel of the music, the original vinyl felt best,” says Was. “There’s something about the original intention of the artist. What did everyone get when they left the studio and said, ‘Yeah. This is great.’ What did that sound like? What were they hearing? That’s really what people should hear. Not the reinterpretation of what they were hearing. It’s not for me to editorialize over Kenny Burrell. What was Kenny excited about? What did he want it to sound like? We’ve done some painstaking work trying to recapture the feel of the initial pressings. But still take advantage of the fact that in the hi-def digital downloads, which you can get on HD tracks, for example, you have a little more transparency now. “For example, when you go to vinyl, the back of the mix moves in closer. The imaginary room that the musicians are in—that room gets apparently smaller with vinyl,” says Was.
With modern technology “you’re able to keep the back wall, get the transparency. The important thing is to do that without losing the feel of the music that was on the vinyl. It’s a delicate thing ... So far, the audiophiles love it and the fans love it. That’s a big deal for us, to get that out there properly.” Was said there is also something being readied for iTunes, that he could not yet speak about, but “It’s going to be incredible, about halfway through the year.”
So Blue Note tries to hang on to its reputation earned in the past, and stay in step with the future. With technology, with distribution and with the music. To Was, in the end it’s all about the music. “I believe that the area of the brain that processes music, neurologists have identified it and feel it’s there initially in infants for per-language communication. When you talk to a baby, they don’t understand words but they understand tones. A mother coos to her
child, ‘Ahhh look at the baby.’ Those notes. People use those notes in all cultures. Disparate cultures from around the world make the same sound. And intervals have emotional meaning for people. You find those intervals appearing in timeless songs, like ‘Amazing Grace.’ You coo to a baby with ‘Amazing Grace’ and it communicates to them. “By the time you’re 12 years old, you shut down 19 out of 20 synapses because we can’t operate at that level. The ones All About Jazz Magazine 29
Don Was: Cont. you keep open are the ones that you use all the time. Even though we develop language skills, we keep the area of the brain that processes music open. Those synapses stay open. My feeling is it’s because conversational language has limitations that fail to convey the full depth of our emotional lives. Art, in particular music, puts us in touch with our feelings and helps us make sense of our lives. That should be the goal of music ... Artists are trying to express themselves to make sense out of their lives. But people listen to music and people participate in art because it helps them feel the same way. That’s the goal. That’s what you’re trying to do if you’re producing a record, whether it’s a Bonnie Raitt record, a Rolling Stones Record or a Wayne Shorter record. Put people in touch with their feelings. Make them feel something.” To Was, the way that’s accomplished with musicians being honest with themselves. “That’s at the core of record making. What modes or scales you use are kind of irrelevant. That’s different to everybody. And there are plenty of people who know all the modes and scales and don’t make you feel anything except, ‘Wow, look how many notes that cat can play.’ I don’t think that’s noble incentive for making art, just to show off your technique ... You either feel something or you don’t. The categories I use to differentiate it are: It’s either generous music or it’s selfish 30 All About Jazz Magazine
music. ‘Look how many notes I can play’ is selfish music. ‘Here’s what I feel. Maybe you feel the same way.’ That’s a very generous stance.” Those are the sentiments of a cat who is deep into music, its power and its possibilities. Was is no bean counter, which in more recent times has been a main, and accurate, criticism of record labels. The care that Was has always taken as a producer comes through in his role at Blue Note.
“I’m real proud of the record I made for Bonnie Raitt. [Nick of Time, 1989, Capitol, which won Album of the Year Grammy for Was and Raitt, and three others for Raitt]. I’m proud to be involved with her. She’s an artist that transcends all kinds of styles.”
“At one point, when I was producing Bob Dylan, a friend of mine who was an editor at Time magazine said, ‘When they start interviewing you, write all these things down, so you have your memories. When For a man of his stature, and you feel like writing a book, all the heavyweight music he’s produced, Was doesn’t dwell on you’ve got all the information. the past or wax nostalgic much. You can remember all of it.’ I thought: no. I’m not doing He doesn’t even remember a lot of the rolling-up-the sleeves that. Artists let you into a very private part of their internal life and dealing with artists in the studio. Was had a job to do. He’s when you produce their record. proud of the work. Then it’s on It seems like a violation of code to write a book about it years to more work. later. So I made a choice around “I’ve enjoyed every single 1990 to not write it down and record I’ve produced,” he says. accept the fact that I was going “I have to be careful at the to forget 98 percent of it. But beginning. If I feel it’s not going I got to live it in the moment. to be right, I’ve run for the The moment we lived it, that hills, kind of. As a result, I’ve was the important thing. My had a lot of great experiences. fear was being 70 and broke. It’s tough to pick a favorite. [chuckles] And having to There’s an album I did with answer questions, ‘Tell us all Willie Nelson. It’s called Across about the Rolling Stones.’ So I the Border Line (Sony, 1993). never took notes. I don’t have It was right after all the IRS pictures. It happened and it’s stuff [Nelson’s renowned tax gone. The thing that stands is problems with IRS]. I think it the record. was at a point in time where “The record. That’s what we people were less focused on were there to make.” Willie’s artistry and more focused on IRS jokes with Jay Leno or whatever. I thought it was a really soulful record and it helped put the focus on what a great artist he is. I love that one.”
All About Jazz Magazine 31
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Takuya Kuroda: Rising Son
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All About Jazz Magazine 35
Takuya Kuroda: Rising Son By DANMICHAEL REYES Photos HIROYUKI SEO
Awards aren’t handed down to individuals that proclaim how tough it is to live in New York. Likewise, it’s not news to write that the life of the modern day jazz musician is difficult. If we follow the past two sentences we might come to the conclusion that the life of a New York jazz musician is not a bunch of wine and roses.
While prodigies that venture off on world tours before they are legally able to purchase alcoholic beverages exist, they are—in most cases— the exception to the rule. The reality for most professional musician hopefuls is not one full of performances at huge gala events with even bigger paychecks at the end of the night. In actuality, the life of the recent conservatory graduate is one reduced to playing for tips at restaurants that overcharge customers for meals that are certified organic—whatever that means. Kobeborn, Brooklyn-based trumpeter, composer, and Blue Note recording artist Takuya Kuroda knows about the latter all too well. Kuroda’s latest album, Rising Son (Blue Note, 2014), acts as a metaphor for his career. The trumpeter explains that his career, like the sun that rises slowly, took time to develop in order to reach where it is at now. “I’ve been in New York for 10 years,” Kuroda comments. “I wouldn’t say it’s been slow but seeing bigger results took time.” The 33-year old trumpet player was 20 when he first came to the U.S. to participate in Berklee’s 36 All About Jazz Magazine
Five-Week Program. After the five weeks at Berklee, Kuroda went down to New York and lived with his cousin for a month. During this time, the Japanese trumpet player who couldn’t even speak a word of English at the time found himself cutting it up at jam sessions every night. “There was a great [jam session] in Brooklyn at Up Over Jazz Café,” recalls Takuya Kuroda. “It’s closed now, but Vincent Herring used to run the jam session on Monday nights. It was kind of a happening jam back in the day. There were a lot of young lions that would play [there] like Robert Glasper and Kenyatta Beasley.” “I didn’t have any friends in [New York] at the time, so the only spot I could go and meet other cats was at jam sessions,” confesses the trumpet player. “I couldn’t even speak English at the time, and the only way I could express myself was through playing trumpet.” Despite the language barrier, the month spent in New York proved to be enough to make Kuroda return. After finishing his studies at Konan University, Kuroda started attending the famed
New School For Jazz and Contemporary Music in 2003 where he began studying under the late Laurie Frink. “Basically, the reason why I’m still in New York and I’m [still] playing is because I studied with her,” Kuroda admits. “I still remember the first day I studied with her,” continues the trumpeter. “I was nervous and she asked me to play two octaves of a C Major scale. I was so nervous that I couldn’t even make it [past] the second octave. She was like, ‘It’s okay.’ Then she asked me what my goals were, what was my concept, and who I want to be. Then after 20 minutes, she gave me manuscript paper and she said to me, ‘Work on this for month and come back.’” What Kuroda saw on the paper shocked him. “It was just long tones and exercises that 12 year old kids [practice],” Kuroda explains. “I was like, ‘Wait! I’ve been playing trumpet for 12 years!’ But she explained and said it wasn’t about how easy the [exercises] were, it was about getting to this crazy level of awareness.”
Upon Laurie Frink’s advice, Kuroda began practicing the seemingly abecedarian exercises that were prescribed to him and sure enough, he began seeing results. “I did the exercises and before I noticed it, friends at school came up to me and [started] saying, ‘Yo! You’ve been shedding man!’ I wasn’t even shedding songs,” Kuroda notes. “I was just doing this simple routine for a month. It wasn’t like I was working on ‘Giant Steps’ at a really fast tempo or something, it was just about [getting] a better tone on the horn to make your ideas better.” But for all the shedding that Kuroda did during his time at New School, life after school was still a challenge. “I didn’t really have my own project right after graduating, so I was focused on how I was going to make it in terms of paying rent and basic real world things that everybody faces after graduating,” Kuroda recalls. Shortly after graduating, Takuya Kuroda started taking all sorts of gigs in order to support himself. “I would take any gig,” admits the trumpeter.
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Takuya Kuroda: Cont. Although there is a saying famous in freelance circles that goes, “A gig is a gig is a gig is a gig,” not all performing opportunities and work-related contracts are equal. While performing, teaching, composing, arranging, and other odd jobs are good ways to earn an income in the beginning, there are the occasional hyper-odd jobs and gigs
that arise. But this did not stop Kuroda from answering any calls. “I would take gigs—any gigs,” he confessed. “I know a lot of cats that took stupid gigs, but I would go anywhere.” Even though the rising son of Kobe’s desire to play never faltered, Kuroda was faced with difficulty shortly after graduating. “There were times that I would get really dark and say, ‘I don’t know if I can make [this] my entire life,’” Kuroda recounts. “Then a really good gig would come around and I would go, ‘Oh shit! I can make it!’” The “really good gigs” that Kuroda encountered that lifted 38 All About Jazz Magazine
his spirits came in the form of wedding gigs, teaching, and/or arranging horn lines for wellknown Japanese pop stars. But like any good plot to a good story, the one-offs that served as a morale booster to our protagonist would eventually end and Kuroda would be back to square-one. “Once in a while a good paying gig would come to me, then I would go back to no gigs and go, ‘What the fuck?’” remembers the trumpeter.
Takuya Kuroda repeated this cycle until misfortune struck his family. “My grandpa passed away around 2009,” he laments. “It was the first real loss that I’ve had in my family and it [made] me realize that life was really limited.” With the awareness of life’s brevity in mind, Takuya Kuroda decided to work on his first album, Bitter & High (Self Produced, 2010). The trumpeter’s first album as a leader was a good start and even landed him some attention on NPR. While Kuroda’s debut album might have been a hit for critics, he was still faced with the
problem of moving units. “I printed a thousand albums and there were piles of boxes in my room at the time,” he remembers. “I was like, ‘Fuck! What am I supposed to do?’ So I arranged a tour in Japan.” “I booked 12 [shows] and I couldn’t even get a hotel so I crashed at my parent’s or my friend’s place,” Kuroda continues. “I kind of broke even with the money I spent. Doing that really helped my mental health because I felt like I had my own project.” Though Takuya Kuroda wasn’t making a lot of money through recording and booking tours for himself, breaking even was enough to help him decide to continue pursuing his own projects. Bitter & High wasn’t the only important release that Kuroda presented in 2010; the trumpeter also appears on vocalist Jose James’ Blackmagic (Brownswood). James—who produced Kuroda’s forthcoming album—first met the trumpeter when the duo performed at a mutual friend’s senior recital at The New School. “I was on my friend’s senior recital with Jose at The New School around 2007—right after I graduated,” he elaborates. “Jose came up to me after and asked me if I wanted to play on his album and I said yes,” Kuroda continues. “This was the time that I didn’t have a lot of gigs so I was ready to play on anything. From there, he started calling me more for shows and recordings. After two years, he asked if I asked to be an official member of the band.” Kuroda’s affiliation with Jose James—a partnership that continues today—would prove to be a positive impact on the trumpeter. “I was lucky to be [included] in Jose James’ band and travel all over the world,” he shares. But James’ influence over Kuroda’s career goes deeper than just filling up his passport with immigration stamps. Rising Son, Kuroda’s newest grooveheavy release was an idea that came from James. “One day [James] came up to me and said, ‘Yo Tak, I have an idea. How do you feel about me producing your album?’” Kuroda recalls. “I was like, ‘What?’ I didn’t even know what a producer did at the time, so I was like ‘Yeah, I’ll think about it.’”
“But every time I saw Jose, he was so serious about it,” he continues. “After months Jose was like, ‘Yo Tak, did you decide?’ So I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, Jose’s serious!’ I thought that he would forget about it, but he was really serious so I agreed.” While Takuya Kuroda’s 2012 release, Six Aces (Self Produced), features a few songs with a backbeat, the majority of Kuroda’s albums stay within a straight-ahead palette. Rising Son is the first of project where Kuroda—as a leader—explores his sound exclusively through a hip-hop, neo-soul, and R&B lens. “Jose really wanted to focus on a groove because he really loved how I played on his band,” Kuroda states. Rising Son’s eight groove heavy tracks were written while Kuroda was touring with James. “I started making music on my computer with Reason (a digital audio workstation),” Kuroda shares. “We’re on tour all the time so I have my mini midi keyboard so I can write music on the plane, hotel, and anytime that I had free time to jump on the laptop to write [before] the recording date.” Joining Kuroda on Rising Son are names and faces that the trumpeter has been affiliated with for a few years. Longtime collaborator Corey King lends his trombone along with Kris Bowers on keyboards, Solomon Dorsey on bass, and drummer Nate Smith. An appearance is made by guitarist extraordinaire Lionel Loueke on “Afro Blues,”—a song written by Kuroda not to be confused with Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue.” Loueke’s involvement in Rising Son came about when James’ band and Loueke were both in London. “Lionel actually came to a show and sat in for four songs and that’s how we met,” Kuroda shares. “The song ‘Afro Blues’ needed a guitarist. The line that [Loueke] plays is a really strong compositional melody for me, so Jose was like ‘Why not get Lionel?’ They (James and Loueke) were with the same manager, so Jose talked to his manager and Lionel killed it.” “Afro Blues” is also Kuroda’s hat tip to Akoya, a Brooklyn-based Afrobeat band that he’s been a part of for the past six years. Kuroda became affiliated with Akoya when his best friend All About Jazz Magazine 39
Takuya Kuroda : Cont
recommended him to the conga player. “My friend in Kobe gave him my number,” Kuroda recounts. “He was like, ‘You guys are musicians so you should collaborate someday or something.’” Kuroda then received the call to play when the conga player was moving apartments and found the piece of paper that was handed to him. “Akoya was looking for a trumpet player at the time and he (the conga player) randomly called me and was like, ‘You play trumpet? Wanna sit in with us?’ So I went and it was great.” If Kuroda’s time with Jose James allowed him to travel the world, then his time with Akoya gave the jazz trumpeter a deeper understanding of the world of Afrobeat and its premier artist, Fela Kuti. “The lead singer, Kaleta, used to sing with Fela Kuti, so Fela’s music is a really a big part of the band,” shares the trumpeter. “I only knew about jazz at the time and I had no idea what 40 All About Jazz Magazine
kind of music [Afrobeat] was.” Even though a majority of Afrobeat songs are in four and while it might not be most harmonically sophisticated music that Kuroda’s encountered, playing the music still presents unique challenges. “It’s actually trickier than “Giant Steps” in 11/4,” admits the New School graduate. “It’s a good experience in feeling music rather than thinking music. There’s no way you can think about the parts and there’s no theory to it. You just have to feel, step with your feet, and hone your mind and body to groove to the music.” Also appearing in Rising Son is Jose James who steps away from the mixing console and onto the vocal booth for the Roy Ayers classic, “Everybody Loves The Sunshine.” The rendition of “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” that gets captured in Rising Son came about during a performance of Jose James’ rendition of “Park Bench People”(a
song originally performed by Los Angeles rap group Freestyle Fellowship, which includes interpolations of Freddie Hubbard’s oft sampled “Red Clay”). During a particular performance of “Park Bench People” when the band was off taking long solos, pianist Kris Bowers started playing a loop that caught the ear of Jose James and Takuya Kuroda. Within moments, James took to the microphone again and began imposing the melody of “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” to the groove that Bowers had set up. The excitement from the bandstand led to Rising Son’s producer to suggest that Kuroda add “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” to the album, to which Kuroda obliged on the condition that James lends his vocals on the track. Another Roy Ayers cut that makes it onto Kuroda’s Blue Note debut is his noticeably slower
interpretation of “Green and Gold.” “Jose’s such a good producer and he said, ‘You have to have one good cover for your album to get more of a vibe,’” remembers Kuroda. Concerned with the overall tone and feel of the record, the trumpeter and the producer agreed that picking a jazz standard would not have made any sense. So the duo asked around for ideas of a good cover song that would accentuate Rising Son. “We wanted an instrumental song and I forgot that ‘Green and Gold’ has been a huge favorite of mine so played the song for Jose and he said that the [song] was it,” Kuroda recollects. Much like the other Roy Ayers cover that appears on Kuroda’s newest album, the arrangement for “Green and Gold” almost came about by accident. “We were rehearsing two days before the recording and Nate [Smith] couldn’t make the rehearsal,” Kuroda states. “So I asked my homie, All About Jazz Magazine 41
Takuya Kuroda: Cont. Tomo Kanno, to sit in. We were jamming the song, and I said I wanted it a little bit slower. Then Tomo started plying this nasty slow jam on the drums and we were like, ‘Wow! This is it!’” But not every song in Rising Son came out via happy accident, Takuya Kuroda also uses his latest album as a medium to send his emotions out to loved ones. “I’m 33 now and things are different to when I was 23,” Kuroda explains about the meaning behind the title of his song, “Sometime, Somewhere, Somehow.” “The reason I started writing the song was for my grandfather who passed away, but it’s also for [anyone],” continues the composer. “You lose your close friends and you have to face the fact that important people are going to pass away. It can also be about love. You might have to say goodbye to your girl and friends you’ll never see. A lot of shit happens, and a lot of my emotion was just poured in there. So it’s just like ‘Sometime, Somewhere, Somehow’ we might see each other again. It might happen and it might not—I don’t know. It’s really about my emotions going into this song.” A lot of affectivity comes into play in Rising Son. Whether it’s a play on words that highlight
Kuroda’s Japanese heritage or it’s his way of recalling his career that started from scrounging up gigs to touring the world with Jose James, Rising Son marks a new dawn for Kuroda’s burgeoning career. Perhaps the allure of Rising Son is in its composer’s ability to remember all his past experiences whether its playing Afrobeat with Akoya, geeking out with Jose James on stage, or the simple feeling of nostalgia that everyone has about those days of wine and roses that are long gone. As the song so cleverly states, “Everybody Loves The Sunshine,” and it’s easy to live life with “bees and things and flowers.” But often times, what is forgotten is the night that precedes the sunrise. Although Rising Son is a strong departure from his previous albums, the schoolboy from Kobe who grew up playing Count Basie charts has never forgotten his musical roots. “I see myself doing more of a straight-ahead thing, but it will be a different project where it’s only straight ahead,” Kuroda shares concerning his future projects. “I might do an album with strings or I might do a more traditional straight- ahead thing.” But regardless of what Takuya Kuroda chooses to pursue next, he knows one thing is certain: “I know that I will always write music that makes people feel good when they hear it.”
Selected Discography: Takuya Kuroda, Rising Son (Blue Note, 2014) Jose James, No Beginning No End (Blue Note, 2013) Takuya Kuroda, Six Aces (Self Produced, 2012) Takuya Kuroda, Edge (Self Produced, 2011) Jose James, Blackmagic (Brownswood, 2010) Takuya Kuroda, Bitter & High (Self Produced, 2010)
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“One of the finest sleights of hand in music is to write a song that sounds like a long-lost standard. Equally impressive, however, is the rare ability to perform a classic song and make it sound utterly new. Those are just two skills at the disposal of rising star vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, whose Grammy®-nominated sophomore album, WomanChild, was one of the sharpest, most magnetic releases of 2013.” ~Chris Barton, Los Angeles Times “A young jazz singer of radical talent, who teaches you in her own terms — with high clarity and zero pedantry — that singing old songs has nothing to do with transmitting an outdated sensibility, and that jazz music is necessarily part of a bigger and greater story of modern art.” ~Ben Ratliff’s Favorites of 2013, The New York Times “Only 24, the musician behind this year’s top Vocal album is so preternaturally gifted she can sound like anyone she wants. But regardless of age, few living singers share her knack for blowing the cobwebs off neglected vintage material, and I agree her potential is unlimited.” ~Frances Davis, NPR Music 2013 Jazz Critics Poll “The tour de force on Cécile McLorin Salvant’s sublime new album — well, the first of a handful — is her performance of ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do.’ Her rendition of the Billie Holiday staple is eight minutes of twists and turns in the melody, of vocal shadings that simmer before boiling over.” ~James Reed, Boston Globe
mackavenue.com • cecilemclorinsalvant.com available everywhere you like to buy music
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The Jazz Photog Francis Wolff Photos courtesy of Mosaic Images LLC.
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Herbie Hancock All About Jazz Magazine 47
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Alfred Lion (L) with Francis Wolff “At Blue Note recording sessions in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Francis Wolff was building an archive of great photographic value and a visual documentation of jazz history unmatched at any other record company. His ability to light, frame and capture a shot was astonishing. He had an instant with a preoccupied musician to create a magnificent portrait. His eye and his technique nailed it, usually in the first shot...not unlike the way great jazz soloists can nail a masterpiece on the first take.” - Michael Cuscuna “Francis Wolff ’s images of musicians at work are so relaxed and intimate that they capture the spirit not just of the moment but also the era.” - Herbie Hancock All About Jazz Magazine 49
Cannonball Adderley 50 All About Jazz Magazine
Dexter Gordon All About Jazz Magazine 51
Grant Green 52 All About Jazz Magazine
Horace Silver All About Jazz Magazine 53
Jimmy Smith 54 All About Jazz Magazine
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Kenny Burrell 56 All About Jazz Magazine
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Miles Davis 58 All About Jazz Magazine
Wayne Shorter All About Jazz Magazine 59
“The idea of spirit and what it means? For me it’s all about are you giving your whole self to a situation or are you just phoning it in? One is spirit-full and the other is spirit-less. To hide those gifts, to not use them; I really just couldn’t do that.” - Brian Blade
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Brian Blade Fellowship
More Than Just A Word By JOHN KELMAN Photos KRISTIAN HILL, LURAH BLADE
In the 21st century, few drummers have managed Brian Blade’s kind of crossover success. Beyond playing in saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s quartet for nearly 15 years, beyond being a first-call drummer for producer/singer/songwriter Daniel Lanois, whether it’s for his own projects like Black Dub or working with everyone from Bob Dylan to EmmyLou Harris, and beyond also being oncall with some of the most important names in modern music (not just jazz, but music) like Joni Mitchell, Norah Jones, John Scofield and Kenny Werner, Blade has forged a dual-career as both the co-founder of his more jazz-centric The Fellowship Band, and as an astute and tastefully sweet singer/songwriter, so far documented on just one release, the unexpectedly superb Mama Rosa (Verve, 2008). All About Jazz Magazine 61
Brian Blade: Cont. The Fellowship Band began life as a name sourced from Blade’s first solo album, Fellowship (Blue Note, 1998), a remarkable date that featured simpatico reed multi-instrumentalists Myron Walden and Melvin Butler, the rock-steady but ever-responsive bassist Chris Thomas, imaginative pedal steel guitarist Dave Easley, gently open-eared (and openminded) guitarist Jeff Parker and, perhaps, most importantly, the keyboardist who, along with Blade, would become one of The Fellowship Band’s two primary composers, Jon Cowherd. That first album was a strong shot across the bow, 62 All About Jazz Magazine
introducing a group whose blending of the jazz tradition with the folkloric roots and inescapable influence of church in Blade’s Shreveport, Louisiana upbringing caught the ears of so many other musicians that, when the group plays in New York, it is actually a challenge for non-musicians to find a ticket. In the 16 years that followed there have been only three more Fellowship recordings: 2000’s exceptional milestone, Perceptual, where Parker was replaced by up-and-coming guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel; 2008’s impressive Season of Changes saw the departure of Easley, the reduction of the
group to a sextet and a new home with Verve; and, finally, after six years, the rightfully anticipated Landmarks, which finds the Fellowship Band back at its original home with Blue Note Records. While there are significant guest appearances by both Parker and guitarist Marvin Sewell, Landmarks reflects the Fellowship Band of the past five years: a lean and mean quintet, with original members Blade, Thomas, Cowherd, Walden and Butler. It’s been a long road to the release of Landmarks; as early as 2011, at a positively nuclear performance at the Oslo Jazz Festival, both Walden and Blade referred to a new album as
being imminent, quite possibly including live recordings that have been made along the way. The final result, three years later, is something totally different: a completely studio recording that features two new Cowherd compositions (one, the opening solo mellotron miniature, “Down River,” more improvisation than writing), seven Blade compositions, one collaboration by Blade and Sewell, and a brief version of the often-covered “Shenandoah,” a traditional folk tune that the group has performed in concert for some time, but generally as a much longer piece.
day breaks. So it kinda speaks to nature in that way, hopefully, and of the landmarks that we pass along the way, as well.” Along with “Shenandoah,” Cowherd’s opening “Down River,” and the near-song form of Landmarks’ folkloric closer, “Embers,” there’s a fourth miniature, “State Lines,” that’s the only co-credited composition on the record, a near-ambient soundscape from Marvin Sewell. “That’s one of those pieces that reveals itself in the studio,” Blade explains. What it is, is somewhat of a variation that draws upon the melody of “Ark.La.Tex”;
this group of musicians, but for any musical collective that remains together for any length of time, for Blade and this band it assumes a much deeper meaning. This is an egalitarian collective that shares many things: friendship, life on the road, and music, to be sure; but there’s something else that’s harder to define but easy to feel. One look at the band onstage and it becomes clear that this truly is about fellowship, and watching the eye contact, the joy of being together to make music, and the irrefutable equality, it becomes clear why Blade struggles, to some extent, to have his name removed
“for Blade and this band it assumes a much deeper meaning. This is an egalitarian collective that shares many things: friendship, life on the road, and music, to be sure; but there’s something else that’s harder to define but easy to feel. ” “I think it speaks to each member in the band, our collective reverence for melody—for poetic things, for brevity and the power in that— as well as these exploratory, long landscape journeys that we take,” says Blade. “I like to hear things more simply stated at times, and for it to only be that and not an improvisatory trip but, instead, a very short and, hopefully, potent song. Those threads hopefully connect the storyline and you see these brief colors—like those brief moments, right at sunset, where you see this color for, like, sixty seconds; and then night falls, or
these five notes that happened over this ‘A’ drone. So I asked Marvin if he’d set the piece up, to sort of introduce “Ark. La.Tex.” And because of what he played, it was so beautiful and something that I could never have envisioned myself, I felt it should be credited as a dual composition. I feel like he brought something of his own to it; I love the fact that it really is “Ark.La.Tex” distilled [laughs].” While it’s easy to point at the name “Fellowship Band” and render obvious commentary about its meaning for not just
from the marquee so that the band can be called, simply, The Fellowship Band. Of course, with Blade’s higher profile, it’s understandable that this is something of an uphill battle, but there’s no greater example of Blade’s desire to share Fellowship’s profile equally than his request, at the end of this interview, that the lead photo be one of the entire band, and not just himself, alone. “Over time, it gets deeper,” Blade says. “It grows. All those time spent together getting in the van, getting out of the van, getting off of the plane stepping All About Jazz Magazine 63
Brian Blade: Cont.
out on stage and surrendering to the moment night after night, it does enrich your bond and so I’m thankful that these relationships continue and that the music continues to reveal itself.” Blade’s words inevitably speak of real truth, honesty and humility. For a drummer who, at this point in his career, could play with pretty much anyone he wants, that he chooses to continue to collaborate with these four players—and that, 64 All About Jazz Magazine
as people have left the band, rather than replacing them, the choice has been to work with a shrinking core of musicians that share the values so essential in defining the music—speaks volumes. “It’s a credit to each individual in the band and their commitment within their own busy lives to come together when we have the opportunity,” says Blade. “No one knows how long something will exist or remain whole, but since 1997, thankfully we have. And I pray
that it will continue for some time to come. “Between Jeff [Parker] and Dave [Easley] and Kurt [Rosenwinkel], they had previous commitments with their own bands, so over time it just distilled down to the five of us,” Blade continues. “Once I accepted that as a sign of what it was, Jon and I would write music, depending on the current work. I’m thankful that we can call on Jeff, Kurt, Dave or, in this case, Marvin Sewell,
have to coexist with another chordal instrument,” Blade explains. “It’s about whatever space he chooses, which can be occupied or left open. Over time, as a five piece, we’ve defined our positions to serve the body as it exists, and not to think of what is or isn’t there on the records—or that I’ve written something for guitar. It’s more about saying, ‘Ok, here we are now; how do we render the music just as we are?’ Hopefully we are growing stronger.” There’s little doubt that as Fellowship has become smaller, its ability to create both incendiary power and unadorned beauty has actually become greater. Blade’s “Farewell Bluebird,” the thirdto-last track on Landmark and, at over thirteen minutes, its longest, is a perfect example. Marvin Sewell takes a gritty, delta-driven slide solo that may help define the album track, but seeing the quintet perform it in concert is just as powerful—and complete. Thomas locks in with Blade for the blues-drenched riff at the core of the solo section, with Walden, Butler to suit my body of work at this particular point in time. But it’s and Cowherd ultimately joining in to build it to a powerful also great to feel that when we play as the five of us, there’s still climax, as Blade injects sharp punctuations and occasional the whole picture.” screams, surrendering to the The loss of two voices—and, demands of the music and more importantly, two chordal the moment, only to have the voices—could mean disaster entire band pull back for a for some, but for the Fellowship return to its positively gorgeous Band it’s simply a matter of melody. As Butler and Walden looking at it as opportunity. orbit around each other and, “I know that in that harmonic occasionally, come together in chasm that exists with Jon alone commanding unison, it’s clear at the piano, he’s able to make that there is absolutely nothing statements that don’t necessarily missing from this band.
It wasn’t always that way; at the group’s 2009 performance at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, it seemed as though the quintet was still searching for its identity; but since then, including the 2011 Oslo performance and an equally exhilarating show in Ottawa the following year, it became clear that, while Fellowship is a group that’s all about relentless searching, it had, at least, found its identity as a five-piece. And returning to Blue Note simply feels right to Blade, although the circumstances of Fellowship Band’s return are somewhat different. “I’m thankful that Landmarks is finally coming out,” says Blade. “I value people like Bruce Lundvall and the relationship with folks who believe in what you do, but also the greater idea of what music and the history and future of it is. “Back after the ‘98 release of the first Fellowship record and the 2000 Perceptual record, I was going through a lot of transitions with management and all kinds of changes, and unfortunately I ended up making the third Fellowship Band album with Universal but, as it turns out, everything is now connected [Blue Note and EMI are now part of Universal Music Group]. So I feel like we’re sort of back with family, and [Blue Note label head] Don Was and his position and all the folks who are at Blue Note—some of which are there from our first recording—it’s great to already have this sort of trust and knowing in place. My brother, Brady Jr., has opened a All About Jazz Magazine 65
Brian Blade: Cont. studio where we recorded seven of the pieces from Landmarks; he also started a label with his partners called Mid-City. So, Landmarks is a licensing deal between Mid-City and Blue Note.”
or so, and I’d have been about eight. So I was always watching him, and following him around, and then he turned 17 and it was time for him to go away to college, I moved into the drum chair at the church.
I feel that to hide those gifts, to not use them...I really just couldn’t do that.
“Over time, I’m so thankful for the experiences I’ve had, the opportunity of playing with musicians who were so “That environment—the Baptist much more advanced and Church—and the people, experienced than myself. It’s the parishioners and just the always about the moment and Blade also has strong feelings environment of praise, it gave you’re always trying to find about Blue Note now being that thing, even if it’s silence, headed by Don Was, a producer me a way in without feeling like I was performing or doing that serves the song in the whose purview, like Blade’s, a gig,” Blade continues. “It was best possible way. If it was Joni extends to the furthest reaches of jazz...and beyond. “It’s great, the bedrock which I’ve brought Mitchell, it would be ‘dotting into every other situation since my I’s and crossing my T’s,’” man; Don’s a music man and, then; just to be there and have Blade concludes, laughing. like Bruce, he has a reverence “I’m just trying to give for the history of the whatever punctuation label. I think he has a vision for its future “Over time, I’m so thankful or articulation is rhythmically needed to as well, so this whole for the experiences I’ve make the melody, the familial connection harmony or the words with my brother and had, the opportunity of have power. And that his relationships, and playing with musicians can mean leaving space me and mine...it feels around it, or crashing very restorative. And who were so much more down around it; so it’s Brady is running advanced and experienced funny, from moment to Blade Studios here moment, how that need in Shreveport as than myself.” changes.” well, and has kind of taken the reins of Perhaps surprisingly, the Mid-City record between regular work with the your part as a supporter—just label, so we’re kind of the first Fellowship Band, Lanois and to have it be something that guinea pigs,” Blade says, with Shorter, Blade still continues you’re fully committed to—so a chuckle. “I’m thankful that find time to participate in other that, since then, I’ve been able he can work out the kinks on projects while maintaining a to keep that sense of whatever me and hopefully some more balance in life to which many gifts God gives, to use them to things will come of it.” aspire but rarely achieve. Still, the best of my ability, no matter as in-demand as he is, Blade Blade doesn’t just come from what the situation. Hopefully prefers not to think of himself a musical family; he comes I’ve been guided to make good as a session player. from one where spirituality choices when I play music. So is fundamental. My father the whole idea of spirit and One recording in the can and has been a pastor, here in what that means to different awaiting a label is guitarist Joel Shreveport, for 53 years,” the people? For me it’s all about Harrison’s Spirit House. “Yeah, drummer explains. “My brother are you giving your whole self I’ve known Joel for some time Brady, he’s five years older; he to a situation or are you just and I’m glad that we finally was playing drums in church phoning it in? So one is spiritgot the chance to play with his when he was about thirteen full and the other is spirit-less. Spirit House project,” Blade 66 All About Jazz Magazine
says. “We did a tour and then made the album at the end of that tour. Even with things that I’m already committed to, there’s still room for surprises, which I try to build into my schedule, aside from the time I commit to when I’m just at home. I like the fact that I can play with others—friends. I wouldn’t consider myself a session drummer; it’s mostly relationships that, even if they’re new, I accept with the condition of, ‘Ok, do I feel connected to the music; do I have something to offer?’ Aside from being thankful for the invitation, I want to make sure that when I’m involved with something I’m really in it and doing the best I can. “Thankfully it’s all things that I love doing, so given no conflicts of scheduling, I think we’re finding a pretty good balance of playing with Daniel—which is something that’s important to me—in addition to the Wayne Shorter Quartet. I have the charge of trying to find and create opportunities for the Fellowship Band and Mama Rosa; those primary relationships in my life sort of make room for themselves in my year. And because I love doing those things, it never feels like some burden or too much on the plate, it feels like ‘Ok, I’m where I’m supposed to be, and today is what we have.’” Having worked extensively with Shorter, Lanois and, to a lesser but no less important extent, Joni Mitchell has given Blade the unique opportunity to grow in a number of very different ways, all of which have
contributed to the drummer, composer and singer/ songwriter he is today. “What I learned from Joni was how to try and do what she does so perfectly, in such a genius way; she can tell such a personal story and wrap it in the most eloquent poetry and harmony, but it comes at you in a very personal way, to you,” Blade explains. “Somehow then
it takes on almost this universal feeling, like ‘Oh, I’ve been there’ or ‘I’ve felt that,’ but to hear it articulated in the way that only she can deliver it. It’s really incredible. “With Daniel, he is a keen observer,” Blade continues. “His songwriting, what he feels makes a song into something that touches people—and sonically what makes it interesting and the ears to open wider—he’s a master of that. And he encourages me; whenever he invites me to play his music or on a session that he’s producing for someone else, he’s always believing in the people in the room, and he’s always spotting things, like’ Here we go; we had something right here; let’s stay in this direction.’ So he’s really a master at that. Daniel builds things and they take on a life of their own. And then he moves on to the next building or project; it’s great to continue our musical and personal friendship. “And Wayne? What I learned from him is he is so much about, ‘Let’s take a chance.’ This, coming from probably the greatest composer of any time, but he wants to come away from the page, step into the dark and find this collective composition and shine a light on that,” Blade continues. “It’s scary, because you have to play from nothing: there’s no script and there’s no music for any of us. He just wants us to start playing. So it took a while for the quartet—me and Danilo Perez and John Patitucci—to ‘get’ Wayne’s All About Jazz Magazine 67
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Brian Blade: Cont. vision of what he was after. So we are continually trying to do this when we play—the idea of this composition, unknown to us and the listener, to unfold and the willingness to take that chance and take that trip. I think listeners also feel that you’re searching as well; it’s been really great.” That Shorter’s three live recordings with this quartet— Footprints Live! (Verve, 2002), the even more impressive Beyond the Sound Barrier (Verve, 2005) and even more unfolding surprises of Without a Net (Blue Note, 2013)—have
things, so he’ll bring in a whole other variation on ‘Sanctuary,’ sometimes, or something that he may have started writing, say, in 1967. It’s interesting that, as well as new work, he’s always (re)writing. It’s great for us to always have the privilege of seeing what he’s going to bring in, of hearing what he’s imagining. You never know how long anything is going to be, but I’m really thankful that we’ve stayed together and that Wayne is still doing great and wants to play.” With Landmarks set for its April 29, 2014 release, there’s little doubt that longtime Fellowship Band fans will find
when I write, I’m envisioning each individual in the band: I’m hearing Jon playing these chords, or Myron and Melvin playing these melodies and Chris playing this counterpoint on bass. It gives me this liberty to feel like it’s personalized for us and then I just have to create...to come up with what the drummer is going to play for what this guy wrote,” Blade says, laughing. “So I get to step out of the position of composer on guitar and become the drummer in the band and find my part; it’s an interesting process and it’s all very tailored for the band. “The music usually reveals itself
“I think that’s the beauty and genius of Wayne,” Blade enthuses. “He’s not resting on the incredible body of work that he’s written yesterday; he’s still looking for the new doorway.” included a mix of new material and older titles so significantly opened up for exploration as to become, at times, almost unrecognizable, exemplifies Shorter’s relentless search, and refusal to rest on what are, by this time in the octogenarian’s lengthy career, considerable laurels. “I think that’s the beauty and genius of Wayne,” Blade enthuses. “He’s not resting on the incredible body of work that he’s written yesterday; he’s still looking for the new doorway. Somehow, to him, I think his compositions are never finished; they’re still malleable, so he’s molding these 70 All About Jazz Magazine
plenty of the deep melodies and profound interaction that’s defined the group since its inception. With all but two tracks recorded at Blade Studios in Shreveport, it’s been a lengthy process from conception to final result. Blade does most of his writing on guitar: “Except for, I think, one piece on our last record, Season of Changes, a piece called “ Alpha and Omega” which I wrote at the piano, 99% of the time I write on guitar, bring it in and everybody kind of brings it to life,” he says. But just how does the music come to life? “The writing is detailed in the sense that
pretty quickly in terms of what works for me when I bring in a new piece of music and how the song really speaks,” Blade continues. “We don’t get a lot of opportunity to rehearse, but with all the time we’ve had together, everyone comes in with their strengths and spirit—and our connection— and we can find a sound and interpretation for a piece pretty quickly. “The process is such a mystery because to collectively feel like, ‘Ok, we got to something that represents a song and represents everyone as soloists, but also as ensemble’ and to be able to make that objective
choice over a period of days? I guess if we’d only had one day we would’ve done it one day, but we had a few days to experiment a little bit and change things—’Let’s try this here,’ or ‘Let’s try this body of the arrangement with a solo’—to find what the music is wanting; it’s been a trip. We make those choices pretty quickly. There wasn’t any postproduction; we just try to find performances and live with that,” concludes Blade. In a time where postproduction editing can create perfect but oftentimes lifeless performances, it’s refreshing to hear a band that goes for the best overall performance, warts and all. “So many of my favorite records, they’re I guess what you’d call humanisms [laughs].
But the greater arc and the reach of the music, hopefully it touches something that, if those little humanisms weren’t present, would lack a feeling— like a certain thing that draws you to it. “It’s like this great cymbal artist, Roberto Spizzichino; I play some of his cymbals,” Blade continues. “He passed away couple years ago, but he would talk about making cymbals, and he’s hammering this chunk of metal alloy— brass and copper—to make this instrument. But he was after that true, unique thing. It may not necessarily have been beautiful, but he wanted it to be truthfully unique. Hopefully the music is beautiful too, but not at the expense of real life and real consonance and
dissonance.” As the release of Landmarks approaches, Blade is already looking ahead to the future, while trying to maintain that all-important balance. “I’ve just been enjoying the Fellowship Band and Wayne, and times at home with my family; it has been great to kind of reflect from the holidays into the new year and not have to rush right into executing the plan, as it would be,” Blade says. “I’m also looking forward to making the next Mama Rosa album, because the songs are kind of piling up. I would like for it all to be in one place, so I look forward to that time.” And with a growing archive of live recordings that were, at one point, being considered All About Jazz Magazine 71
Brian Blade: Cont.
for Landmarks, Blade still has hopes: “None of it has seen the light of day yet, and I hope that it will at some time, because it is a whole other view of the band in the moment.” In the meantime, Blade will continue to search for opportunities for the Fellowship Band, a group whose connection to the jazz tradition is irrefutable, but
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which also evocates southern landscapes, spiritual pursuits and folkloric lyricism. “I’m not sure what I guess is a constant mining for what the sound of the Fellowship Band is,” Blade says. “It’s a given that we won’t be able to recreate John Coltrane’s quartet or Thelonious Monk, much as we love all those things that inspired us. We have to find some way to carry them into ourselves and
hopefully deliver something that is our own thing. Not that we can’t play their music— which I would love to do—but it’s funny; I don’t think of Fellowship Band as lacking tradition; instead, it is revealing more of who we are at this time. I’m glad there’s been the chance to watch the band growing and becoming deeper...but I have no idea where it’s going!”
June 18 - 21, 2014 Kamnik, Slovenia June 19
SUN RA ARKESTRA
Jubilee Tour June 21
feat Tamara Peterson June 18
The Kenny Garrett Quintet May 18 Giacomo Ronchini
Bill Evans Soulgrass November 8
Roy Hargrove Quintet November 29
Adam BaĹ‚dych Imaginary Quartet
Raynald Colom feat CHICUELO
Artbeaters feat G.Fticar & I.Bezget Santa Diver & Luca Kezdy SLO MasterJam Sergey Istrati Trio
http://www.veronicastales.com All About Jazz Magazine 73
FROM THE ALL ABOUT JAZZ ARCHIVE
The Blue Note Reissue Series By GREG SIMMONS Photos JOE HARLEY, RON RAMBACH FRANCIS WOLFF, COURTESY OF MOSAIC IMAGES
Music Matters has been reissuing classic Blue Note jazz records since 2007. It has dug deep into the catalog, remastering lesser known, infrequently heard titles, and done so with passionate attention to presenting the highest possible sound quality. Offering an analog solution in a digital age, this exceptional series is available on 45rpm vinyl records only. It is an extraordinary collection of music. 74 All About Jazz Magazine
With some of the Blue Note recordings now pushing 60 years old, it’s wholly appropriate to release a first-rate reissue series, but to do it right requires people who are fanatics about these titles and who bleed enthusiasm for the music. It also helps to have folks with the attention to detail necessary to worry about the weight of the vinyl and the type of ink used in the jackets. It requires folks who are a little crazy about making the best possible pressings, and are willing to go to any length to make it happen. Ron Rambach (far left above), owner of Music Matters, and his friend and co-conspirator, Joe Harley (second left, with Steve Hoffman, second right, Kevin Gray, far right), have personally overseen every element of the reissue series since its inception. They’re both a little nuts about classic Blue Note records, and they’ve channeled their madness into an exceptional collection. Rambach and Harley are music fans first and foremost, and they approached reissuing the Blue Note catalog as an extension of their dedication to the label. Original 33rpm Blue Note albums are scarce and outrageously expensive. Many collectors have at least one original Blue Note that they just had to buy, even though the vinyl had clearly been used for target practice. The label has so much cache that some folks will pay a premium for a scratchy, damaged Blue Note record just to have it, even when a CD of the same performance may be readily available. Rambach, a long time dealer in collectible vinyl, was concerned that people would only ever hear poor quality copies, and that they’d overlook lesser known titles: “I didn’t know how the next generation was going to hear this music. It’s the music that needs to be discovered. It’s about bringing these guys back.” Both men had a deep knowledge of the label’s catalog through their own collections and felt strongly that, handled
properly, a reissue could offer something new to enthusiasts. Blue Note—under its original ownership— wasn’t just any jazz record label, and therefore its recording history merits the special attention. Alfred Lion cut his first tracks in 1939 with some 78rpms of pianists Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. Those sides became the first releases of the fledgling Blue Note label, which went on to become synonymous with some of the highest quality and most innovative jazz of the 20th century. The label really hit its stride in the postwar years, first by embracing bebop and the new long-playing records, and then by continually searching out and recording fresh talent. Lion recorded many important musicians who later became legends when they were coming up in the mid 1950s and 1960s, as well as a few older artists for good measure. The label’s A&R men, first Ike Quebec, and then Duke Pearson, were accomplished musicians themselves who were able to spot and attract first-rate talent to the label. Towering giants such as pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins all made records for Lions; as
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Blue Note Reissue Series: Cont. did lesser-known greats like saxophonist J.R. Monterose and pianists Sonny Clark and Herbie Nichols. Lion gave a voice to many innovative, often young jazz musicians, whose forwardthinking compositions, bold interpretations and extraordinary performances became instant classics. Quite simply: he recorded the best artists he could find and gave them the freedom to make their own music. In the process he built what is arguably the most important catalog of recordings in jazz. Constant recycling of that catalog keeps many titles available, but reissues often come with compromised sound quality, especially on CD. The most comprehensive CD series—released in the early years of this new century—is a mixed bag of compression and alterations that doesn’t do anything to flatter the music. There have periodically been a few great reissues of selected titles, but these have tended to stick with wellknown, popular records. Saxophonist John Coltrane’s Blue Trane (1957) is always in print, often in deluxe packages, while something like Gil Melle’s Patterns In Jazz (1956) rarely sees the light of day. This approach to reissuing is an unfortunate economic reality of the record business. Popular titles simply sell more copies. The Blue Note catalog has not been spared from this myopic strategy, which is unfortunate because many of the lesser-known titles are every bit as musically satisfying as the big hits. This sin of omission was something that Rambach and Harley were determined to avoid. “We didn’t want to focus on the war horses of the catalogue,” explains Harley. “The tapes are a treasure trove of great material, and one of the goals from the beginning was to bring out great titles that were under-heard by the public.” To get the best possible sound quality for the project, Rambach and Harley sought out the recording art’s equivalent of an act of God: access to the original master tapes recorded by Rudy Van Gelder in Hackensack, NJ. The tapes are archived by Blue Note parent EMI, and obtaining them involved running a gauntlet of terms and conditions. Despite the obstacles, the original 76 All About Jazz Magazine
tapes were an absolute requirement for the project. Digital copies, or even second-generation tapes, would introduce sonic compromises that were simply not compatible with the series’ goals. Using the master tapes would ensure that the new pressings were never more than two steps away from the original sessions. Anything less than the original tapes would have made the project pointless. Of course, getting those tapes is not as simple as borrowing a book from the library. Harley and Rambach began by writing letters to EMI, with little success. Eventually they tapped a friend, Michael Cuscuna, who, in addition to having a long history with the label and solid connections at EMI, is also the conservator of the great Francis Wolff photographs that often grace the covers of the Blue Note albums. With Cuscuna’s intervention and support, and assurances that this would be a low-volume niche project, EMI gave the green light, and in 2007 the Music Matters reissue series was in business. The Blue Note tapes are unique, irreplaceable documents of a high point in American music, and therefore require special precautions. EMI takes great care in preserving this material in specialized archives. Of course, every time a tape is played or even handled there is a risk of damage. Music Matters had to secure a one million dollar insurance policy for each tape before EMI would release them. Under those circumstances even the most prosaic task acquired new gravitas. Harley recalled the anxiety of picking up the masters for saxophonist Hank Mobley’s Soul Station (1960) from the courier, looking at the box sitting on his front seat, and having nightmare visions of wrecking his car on the way to the studio. From a distance it seems like quite an honor to have this problem, but it’s also easy to imagine the anxiety. As an archive medium, magnetic 50 year-old reel-to-reel tapes run the risk of degradation that comes with time, handling and use. The condition of the tapes was a concern from the outset. A compromised master could prevent the Music Matters crew from getting a first-rate analog impression with which to stamp new records. As luck would have it, those fears proved to be largely unfounded. The Scotch tapes (yes, that’s the brand) were in surprisingly good condition
and proved to be easy to work with. The sound quality was—for the most part—completely intact with remarkably few anomalies. A few titles suffered from sub par sound quality, and these were not included in this collection, but by and large the material was ready to go. Starting with the introduction of the compact disc 25 years ago, collectors and audiophiles have kept a torch burning for needles and grooves, but in the mass music market vinyl records were as dead as the DeSoto. That began to change in recent years, partially out of nostalgia and a certain hipster factor, but also because when produced properly, records just sound damn good. Digital music, whether by CD or file sharing, disassembles music into ones and zeroes for storage, and then reassembles it for
listening. By comparison, true analog—tape to lathe to record—is a direct impression of the sound. From the outset Rambach and Harley believed that only a true analog copy of the Blue Note tapes would yield the sound quality they wanted, so they decided to release the series on vinyl only. They made the additional decision to release each title on two 180gram 45rpm LPs instead of one 33rpm platter because, in their estimation, the higher velocity of 45rpm rotation
reduces the impact of distortion as well as the loss of high frequencies as the needle moves to the center of the album. It costs more, of course, as everything—albums, covers and sleeves— has to be doubled to include all the music, but they are convinced the effort pays sonic dividends. Frankly, it’s hard to argue with the results. Vinyl mastering and pressing is a dwindling art and there aren’t many people left with the proper knowledge and equipment to make a really first class record. As they laid out their plans, Rambach and Harley knew exactly where to turn. Mastering duties were entrusted to Kevin Gray, owner of Cohearent Audio. With almost 40 years in the recording business, Gray has been the technical end of a number of recent, highquality reissue projects. The Cohearent studio has an array of very high quality vintage components to facilitate transferring the music from tape to lacquer, including a modified Studer reel-to-reel deck, custom class A amplification, and a vintage Neumann cutting lathe, all heavy duty gear with the capacity to make first rate stampers. Despite decades of experience with this kind of material, Gray was still a little star-struck by the process. “It’s an amazing window into history,” he says. “The boxes have all of Rudy Van Gelder and Alfred Lion’s hand written notes all over them.” In some cases those notes, often from Lion to Van Gelder with production instructions, helped guide the remastering process as well. Of course, remastering is only one step in a series of production links. Once the stampers are cut, they need to be pressed into hot plastic, and successfully managing that process takes some additional expertise. Anyone who remembers buying a record, only to find an offcentered hole, or a noisy, warped bit of wafer All About Jazz Magazine 77
Blue Note Reissue Series: Cont. thin plastic, can appreciate the problems to be avoided in pressing a premium collection. Music Matters turned to the RTI pressing facility with a simple justification: according to Rambach, “RTI is the highest quality record plant in the country, period.” Pointing to dead quiet vinyl and perfectly centered spindle holes he credits RTI’s Rick Hashimoto and his team with really embracing the goals of the project to meet the high quality expectations. The success is easy to verify. As we’ll get to in a moment, this is some of the finest vinyl you’ll ever hear. It was also important to Rambach that these albums look spectacular. Blue Note album covers had a distinct design language, and fidelity to that aesthetic was a top priority. The label’s house look was defined by Reid Miles, whose bold, geometric color blocks—combined with Francis Wolff ’s black and white photographs—created a modern and sophisticated motif. In the book Blue Note: The Album Cover Art (Chronicle Books, 1991), editor Felix Cromey offered an eloquent summation: “As Blue Note embraced the musical changes of its recording artists, so Reid Miles caught the slipstream, creating sleeves that transcended the mugshots and mysticism of other genres’ sleeves.” To capture all of the design elements of the original covers, Music Matters turned to printer Jack Sloughton, whose company has been making record jackets for over 50 years. Accurate reproductions required painstaking color matching, as well as touching up any fading or discoloration. All of the jackets are printed on heavyweight, acid-free board to ensure longevity. “There was a tremendous amount of effort in getting these covers as perfect as possible,” says Rambach. “We’re psychotic about it.” Indeed, the 78 All About Jazz Magazine
covers, which could have been an after-thought, are beautiful, and Wolff ’s dramatic black and white photos in the gatefold provide an additional window into the recording sessions. These Music Matters reissues are a premium product, and the experience of handling and listening to them is really special. The attention to detail has paid off in spades, creating as luxurious a quality as can be obtained from 360 grams of vinyl. The hefty covers are something to behold, with vivid, deep colors, crisp photographs and the liner notes reprinted in their entirety. They invite a great old ritual: reading the promo copy while listening to the music. The vinyl itself is impeccable, with dead quiet black backgrounds and tremendous dynamic range. The 180 gram
weight makes solid contact with the turntable platter and the stylus just seems to glide through the grooves—no pops, no ticks, no pings. It’s hard to imagine any subsequent version ever bettering these pressings for their sonic and aesthetic quality. But they are records, and they are meant to be
played, leading the inevitable question: how do these Music Matters pressings sound? In a word: fantastic. But they still sound like old Blue Note records, and that requires some additional explanation. These albums all have the hallmark “Blue Note sound” that is a product of the space in which they were recorded. Van Gelder quite literally began recording jazz musicians in his parents’ living room in the early 1950s, including titans like pianist Thelonious Monk and trumpeter Miles Davis. Compared to today’s recording environments this was a truly improvised setup. The recordings are not perfect, nor are they “HiFi” in the modern sense of the word. The piano— often derided—is better here than on previous releases but still sounds a little boxed in, and instruments on the stereo recordings are often unnaturally hard-panned to the left and right channels, leaving a hole in the middle. There are variations from recording to recording, but the overall sound is always consistent. Now imagine trying to record a piano in your parents’ living room with Art Blakey’s drums thundering just two feet away. The biggest challenge isn’t to make a grandiose piano recording, but simply to ensure that the piano gets captured at all. Van Gelder went to great lengths to make sure that each player was audible on his recordings, even when doing so created some aural side effects. Even beginning in 1958, when he opened an actual studio, he continued to employ a fairly simple recording setup with very little baffling to separate the instruments. Through most of the 1960s every session was recorded live-to-two-track, and there was no overdubbing. The period sound notwithstanding, these recordings have some outstanding qualities. Horns sound rich and full of subtle tonal shadings. Percussion is often clear enough to tell whether the drummer was hitting the edge of a cymbal or the center, each with a distinct reverberation. Do these recordings have some limitations? That’s an arguable point, but these recordings captured a lot of detail that engineers today do not, and in any event, these questions should never deter anyone from listening to the music. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s first Blue Note
recording, Night Dreamer, was cut in 1964. The six originals are a mixture of swinging hard bop with a couple of ballads thrown in for good measure. Shorter is clearly digging deep, challenging himself with his improvisations on his tenor. Lee Morgan’s trumpet playing is more conventional, making a nice foil to Shorter’s further thinking. Pianist McCoy Tyner, who can be among the most percussive pianists, exhibits an unusual filigreed subtlety, particularly on the ballads, where Shorter also shows his softer side. The record has a solid groove that could induce toe tapping in a cemetery. This is a gem of the era, featuring first-rate compositions, arrangements and performances. Night Dreamer has never sounded better than it does here. The horns are full and clear with excellent tone nuance. Reggie Workman’s bass is not as punchy as it might have been, but the notes are deep and fully articulated. The drums of Elvin Jones, on the other hand, exude presence. The soundstage, typical of these Music Matters pressings, is gigantic, seemingly unaffected by the exterior boundaries of loudspeaker placement. By direct comparison, the CD sounds thin and brittle, and reveals some studio trickery, with the placement of the horns altered within the soundstage. The vinyl is unmistakably superior. Clifford Jordan’s Cliff Craft (1957) is a vehicle for his warm, powerful tenor sax. Jordan was not the flashiest player in the Blue Note stable, but he exuded confidence with every note. It seems likely that he was aware of Sonny Rollins as a stylist, but he was also looking further back to Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins. In 1957 Jordan was still working through his influences on his way to his own sound, but he had a huge presentation that must have made him an exciting player to see live. On this date, Jordan was joined by the magnificent—if ill- fated— Sonny Clark, who always structured his blues with unusual dexterity and originality, as well as the great Art Farmer on trumpet. As a Van Gelder recording, Cliff Craft has one unusual feature. It was recorded in 1957, the first year stereo was widely employed. The date pushes both horns to the far left, instead of the more common split arrangement. The piano All About Jazz Magazine 79
Blue Note Reissue Series: Cont. is nicely recessed into the stage, and is as fully realized as any in this catalog. The walking bass line on “Soul-Lo Blues” is forward in the mix with a terrific “thwack,” and the cymbals have a widely dispersed ringing tone to them. Overall this is an excellent recording with smooth, detailed sound and terrific instrument definition. Gil Melle’s Patterns In Jazz warrants special attention on several levels. Melle himself, a bit of a renaissance man, had a relatively short tenure as a performing jazz musician during the 1950s, before moving on to film and television soundtracks. As a baritone saxophonist, he was cool and laid back, sounding more LA than NYC. The album features a quintet including the guitar of Bert Cinderella in place of the more common piano in the rhythm section. Melle shows his talent for arranging, with some unusual bass note harmonies. The record is rooted in bebop, but Melle also adds some notably advanced harmonic structures. “Weird Valley” features an awkward little melody and some ear-catching contrapuntal surprises. Even a warhorse like “Moonlight In Vermont” has been reworked into something truly original. Melle was not the most powerful saxophonist, but he played to his own strengths, focusing on mood and atmosphere over bombast. The album is utterly charming. Patterns In Jazz also taps a long controversy between mono and stereo Blue Note records. The debate often focuses on the hard, left-right panning of the instruments on the stereo records, and whether the mono pressings just sound more natural. Rudy Van Gelder began recording in stereo in 1957, using both stereo and mono tapes in tandem for a short time before abandoning mono altogether. Doing its part to fuel the flames, the Music Matters gang discovered that beginning in mid 1957 all of the mono issues were down-mixed from stereo masters. Each box was in fact marked in Van Gelder’s hand, “Mo(no) master made 50/50 from stereo.” As one of the few true mono recordings in the series, Patterns In Jazz certainly won’t settle this controversy, but its sound is revelatory. Mono 80 All About Jazz Magazine
recordings can sometimes sound stacked, with all of the instruments arranged in a narrow vertical pile. By contrast, Patterns In Jazz might be described as “Big Mono.” The image is large and unified, very much the way a combo on a small bandstand in a club might sound. The instruments are centered, but there are discernable depth and lateral cues. The bell chimes, for example, on “Nice Question,” very clearly originate deep in the right side of the sound field. On the aforementioned “Moonlight In Vermont,” Melle’s horn stands clearly forward of the band in a way that even the best modern recordings have trouble capturing. The album delivers some serious ammunition to the one-track camp: an exceptional example of a well- engineered, high-quality mono recording. It is also one of the overall best recordings in the series: a true “must hear” pressing. If that sounds like a favorable review, it is. But that’s not to say there aren’t a few downsides. First, as 45rpm records, some of the sides have only one track on them. Expect to get up every five minutes or so to turn them over. No big deal. Second, at $50, these are expensive records. Third, despite a recent resurgence in vinyl, there just aren’t that many listeners out there who still have turntables. A high-resolution, downloadable digital version offered along side the vinyl might have delivered most of the sonic attributes, and been accessible to more listeners. Yes, downloads would be comprised of ones and zeroes, but digital at its best is getting pretty close to analog for sound quality. Nevertheless, Harley—who is also an executive at hi-fi cable giant AudioQuest—points out that a good turntable setup needn’t cost a fortune and mentions a number of respectable all-in-one setups that include an arm and cartridge in the $200-$400 range. “People tend to be shocked that even an entry level table is plenty good enough to convey the vinyl effect.” This might not be a solution that’s available to everyone, for reasons of money, space or lifestyle (kids and turntables are not always a good match) but it certainly opens some options. The Music Matters Blue Note reissue series offers an awful lot to jazz fans. But the exceptional
quality of the vinyl and the exquisite covers notwithstanding, the most impressive thing about the collection may simply be how far they’ve dug into Blue Note’s back catalog. Titles like saxophonists John Jenkins’ With Kenny Burrell (1957) and Sam Rivers’ important, if under-appreciated Fuscia Swing Song (1964) don’t get out of the vault very often, so it’s a credit to Rambach and Harley that they’ve taken some chances. Rambach concedes that trombonist Grachan Moncur III’s Evolution (1963) doesn’t move a lot of copies—it is pretty far out—but he’s released it anyway. The team stayed away from popular hits in part because it saw an opportunity to expose lesser-known titles, and that’s a great thing. Music Matters currently has 88 Blue Note albums either released or already re-mastered and waiting to hit the street—more than enough titles for a listener to gain a solid understanding of the label’s legacy. Rambach and Hartley are a little cagey about which additional titles they’ll release in the future, but they continue to audition tapes from the EMI vault, so it’s a good bet that they’re not done yet. Rambach is circumspect about his role in the effort, and readily allows that none of this would have come together without the skills and efforts of everyone involved. “I’ve got nothing but reverence for Rudy Van Gelder; Michael Cuscuna was paramount in getting this done; and the RTI team, and even our printer made enormous contributions.” The Music Matters Blue Note Reissue Series is truly a collaborative accomplishment. In a world where music is shot around the world in seconds over the Internet, these old- fashioned vinyl records offer better sound quality than virtually any digital medium, and the format itself invites listeners to slow down and give the music some serious attention. With the music industry dominated by technology that turns music into a commodity, and sound reproduction into an appliance, these records offer something very special: a collection that is made by people who truly care about what they’re doing and insist on the highest standards. It’s hard not to deeply appreciate their effort.
“Alfred Lion told me ‘Bobby, whenever you want to go into the recording studio just call me. You can record as many albums as you want.’ He felt I was the new kid on the block. I did all the albums with Eric Dolphy, Andrew Hill, and my own stuff. And god bless him Jackie McLean, he was the reason I got in there. I’m happy to have a new recording come out on Blue Note. I’ve had a long-term association with the label. I’m thrilled to be back here.” –Bobby Hutcherson All About Jazz Magazine 81
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A Selection Of Blue Note Cover Art
from the 1960’s
Francis Wolff hired Reid Miles back in the mid-1950s to design Blue Note album covers when the label began releasing their recordings on 12” LPs. Miles incorporated the session photographs of Francis Wolff (and, later, his own photographs) to produce hundreds of covers-many considered masterworks in graphic design. Here’s a representative sampling of his most brilliant work. “Blue Note designer Reid Miles and photographer Francis Wolff were a classic combo. Their covers have been envied, imitated, but rarely equalled.” -Robin Kinross, Eye Magazine
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Free For All Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers 1964 Featuring: Art Blakey - drums | Cedar Walton - piano | Wayne Shorter - tenor saxophone Freddie Hubbard - trumpet | Curtis Fuller - trombone Reggie Workman - bass
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Judgment! Andrew Hill 1964 Featuring: Andrew Hill - piano | Bobby Hutcherson - vibraphone Richard Davis - bass | Elvin Jones - drums
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Hub-Tones Freddie Hubbard 1962 Featuring: Freddie Hubbard - trumpet | James Spaulding - alto saxophone, flute Herbie Hancock - piano | Reggie Workman - bass | Clifford Jarvis - drums
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Happenings Bobby Hutcherson 1967 Featuring: Bobby Hutcherson - vibraphone | Herbie Hancock - piano | Bob Cranshaw - bass Joe Chambers - drums
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No Room For Squares Hank Mobley 1963 Featuring: Hank Mobley – tenor saxophone | Lee Morgan – trumpet |Donald Byrd – trumpet Andrew Hill – piano | Herbie Hancock – piano | John Ore – bass Butch Warren – bass | Philly Joe Jones – drums
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Doinâ€™ The Thing (At the Village Gate) The Horace Silver Quintet 1961 Featuring: Horace Silver - piano | Blue Mitchell - trumpet | Junior Cook - tenor saxophone Gene Taylor - bass | Roy Brooks - drums
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Search For The New Land Lee Morgan 1966 Featuring: Lee Morgan – trumpet | Wayne Shorter – tenor sax | Herbie Hancock – piano Grant Green – guitar | Reggie Workman – bass | Billy Higgins – drums
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Midnight Special Jimmy Smith 1962 Featuring: Jimmy Smith – organ | Stanley Turrentine - tenor saxophone | Kenny Burrell – guitar Donald Bailey – drums
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Dimensions & Extensions Sam Rivers 1967* Featuring: Sam Rivers - tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute | Donald Byrd - trumpet Julian Priester - trombone | James Spaulding - alto saxophone, flute Cecil McBee - bass | Steve Ellington - drums * Note : recorded in 1967 but not released until 1986 with the original catalogue number and the intended cover artwork
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Page One Joe Henderson 1963 Featuring: Kenny Dorham – trumpet | Joe Henderson – tenor saxophone | Pete La Roca – drums McCoy Tyner – piano | Butch Warren – double bass
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Fabian Almazan: Espejos By DANMICHAEL REYES
Intent is one of those intangible qualities that make a jazz musician. While traits like technical facility, memory, harmonic and rhythmic sophistication play a huge part in the career and development of the aspiring jazz artist, intention is the X-factor that can make a performance special. In an art form that demands spontaneity and thrives within improvisation, hearing what youâ€™re going to play before you play it, in some cases hearing it as you play is crucial in order to get your message across. 94 All About Jazz Magazine
Rhizome (Blue Note/ ArtistShare, 2014) is Cubanborn, New York-based pianist and composer Fabian Almazan’s newest project. Set to release this February, Almazan’s newest album is a project with the intention to “unite all people from all walks of life and provide them with some inspiration to strive towards happiness.” Almazan’s sophomore album as a leader features original compositions by the pianist about topics ranging from the Arab Spring to the devastating shootings that took place here in the States last year. “There were a lot of shootings that happened in the U.S that [occurred] around that time and I felt like it’s just little old me,” describes Almazan. “I’m just a pianist but I had hoped that standing up and saying [that] we’re all one and we’re all reflections of each other would help.” “At the time I just felt that it was necessary for me—for my own moral compass—to say something about making the world a better place,” Almazan continues. “I know it sounds very kumbaya, but that’s the whole idea for Rhizome.” Coming up with the album’s name came to the pianist after reading a passage in a book by Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections on life being analogous to a rhizome. “It kind of crystallized when I read [a] passage in Jung’s book,” Alamazan shares. “I travelled a lot for touring and had a lot of conversations with
people about their lives and what they’re going through. It just became clear to me that it doesn’t matter where we’re from, we’re all experiencing very similar things in our lives and we’re all undergoing certain challenges.” A challenge fit for our purposes is the slowly diminishing idea of apprenticeships and finishing schools in jazz. In previous years, a jazz musician would earn his/her stripes after serving as a sideman for a more experienced artist. While these sidemen were usually pretty bad musicians who were on the top of their game—Wayne Shorter’s time with Art Blakey and Miles, Miles Davis with Charlie Parker, Bird with Jay McShann—local scenes thrived on a microcosmic level with older local musicians taking the younger generation in. While finishing schools aren’t as prevalent as they used to be, these opportunities still exist and Fabian Alamazan is an example. Since 2007, the young pianist has held the piano chair for trumpeter, Terence Blanchard. Almazan appears on Blanchard’s latest record for Blue Note, Magnetic (2013), the soundtrack for the movie Red Tails (Sony, 2012), and Choices (Concord, 2009).
“Usually, the reality of it requires an extreme amount of work and a lot of dedication,” Almazan reveals. “I think if you really love what you’re doing, and you have the courage to go forward [to] fulfill whatever destiny you want, things will line up. It’s not easy by any means, it’s the most difficult thing that any that [particular] person will probably have to do; it’s just part of life. But that’s what it entails, a lot of hard work. Just listen to your gut; if you feel like you have to do something to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve, just go for it.” Going for it is a trait and attitude that Almazan inhibits not just in his life as a jazz pianist, but as a film composer, and a record label owner. Biophilia Records is Almazan’s own imprint where his first album, Personalities (2011), was released. Other artists that are part of Almazan’s Biophilia umbrella are bassist and singer-songwriter Desmond White and vocalist Charlie Christenson.
“It’s one of those things where I don’t know what I don’t know, so I don’t know a lot,” Almazan states in describing his role as a record label owner. But Biophilia isn’t just Almazan’s attempt to have his own imprint When asked about advice for along with a few buddies in striving musicians looking order to make music; the name to land apprenticeships, the Biophilia has a deeper meaning humble pianist said, “Listen for Almazan. “The definition to your gut. I think a lot of of that word is a love of life, people know the majority of the but not as in living but a love answers that they’re seeking, for living things,” explains the they’re just afraid to face up to pianist. “I’ve always been very the reality of it.” All About Jazz Magazine 95
Fabian Almazan: Cont. drawn to conservation efforts [with] nature. Growing up, I felt like I lived in two worlds. One was very committed to music, which is the art world, but I was also drawn to the state of the environment.” “I felt like there weren’t really lot of people I had that in common with,” Almazan continues. “Starting this record label is my attempt to unite people that are both extremely passionate about music and the environment. That’s all I’m trying to do with that—I’m not trying to make any more, I’m just trying to make a community of people.”
string quartet second allowed Almazan, Oh, and Cole the room for improvisation. Although recording the piano trio first then the string quartet worked beautifully for Personalities, Almazan’s busy schedule simply did not allow for such a luxury to occur when it came time to record Rhizome. “I looked at my calendar at the end of last year
the rhythm section but not like a full band,” recalls the leader. While recording a project featuring a rhythm section and a string quartet might sound daunting, Almazan saw it as a challenge to write clear and precise parts for his musicians. “It made it a requirement on my part that the music be as clear as possible [so] there’s no confusion at all,” Almazan
Almazan’s go forth attitude doesn’t just stop with Biophilia, it also extends to his recording process for his records. “Personalities was my first attempt of making my own album. I felt like when I finished it I was like, ‘Oh, that’s how you do that. That’s how you record a string quartet and that’s how you put together one piece of work,” descrbies Almazan. When it came down to recording a string quartet for his first album, Almazan along with bassist Linda Oh, and drummer Henry Cole recorded their parts first as a trio then Almazan went back and recorded violinists Meg Okura and Megan Gould, Karen Waltuch on viola, and cellist Noah Hoffeld on top of the trio. This method of recording the piano trio first then the 96 All About Jazz Magazine
(2012) and I realized that the only time I was going to be able to record the CD was going to be in the beginning of March,” Almazan reveals. Things were so hectic around that time that Almazan didn’t even have the time for a full band rehearsal for the recording. “I was able to rehearse the strings and then
describes. “That’s sort of the classical musician approach. Everything is written with absolutely clear instructions,” continues Almazan who credits this technique of writing to the late Giampolo Bracali who Alamazan studied under while
attending Manhattan School of Music. “I came to Manhattan School as a jazz student not really putting too many markings because I wanted it to be free and all that. But [Bracali] made it very clearly to me that this was not the way written music works. You have to absolutely put everything in there for the [musicians] otherwise your music is going to be unplayable.” Some of the musicians who played Almazan’s precise charts for Rhizome were familiar faces can be heard on Personalities like Karen Waltuch, Noah Hoffeld, Linda Oh, and Henry Cole. New faces like violinists Sara Caswell and Tomoko Omura replace Meg Okura and Megan Gould who was pregnant during the recording date. Another addition on Rhizome is guitarist and vocalist Camila Meza who Almazan met during one of Meza’s gigs. “I randomly ended up at her gig in Queens and it was one of the luckiest things that has every happened to me,” Fabian Almazan remembers. “I spoke to [Meza] afterwards and we exchanged contact information and little by little I gout the courage to show her the song I had written at the time. I wrote it because I heard her sing and it just clicked. I realized, ‘Oh, this is the song that I’ve been trying to write.’ The lyrics just kind of came out and she was the last piece of the puzzle.” If Meza is the last piece of Almazan’s newest album, then Rhizome is perhaps the
last piece of Almazan’s first joint label partnership between album. While Personalities Blue Note and ArtistShare. is definitely tour de force, The Blue Note/ArtistShare taking the audience from a partnership was founded Shostakovich string quartet to by ArtistShare founder and the Antonio María Romeu’s CEO Brian Camelio (read our danzón, “Tres Lindas Cubanas,” November 2013 interview), Rhizome offers an even more Chairman Emertus of Blue mature bandleader in Almazan. Note, Bruce Lundvall, and “Personalities was my first President of Blue Note, attempt of making my own Don Was, and is combining album,” the composer explains. ArtistShare’s crowd funding “When I finished it I felt like, methods with Blue Note’s ‘Oh, that’s how you do that. legendary imprint. That’s how you record a string “I’m really honored to be the quartet, that’s how you put first person that ArtistShare together one piece of work.’ I and Blue Note are trusting to guess I felt like I had unfinished business and I really wanted to do a full Selected Discography: album in the mode of a Fabian Almazan, Rhizome string quartet. I feel like (Blue Note/ArtistShare, 2014) the string quartet—for Terrence Blanchard, Magnetic me personally— gives (Blue Note, 2013) me a wide spectrum of Nicky Schrire, Space And Time emotion that I can put (Magenta Label, 2013) out there and that I feel Terrence Blanchard, Red Tails very connected to.”
“I definitely feel that Linda Oh, Initial Here there’s a connection (Green Leaf, 2012) between the first Fabian Almazan, Personalities album and the second,” (Biophilia, 2011) continues Almazan. “I think Rhizome is my attempt to fulfill my original do this whole thing,” Almazan idea with Personalities. I’ve explains. “It’s the first time that just been trying to find my way Blue Note and ArtistShare are and it’s just the evolution of my working together and it’s an first try. I guess it’s just how the honor for me to be a part of whole thing is evolving. I’m just that.” The sentiment goes both taking it day by day and trying ways as Brian Camelio also had to find the direction I’m being some nice things to say about pulled in.” Mr. Almazan, “Bruce Lundvall, Don Was, and I are very excited Fabia Almazan’s patient and to have Fabian as our first steady approach to his career Blue Note/ArtistShare artist. has landed him the opportunity He’s an excellent musician and to be the first artist to release composer representing the next an album for the newly minted generation of jazz masters.” All About Jazz Magazine 97
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Versatility is a trait that any young musician wishes to attain in his/her career. While the ability to seamlessly flow in and out of any musical situation or genre can be attained by spending countless hours in the shed and listening to an array of records, a unique musical environment helps immensely in shaping a young musician’s ear.
Derrick Hodge Raw, Unabashed Honesty By DANMICHAEL REYES Photo’s courtesy of DERRICK HODGE & CHRIS BALDWIN
Versatility is a trait that any young musician wishes to attain in his/her career. While the ability to seamlessly flow in and out of any musical situation or genre can be attained by spending countless hours in the shed and listening to an array of records, a unique musical environment helps immensely in shaping a young musician’s ear. Derrick Hodge has no hesitation in stating that he is a product of his musical environment, having been raised outside Philadelphia in Willingboro, NJ, a place he describes as a hotbed of talent. Growing up, he lived in the same vicinity as notable gospel musicians like bassist Thaddeus Tribbett, music producer Tye Tribbett, and Justin Timberlake’s musical director and bassist, Adam Blackstone. As a child, Hodge played guitar
before eventually switching to electric bass so he could play in his elementary school’s orchestra. By the time he was in high school, he was playing both electric and contrabass. At the urging of his high school professor, Hodge continued his formal studies at Temple University. Since his days at Temple, Hodge has enjoyed a career playing gospel, R&B, hip- hop, jazz, and at times a mélange of all four genres. He has played, toured, and recorded with artists like Jill Scott, Maxwell, Musiq Soulchild, Mos Def, Common, Q-Tip, Terence Blanchard, Stefon Harris, Mulgrew Miller, Gretchen Parlato, Bilal, Kenneth Whalum III, and most notably The Robert Glasper Experiment, which won a Grammy Award this past year for Black Radio (Blue Note, 2012). All About Jazz Magazine 99
Derrick Hodge: Cont.
play with me?” And I said, “Sure.” My first week with him was at The Vanguard.
On Live Today (Blue Note, 2013), Hodge coalesces all of his experiences to create a category-defying record on which he is credited as a composer, arranger, bassist, percussionist, and keyboardist. While Hodge says that Live Today serves as “snapshots of how [he] felt as an artist at a given moment on a given day,” it also serves as a unique microcosm of his career—one in which he has shown flexibility and a willingness to adapt any musical situation while remaining honest and true to his voice.
AAJ: First week with Mulgrew Miller at The Vanguard? Wow.
All About Jazz: Congratulations on the new record and the newborn, this must be an exciting time for you. What’s the baby’s name? Derrick Hodge: Josephine Hodge, she’s my first child. It’s a year of birth, new beginnings, and for exploration. I’m so excited. AAJ: Talking about birth and new beginnings, I’d hate to flip the switch and talk about the complete opposite, but I know that you were very close to the late Mulgrew Miller who passed away earlier this year. Is there anything you’d like to say about Mr. Miller before we start? DH: Yes, I’m glad you asked. First of all, let me just speak about him as a man. Mulgrew came into my life at a time where the whole world— musically, was just awe for me. Jazz was new for me and so many things were new. I pretty much got into the music through the school system in college and all that stuff, so I’m kind of a newbie when it comes to that. Someone by the name of “Bootsie” Barnes from Philly referred me to [Mulgrew Miller]. “Bootsie” put in a good word for me and Mulgrew drove an hour and a half to come see me play at this small club and I was shocked that he came just to check me out and show support. My brother Jonathan was playing drums and I couldn’t believe it man, he said to me, “Wanna come to the house and play a few tunes?” [Laughs] And I did that. I think three days later, I showed up with a suit on and put some cologne on because I knew his wife was there so I wanted to impress the family. It was so funny man; it was such a big moment for me. He was like, “Cool man, I have a show coming up, would you like to 100 All About Jazz Magazine
DH: [Laughs] Yeah, a full week just thrown in the fire. My first week there and my heroes came out: Russell Malone, Ron Carter, and Stanley Clarke came out that week. There was a lot going on, but I will never forget Mulgrew’s disposition from the day I met him, to the day I showed up at his house just naive and green with a suit and cologne on to please his family, to the last time I hit the stage with him. His disposition and his attitude towards me never changed. And that speaks to the spirit he has; I’ve learned so much about— not just how to carry myself as a musician and a leader, but just as a man and how to treat people, and how to give your best musically on and off the bandstand without expecting anything in return but just doing it because every day is a chance to create a legacy. Not in just what you play but in every way, in giving other people opportunities, and trusting them no matter what. Although I was green, Mulgrew still treated me like one of the cats. I had so much to learn, I’m still learning to this day, and will continue for the rest of my life. But Mulgrew, the way he treated me, he showed me respect and trusted that I would figure things out. I owe so much to him. My approach to being in the moment and really going hard on this album and really pushing that out there is really in the spirit of people like Mulgrew Miller and Terence Blanchard. I used to hear a lot on how they spoke about Art Blakey and how it was being a platform and try to be honest and play what feels good to you, but also being a platform for others to keep the music going. And really, that’s kind of the glue with this concept of that record. I started talking about that online on Facebook here and there about Mulgrew over a month ago; then unfortunately this happened. I can honestly say that I shed a lot of tears at the funeral, but I can say his spirit—every time that I think of him, there’s nothing but joy. I was blessed to meet someone like that who only comes once in this lifetime. We were very fortunate, me, Karriem
Riggins, and Robert Glasper because we got close to Mulgrew. AAJ: Growing up, you were also close to Thaddeus and Tye Tribbett. DH: First of all I was very fortunate to grow up in a hotbed of talent being from Willingboro, New Jersey. And yeah, I’m a product of gospel and R&B. My introduction to music was my mom putting on the radio every night and saying “You like to play the guitar? Listen to music.” This happened every night; she came in the room and turned Power 99 on. I was always a radio baby and I happened to grow up—two streets over from me was Thaddeus and his brother Tye. I’ll never forget when I was like in fifth grade, Tye came to the school and played on this bass drum with two mallets and did a 10-minute concert that blew my mind. I remembered his face and he started coming around the church that another family friend told us to start saying that “We should get involved in church and do something positive,” and that’s what we did and it all happened to be in that same circle. That’s how Thaddeus and I met and in retrospect we did not realize all the things that was going to spring from it. We thought we were isolated from a lot of other things that were going on. We were products of the radio and just checking out whatever people sent our way. Me, Thaddeus, and another one who grew a mile from me, Adam Blackstone, a lot of us were like that
and we all happened to play bass as well. But because of that, a lot of people were drawn to that area in Willingboro, New Jersey. And that’s how I met James Poyser, when I got on my first gospel record when I was 14 through my church, Bethany Baptist. That’s how I met James and all these guys who later would be instrumental in my development and give me opportunities. AAJ: After your formative years, you went onto Temple. DH: When I got into school for jazz it was because my high school professor went to Temple, it was that simple. He said, “Go to Temple because I went there,” and that’s exactly what I did. That changed so much for me because I had great teachers like Terell Stafford, Ed Flannagan, and Ben Schachter that really, really schooled me. It put me in touch with a great teacher like John Clayton. I met him through Terell Stafford and Terrell was kind enough not to just say, “You have a lot of promise.” He threw me in the fire; I think my first official record was with him when he did New Beginnings (MAXJAZZ, 2003) and Mulgrew happened to be on that album. That was my only
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Derrick Hodge: Cont.
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thing with jazz at the time, other than that I was still doing other music. It was a hotbed of talent in Philly at the time. Musiq Soulchild was doing records along with all these different Philly artists and I was already involved in that. But because jazz was so new to me, I really approached it like, “Ah! This is a whole new world!” AAJ: You almost didn’t finish your studies at Temple since you were already touring. How did you come to the decision to come back and finish your undergraduate studies? DH: That decision came down—I was touring with Jill Scott at the time and I had a conversation with her and I said that I wanted to finish and she encouraged me all the way. At the time everybody was like “What are you doing? You’re making money and you’re young?” But that was something that I wanted to do and that final year ended up changing everything. That’s when I really got serious with jazz. Up until that point, I was developing skills but I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. But it wasn’t until that senior year when I went back to school where Christian McBride happened to come in and through him I got into that Aspen Snowmass Summer Academy thing. It was more of a situation where things came my way to help dictate my path for me—I was more a product of that more than anything. At that point, I was just as impressed with classical as I was with anything, that’s the thing that I’ve done from day one. Playing electric bass in a classical orchestra. AAJ: I was talking to a friend of mine who is now at Berklee and I asked him how does playing electric bass in a classical orchestra work out. He told me that it was a matter of his high school not having the budget for anything else. Was this a similar case for you growing up? DH: [Laughs] Playing electric in orchestra was completely a situation of school budget. But every year they would take school field trips and that’s
how I would go every year and sit in the balcony and listen to the Philadelphia Orchestra rehearse. I think that birthed my desire for composition that made me want to go that route. That impact of hearing an orchestra, I can’t even say how big of an impact that had on me. AAJ: Live Today is a tour de force on your part where you’re credited as a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and arranger. The title track, “Live Today,” dropped in 2011. Was the reason for the two-year wait because of all the particular components and details you wanted to put into it or was it simply a matter of your busy schedule? DH: Well that one in 2011 was not supposed to be out, that was a leak gone wrong but right at the same time. To be so upset about something like that happening then being overwhelmed by the reception that came from it. All the sudden the phone calls and the emails that my manager was receiving [left] us like, “Okay, let’s just not get too caught up and let’s keep focusing on what needs to happen.” Fortunately it wasn’t too big of a deal, we just kept it going. But that whole thing was totally a product of a leak; it wasn’t even a finished song yet believe it or not. But as far as the palette of the record—I figured since this is my first album, I owe it to people and to myself to give what I feel is most honest. And what is most exposed to how I’m taking everything in. To try to create a record that kind of speaks maybe to more than one certain type of thing—I’m not saying there would have been anything wrong with that all. I could have done something that would have just focused more on the writing, playing, and paying more respect to the history of the instrument, and that would have been cool. But I felt like people needed to hear some level of risk. If somebody is being kind enough to spend their money to purchase my album or spend hours of their time to come to my show to hear me speak from the heart, I want to give them something that I feel is just raw and
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Derrick Hodge: Cont. that they can say they were a part of. I feel like this first album is kind of a palette of things that’s really honest to how I was taking things in, whatever that may be. A lot of people have a problem on how things are categorized, I really don’t care how anyone hears it and they call it whatever they call it. I don’t have a problem with that. I’m honored if someone says it’s in the tradition of jazz or if it’s not in the tradition, I’m just honored that they even say that label of jazz. For me, the history of that music and the people that I associate with that name—it just brings out people who are at the top of artistic game and that represent such a strong piece of American culture. That’s why a lot of songs like “Dancing with Ancestors,” and the way I wrote certain things and motifs, were coming from a certain type of history of American music. I wanted to pay respect to that. Pay respect to a lot of those heroes who birthed that desire to get that stuff together.
if we look at it on paper there are so many things that are derived from how someone developed this theme.” AABA, form, development, and recapitulation—that’s just surface stuff. There’s so much in the history of how people approached music, palettes, and harmony that is so amazing that I wanted to try to document. When I write songs like “Dances with Ancestors,” there [are] no real solos on there but I want people to feel
It’s really about me being honest about how I feel and paying respect to those who came along the way and helped me. From wherever I go from this point on any other record I ever do, I can say that there are elements of that rawness in this album—no matter where I go—even if the next album more just trying to solo over stuff and go crazy in that direction. Whatever it is, whether people loved or hated this album, I can say that I respect them and myself enough to give them something that was very honest. AAJ: You speak about honesty and respecting the tradition, but the only song that has a sort of traditional format where the melody is stated then solos take place is “Solitude,” where you play the melody on bass then Aaron Parks takes a solo. Is this record more about respecting the spirit of the tradition rather than using its format? DH: This [record] is more dedicated to the spirit of those that influenced me and I look forward to the eventual questions of “How does this song sound like such and such composer but these songs don’t really have that form?” I look forward to those questions because I can say “No, actually 104 All About Jazz Magazine
the spirit of those who came before me like Terell Stafford. Even modern day people like Stefon Harris or Wayne Shorter. I really wanted to capture that spirit of those people because I think that’s the best way to show respect to them. Not trying to necessarily copy their format or way of doing it because we’re all coming from a spirit that evokes. I figured the
best way to do it was pay homage to that by just being honest to myself. AAJ: With the song “Gritty Folk,” what Mark Colenburg was playing on drums was reminiscent of how Vernell Fournier played on Ahmad Jamal’s rendition of “Poinciana.” Did you have that in mind or was this coincidence? DH: Wow, that spirit might have been evoked
But it would always start from just raw elements and [become] what it is. So I was just trying to capture that in record format, capture some of those elements of sound and make it as empty and bare-boned where whoever hears it, hopefully hears the history of certain things coming out of it. AAJ: Compositionally, how much of the songs are written with the individual musicians in mind? DH: This album, Live Today, was all about trying to get snapshots of how I felt of any given day so I didn’t write anything too far in advance. But it still takes a focus on what’s going to be the overall sound so it doesn’t just sound like a demo track. I wanted the nucleus of the sound not to be from me playing everything or all the way raw, so I tried to make the nucleus of the sound of the album be the sound of the players playing it. So it’s a marriage of something I might have woken up in the middle of the night feeling, which is “Solitude,” and then contouring instrumentation around certain people within that pool of who I knew I wanted to use for the record. I wanted to keep “Solitude” very simple and Aaron is such a great lyrical soloist and he—like a lot of people on the record—[has] a sense of production and song form which comes out in their solos. I knew Aaron would exude that energy so that’s why I said that I would love to have him do something on this as well. But each song (aside from it being raw), the way the instrumentation was built and who I used and didn’t use was based on individual personalities from the pool of guys I knew.
from it. That song in particular took me back to the feeling I would get when I was doing shows with Terence Blanchard. We were supposed to do something else but he would just stop, start vibing on something, come stand right in front of me, then point to me and say “You and me.” [Laughs] And the pressure is on you know? And the vibe would just take it wherever it would go.
AAJ: Songs like “Live Today,” “Message of Hope” and “Solitude” seem to have more control, versus tunes like “Dances with Ancestors,” “The Real,” and “Boro March,” where it has more of that sound where you described when Terrence Blanchard would point to you then both of you start vibing on something. DH: Each piece was different, for example “Dances with Ancestors” was meant to sound like everything was free form, as far as who is doing what. But a lot of things were written, especially the harmony. The harmony is supposed to sound like some voice leading type stuff. But All About Jazz Magazine 105
Derrick Hodge: Cont. there is specific harmony where everything has to happen in a certain kind of way to make the overall emotion come across. So it’s like everyone is reading in certain parts and I had the embellishments mixed up high so it sounds like everything is just kind of happening. Almost like nobody is really reading, [which] was kind of the point. Some guys on that album are great readers and also on that song is someone who can’t read at all. I had to spend 15 minutes to working out the voice leading and working the harmonies. Versus “Live Today,” where it worked in the spirit of the players, Robert Glasper and Chris Dave were on that. And it was just like, “Let’s just do that in the spirit of how we approached The Experiment.” I sat down on the piano and showed Rob the chords, we tracked, and then Common laid his parts. I loved what I was hearing so I went and added a bunch of additional keyboard stuff to it. But the way that song worked was in the spirit of how The Experiment works. I wanted to have that emotion in that, but when it comes to really raw ideas like “Boro March” or “Message of Hope.” Originally I did everything in “Message of Hope” myself and just had the drums rerecorded and then organ rerecorded. So it’s written out but I didn’t have them look at anything, I already played it, and then went to the studio and said, “Ok Mark, can you redo the drums, and Travis can you redo the organ?” So each one is different, I was just trying to be honest to who will best bring out the emotion of the song other than the instruments I ended up playing myself. AAJ: You’ve been film scoring since you moved out to Los Angeles in 2011. How much of your approach to writing for film translated to the record and vice versa? DH: I’m a producer by nature and I love the beauty of sonic possibilities. Film composing just happens to be one avenue that I think helps to express that just as composing for a string quintet or quartet. It’s the same thing; it gives me an opportunity to express in a different type of way. But I think, at the nucleus of it all is just 106 All About Jazz Magazine
me loving the beauty of sound palettes. I love how being a product of the modern era allows me to approach music in different ways. Because I’m a producer by nature, I love how the process of overdubbing and approaching [songs] by exploiting the possibility of how the studio can give you a palette. If you recorded everything in the moment and let that be, you might just have to live and die with that, and let that be whatever the final story is. I love trying to mix both, putting acoustic elements, but also being honest to me being a product of the radio and produced sound. I honestly always felt jazz really isn’t limited to just raw full takes of whatever these instrumentalist did in the moment, there’s a lot of overdubbing that goes on, it just doesn’t end up sounding like it because you’re not using synths or sounds that sound in that vein. But that process—even if it wasn’t exploited that much in jazz, or what people perceive as pure jazz—there’s certain elements there. You name your favorite musician, there might be a song or two where they went back laid some synth pads or they let someone do some overdubs. So what I did was to try to be honest to my process, which is a product of production. You’re going to hear certain elements to that same process that I approach film scoring where I just approach with no expectation. This might be something that’s just tracked all at once, or I can really go in and exploit plug-ins and create some type of sound. But the unity in relating other avenues that I’ve written for really isn’t anything other than me approaching it with an empty palette. So when I approach this, I’m starting from scratch no matter what. When I approach film scoring, I approach it from scratch. I don’t ever turn off any other way of approaching things in order to go all the way in a certain vein. At the core of what I’m seeing, anything is a possibility. Maybe writing a standard in a certain type of format might work perfectly for something on screen or hearing something with the instrumentation that might sound like an Aaron Copland type thing might work, as it might work something perfectly for my album. But that’s just coincidence, I approached it all with
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Derrick Hodge: Cont. no expectation. This may end up sounding all the way acoustic or this may sound like something scored but it’s all coincidence, I try to approach it all the way raw and honest and see what happens. AAJ: It goes without saying that you’re a very versatile musician. But I’m wondering, as I look at myself and my peers who are attending various conservatories who are also comfortable in more other genres outside of jazz, would you say that this is just the way musicians nowadays are? That we have to be versed in a lot of genres and put on a lot of different hats? DH: I think, it’s almost by default now. Let’s focus solely on jazz—if you’re someone right now in high school, the odds of you even knowing about jazz or even being in jazz band is probably not even an option. That budget that was dedicated to that probably doesn’t even exist, they’re probably putting it to something else now. I’m a product of music in schools and even though I was pretty much ear-trained, I was still a product of music in schools. A lot of kids now don’t even have that option unless they have a family that might be aware of that or their ears were exposed to it where they
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were like, “Oh I want to do that!” So then the parents are like, “Well, they have an interest, let’s get them a teacher,” and the teacher puts them on to that. So it’s hard to not be honest to just whatever your natural influences are. Because that’s really all you have that you can take in. [Music] is not really cultivated, there’s nothing staring you in the face that’s saying, “You can choose this course in school. Where you can get in marching or orchestra. Even if they don’t have upright bass, you can play electric bass!” They don’t have that option. So I think those kids that got exposed to the music no matter what or how, once they’re advanced and end up getting into the New Schools or the Berklees, their influences are still their influences. And they receive a lot of information of “Check this out, check that out, and this is what real that his and real that is.” Then it becomes a state of confusion because you spend a lot of time working on it and if you’re honest with yourself, you kind of lose your sound and what you want to do, or what drew you to the music in the first place. Then you end up leaving school or whatever you end up doing. One way or another you end up finding your voice, or you don’t.
But that’s reality; I don’t think kids now have any other option other than just getting interested in the music somehow. Whatever that is, hoping that they just stick with it and the right people, program, band, or somebody hears them and says, “I want to take a risk on you. Join my band.” Those opportunities aren’t the same anymore, there’s not even IAJE, which I loved. That was a big influence on me—I didn’t know anything about jazz other than that. I’m a direct product of that and seeing the benefit of that. When that concept doesn’t exist I think people now have no choice but to do what they do and because of that whatever music comes out of that is just going to be what comes of it. I have these influences on my record because I was exposed to that at a certain point in my life. When I got in Mulgrew’s band, he told me, Karriem Riggins, and Rodney Green of how proud of us he was, and he was like, “I hear you guys are doing a lot of other stuff.” And I’ll never forget he said, “But to do this music, you have to dedicate time and energy to this. It just demands it—the history is so rich, in order to pay justice to it you have to at some point spend time listening to those records. Really learning and really taking in the idiom and really shedding.” That was some of the best advice that I ever received, because it helped me—even to this day—to respect music. Even if I don’t create that sound or if I don’t write anything on my record that has AABA form, I still respect that and the history of that because I know how much of the art form came from that. If you listen to songs that, form-wise, doesn’t have anything to do with that, the sound and the note choices that they’re using in one way is coming from the artist that recorded those types of songs. People’s advice like that helped me, but a lot of kids now don’t even have the opportunity to be in a Mulgrew Miller trio or whatever. So it’s tough, so I figured the best I can do is to be honest to what my influences are put that out there so the opportunity presents itself so I can speak about it.
“I’m proud to be a part of the Blue Note family legacy of visionary artists since 1990. Working together with Bruce Lundvall I’ve had the inspiration and confidence to build and develop an amazing catalog of over 20 something recordings to date. In celebration of this 75th year anniversary, I realize how blessed we all are to live in the library of personalities, sounds & spirits of the master musicians documented on Blue Note Records through the years. The common thread has always been Swing, Soul, Beauty and Expression. From the beginning with Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, into today with Bruce Lundvall and overlapping with Don Was moving into tomorrow we have a lot to celebrate!!!” --Joe Lovano
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Genius Guide to Jazz...
A Brief, Yet Largely Incomprehensible,
Histor y Of Blue Note By JEFF FITZGERALD, GENIUS
Jeff Fitzgerald is All About Jazz’s resident genius and is often consulted on jazz related matters of national unimportance. In future generations, when the story of Our Music is told, there will certainly be a short list of absolutely necessary items which must be mentioned for any complete understanding of the birth and growth of Jazz. It is almost easier to determine what does not belong on the list than what does. To narrow it down to the essentials, I pictured the Cliff ’s Notes of the Reader’s Digest Condensed version of Jazz history. To that end, I looked back to my own college years, and called upon 110 All About Jazz Magazine
everything I still remembered after years of studying music. How much would be left, after decades of lying dormant as I’ve established my place as the Dean of American Jazz Humorists®? It boiled down to: • The treble clef looks like a backwards ampersand. The bass clef kind of looks like a big comma. • FACE and Every Good Boy Does Fine, whatever the hell that means. • It is possible to play David Werden’s arrangement of “Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms” on the euphonium with a blood alcohol content as high as 1.2%. • Flautists are generally divas or aspiring divas. Women who play trumpet or French horn are difficult to kiss because our embouchures are incompatible. Low brass players are out, both
because it’s like kissing myself and because one of us ought to be sober enough to drive. Saxophonists tend to be high maintenance. My best bet for any real play is the clarinet section. And that vital information only set my parents back 12 grand. I imagined a recent college graduate in the year 2054, sidling up next to a person that his Hottiscope has identified as biologically female with all-OEM parts. Her DNA data-comp of him reveals that his genetic code was custom modeled for optimal long-term handsomeness and earning power, and that she can safely disable his sex drive before his inevitable mid-life crisis kicks in and he leaves her for a 23 year old yoga instructor. As they begin chatting over a reproduction of a late-20th century 18 year old single malt Scotch from the Boozynth, she decides to test his cultural awareness and ability to appear genuinely interested in what she’s saying even though her EmotiScan bracelet says that there’s probably not enough blood left in his brain at this point to comprehend a word of it. She confesses her love of Jazz, “particularly the really old stuff like Medeski, Martin and Wood.” Immediately, he’s transported back to Introduction to Jazz class from his freshman year. There’s no time to access his auxiliary recall on the Cloud, and he doesn’t want to risk just reciting a Wikimemory crowd-thought to her. He desperately tries to bring back the stuff his Marsalisbot® autoprofessor kept going on and on about. Words and mental pictures begin flashing in his head, just like back in the day before they banned neural advertising when they discovered the horrifying atrocities the subconscious could make a normal person commit for a Klondike bar. Louis Armstrong. NEW ORLEANS. Duke Ellington. COTTON CLUB. Miles Davis. COOL JAZZ AND FUSION. Kenny G. NAUSEA AND VOMITING. Blue Note. THE FINEST IN JAZZ. “Blue Note.” he says, coolly.
“Pardon me?” she responds. “Blue Note Records. Some of the finest recorded Jazz ever captured on any medium, plus the invaluable documentary significance of Francis Wolff ’s photographs and the game changing album cover art of Reid Miles. Not to mention Rudy Van Gelder’s legendary studio production.” he expounds, drawing upon the few salient facts still remaining in the alcohol-soaked corner of his long-term memory containing his early college years. “Wow, you really know a lot about Jazz.” she says, admiringly, as he streams John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” directly to her mind-fi enabled Beats by Dr. Dre cochlear implants. Next thing you know, they’re back at her place. He dazzles her with corneagrams of Reid Miles’s iconic album cover art, while she thoughtcasts futuregraphs of their predicted offspring to the iFrame on her coffee table. As he fills her head with the seductive strains of “Along Came Betty,” by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, her Sensescent perfume takes on the characteristics of freshly baked gingerbread both to appeal to his brain’s pleasure center and temporarily distract him from plotting the most efficient way to get her bra off. Which is why it is absolutely vital to preserve the elemental components of Our Music’s history. Some future couple’s awkward, sweaty initial hook-up might one day depend on it. And with it, generations of potential Jazz fans to follow. Especially when Dad has a few too many at Thanksgiving and tells the story of how Blue Note provided the pass code to the Chastitech security device on Mom’s undergarments. And Mom thinks twice about reactivating his erectile function for the holidays. There’s a lesson there for young boys and girls alike, though I’ve forgotten exactly what it was. Let’s just pretend those last few paragraphs never happened, shall we? Blue Note Records is, indeed, the marquis label of one of the most important eras in Jazz history. Founded by German immigrant Alfred Lion and writer Max Margulis (who put up the startup cash, back in the days when writers actually earned money) in 1939, after the fabled Lost Generation had finally gotten the bathtub gin and All About Jazz Magazine 111
Genius Guide to Jazz... existential angst out of their systems and were ready to act like they had some damned sense. The fledgling label began to document some of the most significant artists and achievements in Jazz over the next several decades. From the very beginning, quality was of the utmost importance to Lion and Blue Note. He approached Jazz with an uncommon seriousness and focus. This was a time when most record companies were content to appeal to the lowest common denominator with saccharine pop tunes, and paid their artists with brightly colored beads and pebbles. Lion distinguished his marque from their competition by going the extra mile to ensure the best quality recording, taking the unheard-of step paying musicians for their rehearsal time. A recording engineer from rival label Prestige, who shall remain nameless because I forgot to write it down, said “The difference between a Prestige release and a Blue Note release is two days rehearsal time.” Lion then began recruiting some of the biggest names in Jazz. When he discovered that it was difficult to fit those large, unwieldy names on the 10” album covers of the era, he changed tactics and went after the premiere talent of the day. The label’s catalog reads like a who’s who of Our Music: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bud Powell, Art Blakey, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Smith, Lee Morgan, Jackie McLean, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver, Dexter Gordon, Ornette Coleman, just to name a few that I remember offhand without having to dig out my notes again. Jazz experienced a period of unprecedented exploration and innovation, and became the soundtrack of the liberated mind instead of just mood music for liquored-up young adults to put the make on one other. Blue Note firmly established itself at the vanguard of this movement, recording some of the most important music of this critical period in the evolution of Our Music. BeBop, first invented as a musician’s reaction to the stifling Swing charts and rigid musical parameters of the day, began to gain a foothold in the late Forties. A liberating, technically 112 All About Jazz Magazine
challenging, aurally invigorating music that had been incubating in after-hours jam sessions, it represented a paradigm shift from the “good time” music Jazz had always been. This exhilarating new sound was brought to Lion’s attention by musician and talent scout Ike Quebec (whose real name was Ike Saskatchewan). Blue Note’s foray into BeBop began in the late Forties with the recordings of Thelonious Monk, who is often called the “midwife of BeBop” (he was present at the birth, but that baby doesn’t look anything like him). Monk’s seminal recordings failed to garner critical and popular appreciation at first, but soon became recognized for the landmarks they are after people figured out he wasn’t an actual monk. Even then, albums by friars didn’t exactly jump off record store shelves; not after the commercial and critical failure of Trappist oblate Thomas Merton’s Seven Storeys of Swing. At the dawning of the Rock and Roll Era, Jazz was relegated once again to a genre mostly reserved for people who had jobs and paid bills. The semi-idyllic Fifties set the stage for a Renaissance in American intellectualism, except without the silly hats and all those damned Borgias of that other Renaissance. All fields of creative endeavor prospered in an environment where being smart was a positive virtue, and even being an insufferable pedant wasn’t automatically considered grounds for a bitch slap. The label documented the evolution of BeBop to Hard Bop, a more melodic and emotionally expressive form meant to return Our Music to black audiences. These earliest adopters of Jazz had largely been ignored during the period during which the music was seemingly more interested in catering to the sort of person who were very concerned with the plight of African Americans in society even if they didn’t know any of them personally. By the Sixties, both the arts and society were both straining at their boundaries and experiencing a decay of objective standards. Art became whatever the artist said it was, and “postconstructionist thought” became the accepted euphemism for just talking out of one’s ass. Our
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Genius Guide to Jazz... Music went through its Free period, beginning with Ornette Coleman’s warning shot across the bow of traditional Jazz and reaching its apex right about the time Coltrane’s conversations with God started to sound like he was drunk-dialing the Almighty. Blue Note remained steadfast to its mission during this period, remaining open to the best of Our Music whether it was the tuneful strains of Hard Bop or the angular deconstructions of musical form prevalent in the Avant-Garde. But the inevitable winds of change were in the air. Alfred Lion sold Blue Note in 1965 to Liberty Records and retired in 1967 after nearly 30 years at the helm. Francis Wolff continued on with the esteemed label until he passed on in 1971, some say to avoid having to try to keep a straight face while
more times than Jennifer Aniston’s movie career, yet always manages to keep going. Blue Note was simply too great a thing to remain gone forever, much like McDonald’s McRib sandwich. And like the McRib, Blue Note represents that uniquely American ideal of doing whatever we feel like and to hell with what anyone else thinks. If we want to eat mysterious slabs of processed pork slathered in a chemically derived facsimile of barbecue sauce and listen to atonal explorations of how many different noises a man can beat out of a piano, it’s nobody else’s damned business. Blue Note was resurrected in 1985 both to celebrate its legendary past and to continue its mission to bring the finest in Jazz to discerning listeners everywhere. Not coincidentally, this was the same year I entered Mars Hill College (now Mars Hill University, following a brief period during which it was Mars Hill Discount Tire Warehouse). It was while on The Hill that I learned
“Jazz has been declared dead more times than Jennifer Aniston’s movie career, yet always manages to keep going. Blue Note was simply too great a thing to remain gone forever, much like McDonald’s McRib sandwich.” photographing the ridiculously-attired Fusion groups of the Seventies. How Jazz artists managed to go from natty suits and ties to bell bottoms and half-buttoned polyester shirts in less than a generation is a mystery that fashion historians are still at a loss to explain.
a full appreciation of Jazz, began to discover my voice as a writer, and tore through the marching band’s clarinet section like a tornado through a trailer park.
Liberty was purchased by United Artists Records in 1969, who themselves were acquired by European heavyweight EMI in 1979. After a frenzied round of mergers and acquisitions, during which the whole mess was briefly owned by Wild Kingdom’s Marlon Perkins (who thought he was buying an Emu for his own “personal use”), EMI eventually phased out the Blue Note label to make more room in record store bins for their roster of openly Swedish artists.
It was during this period in my life that Blue Note was instrumental (pun unintended, but I’ll take what I can get) in my journey to the very heart of Our Music. A double album collection of The Best of Blue Note introduced me to the world of Jazz that existed beyond the hackneyed repertoire of high school Jazz band and the sadly limited bins of small town record shops where the Jazz section contained four copies of Chuck Mangione’s Feels So Good album and half of a Mountain Dew someone left there to free up a hand with which to shoplift AC/DC 8-tracks.
One hallmark of both Jazz and its champions is their indomitability. Jazz has been declared dead
In the intervening decades, Blue Note has continued boldly into the future. Though
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rooted in the greatest Jazz of the mid-Twentieth Century, Blue Note today continues to document the journey of Our Music no matter how far from the familiar that trail may lead. Blue Note has continued their dedication to quality recordings regardless of where that music may (or may not) fit into the traditional categories. The label has expanded their scope to cover the wide range of new sounds now blossoming in the post top-forty American musical diaspora, in an era where consumers have almost unlimited choices. Music buyers are now free to discover the full scope of sounds that live beyond the soulless, prefabricated corporate product that once reigned supreme in the pre-Digital age. To that end, the Blue Note umbrella now extends over such labels as Virgin Classics (which doesn’t mean what you think it does, perv), Narada (Not to be confused with poet Pablo Neruda, whom, as of this writing, continues to be dead), Back Porch (folk and Americana, for the sort of person who proves my assertion that no good ever came from someone with a Master’s degree and a banjo), Higher Octave (Jazz in ultrasonic frequencies, for dogs), and the esteemed Mosaic (reissues in limited edition box sets which, when disassembled and laid out in the proper order, form a larger composite image). Under the able leadership of Bruce Lundvall,
recognized as one of the most powerful men in Jazz with a dead lift of over 850 lbs., Blue Note returned to relevance and reclaimed their rightful place among the most esteemed and storied labels in recording history. Lundvall stepped away from the helm in 2010 to become Chairman Emeritus, which means he gets to keep his sweet parking spot and the card that entitles him to a free appetizer at any T.G.I. Fridays for life. Lundvall was succeeded by mega-producer, musician and Eighties pop star Don Was as Blue Note’s leader. Many view Was taking the helm of the venerable label as penance for him releasing the song “Walk the Dinosaur” on an unsuspecting public in 1988. Remember the band Was (Not Was)? So does he. Which is why he is now singularly focused on continuing Blue Note’s well-earned reputation for delivering The Finest in Jazz. It is to be hoped that when my generation faces their reckoning for having produced Grunge, they will do so with the same class and dedication. So it is therefore resolved that the story of Blue Note is inextricably intertwined with the story of Jazz itself. One simply cannot be mentioned without invoking the other; just you try it and see what happens, Paco. Till next time, kids, exit to your right and enjoy the rest of AAJ.
“Blue Note is the only jazz label that has been in existence this long – that exists today in its original form. It’s an icon of sound, style and design. It transcends time, and will always remain cool. It is jazz recording history.” –Jason Moran All About Jazz Magazine 115
Celebrating Blue Note Records 75th With Delicious Vinyl By MARK CORROTO
Everything old is new again. Except of course for the timeless music of Blue Note Records which celebrated its 75th anniversary this year. The recordings Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff produced starting in 1939 have been collector’s items since day one. While much of the label’s music has been re-released in digital format, CDs and in iTunes, current chief Don Was decided to celebrate the 75th by compiling a list of 100 Blue Note Records to be released as remastered vinyl LPs. While half the fun of this list is arguing which other titles should have been included on the list. Note to Was: What about Johnny Coles Little Johnny C (1963)? These old school LPs scrap the alternative and additional tracks format favored by most reissues to deliver the music in the same manner as the original listening experience, with full album artwork and readable liner 116 All About Jazz Magazine
notes, that you can read before standing up to flip Side 1 to Side 2. Or, maybe just listen to Side 1 again.
Meade “Lux” Lewis Melancholy / Solitude 1939
Might as well start at the inception of Blue Note Records with Alfred Lion’s first release, BN 1. A record collector himself, he persuaded two pianists, Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis to record a couple of duets and series of solo sides in January 1939. Lewis had made his name
in Chicago playing boogiewoogie, but Lion convinced him to focus on the blues. The two sides that were Lion’s inaugural pressing of just 50 records were at 78 RPM, the custom of the day, but pressed onto 12 inch discs to allow “Melancholy” to clock in at 4:02 and “Solitude” at 4:08. The rerelease is available as a limited edition Record Store Day edition 12” vinyl. “Melancholy” lopes along via Lewis’ blues locomotive rhythm. This piece of improvised music displays the emergence of what would later be the Blue Note sound. Where an artist like Fats Waller was encouraged to record silly and gimmicky songs with a ta-da component, Lion delves deeper into the heart of the music, and therefore the soul of the musician. Lewis amplifies his blues with piano flourishes, but nothing ostentatious or flamboyant. Same for
“Solitude,” a bar-closing blues replete with smokey notes and spiller gin. The first consumers of Lion’s discs must have thought they found an entrance into another world.
John Coltrane Blue Train 1957
Except for the posthumously issued recordings with Thelonious Monk, Live At The Five Spot Discovery! (Blue Note, 1993) and At Carnegie Hall (Blue Note, 2005), Blue Train is the only recording John Coltrane made for Blue Note as a leader, and reportedly it was his favorite record. Coltrane, in 1957 was already a star on the rise. He had gained attention with Miles Davis’ 1955 Quintet, begun a lengthy association with the Prestige label, and would sign on for a lengthy gig at New York’s Five Spot as Monk’s apprentice. Although he would work as a Blue Note sideman on recording dates by Paul Chambers, Johnny Griffin, and Sonny Clark, this session from September was a true hard bop gem. The sound, recorded by Rudy Van Gelder, is excellent and the band (unlike sessions
for Prestige) had a couple days practice to prepare.
four months after making this masterpiece? 1964 was a turning point for creative music By 1957, Lion and Alfred with John Coltrane’s Love Wolff had establish the sound Supreme (Impulse!), Albert of Blue Note. That year they Ayler’s Spiritual Unity (ESP), recorded 47 sessions. Coltrane and Andrew Hill’s Point of chose a fine cast from Blue Departure (Blue Note) which Note’s stable of sidemen. Both Dolphy was a contributor along bassist Chambers and drummer with bassist Richard Davis and Philly Joe Jones were members drummer Anthony Williams, of Miles Davis’ Quintet and who later preferred Tony pianist Kenny Drew, trumpeter Williams. Lee Morgan and trombonist Curtis Fuller were steeped in Dolphy was admired by his the hard bop genre. Of the five outward peers, playing and compositions, Coltrane wrote recording with Coltrane, four, plus the Mercer/Kern “I’m Ornette Coleman, and he was old Fashioned.” Listening to also a featured soloist with “Moments Notice,” and “Lazy Charles Mingus’ bands. His Bird” you can discern the introduction of the bass clarinet genesis of Trane’s revolutionary to jazz and the flute to the chord changes that are fully New Thing created multiple realized in 1959 with the piece possibilities for creative music. “Giant Steps.” Professionals as Besides Davis and Williams, they were, this was no blowing Dolphy recruited trumpeter session, the music is sprite and Freddie Hubbard and concise. vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson to round out his quintet. Eric Dolphy Hubbard, whose hard bop Out To Lunch horn could be heard with Art 1964 Blakey’s Jazz Messengers was also a a contributor to Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1961). Davis and Williams would go on to contribute to Miles Davis’ bands and Hutcherson became a fixture at Blue Note.
Fifty years after the release of Out To Lunch and the question remains; where would Eric Dolphy have taken jazz if he had not died from the complications of diabetes
Out To Lunch contained five original compositions that come across as fresh today as they did in 1964. Except back then, it felt as if musicians required a license to play out. Dolphy’s music is explorative, yet it maintains a harmonic center. His tribute to Thelonious Monk “Hat All About Jazz Magazine 117
Delicious Vinyl: Cont. And Beard” marches in a rhythmic stutter-step with his bass clarinet yowling not with distress, but joy. His flute marks “Gazzelloni,” a non-cliche bop piece, with butterfly flutterings that became his trademark. Dolphy’s music makes a strong statement, but the interesting components here are his sideman. You can hear the foundations of Miles Davis’ electric period on William’s drumming, the rebirth of Hutcherson’s vibraphone today in Jason Adasiewicz, and Davis’ bass signaled the expressive peers that followed. Oh the places we’ve traveled since.
Wayne Shorter Speak No Evil 1964
In between saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s tour of duties with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (19591963) and Miles Davis (19641970), he recorded a string of sessions for Blue Note including Night Dreamer (1964), and Juju (1964), but Speak No Evil is perhaps the best example of a hard bop saxophonist shedding 118 All About Jazz Magazine
one shell and taking on another persona as vibrant composer. He would later contribute pieces like “Footprints,” “E.S.P.,” “Pinocchio,” “Nefertiti,” and “Sanctuary” to the Miles Davis canon. This session found him with former Jazz Messenger Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), John Coltrane’s drummer Elvin Jones, and future Miles Davis Quintet mates Herbie Hancock (piano) and Ron Carter (bass). The seven original compositions exemplified Shorter’s writing or maybe more importantly his arrangements. The (now classic) title track soars with the propulsion of a Blakey piece, but melds the fine weave of horns and piano into a more open structure for music making. Shorter had come into his own both as a composer, but also a player. He had shed the comparisons to John Coltrane, but with a piece such as “Infant Eyes” the comparisons are a must. His delivery on tenor is similar, but this ballad shows a much more delicate player and the sound more fragile. Like all great leaders, he allows his bandmates to shine. “Witch Hunt” and “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” mix the rollicking tom-toms of Jones with the rhythmic percussive attack of Hancock, and Hubbard’s sparkling trumpet. Shorter’s story beyond Miles includes the seminal fusion band Weather Report, and of course his acclaimed work in this new century.
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers Free For All 1964
You can play a game, sort of like fantasy baseball, with the various musicians that have been alumni of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Which pianist do you prefer Wynton Kelly, Benny Green, Bobby Timmons, Keith Jarrett, or Mulgrew Miller? And which trumpeter? There are so many to pick from, like Lee Morgan, Wynton Marsalis, Woody Shaw, or Kenny Dorham. Then there are the saxophonists, Benny Golson, Billy Harper, Johnny Griffin, and Jackie McLean}}, to name just a few. And we haven’t got to the trombone and bass parts. The combinations and permutations are endless. An informal poll of critics finds The Messengers’ sextet (196164) of saxophonist Wayne Shorter, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Cedar Walton, and bassist Reggie Workman to be the favorite all-star lineup. And Free For All, although not his finest recording, is perhaps the studio recording that most sounds like a live date. Engineer
Rudy Van Gelder is barely able to contain the energy of this band in studio. Just four tracks, the music is fierce and fiery. Opening with the title track, penned by Shorter, the energy never relents, neither does the saxophonist who blisters a solo not unlike that of his contemporary at the time, John Coltrane. Blakey can be heard shouting encouragement behind Shorter, then Fuller’s solo. Next up, Hubbard dices his solo at a breakneck speed before Blakey takes a polyrhythmic solo. “Hammerhead” by Shorter is an updated version of “The Blues March” thick with that soul-groove. The band covers Hubbard’s “The Core” written for CORE (Congress of Racial Equality. Then there is the samba turned Latin groove “Pensativa.” Blakey has the ability to swing just as hard even on the slower tempo tunes.
Larry Young Unity 1965
Hammond B-3 Artist Larry Young was yang to the ying of fellow organist Jimmy Smith.
Where Smith was a bluesy soul-jazz player, Young choose a John Coltrane-like sheets-ofsound approach. Eventually, he would adopt jazz-fusion, playing on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew (Columbia, 197X) and in Tony Williams Lifetime.
dedicated to Coltrane, exemplifies Young’s approach. The music builds upon the lyrical structure of the song, an ever spiraling sense of harmony and complexity. This band manages its development with head-scratching ease.
The high-water mark of his recording career was the 1965 session Unity one of three Blue Note discs released during his lifetime. Young died at the tender age of 38. Recorded one year after Into Somethin’ (1964), the music is a showcase of the organist’s discerning, dexterous approach and the advent of Woody Shaw. The 20 year old trumpeter contributes three compositions to this session, including “The Moontrane,” now considered a jazz standard. Shaw who would soon be employed by jazz legends Horace Silver, Jackie McLean, Andrew Hill, and McCoy Tyner. Shaw’s brilliance does not though, upstage the music of Young. Here he manages the cumbersome organ as if it were a harpsichord, even covering the tricky Thelonious Monk tune “Monk’s Dream.” The lineup here proves the merits of the sound. John Coltrane’s favorite drummer Elvin Jones is accommodating to Shaw’s compositions and Young’s approach. Saxophonist Joe Henderson was/is regarded as the embodiment of the classic tenor. He ingested the innovations of Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Dexter Gordon, delivering seemingly always the perfect solo. “The Moontrane,”
“Bruce Lundvall has been very supportive of my work. I’m honored to be on Blue Note under his watch. He’s very music-driven, which is incredibly encouraging. He’s continued the Alfred Lion example of putting music first and taking chances.” –Ravi Coltrane
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Mosaic Records: Making Jazz History By BOB KENSELAAR
No one is more astonished by the longevity of Mosaic Records than Michael Cuscuna, the veteran record producer and one-time disc jockey who founded the label together with Charlie Lourie, a former clarinetist who worked in both jazz and classical contexts before becoming an executive at CBS records, Blue Note, and elsewhere. Arguably the premier reissue label in jazz, Mosaic Records issued the first of its limited edition box set recordings in 1983. Originally available through mail order only—at a time when music fans bought records almost exclusively at brickand-mortar retail shops—Mosaic is renowned for its definitive editions that bring together all the existing recordings of individual jazz artists on a specific label or within a set time frame, accompanied by detailed essays by leading jazz scholars. The label’s catalog includes major historic recordings by such musical icons as Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Count Basie, and 120 All About Jazz Magazine
Nat “King” Cole, as well as sets that call attention to the recorded legacies of lesser-known artists. The thirtieth anniversary is indeed a surprise. “It snuck up on us actually,” says Cuscuna. “And, for my money, it’s quite a miracle. We’ve been on a roller coaster ride from the day we started. We just started with a small amount of savings of mine, and it took us two or three years to draw a salary. We were living mostly on credit cards. Then when it started rolling, and it was great.” Leading up to the founding of Mosaic, Cuscuna worked as a disk jockey briefly early in his
career in Philadelphia and New York, and by the 1970s he was a producer for Atlantic Records, working on new recordings by such artists as Dave Brubeck and the Art Ensemble Of Chicago. “I was actually always doing both new recordings and reissues. It was a juggling act. I started working with reissues when I had free time between recording projects. In those days at Atlantic, our offices were right down the hall from the recording studio. When I didn’t have record dates to do, I called up tapes. I’d find out we had unreleased Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Warne Marsh, Chick Corea. I’d pull out stuff and think, this is great; maybe I can think of a way to put this out. And I did.” When he left Atlantic, he did some freelance record producing for other
labels, mostly new recordings. Ultimately, he also sought out work with Blue Note Records, aiming to unearth materials from its trove of unissued recordings. Mosaic Records actually started as a side project for Cuscuna and Lourie, almost by accident. “Charlie and I had been friends since he was working at Blue Note around 1975. I convinced him to let me come in and go through the Blue Note vaults to look at its unissued material. We became best friends fairly quickly. We wanted to
start a production company together. In 1981, Blue Note died completely. Horace Silver was the last artist on the label. He delivered his last album in the spring of ‘81. I was working on a series of previously unissued releases—two titles a month—and I put out my last album in the summer of ‘81.” Capital Records owned Blue Note by that time, and Cuscuna and Lourie approached the parent company about revitalizing the label. “We put together an eight-page proposal, and at the end of the last page, under ‘catalog exploitation,’ we said we’d also like to put definitive box sets, with booklets and complete annotations that would appeal to the collectors’ market, although we didn’t think it would be profitable. Of course, my inspiration had been the great multi-artist compilations with great booklets that Columbia did in the ‘60s: Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Jack Teagarden, a set on Swing Street, and various others.” Cuscuna also had another very specific motivation in putting out retrospective box sets from the Blue Note vaults. “I had found 30 minutes of unissued Thelonious Monk, but the language of the day was 40 minute LPs, so it was too little to put out as an LP. But this was some of the most important stuff I had ever found. And then it dawned on me that Blue Note had put out their Thelonious Monk records from the 78 era in a way that was all scrambled up over three LPs. There was with a master take on one LP and an alternate take on another LP, and all the sessions were mixed up, not in any order. And so, I thought, the way I’d love to hear this stuff would be in chronological order by session and then chronological order within the session, with all the alternate takes, all the unissued takes in one comprehensive set. And All About Jazz Magazine 121
Mosaic Records: Cont. I mapped it out, and those Monk recordings would make a perfect four-LP set, unravelling everything and retransferring it, and making the sound absolutely great. I gradually became so obsessed with this idea that I called Charlie around midnight one night, and I told him I’d costed it all out, and I thought we could make our own label—a business operation of it—if we just sold limited editions by direct mail. We wouldn’t have to deal with distributors or stores. The next morning, he came over, and I called a bunch of people to confirm my cost measures, and it all made sense. So for the next three weeks, we were hoping Capital would turn our proposal down, and eventually they did. And that was how Mosaic was born.”
Cuscuna’s original cost models actually turned out to be a bit optimistic, but this didn’t really matter. “The way I had charted it out, I figured the Monk set with a limited edition of 5,000 copies would sell out in 18 months. Of course, it actually took about seven years. But that notwithstanding, 122 All About Jazz Magazine
we set out on the right course anyway, and we’re just proud of the legacy that we created.” There have been bumps in the road along the way. “We had a nice ascent for a while, and then other things came up. One of the weirdest things was when Columbia put out the complete recordings of [blues guitarist] Robert Johnson. It was only two CDs, but they packaged it in a box with a booklet, and it started to sell in unprecedented numbers. In the first year it was like 150,000, and it ended up reaching 300,000. Then the word spread around the industry: box sets sell.” This had a distinct downside for Mosaic. “For the next five years we had a hard time getting labels to license stuff to us. Someone in the licensing department would say, ‘oh, a box set? Well, we might want to do that ourselves.’ Then when the retail business started to tank, suddenly we were able to get stuff again. So, it’s a roller coaster. You just ride it. You just brace yourself and hope for the best.” Outstanding examples from the Mosaic catalog come to mind easily for Cuscuna. “There are two categories of sets that are milestones in my mind. One is a very small category of artists like Tina Brooks and Herbie Nichols. By approaching their work with the box-set treatment—with in-depth research and a lot of unissued material—we were able to call an incredible amount of attention to two major artists that had earlier been marginal in terms of fame and recognition. One thing I learned when I started doing reissues is that, for the most part, you can’t rewrite history. An album will only do as well proportionally as it did when it was originally released. You can put out Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder, and it’ll sell like crazy. Put out Lee Morgan’s Search for the New Land, and it’ll sell OK although it’ll get great reviews. But with Tina Brooks and Herbie Nichols, we
were able to rewrite history and make them more important. It was especially gratifying with Herbie Nichols. We were able to get so much unissued stuff out, and a lot of musicians—like Roswell Rudd, Geri Allen, Ben Allison, and Frank Kimbrough— started recording a lot of this newly discovered material and really getting him in circulation. It was really gratifying to work with the past and to have an effect upon the present musically and to have an effect on the historical positioning of those artists. That for me that is the most meaningful part of Mosaic.” The other category of standouts document the work of more wellknown artists Cuscuna had in mind from the outset. “They were on the original list that we made at my girlfriend’s table in Los Angeles in 1981. Just a wild list, a wish list, really. Some of the sets took ten to twelve years to come to fruition, but when they did, we were very proud of them, and the results were just extraordinary: the complete Serge Chaloff sessions, the 1940s Illinois Jacquet sessions, the Nat King Cole trio sessions on Capital, and the 1940s and early ‘50s T-Bone Walker sessions. Those were ones that I really worked on. If you analyzed it, I probably made about seven cents an hour on them. But the results were so great. The unissued stuff I found and the source material itself was so great. It was all just incredibly gratifying.” Cuscuna won a Grammy for best historical album for the Nat King Cole set in 1993, although he sees that as a fluke. “That was a Grammy because the Elvis Presley and Les Paul albums cancelled each other out. They were both nominated, and I thought, well, it’s got to be Presley, but there were enough Les Paul votes that they undermined Presley, and Nat Cole came out on top.” Cuscuna has also won Grammys for work outside of Mosaic, collaborating with Columbia Records producer Michael Brooks on recordings by Billie
Holiday and Miles Davis. “The Miles sets were gratifying. That was something that actually came out of Mosaic. We had been trying to get the license for the Miles Davis material from Columbia, and I did all the research on them and everything, but I just couldn’t get to first base. Everyone said, ‘no, you can’t deal with the Miles estate, and nobody at Columbia is going to say yes, giving away Miles.’ So that was that. But then finally in the early ‘90s, Steve Berkowitz and Kevin Gore took over Columbia jazz, and they were having a meeting, saying they really wanted to redefine the whole body of Miles Davis’s work. And Kevin Gore said, ‘you know, the people who are the best at that are at Mosaic. Why don’t we call Michael Cuscuna?’ So he called me, and I said, ‘I ain’t turning this down, but I need something in exchange for Mosaic.’ So we struck a deal where Mosaic put out the sets on vinyl, and the CD sets came out on Columbia. And that worked great. But for me, the main thing was just getting my hands on the Miles Davis stuff and getting it out as completely as possible with the best sounding masters.” Mosaic’s most recent releases are in keeping with the traditions the label has established over the All About Jazz Magazine 123
Mosaic Records: Cont. last three decades and, like all the others, have been in the works for years. With Chick Webb & Ella Fitzgerald: Decca Sessions, 1934-41, work on the recordings was done two years ago and the booklet was completed about a year and a half ago, but Cuscuna points out “the rights clearances from the major labels took forever, because there’s nobody left working there. There have been so many cutbacks. There’s nobody left in business affairs or licensing to officially do the work. Where we used to go to Universal or Sony and get four or five sets cleared a year, we’re lucky if we get one a year now.” Cuscuna had been wanting to do the Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald set for some time. “Part of the problem was that Ella Fitzgerald is so prominent, and her name is still seen as big in back catalog sales, but I think we finally convinced them that Ella Fitzgerald in the context of Chick Webb is totally different than Ella Fitzgerald from her days on Norman Granz’s labels.” Mosaic’s other recent release is from a contrasting era that veers into the avant-garde, The Complete Clifford Jordan Strata-East Sessions. “It’s a body of work with a convoluted history that has been a major fascination of mine since the late ‘60s. Clifford Jordan started a label called Frontier Records in 1968 with a guy named Harvey Brown, who had Frontier Press, which was kind of a cutting-edge New York publisher like Grove Press. Clifford made a bunch of sessions in ‘68 and ‘69, and there were a couple of news stories about them, but then not a word. Later, when Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell started Strata-East, some of these Clifford Jordan sessions we had read about started surfacing on their label. What really 124 All About Jazz Magazine
struck me as weird was that he put out an album of his own material with musicians like Kenny Dorham on one side”—decidedly members of the hard bop school—”and on the other side he had Don Cherry”—widely associated with the avant-garde. “It was like these different worlds meeting. I’d known Clifford at the time, and I never associated him with the Ornette Coleman orbit of people or the avant-garde in any way. Eric Dolphy was the one exception; they worked together with Max Roach and Charles Mingus. Clifford put out a Cecil Payne album, which was very traditional with Kenny Dorham and Wynton Kelly, and then followed that with Charles Brackeen, who was JoAnne Brackeen’s husband at the time and played tenor in a kind of Ornetteish kind of way, with a band that was all Ornette people, like Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell.” Cuscuna found the cast of musicians surprising. “I thought, this is so unusual. If I had handed Clifford a pile of money and said record whoever you want to, these were not the people I would have guessed at all. So it always fascinated me. Soon thereafter he came out with a Pharoah Sanders record, which was actually recorded just a few weeks before Karma but never came out at the time. And then he ended the series with what I think is one of his masterpieces, High-Speed Games, which was newly recorded in 1973. I still think it’s one of his finest moments.” There are other especially notable finds in the Jordan Strata East material, including unissued sessions led by two legendary jazz figures, bassist Wilbur Ware of Chicago and drummer Ed Blackwell from New Orleans, both with personnel that mixed in traditional contemporary jazz
musicians with avantgardists. “It’s all a very nice cross section of what was happening in New York in ‘68 and ‘69, where mainstream hard bop and the avant-garde were meeting and people were trying different things in different ways, percussion ensembles and other stuff. It was a real faithful statement of what was happening if you stood in the middle of Manhattan in 1968.” In addition to the major limited edition CD box sets, Mosaic is continuing to put out vinyl in sets of three or four LPs in the Mosaic Singles series, such as The Complete Thelonious Monk at the It Club, The Clifford Brown & Max Roach Emarcy Albums, and Ella & Duke at the Cote D’Azur. For the most part, though, Cuscuna envisions Mosaic as focusing primarily on the major multi-disc box set CDs for the foreseeable future. He doesn’t see moving into mp3 downloads or streaming listening services, for two reasons. “One is the fiscal-legal reality that the parent labels will license us the rights to put out LPs and CDs, but they won’t give us digital rights, because it’s too easy for them to make that material available themselves that way. The second reason ties to packaging. There’s been a lot of talk in the download field about offering PDF downloads of CD cover art, credits, and liner notes, but with Mosaic stuff, we go so much deeper, with 30-page 11-by-11-inch booklets, dense with photographs and discographies. What we do doesn’t really fly in the download world, at least not yet.” It’s hard for Cuscuna to be open about Mosaic’s upcoming releases. “We have a bunch, but, as I mentioned, business affairs and licensing at the record companies moves so slowly that I can only talk about the ones that have been fully
cleared. One that we’re going to do early next year a Louis Armstrong live set—Louis and the All Stars, with Earl Hines, Jack Teagarden, Edmond Hall, Barney Bigard, and Bobby Hackett. It’s the late 1940s into the late ‘50s, all the live stuff that RCA Victor and Columbia recorded. There’s a bit of repetition of material in terms of songs, but all of the performances are exceptional, and a lot of them were only issued in small bits, with two or three tracks recorded in Boston, two or three tracks from Brussels, and two or three tracks from Rome, all slapped together into one LP. The full performances have never been issued. I love this stuff. It was recorded by George Avakian, and George helped research this stuff for us. They’re just magnificent concerts. That’s the next one that we have absolutely fully cleared. Everything else is on the edge of being cleared, so I don’t want to talk about them until I really get a green light. There are a lot of things in the hopper.” While Cuscuna has combed through the vaults of nearly every major jazz record company and put out much of the best material he’s found, he doesn’t see any end to his work at Mosaic. “It’s amazing after 30 years. Fifteen years after we started, people were saying, ‘aren’t you going to run out of stuff to do?’ At the time, I was a little worried about that myself. But five years later, there was more still more stuff to do and it’s just the same now. There’s still so much 20th-century recording ready to be mined and treated with kid gloves and scholarly research and with better sound transfers. As long as there’s a public that’s interested in hearing it, it seems endless to me.”
All About Jazz Magazine 125
FROM THE ALL ABOUT JAZZ ARCHIVE
Rudy van Gelder Interview
By C. ANDREW HOVAN, Photos courtesy of MOSAIC RECORDS
For many decades now, the name Rudy Van Gelder has been synonymous with recorded jazz music. The number of sessions he’s done over the years easily numbers in the tens of thousands. He’s been actively involved in the recording work of such quintessential jazz labels as Prestige, Impulse, Verve, CTI, and of course, Blue Note. In more recent times, Van Gelder has cut sessions for Highnote, Milestone, Reservoir, Venus, and N2K, to name just a few. In fact, drummer T.S. Monk’s N2K album, Monk on Monk, was done at Van Gelder’s and has received many critical plaudits, most recently being named Jazz Album of the Year in Down Beat Magazine’s Annual Readers Poll. From the first time I interviewed Van Gelder in 1989 for a radio program I was producing I could sense his genuine love for the music and his great interest in the legacy he has had a hand in preserving. I found him to be no less engaging and immersed in his work, his new remastering of Blue Note classics in particular, when we had occasion to again speak on the evening of May 26th, 1999.
Rudy van Gelder with Blue Note Records founder Alfred Lion 126 All About Jazz Magazine
“ I really want it to sound like that [the original vinyl] because that’s what Alfred heard. ” - Rudy van Gelder
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Rudy van Gelder: Cont. All About Jazz: For those readers who may not be as familiar with you career, tell me briefly about how you got involved in the recording business. Rudy Van Gelder: Well, I was always involved in recording when I was a kid. It got to be a business shortly thereafter. I used to record my friends, many of whom were amateur musicians. I used to do it at my parents’ house and then people heard about that and then I would get calls from musicians and singers in the neighborhood and they would want me to record them, which I did, making demos and that sort of grew for quite awhile. Then I started getting calls from people in the record business, private record labels at the time, and I started recording for them. That’s how I got into it. The first record I ever made that was sold as a commercial record was one of Joe Mooney, who was an organ player working around here at the time with Bucky Pizzarelli and a bassist by the name of Bob Carter. It was a working trio and I recorded them for this company called Carousel Records and it was actually available for purchase. It was played on the radio and everybody liked it. There was this station in New York, WNEW. The disc jockey was Al Collins and he used to play that every afternoon and so it got to be quite popular. AAJ: When you started out, how much of the recording equipment was available for purchase and how much did you end up designing and constructing yourself? RVG: When I first started making records, which was non-commercially, there was nothing available. That was how I got into it, radio and HAM radio, and I used to construct my own equipment. There were no commercial companies making recording consoles as they are today. The major record companies all built their own and if you wanted to do anything you had to do it yourself. Which I did. That’s how I started. How much did I end up designing? Of course, it was everything. The only commercial designs were available through radio equipment manufacturers. They had consoles for radio 128 All About Jazz Magazine
Herbie Nichols recording in t purposes and that was my first console, which was actually a modified radio console. A neat little thing too. It had one meter, but it made some very nice records, some of which I’m remastering right now. AAJ: Tell us about how you met Alfred Lion and subsequently began to record for Blue Note. RVG: I had been recording for various independent jazz labels at the time and had never met Alfred and I recorded a band for the musician called Gil Melle. He had a nice little band and came to me through this other label, I think it was Progressive Records. Alfred acquired that record, he bought it and released that on Blue Note as a 10” LP and then he wanted to make another one. At that time, Alfred was going to a studio in New York which was incidentally also a radio studio, WOR studio in New York, and
that I could get for him what he wanted out of the musicians that he brought in. So, in that way I was subject to this on-going discipline. That formed the foundation of what I did later for different producers and different types of music. Alfred was really the first client who became the foundation of a business for me. Every session he made I recorded for him, so that label got a distinctive sound that way. There was a certain consistency and the people who bought those records would look forward to what was coming next because they knew the record would have a good sound. The musicians were all of a certain caliber and he would get a good performance out of them. So that’s all what blended together to launch my adventure in this thing. AAJ: In a previous interview with me, you discussed how you tried to give each label its own identity soundwise. Without getting too specific or technical, explain how you approached that and how you approached the development of Blue Note’s sound.
the van Gelder living room. they had a business of making their recording facilities available. So, that’s were Alfred went and he took that album to the engineer there and he said, “I want it to sound like this.” So the engineer listened to it and told Alfred, “Look, I can’t make it sound like that, you better go to the guy who did it.” So that’s what happened. Alfred came to me and stayed for ever after. AAJ: You have said that the Rudy Van Gelder “sound” owes a lot to Alfred Lion and the Blue Note legacy. Please explain how Blue Note had an impact on your own development as an engineer. RVG: In all honesty, I don’t want to say that was the whole thing, but he was a large part of it and most of it was his concept of how he wanted his own records to sound and how he approached that and the task which he gave me to make sure
RVG: I would like to modify something of what you said, you say it’s “my sound,” really what it is is my feeling and my approach to the musicians I’m recording at a particular session. I really don’t like to think of it as being “my sound.” What I’m doing really is trying to let the musicians be heard the way they want to be heard. What it really is is the musicians’ sound. Alfred [Lion] would be very meticulous, wellrehearsed, and he would come in and see that everything was going well and he knew what he was going to get before he came into the studio. There were other labels at that time where the producers were much looser and they would just come in and see how things went. And the musicians and the music would very much reflect that. There were two ways of looking at it and that’s reflected in the way these records sound. The difference is in the producer. [Alfred] had a feeling for the music and when it was working and when it wasn’t working. He was very good at that. He knew when things were working. Now that’s not to say that the other producers did not know. It’s just that he was the epitome of that kind of producer. He understood what was happening and actually working with him all those years All About Jazz Magazine 129
allowed me to understand what is happening and thatâ€™s one of the things Iâ€™m always grateful to him for. AAJ: How did the invention of stereo effect your approach to recording jazz? RVG: That was a problem for everyone and not just me. There was no artistic rush to get into stereo from the people I worked for. They had to get into because they had to get into it. As a matter of fact, for quite awhile Alfred and others too had to be making...this is pretty important that you understand this. They had to make two products from the same session. They had to 130 All About Jazz Magazine
make a mono release in order to have anyone buy it and they had to make a stereo release to make that available to people who were buying stereo. And then of course when the stereo LP came in there was this question of compatibility. Who wants to buy two albums of the same music? You had to make both available and that became very difficult so what happened was everything that was made in Hackensack was mono. Even towards the very end when we were recording two-track we werenâ€™t listening in stereo. We were recording in two-track and we were listening in mono because there was only one speaker in Hackensack in the control room and only one
speaker in the studio. So how could you listen in stereo when you only have one speaker? And all the judgments, Alfred’s judgments, as to mix and balance, and mine too and the musicians too and how they sounded in relationship to each other, and all that during the creative part of those recordings was done in mono. It couldn’t be any other way. Towards the end we were running two-track sessions but no one had ever listened to them. So there was no particular attention or attempt at creating a stereo field at that time. AAJ: Please discuss your approach to the new Rudy Van Gelder Edition Blue Notes in terms of working with the stereo and mono tapes and deciding which format to use for the new master. RVG: My approach was totally different from what I had heard in the previous CDs. This was first time I had any opportunity to deal with those tapes. Once or twice they sent to me both the mono and stereo versions, which I described to you a minute ago, and the mono would sound much better for obvious reasons, because no one who had been involved in the creation of the original session had ever listened to stereo, but everyone had listened to mono. So I tried to convince them to release the mono version even though it had previously been issued as stereo because I felt that the mono version sounded as if Alfred would have wanted it to be that way. And that is really my goal here. However, there
In 2009 Rudy van Gelder is awarded by the AES Board of Governors the Fellowship Award, recognizing his five decades of exceptional recordings of such legendary jazz artists as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins.
are plenty of albums in this series that are in very good stereo. Until now no one has heard my version of what these early recordings should sound like on CD. AAJ: Tell us how this whole project came about for remastering the classic Blue Note albums. RVG: The concept of it came from Hitoshi Namekata. He’s the one that runs the Blue Note label in Japan for Toshiba-EMI. He wanted me to do it and he called Michael Cuscuna and Michael called me to see if I was interested and it ended up that absolutely I would be, just as long as I could get the original tapes whenever possible. It had nothing to do with Blue Note New York other than Michael as a producer. Subsequently, there are few issues being made in the United States. They are different. They have extra tracks on them. You see, the concept of this was to duplicate the original LPs as much as possible. They [Japan] didn’t want any of the out takes or none of the additional tracks, they wanted it just as it was issued originally. Of course, that made me feel even better. AAJ: How long have you been engaged in this project? RVG: I’ve made a hundred albums on this RVG series in Japan. I’ve already done this. I’ve been working on this since 1998 for the whole year of ‘98 and now I’m doing the second hundred, as opposed to the relatively small amount for the U.S. So you really can’t compare the two. AAJ: Some have said that these new remasters possess a sound that is warmer and much more akin to the original vinyl. How do you feel about that? RVG: I was so happy to hear you say that because that’s my goal. I really want it to sound like that because that’s what Alfred heard. No one heard it off a CD. I want people to hear the music with the warmth and the energy and all the things that Alfred and Francis Wolff put into it. I really feel that I’m commissioned to do that. I’m driven by that. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do and if someone says that then they understand what I’m trying to do and that’s really gratifying. All About Jazz Magazine 131
FROM THE ALL ABOUT JAZZ ARCHIVE
Bruce Lundvall Interview
By VICTOR L. SCHERMER Photos courtesy of MOSAIC RECORDS
132 All About Jazz Magazine
Bruce Lundvall was a fledgling jazz fan when Blue Note came on the scene, loved Blue Note from the beginning, and even spoke to Alfred Lion about a job, but none was available at the time. Twenty plus years later, he took over Blue Note, and under his helm, it has earned a well deserved reputation as a recording company that retains its integrity and dedication to jazz at the same time that it turns a profit. Bruce comes across in the following interview as an astute business person, who thoroughly loves jazz and supports the musicians, and genuinely enjoys the mix of business, music, and friendships that his job has given him. All About Jazz: Mr. Lundvall, I’m excited to do this interview with you, and I feel honored. I’m reviewing Richard Cook’s new book Blue Note Records: The Biography, and I thought that I would interview you as the CEO of Blue Note to get your perspective on the record company and its history, as well as the book. My first question is the inevitable, ‘What are your all-time favorite Blue Note recordings?’ Bruce Lundvall: I knew you’d ask that! One Night with Blue Note with Art Blakey, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, Lou Donaldson, and Curly Russell. Dexter Gordon: Go!. Obviously, Blue Trane. Bud Powell: The Genius of Bud Powell. And of course, the early Monk on Blue Note. And the Herbie Nichols recordings. He’s fabulous, a real underrated artist, very original. Those are some of my real favorites. AAJ: Have you read Cook’s new ‘biography’ of Blue Note Records?
BL: Of course. AAJ: What are some of your thoughts about the book? BL: I think it’s a very accurate chronological description of what went on all those years. It could’ve used some more anecdotes, and some day we’ll have them. I think Richard did a great job. The only problem I had was when he described me as being ‘portly.’ (Laughter) AAJ: That’s a very important historical fact. (Laughter.) BL: Very much so. AAJ: Were there particular parts of the book that leaped out at you or brought back strong memories? BL: Essentially, I thought he chronicled the Alfred Lion period very well. I knew Alfred for the last two years before he passed away, and he gave me much insight about how the company operated, and how hard it was. You know, they were always a couple of steps ahead of the creditors. Some
of the stories, such as how they picked up John Coltrane at a drug store and brought him on the session with Johnny Griffin and Hank Mobley, and so on- those things are all true. But there’s a bigger story to be told, I think, and I’m hopeful that at some point, it becomes an inclusive story, hopefully for our seventieth anniversary, which ain’t too far away. That will bring the history of the label completely up to date. AAJ: So there’s a lot missing in the book? BL: Oh, but that’s OK! Cook basically chronicled the whole Lion-Wolff period, which is what needed to be done. But I would like to see at some point that the history is updated, because it has been a continuum. Yet Alfred is still our inspiration, obviously. AAJ: What do you recall about the time in 1960 when you went to see Lion about a job with Blue Note, but nothing materialized for twentysomething years! All About Jazz Magazine 133
Bruce Lundvall: Cont. BL: What happened was that I was at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, and, as would always happen with graduating seniors, you’d be interviewed by the big companies, such as IBM, Xerox, etc. So I went through a few of those, and I thought, ‘This isn’t what I want to do. I want to be in the record business.’ I graduated in 1957, and started to look for a job in the record business. The first label I went to was Blue Note, and I just knocked on the doorI didn’t even call them! I was very na’ve. All I remember was that Alfred Lion was there with a couple of people. He was very polite, and all he said, with his German accent, was ‘Vee don’t hire nobody- it’s just Frank and me.’ And that was that- I was out the door in five minutes! So for me to be running this label after all these years, it’s thrilling. It was always my favorite label. You know, I would buy Blue Note recordings as a kid, without having to hear them first, because the quality was so consistently good. AAJ: What was it about the quality of these recordings that led you and so many others to feel that they were the best? BL: Well, this question has been discussed many times. For one thing, Lion always gave a full day of rehearsals, and he always had a concept in mind when he brought the musicians into the studio. They were never just ‘blowing’ sessions as some of the other labels had done. They were all planned. And 134 All About Jazz Magazine
he always had the best players. And Blue Note was always the company that seemed to find the next new musical voice. For example, I never heard of saxophonist Tina Brooks, but I bought the record and I said, my God, this guy is sort of like Mobley, but he’s different! He’s great! Lion would always come up with that sort of talent. So, the catalogue stands very much on its own. Of course, Prestige did some great records too, by the way. But during the forties and fifties, when I started buying my first LP’s- one of the earliest I bought was the 10 inch LP of Bud Powell. Then I bought Herbie Nichols. I had to live with it for a month before I understood anything he was doing. I was a kid, just getting into this music. AAJ: So Lion and Wolff had an instinct’ BL: They had a very good instinct, and they always had a good concept of what they wanted in the studio. And the sound quality was always first rate, obviously. And the pressings were always excellent. AAJ: Speaking of the sound quality, we’re talking here in large part about sound engineer Rudy Van Gelder. I wonder what you see as the special abilities and personal qualities of Rudy that led to such exceptional recordings. BL: He knew how to ‘mic’ the artists. He said that Alfred told him what he wanted to hear, and Rudy delivered it. It was as much Alfred or a team. We spoke often to Rudy about this,
and he said, ‘Alfred knew what he wanted. He wanted that ‘presence’ of the drums, of the horns into the microphone, and he came up with a sound that was very much his own. And it made the recordings so exciting. Alfred was also the one that got the players inspired. I understand that he went to Harlem and other places to pick up the musicians, drive them over to New Jersey, get food and liquor for them. And he created a very friendly and warm atmosphere in the studio- and all the musicians said that as well. But Rudy was very much a stickler for sound. And he would not let anyone touch the board controls. I think he’s still that way, today. And apparently, he did wear white gloves! There were times when he wouldn’t let the musicians touch the piano unless the green light was on, etc! So he was very much a stickler. But he was a very wonderful man. I had dinner with him not long ago. AAJ: What’s Rudy doing these days? BL: He’s still recording in that studio in Englewood Cliffs. We (Blue Note) still use him from time to time. These days, it’s difficult because artists have their own choice of studios, while in those days everything was recorded there. AAJ: Let me ask you one more historical question, and then we’ll bring it up to date. What inspired you to make the groundbreaking decision to bring Dexter Gordon onto the label in the 1980’s?
BL: Well, Dexter was always one of my favorite players. When I was at Columbia Records, I’d never seen him play. I was at John McLaughlin’s wedding reception at the Plaza Hotel, and a friend said, you know, Dexter Gordon is playing in town. I said, ‘My God!’ So we made an excuse to leave the reception, and ran over to this club on 57th Street, and there was Dexter with Woody Shaw, George Cables. He was incredible! So I went back stage and I said I want to sign you to Columbia Records. He replied, ‘CBS?’ ‘ hilarious, in that deep voice. So we signed him. And Dexter and I became very good friends over that time, so when I went over to Blue Note, we signed him on here. And it’s sad, because he never recorded for us, except for Part II of the Round Midnight film. AAJ: Let’s try to bring us up to date. We know that the hallmark of Blue Note Records is integrity. What has it been in your own life and experience that leads someone like yourself, who is in fact a business person, to put the quality of music equal to or above the financial considerations. What produced that idealism in a CEO such as yourself?
BL: My belief is that if you sign an individual artist, and artist that has their own sound, their own concept, and is doing something important musically, that in the end, you will win. Obviously, we have made commercial records just as Alfred did in his day, with the organ trios, etc. But we try
to keep our roster focused on strong individual artists who are moving the music ahead. So well sign a Jason Moran or a Greg Osby. Or we’ll stay with a Joe Lovano for a long time. Or we’ll sign a Gonzalo Rubalcaba from Cuba, or a Patricia Barber. And I think the label has to speak to its time. It is an art form. And as long
as we’re making a profit for the company, and we have since we began, basically because of the great catalogue that Alfred built, I’ve never been bothered by the corporate ‘suits’- Oh, you’ve got to drop this artist or that artist because he’s losing money. We have some artists who are losing money for us, but they’re so important because they’re building a catalogue for the future. And that’s what I’m really aiming at. And when we have a Cassandra Wilson who does sell a lot of records, or a Norah Jones, who sells millions of records- Dianne Reeves does very well for us. Medeski, Martin, and Wood sells and makes a profit. Lovano makes a profit. If you keep your eye on costs, and you don’t do crazy things’I’ve seen it happen that when an artist gets hot, a record company pays a fortune for an album. Well, you can’t do that in jazz, unless the artist is selling well enough to justify that. We have a very close relationship with the artists on the label. There are times, for example, when Joe Lovano has wanted to make a more financially ambitious record- like a big band or orchestrated recordhe’ll take a smaller advance. We can discuss it, because he knows he can trust me. And that we’re not trying to get in the way of his creative vision. All About Jazz Magazine 135
Bruce Lundvall: Cont. AAJ: What is the role of the producer in this process? BL: The producer is usually the one that’s in the studio, making the record, advising the artists on the right takes, and also suggesting songs, tempos, etc. and even conceptual ideas for albums. Less so today, because the jazz artists themselves know what they want to do. I just listened last night to the most extraordinary new Pat Martino record which will be coming out late this summer. This is the best record he’s ever made and it’s so unpredictable for him- he used Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Lewis Nash on drums, Christian McBride on bass, and Joe Lovano on tenor. It’s quite a configuration, and it is just so fresh and exciting. And that was really Pat’s concept. AAJ: So you really dialogue with the musicians. BL: Well we do that all the time. And with Lovano, he’s got a new idea every two minutes. So we sit down, and he’s got four or five projects, so I say, ‘Joe, how many projects can we make this year?! Let’s go with the one that makes the most sense. AAJ: Which engineers are you using these days? BL: We still use Rudy. James Farber. We use many good engineer-producers. AAJ: What are your goals for Blue Note Records in the next decade? What would you like our readers- fans, musicians, historians, scholars- to know? 136 All About Jazz Magazine
BL: I would like the label to represent the most important artists in jazz. Whether they are older artists or new ones coming up. I want the artists that will push the music ahead. When I’m dead or retired, I’d like people to say, that Lundvall was able to support Alfred Lion’s vision and be true to it. Even though it’s quite different, for example we have many more vocalists than he. I think the label has to represent the culture we’re in today. If we can be representative of the best in jazz, and have the best artists, the ones who really make a difference. We’ll never have them all- of course not. But I’m so proud of the roster that we have now. We’ve just signed Wynton Marsalis. He joined us, he said ‘You’re the only jazz label! And I want to be with you.’ I signed Wynton to Columbia Records. So he’s joined the roster. AAJ: So it’s about pushing the envelope’ BL: Well, not only that- there’s a tradition in this music also. It’s just that you want to have the most exemplary and influential artists in jazz on your label. And I also want to have the ones who I think are moving the music ahead in a fresh way. You’ve also got to keep the label profitable so that no one tampers with it- that can happen when you’re part of a large corporation. As long as we deliver a good bottom line, which we’ve done every year. That being the case, the company has supported the whole operation. And I’ve been
with seven or eight different bosses since I’ve been here! I’ve been very lucky, because they’ve supported the music. AAJ: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this interview, but I know that you’re very busy’ BL: The last thing I should say is that I’m really supported by a staff here who are all musicians. Yeah, I’ve got a very musical climate. I’ve got the best general manager in Tom Evered. He’s a total musicologist. He knows everything about classical music and jazz. He graduated from music school, a trombone player and pianist. I’ve got the greatest A&R man in the world here, not for Blue Note as much as the Manhattan label, Arif Mardin. He produced the Norah Jones record, and just completed a wonderful Dianne Reeves record for Blue Note. He’s a man with forty gold and platinum records, Grammies, etc. He works for me! It’s a miracle. It’s a whole team of people, a small team, but there all big fans of jazz. So, when an artist is performing in town, they’re there. Sometimes, the musicians complain that the people at the record companies never show up. But I go all the time, including hearing the new people. So does Michael Cuscuna. He still produces records for us. He just did the Terence Blanchard record for us. And he does all of our reissue programs, of course. AAJ: Thank you, Bruce, for a very informative and reflective interview.
AboutJazzJazz & World Music Return of the Elephant
The Phonebone Quintet
ACD HD 027-2
Return of the Elephant
Alone together, One pair of boots, Why did you leave me, Cherokee, Old country, I didn’t know what time it was, Funkalerro, Lover man, The way it goes, Autumn leaves.
Expected Soon: The Dutch Swing College Band & The Marine Band of the Royal Netherlands Navy conducted by Peter Kleine Schaars
The Phonebone Quintet Allard Buwalda - sax, Martijn Sohier - trombone, Joe Dinkelbach - piano, Frans van Geest - bass, Hans Dekker - drums
Winner of the Dutch Edison Price 2009
ILJA REIJNGOUD QUARTET
Nominated for the Dutch Edison Price 2008
featuring Fay Claassen
The Shakespeare Album ACD HJ 035-2
Modern Jazz interpretation of Sonnets by William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. Music composed by: Ilja Reijngoud
The Shakespeare Album
The Phonebone Quintet
Ilja Reijngoud - trombone, Fay Claassen - vocals, Martijn van Iterson - guitar, Marius Beets - bass, Marcel Serierse - drums, Paul Heller - tenor saxophone
Who are you ACD BO 065-2
Jazz from the Low Countries.
Boelo Klat - piano Rico de Jeer - double bass Ancel Klooster - drums
ACD BH 054-2
The Andrew Read Trio
Alone together, One pair of boots, Why did you leave me, Cherokee, Old country, I didn’t know what time it was, Funkalerro, Lover man, The way it goes, Autumn leaves.
J.S.B. The Andrew Read Trio J.S.B, Just before dawn, It never entered my mind, Round midnight, Flat five blues, I surrender dear, Waltzing Mathilda, W.A.M, Lara, Study in blue, Gray and viscarel.
Hans Kwakkernaat Erik poorterman Andrew Read
Roelof Stalknecht - piano Henk haverhoek - bass
The Andrew Read Trio
My Foolish Heart
Andrew Read - Double Bass Hans Kwakkernaat - Piano Erik Poorterman - Drums
It’s so nice to meet you too! ACD BB 058-2
Salsa Suspension, Wolf the Cat, Fair Winds, Rolling Stones Fantasy, Lebuinus ex daventria, On the Street Where You Live, It’s So Nice to Meet You Too, Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, The Groove Makers, Cargo Funk, Inspire Your Environment.
conducted by Peter Kleine Schaars Rap by O-Dog
Aliud Records The Netherlands www.aliudrecords.com
All About Jazz Magazine 137
Terence Blanchard Magnetic Label: Blue Note records By MARK F. TURNER
One of today’s foremost jazz musicians and composers Terence Blanchard’s achievements have soared since his formative days in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers to a trajectory of successful bands, recordings and award winning film scores such as 2007’s A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina) (Blue Note). He’s still pursuing new challenges with the upcoming June 2013 premiere of his first opera— entitled Champion, “An Opera In Jazz”— based on the life of world champion boxer Emile Alphonse Griffith.
Almazan, the unfaltering tenor saxophonist Brice Winston and the addition of 21-year-old bass prodigy Joshua Crumbly. This indicates another clue to Blanchard’s vibrancy: his unselfishness mentoring and willingness to learn from younger musicians—one time acolytes and now leaders— like drummer Eric Harland, pianist Edward Simon, and West African guitarist Lionel Loueke who guests here on two tracks and also performed on Blanchard’s previous Blue Note dates: Bounce (2003) and Flow (2007). Blanchard gives his band members plenty of opportunities to shine. Almazan’s “Pet Step Sitter’s Theme Song” features a larger-than-life theme with Blanchard’s electronically processed trumpet, virtuosic piano work, and Loueke’s usual finesse touches on guitar and vocalizations. Crumbly’s elegant and stirring ballad “Jacob’s Ladder” and Winston’s tightly wound swinger “Time To Spare” are memorable and revealing of the artist’s multiple talents.
Magnetic’s theme rolls out like some galactic Blanchard’s ideas are still metropolis—vast, complex thriving in his twentieth release and colored with futuristic and return to Blue Note with techno embellishments. Yet Magnetic—a vibrant recording the music is always filled with colored with the usual Blanchard’s elongated lines and consummate performances, and emotional urgency as found a modernist bent that’s replete in the opening title track and with compelling themes. The the moody dreamscape in ten compositions are written “Hallucinations.” Swing is also by various band members a constant element, proven in consisting of drummer “Don’t Run” as Ravi Coltrane’s Kendrick Scott, pianist Fabian soprano burns and Ron Carter’s 138 All About Jazz Magazine
muscular bass walks true with bopping precision. Other vivid moments are found in Scott’s brilliant “No Borders Just Horizons” where the music moves with feverish intensity and Almazan’s superb acoustic/ electronic-enhanced solo track “Comet.” These individual threads are intricately woven together by Blanchard’s masterful leadership, musicianship, and openness. It’s a fine return to Blue Note and another exceptional release in Blanchard’s extensive and continuing discography.
Lionel Loueke Heritage Label: Blue Note records By FRANZ A. MATZNER
Lionel Loueke’s Heritage deftly intertwines modern jazz constructs with traditional African themes in a highly personal exploration of these two cultural streams which define Loueke’s upbringing and musical identity. The result is a gracious, elevating and welcoming sound that
still challenges preconceived notions. Thoughtfully composed, the album’s ten pieces together present an intimate— sometimes philosophical— complex musical meditation on the concept of heritage. Tunes like “Ouidah,” inspired by the village where Loueke’s mother was born and a center of the slave trade, find their origins in the concrete. Others, like the off-kilter “Farafina” and the introspective “Chardon” are more impressionistic in nature. Pieces likes “African Ship” are more conceptual. All, however, reflect balanced compositional skill and expert delivery.
his unique voice on piano and Fender Rhodes, as well as composing two of the album’s pieces.
The most essential aspect of Heritage’s success, however, is Loueke’s wisdom as a bandleader in bringing together players from different contexts and allowing those perspectives to interact and evolve together over the course of both the individual tunes and the album as a whole.
No drummer playing today has carved out a more distinctly modern or personal style than Mark Guiliana, and his presence on Heritage underscores his ability to apply that style to many settings. Guiliana’s ultra-modern playing finds its wellspring in electronica as much as traditional jazz. Set against Loueke’s gentler, more languid lines, his rapid-fire delivery and ever-shifting, fractured patterns help establish a welcome artistic tension that is one of the hallmarks of the album. Equally important to the dynamic is Derrick Hodge’s excellent work on electric bass, which both anchors the album’s more sober pieces with subtlety and reinforces Guiliana’s rhythmic drive. Finally, singer Gretchen Parlato’s appearances add yet another layer to the album’s richly textured sound.
Fulfilling his reputation for melodic perceptiveness and a temperate style, Loueke infuses Heritage with an easy gracefulness, while simultaneously venturing into some unexpected territory with his use of electric guitars. Tapping his West African musical lineage, Loueke’s intricate, lilting guitar sounds almost kora-like at times. At other moments he displays artful bursts of cutting edge jazz technique. Most fascinating is his fusion of these two threads. Robert Glasper, who has played with Loueke before, contributes
Dissertations could—and have—been written on jazz’s African roots and the many ways its musical elements have been employed over the course of the music’s history. Nor is there a shortage of musicians from around the globe actively pursuing this continued integration, exploration, and expansion. What makes Heritage stand out is the natural intimacy of its approach and the organic delivery by a cadre of musicians whose youth, unique talents, and diverse backgrounds place them at the crossroads of today’s music.
Robert Glasper Black Radio Label: Blue Note records By EUGENE HOLLEY, JR
Depending on your age, Houston-born pianist/ composer Robert Glasper is— like trumpeters Christian Scott and Ambrose Akinmusire, and bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding-either the herald of a new world a-comin’ when jazz musicians will be heard on pop radio on a regular basis, or he’s a throwback to the golden age of the seventies, when jazz stars, from Herbie Hancock to Donald Byrd, were played on African-American and pop stations. Blessed with a fleet-fingered, countrified approach to the piano that blends gospel, Thelonious Monk and hiphop producer J Dilla, Black Radio is a propulsive, poetic and profound recording that deftly and defiantly destroys the market-driven barriers that sadly make terrestrial radio the Apartheid-airwave experience it is today. Like the most successful jazz musicians who had pop hits back in the day, Glasper understands that it’s not All About Jazz Magazine 139
Reviews: Cont. about extended, solos (those can be heard on his last three Blue Note releases); it’s about creating an open, melodic and rhythmic quantum universe where, in Duke Ellington’s beautiful phrase, “the feeling of jazz” effortlessly melds with R&B, rock, hip-hop, neo-soul and quiet storm formats. Glasper also perceptively peeped that great records are all about the collab, and on Black Radio he’s in superb company, with Erykah Badu, Ledisi, Chrisette Michele, Bilal, Lalah Hathaway and Musiq Soulchild, lending their neo-soul vocals on blue-lights-in-the-basement ballads like “Ah Yeah,” and Sade’s “Cherish The Day.” Glasper and company puts a turbo-charged, hip-hop spin on Mongo Santamaria’s Latin jazz classic “Afro-Blue,” and the leader revives his own “Gonna Be Alright (F.T.B.),” previously released on In My Element (Blue Note, 2007), but this time with lyrics rendered in lushlife fashion by Ledisi. Rapper Mos Def ’s Crooklyn cadences rock the title track, contrasted by the martial reinterpretation of David Bowie’s guitar-centric “Letter to Hermione” and a twilight-toned reimagining of Nirvana’s classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” complete with Casey Benjamin’s grooving and ghostly vocoder lead vocal, and Hathaway’s ethereal fills. Buoyed by the swing-at-thespeed-of-sound support of Benjamin, drummer, Chris Dave and bassist Derrick 140 All About Jazz Magazine
Hodge, the ingenious, swinging, syncopated science of the Robert Glasper Experiment will no doubt make the 21st century reintegration of jazz aesthetic into pop radio a reality.
Takuya Kuroda Rising Son Label: Blue Note Records By PHIL BARNES
Remember D’Angelo? Takuya Kuroda and his producer Jose James certainly do—this excellent collection has that loose, swampy, stoned feel from ‘Voodoo’ closer than anyone since, putting across that feel of thick, still air on a scorching hot, languid, afternoon perfectly. D’Angelo worked because he signposted a way to fuse the classic jazz influenced soul of say Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Al Green and even Prince to modern hip hop grooves without diminishing either genre. By putting that sound into a soulful jazz context Kuroda has arguably chosen to accentuate one of the elements in that original mix so that the whole can be kept fresh sounding while new possibilities can be
explored by his excellent band. The key to getting this sound right is the choices of personnel and instrumentation made by the bandleader and Kuroda clearly knows what he is doing. So, for instance, Corey King’s trombone adds to the feel of warmth that fits well with the Afro-beat influence that emerges on a couple of tracks and Kris Bowers opts for the more muted tones of the Fender Rhodes on all but one of his featured tracks. The Afro-beat influence probably bubbles through from Kuroda’s 6 years in the Brooklyn based Akoya and he has spoken in interview of how that gig was important in teaching him the importance of musical feel as opposed to say the more musical theory orientated dues paid by the modern classical or jazz musician. Lionel Loueke’s inventive and unconventional guest spot solo on “Afro Blues” is a good example of how to keep that looseness or feel within an original rhythm pattern, but still find a way to take it further. As Kuroda put it simply in a recent interview, Loueke “killed it.” Kuroda and James have worked together in James’ band since the singer’s Black Magic collection of 2010, and the more groove led approach was apparently at the latter’s instigation. James himself contributes an impressionistic vocal cameo on the first of two Roy Ayers’ covers—the successful trip hop update of “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” The core quintet
lasting imagery. The music was penned by Blade and longtime collaborator and pianist Jon Cowherd, two seminal artists that have shared a connection since meeting in college years ago. The result is a wide canvas of thought-provoking tracks.
are clearly comfortable with the musical direction and play beautifully throughout, showing a great understanding for example in the uplifting call and response interplay between Kuroda and Corey King on tracks like “Piri Piri” and title track “Rising Son.” That is not to say that the album is all about soulful, Afro-beat dynamics however—one of the highlights is the gentle sensitivity of “Sometime, Somewhere, Somehow” whose melancholic trumpet and shuffling beat was apparently inspired by the significant loss of Kuroda’s grandfather. On “Mala” too the band do a reasonable approximation of the early Blue Note work of Erik Truffaz or maybe even the sort of territory that Nils Petter Molvaer explored in the late 1990s, but this is far from a straight bop album.
Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band Landmarks Label: Dot Time records By MARK F. TURNER
Drummer Brian Blade is a rhythmic force of nature that moves with both fire and finesse. He’s contributed to numerous recordings and performances around the globe most notably as a member of the esteemed Wayne Shorter Quartet for over 10 years. Yet at the heart of Blade’s own music lies a storyteller delivering While Kuroda has expressed a tales of poignant rural settings desire to return to playing the and down-to-earth familiarity more straight ahead jazz of his expressed through his ongoing previous work, here the seam Fellowship Band comprised of of creativity that runs through a close-knit ensemble of friends this modern fusion collection appears far from exhausted. As and stellar jazz musicians. a debut for Blue Note the album Landmarks is the group’s fourth release and a return to was clearly intended to make Blue Note following its move a statement and it succeeds to Verve for 2008’s Season admirably on its own terms. Let’s just hope Kuroda manages of Changes, after Perceptual (Blue Note, 2000), on which to follow it up somewhat the group adopted the name quicker than D’Angelo has managed with “Voodoo” where of Blade’s leader debut, also on Blue Note, Fellowship (1998). the clock currently approaches 14 years! The gently stirred mix of folklore, blues, gospel, and jazz are each a part of the Fellowship Band’s appeal through compositions that render
The images in Landmarks are painted with the geographical and social colors of Blade’s hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, beginning with Cowherd playing mellotron on the surreal opening “Down River,” followed by the vastness and warmth of the title track. Contributing Fellowship members each take part in the the track’s unfolding: the measured bass intro from Chris Thomas, lush reed harmonies from Myron Walden (alto saxophone, bass clarinet) and Melvin Butler (soprano and tenor saxophone), and Cowherd’s spiritually tinged piano solo. The eleven-minute “Ark. La.Tex.” would make the perfect movie soundtrack as it moves through dramatic themes, heady swing, and an ethereal climax right before seguing into the appropriately placed version of the American folk song, “Shenandoah.” This same gravitas is found in the serenity of “Friends,” where Walden’s bass clarinet purrs as Blade issues gentle traps, and the thirteen-minute “Farewell Bluebird,” named for a café that Blade frequented during his New Orleans years. It contains a riveting theme with subtle changes that include gritty slide guitar work from Marvin Sewell All About Jazz Magazine 141
Reviews: Cont. and a restful repeating hook featuring a deep saxophone solo. Landmarks is a fine return for the Fellowship Band, whose music continues to evoke substance and feeling through its empathetic leader and his skillful band mates.
Gregory Porter Liquid Spirit Label: Blue Note By BRUCE LINDSAY
Gregory Porter has a lot to live up to. Widespread critical acclaim, Grammy nominations and reviewers suggesting that he’s the next big jazz star, the man to bring jazz back to mainstream popularity, all lay a big artistic burden on his (admittedly quite broad) shoulders. Liquid Spirit is his third album and it heralds a move to a major label, Blue Note. Maybe that just raises expectations even higher. No matter—Porter meets, and even 142 All About Jazz Magazine
exceeds, such expectations.
telling it like it is.
Porter’s voice is a joy to hear: warm, engaging, capable of conveying emotion with subtlety. He’s technically impressive, but he never uses technique just to impress. He’s a fine songwriter as well, combining beautiful melodies with lyrics that tell stories and express feelings that seem to come straight from the singer’s heart.
There’s just one small cautionary note. “When Love Was King” and Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne’s “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” the album’s closing tracks, clock in at almost seven and eight minutes respectively, double the length of most of the songs. Despite Porter’s superb vocals, the songs tend to meander and lose focus: a rather downbeat follow on from the gorgeous “Movin.’”
For Liquid Spirit Porter has retained a quintet of musicians from his second album, Be Good (Motéma, 2012). The saxophones of Yosuke Sato and Tivon Pennicott come together to excellent effect on the hard bop-come-gospel flavored title track, the soulful “Movin’” and the cheerful “Wind Song” but the album’s finest moments appear when the instrumental accompaniment is pared down to just Chip Crawford’s piano, Aaron James’ bass and Emanuel Harrold’s drums. The sad but beautiful “Water Under Bridges” keeps things really simple: just Porter’s voice and Crawford’s piano. The result is a three and a half minute triumph: bluesy, heartfelt and heartbreaking. “Hey Laura” and “Brown Grass” run it a close second, both songs enlivened by Harrold’s sympathetic drumming. “Wind Song” is more upbeat, a celebration. Soul classic “The ‘In’ Crowd” swings, Harrold and James laying down the groove, Crawford crafting a strong solo and Porter making it clear that he’s in with the “In” crowd—not boasting, just
Intriguingly, while Porter’s debut album, Water (Motéma, 2010) gained a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album his nomination for “Real Good Hands” from Be Good (Motéma, 2012) was in the Best Traditional R&B Performance category. There are performances on Liquid Spirit that could readily be considered for jazz, R&B, soul or gospel awards. Porter makes the transition between genres with apparently effortless ease—he’s a singer and a songwriter at the top of his game and Liquid Spirit is an inspiration.
Sonny Clark Dial “S” For Sonny Label: Blue Note Records By GREG SIMMONS
Original copies of Blue Note 1570—Dial “S” For Sonny— are among the rarer Blue Note records, often changing hands for thousands of dollars for even a mediocre copy. That’s an awful lot of scratch for a fiftysix year old piece of pressed vinyl and a cardboard sleeve. Fortunately, there are better ways to hear pianist Sonny Clark’s debut recording for the fabled label. The Music Matters series of two-disk, 45 rpm vinyl records is winding down after close to one hundred titles, and Dial “S” For Sonny made it in under the wire. Clark’s all too brief career was cut short when he died in 1963 at the age of 32, but he left a very well regarded, if relatively brief, collection of recordings. Growing up in Pittsburgh and then initially playing professionally on the west coast before returning to New York, he was essentially a blues player, but with a keenly developed sense of structural complexity in both his compositions and improvisations. He plays with insistent swing and drive, even as he sticks to mostly mid tempos. On “Love Walked In” the horns sit out, and only drummer Louis Hayes and bassist Wilbur Ware accompany him. He opens the song with a tenderly romantic intro, but then delves into a solid well-constructed solo. He never gets too far off the
tune, but fills it with his own harmonic textures and figures. Clark’s piano playing is excellent throughout, but most of the record is a septet with some of the most legendary musicians of the era (and in the case of Louis Hayes, even today). On the ballad “It Could Happen To You” Art Farmer blows a warm, bronzed trumpet, full of volume and weight, before clearing off for Clark’s appropriately spare improvisation. Then Hank Mobley takes over with a softtoned statement that fully captures the mood of the song. Finally, Curtis Fuller joins in with a short closing statement that makes a real case for the trombone’s ability to convey subtlety and emotion in a ballad. The Music Matters 45s are all about getting the best possible analog sound from the original master tapes, and Dial “S” lives up to the series standards. As a monaural recording it doesn’t suffer from the sometimes controversial hard left-right panning of the stereo Blue Notes. The sound is rich, full and detailed, with a wide image. The record is a prime example of ‘big mono’ that marks the best mono recordings of the era. The pressing quality and printing of the gatefold cover is first-rate, befitting the premium price of the package. Dial “S” For Sonny is one of those great old recordings that’s worth seeking out to hear some young hard boppers playing their best. The musicians are brilliant, the music is solid,
and—in the case of this Music Maters pressing—the reissue is first class all the way.
Joe Henderson Mode For Joe Label: Blue Note Records By GREG SIMMONS
Recorded and released in 1966, Mode for Joe was Joe Henderson’s last session as a leader for Blue Note Records until 1985’s State of the Tenor. True to form for the period, the recording features a cast of legendary players in peak form. In this case Henderson shares front line duties with a fiery Lee Morgan on trumpet and a young Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. Curtis Fuller’s trombone adds low-end heft to the melodic statements. Forget that cup of coffee in the morning, just throw on “A Shade of Jade” and crank it up; the track is power and swing— brilliance with the kind of authority that flames out the loudspeakers of the unwary. It puts the “hard” into “hard All About Jazz Magazine 143
Reviews: Cont. bop.” No one is holding back here, playing full tilt with the utmost confidence and verve. It’s also solidly structured, with ensemble playing carrying as much weight as the solo statements. The arrangements are tight and slightly, though not jarringly, discordant.
but Morgan is having none of it: He announces his turn at the mic with a startlingly loud blast and he keeps the volume up even as he measures his pace. Morgan’s sound is as clear and immediate as Louis Armstrong, a direct connection to his own exuberance.
Herbie Hancock Inventions And Dimensions Label: Blue Note Records By GREG SIMMONS
Recorded in August of 1963, pianist Herbie Hancock’s Inventions and Dimensions puts pulsing, grooving rhythms at the center of the music, Mode For Joe has been with Latin percussive elements reissued by Music Matters on and—in the best jazz tradition Of course, solo statements are 45RPM vinyl records. They’ve of the times—lots of blues. important and this record has painstakingly re-mastered the This isn’t Hancock’s most wellplenty. “Caribbean Fire Dance” session from the original master known date from his tenure at captures Henderson and tapes, making sure to keep a Blue Note, but it’s an important Morgan at their most creatively purely analog signal chain. The recording for both its structural aggressive. Henderson, who results speak for themselves; sophistication and the notably by now had found his own tremendous dynamics and high quality of the piano truly personal sound outside extraordinary detail allow improvisations, no small feat the influence of John Coltrane, everything to come through for so superlative an artist. who was so pervasive in the loud and clear. The title of the opening 1960s, manages the trick of Musically, Mode for Joe is as “Succotash” suggests some maneuvering in and out of the solid a record as is likely to down-home blue burner that harmonic structure of his own be found, and the first-rate might have been at home on tune in practically alternating reissue package really does it one of the label’s funkier soulmeasures. But he keeps it all justice. There’s a lot going on jazz recordings, but is, in fact, in context, and when he’s gone here and the exceptional sound nothing of the sort. A precursor way out on the limb he reels quality just makes it easier to “The Egg,” that would appear himself back in with a simple to appreciate. Add to that a on Empyrean Isles(Blue Note, bebop line before moving on. fine, heavyweight gate-fold 1964), it balances on the back of It’s the kind of playing that cover and extra session photos drummer Willie Bobo’s steady, requires real mastery of the and this is a truly compelling undulating 4/4 brushwork music’s history and styles. package. and bassist Paul Chambers’ Morgan’s solo is white-hot complex but ultimately trancebrilliant with his signature like repetition. Variations from brilliant brass tone, and Fuller the core rhythmic structure and Hutcherson follow in line. are virtually nonexistent, It helps that the tune has a solid even as the pair makes thundering jungle beat to hold subtle adjustments within everyone together. the framework. Hancock’s The record closes out with melodic statement—if it could Morgan’s “Free Wheelin,’” be called that—sounds more perhaps the most tightly like a fragment from some structured melody on the forgotten longer melody, record. They slow it down as though he plucked one a little with this one, and measure from something larger Henderson’s solo statement is and then just dwelled on it. maybe a little more constrained, It’s a model of an extremely 144 All About Jazz Magazine
sophisticated performance with just a few spare parts. Adding percussionist Osvaldo Martinez, here playing the guiro, covers the whole thing with some tangy Latin sauce. Switching up immediately on “Triangle,” Hancock returns to a modal progression that could have been an outtake from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue(Columbia 1959). Using sparse chords as a foundation, à la Kind of Blue’s “Freddie Freeloader,” Hancock proceeds to overlay the blues over the top. The pianist had just joined Davis’ band in May of that year, and was regularly playing the music from Kind of Blue, so it makes sense that he was experimenting with its forms in his own music. The rhythm section here is toned down a bit, as Martinez lays out for most of the track leaving the piano to lead the charge. Hancock is generally a pretty accessible player, and his work here doesn’t entirely deviate from that, but the complexity of his work on this track approaches some of the avant-garde inventions of Andrew Hill. Careful listening is rewarded with this one. Of Course, this is a fifty year-old record, so by now the savvy AAJ reader might be wondering, “Why is this news?” Well, jazz nut and vinyl entrepreneur Ron Rambach has reissued Inventions and Dimensions as part of his Music Matters Blue Note series, pressed on two 180 gram, 45 RPM, long-play records. Remastered directly from the
original master tapes, the sound is simply glorious. As usual with the Music Matters series, these pressing blow away any CD version of the same record with detail, scale, and dynamics to beat the band. The ultimate issue of a classic Hancock date, this is likely to be the best that will ever be pressed.
Ambrose Akinmusire The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint Label: Blue Note Records By MARK F. TURNER
The title’s prose speaks of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s poetic leanings. A rising jazz star who’s received a lion’s share of awards and accolades yet is not resting on past laurels, he continues to search for artistic expression with in-demand chops and inventive writing that has illuminated the recordings of other artists and his own band since 2008’s debut Prelude: to Cora (Fresh Sound New Talent). the imagined savior is far
easier to paint is a fresh page in Akinmusire’s evolving narrative, this time integrating progressive music with songs and lyrics contributed by a number of today’s brightest vocalists. Becca Stevens provides abstract musings in “Our Basement” and Theo Bleckmann offers an affecting declaration of the heart in “Asiam” as Akinmusire’s full bodied horn expresses a range of moods from blustery flights to animated screeches and slurs in the “Ceaseless Inexhaustable Child” with Cold Specks singer Al Spx articulating her unforgettable style of bittersweet lyrics. A stellar quintet that includes Akinmusire’s longtime associate saxophonist Walter Smith III and guest guitarist Charles Altura}, the band is on top of its game, burning bright in complex yet melodic numbers such as “As We Fight” and “Bubbles” or swinging through turbulence in the episodic 16 minute live track “Richard.” The release also unveils a gorgeous surprise in “The Beauty of Dissolving Portraits” which spotlights the trumpeter and the Osso String Quartet resulting in a piece that breathes multiple disciplines and highlights the trumpeter’s writing acumen. “inflatedbyspinning” is another composition featuring string quartet and even though the trumpeter doesn’t perform on the piece, it declares his prowess as a composer. Like his previous releases, Akinmusire’s seeks to link All About Jazz Magazine 145
Reviews: Cont. themes and moods into a listening experience that move beyond the typecast set of up-tempo tracks and slower ballads. “Rollcall for Those Absent” is similar to “My Name is Oscar” from his 2011 Blue Note debut When the Heart Emerges Glistening as it provides social commentary, this time through a child’s reading of the names of young people killed from gunfire(including Trayvon Martin) while Akinmusire quietly accompanies on keyboards. This is another significant release from one of music’s brightest.
Thad Jones The Magnificent Thad Jones Label: Blue Note Records By GREG SIMMONS
Trumpeter Thad Jones’ greatest notoriety was as a member and leader of large ensembles, including the Count Basie Orchestra and later the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. But as great as his big band 146 All About Jazz Magazine
work was, it’s a shame he didn’t dedicate more time to small combos. He recorded a handful of really first-rate dates for Blue Note in the mid-1950s—chief among them, perhaps, 1956’s The Magnificent Thad Jones. It’s timeless music that reveals a musician with great chops, fine composing and arranging skills, and a serious understanding of the blues. “April In Paris” sets the mood for the date, the standard swinging softly with Jones’ graceful delivery. His improvisation has an almost vocal quality to it, with vibrato and melodic truth. Moving into the first original, “Billie-Doo,” Jones wears his blues on his sleeve, using tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell as a second comp alongside the great pianist Barry Harris. Mitchell adds to the improvisational canon, drawing on elements of Ben Webster and Charlie Parker to create a smoky soundscape. This is a band that has clearly absorbed the structures of bebop, but with Jones’ guidance the music is slowed, becomes deeper, and delivers greater expressive content. Perhaps the greatest moment of the date combines all these elements, as Jones savors the melody of “If Someone Had Told Me.” It’s taken as a trio, with just Harris and the light swish of Max Roach’s brushes. There may be more beautiful, more emotionally packed trumpet recordings out there, but not many. In the continuing vinyl resurgence, The Magnificent
Thad Jones has now been reissued on two 45 RPM LPs by the wizards at Music Matters, whose entire raison d’être is to meticulously reissue classic Blue Note sessions. Only the original master tapes are used as sources to press what are likely the finest editions of these records ever cut. In this case, the album is a true monaural recording. Perhaps not quite so revealing as the series’ mono champ, Gil Melle’s Patterns in Jazz (also released in 1956), The Magnificent Thad Jones nonetheless delivers truly outstanding sound with an impressive level of detail. This is a truly exceptional pressing, befitting a premium priced package. The full-sized original album cover is an added bonus: a black and white photograph of Jones smoking a cigarette in a New York streetscape, surrounded by pigeons. It’s one of the better Blue Note covers, and the full 12” x 12” cover really does it justice. A member of one of jazz’s royal families, among Thad Jones’ ten brothers were Elvin Jones (saxophonist John Coltrane’s explosive drummer during the 1960s) and Hank Jones, the elegant and versatile pianist who’s longevity may be unsurpassed, remaining active until his death in 2011, at the respectable age of 92. Thad Jones held his own in this esteemed company, and left his own remarkable recording legacy. The opportunity to hear some of his best work, remastered with exceptional attention to detail should be welcome to his fans.
Featured Review Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers Moanin’ Label: Blue Note records By MIKE OPPENHEIM
Throughout its history, jazz has constantly evolved, developing from and reacting against its earlier incarnations. The mid1940s saw bebop reinvent jazz as an artist’s genre, distinct from the swing style that was the popular music throughout the 1930s and ‘40s. Bebop was music for listening, not dancing, and the emphasis became virtuosic improvised solos instead of memorable tunes and arrangements. However, the advent of bebop itself led to further reactions and developments within jazz during the 1950s. The
newer genre again divided; cool jazz became a reaction against bebop, while hard bop maintained much of the bebop aesthetic. Hard bop players continued in the bebop idiom by emphasizing improvisation, swinging rhythms, and an aggressive, driving rhythm section. Hard bop artists retained bebop’s standard song forms of 12-bar blues and 32-bar forms as well as the preference for small combos consisting of a rhythm section plus one or two horns.
One of the premier hard bop artists and, in fact, the one who coined the term with the 1956 album Hard Bop, is drummer and bandleader Art Blakey. His band, the Jazz Messengers, was an extremely talented and influential group from its conception. Blakey formed the Jazz Messengers in 1953 with pianist Horace Silver, but, with the group’s personnel constantly changing, few artists spent an extended period. This frequent turnover resulted in Blakey consistently working with the talented youth on the jazz scene. His band served as a developmental stage for future bandleaders including Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Chuck Mangione, Jackie McLean, Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton, Wynton Marsalis, Benny Golson, and Bobby Timmons. On October 30, 1958 Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers recorded the album Moanin’ at Van Gelder Studio in New Jersey for the Blue Note label. Moanin’ is one of the most influential and important hard bop albums due to its outstanding compositions, arrangements, and personnel. The quintet at this time consisted of Pittsburgh native Art Blakey on drums, trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, bassist Jymie Merritt, and pianist Bobby Timmons, all from Philadelphia. Benny Golson wrote the arrangements and contributed four of the album’s six tracks. The title track, “Moanin,’” composed All About Jazz Magazine 147
Reviews: Cont. by pianist Bobby Timmons, became the greatest hit of Blakey’s lengthy career. Despite being only twenty years old at the time of the recording, Lee Morgan had already spent two years touring with Dizzy Gillespie’s band. His improvisational contributions are indispensable to the sound of the album. Morgan and Benny Golson carry the melodic and solo responsibilities as the only horns in the band. Clifford Brown strongly influenced Morgan’s style, characterized by an aggressive rhythmic attack, long melodic phrases, and a brassy timbre. Golson performed with artists such as Tadd Dameron, Lionel Hampton, and Johnny Hodges before joining the Dizzy Gillespie band on a tour of South America from 1956-58, the same years Morgan played for Gillespie. Golson’s tunes “Are You Real?,” “Along Came Betty,” “The Drum Thunder Suite,” and “Blues March” lend a notable variety and versatility to Moanin’, utilizing varied song forms and musical styles. As an improviser, Golson’s smooth tone and fluid lines contrast with and complement the aggressive playing of Lee Morgan. 148 All About Jazz Magazine
Morgan and Golson provide a solid frontline, but the Jazz Messengers rhythm section drives the band and propels the soloists to ever higher levels. Pianist Bobby Timmons, a jazz veteran who played with Kenny Dorham’s Jazz Prophets, Chet Baker, Sonny Stitt, and Maynard Ferguson, composed the title track and consistently makes his presence felt through his tasteful comping and solos. Duke Ellington’s bassist Jimmy Blanton especially inspired the Jazz Messenger’s Jymie Merritt, though he studied
formally with a member of the Philadelphia Symphony at the Ornstein Music School. His first gigs were with Tadd Dameron, Benny Golson, John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones, and, from 1955- 57, he toured with blues artist B.B. King, Merritt provides the bass lines
and rhythmic punctuation depending on the style of the song and is featured as a soloist several times throughout the album. Drummer and bandleader Art Blakey provides the aggressive, driving pulse that propels the Jazz Messengers and is so characteristic of the hard bop style. Blakey was 39 at the time of this recording, the Jazz Messengers had already progressed through several lineups, and Blakey remained the only constant. Despite
the changing personnel, the Jazz Messengers remained the archetypal hard bop group, characterized by an emphasis on the blues roots of the music. Blakey is notable for his aggressive drumming, use of polyrhythm, musical interactions with his soloists,
and his personality. Blakey felt strongly that jazz was underappreciated in America and he sought to bring it to a broader audience. As a bandleader, he provided his musicians with ample space for solos and encouraged them to contribute compositions and arrangements. He constantly added new talent to his band and made no effort to prevent musicians from leaving the Jazz Messengers. This combination of Pennsylvania born musicians collaborated to record one of the milestones of hard bop. The track listing includes Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’;” Benny Golson’s “Are You Real?,” “Along Came Betty,” “The Drum Thunder Suite,” and “Blues March;” and a single standard, Arlen and Mercer’s “Come Rain or Come Shine.” The selection of songs for Moanin’ demonstrates the variety of styles in which the Jazz Messengers comfortably performed. The album features aspects of blues, funky jazz, Latin-American music, and New Orleans style marching bands. The song “Moanin’” is one of the tunes that helped to generate the “soul jazz” style of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Influenced by gospel, “Moanin’” makes use of call-and-response technique between the piano and horns. Instead of a walking bass, Merritt plays a rhythmically driving bass line, while Blakey plays a swing rhythm with emphasis on beats two and four. Morgan,
Golson, and Timmons all play two-chorus solos followed by one chorus by Jymie Merritt. Morgan’s solo makes use of blues inflections and maintains its cohesion through the use of catchy riffs. Golson proceeds into his solo from the end of Morgan’s and uses a similar riff-based approach. Timmons continues in a bluesy style, alternating piano runs with chords, and progressing to develop upon a series of formulaic riffs. “Moanin’” concludes with the return of the head and a short piano tag. This song is a prime example of funky or soul jazz. Benny Golson’s “Drum Thunder Suite” was composed to satisfy Blakey’s desire to record a song using mallets extensively. The suite consists of three contrasting themes. The first theme, “Drum Thunder,” is primarily a drum solo with horns playing short melodic ideas in unison (soli writing). The second theme, “Cry a Blue Tear,” utilizes a strongly Latin rhythm in the drums. It features a lyrical melody with trumpet and saxophone playing complementary lines. The final theme, “Harlem’s Disciples,” begins with a funky melody, and then a piano solo sets the stage for the concluding drum solo. “The Drum Thunder Suite” makes interesting use of different stylistic approaches and arranging techniques.
measure. The rhythm section is minimally invasive in this tune, and all of the listener’s attention is drawn to the soloist. Morgan and Golson play typically bluesy choruses, though Bobby Timmons’ solo is the highlight of the track. His solo begins with a simple line, developing into an exciting, chordal conclusion. Golson’s “Are You Real?” is a more straightforward hard bop tune featuring a 32-bar chorus and a faster tempo. The standard “Come Rain or Come Shine” is performed with the attention to melody and arrangement not typically associated with hard bop, but is convincingly and faithfully represented by the Jazz Messengers.
Moanin’ is one of hard bop’s seminal albums due to the extremely high quality of the personnel and compositions featured. The mastery with which Lee Morgan and Benny Golson provide the frontline is further elevated by the solidarity of Timmons, Merritt, and Blakey. It is a testament to the great quality of the performers, compositions, and the hard bop genre. The accessibility of the album is surely a result of Art Blakey’s desire to promote jazz as an art at a time when public interest in the music was waning, and the genre as a whole was threatened by the popularity of emerging “Blues March,” also composed musical styles such as doo-wop by Benny Golson, is intended to and rock and roll. invoke the spirit of a marching band, with the drums clearly marking all four beats of the All About Jazz Magazine 149
Derrick Hodge Live Today
Label: Blue Note records By MARK F. TURNER
Derrick Hodge: Live Today It’s no surprise that bassist Derrick Hodge’s debut, Live Today, breathes fresh creativity. Whether swinging fervently on upright or laying down nasty funk riffs on electric bass, his versatility has been recruited by trumpet giant Terence Blanchard and served as a vital component of the Robert Glasper Experiment’s Grammywinning Black Radio (Blue Note, 2012). Hodge’s talents are not, however, limited to any one musical genre, including work as musical director for R&B singing star Maxwell, and collaborations with rapper/ actor Common and the talented neo-soul singer Jill Scott. Like a mosaic self-portrait, Hodge’s project reflects his leadership and a multitude of other talented artists. Things start with “The Real,” an infectious Caribbean zouk rhythm mixed with swanky horns and turntable styling 150 All About Jazz Magazine
from DJ Jahi Sundance. This is contrasted by the title track’s uplifting message, with artful spoken word verses delivered by Common, and the addition of the American String Quartet to “Holding Onto You,” featuring rising star singer, guitarist and bassist Alan Hampton’s emotive voice. There’s even humor in “Table Jawn,” where the bass line’s lighthearted melody dances over a makeshift rhythm of table beats, spoons, and coffee cups from Glasper and drummer Chris Dave. But there’s no mistaking Hodge’s importance as a musician and composer in “Message of Hope” and “Solitude.” The Africanflavored theme of “Message” is driven by Mark Colenburg’s strong drums, then propelled by Hodge’s scorching, distorted solo. “Solitude” finds Hodge navigating some Jaco Pastoriuslike fretless electric bass lines through the ballad’s elegiac waters, the tranquil sound of strings and Aaron Parks’s meditative piano. From hip dance club numbers like “Boro March” and old school slow jams such as “Still The One” (with fellow Experiment cohort Casey Benjamin) to childhood memories of church on “Doxology,” the music is appealing on multiple levels. Like Glasper and other emerging jazz stars, Hodge isn’t overly concerned about converting listeners to a singular art form, instead, with Life Today, he displays his diverse music interests.
McCoy Tyner Extensions Label: Blue Note records By CHRIS MAY
Languishing off-catalogue for many years, McCoy Tyner’s Extensions may be the pianist’s most unjustly neglected album. Strange days, for not only is the music ineffably vibrant, but Extensions is the only recording ever to feature Tyner alongside pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane, who replaced him in saxophonist John Coltrane’s group in 1966. The album has one foot in the echoes of John Coltrane’s “classic quartet,” of which Tyner was a member from 1960-65, and the other in the astral jazz style which Alice Coltrane and saxophonist Pharoah Sanders fashioned in the late 1960s and early 1970s. After quitting John Coltrane, Tyner moved to Blue Note Records, before signing with Milestone in 1972, where he became a major draw through the decade and into the early 1980s. Extensions was the sixth of seven LPs he made for Blue Note between 1967 and 1970. These include the acclaimed The Real McCoy (1967), one the last albums to be produced
by the label’s founder, Alfred Lion, before ill-health led to his retirement, and Time For Tyner (1968), and also Asante (1970), another relatively uncelebrated work, which has pronounced stylistic links with Extensions. The lineup for Extensions included The Real McCoy’s drum and bass team of Elvin Jones and Ron Carter, but replaced tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson with Wayne Shorter, on tenor and soprano, and Gary Bartz, on alto. Alice Coltrane is featured on harp on three of Extensions’ four tracks: “Message From The Nile,” “Survival Blues” and “His Blessings.” The first of these has a playing time of 12:21 minutes, the second 13:15, and they are the joint cornerstones of the disc, respectively opening side one and side two of the original LP. Extensions looks ahead to the global-cultural inclusiveness of Tyner’s work for Milestone in the mid and late 1970s, itself an important part of the astral jazz aesthetic. But although the album includes some of that style’s signature elements, it does not wholly embrace it. The reasons were likely as much philosophical as musical.
Kofsky’s Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music, Pathfinder Press, 1970). With Elvin Jones in the band, Tyner, like John Coltrane before him, had a direct line to African music’s rhythmic legacy, and with Alice Coltrane, he had one of astral jazz’s most influential artists on board too. Extensions, then, is astral jazz without the bells, reefer, acid and incense. The opening track, “Message From The Nile” (the title could have come straight off a contemporaneous Pharoah Sanders or Alice Coltrane Impulse! album), opens with Coltrane’s sweeping harp glissandos before settling into a steady, West African-derived groove supported by an earthy bass ostinato. There are soaring, lyrical solos from Tyner, Wayne Shorter, on vocalized tenor, and Coltrane. “The Wanderer,” which follows, is medium-fast hard bop and more closely in “classic quartet” territory. It is a restless, questing performance, which moves into free rhythm and outer edge harmonics, with solos from Tyner, both saxophonists and Jones.
The final two tracks, the medium-fast “Survival Blues,” As a devout Muslim, Tyner which also edges into atonality, would have had little time for and “His Blessings,” a peaceful astral jazz’s pantheism, and modal ballad, take us back into presumably even less for the the mystic. Coltrane colors psychedelics used by some of its both tracks, and solos on “His practitioners. But he had long Blessings.” And someone, been drawn to African music, possibly Coltrane, is heard on another astral signature, telling bells behind Carter’s solo on interviewer Frank Kofsky in “Survival Blues.” Like “Message 1966 that Africa was where From The Nile,” both tracks are he looked for inspiration (see gorgeous.
Extensions is not certified astral jazz, but it follows a parallel musical path. Currently, in 2011, on-catalogue again, it deserves wider recognition.
Ike Quebec Easy Living Label: Blue Note records By GREG SIMMONS
Ike Quebec is one of those funny figures in Blue Note Records’ history. By the late fifties, after he’d been out of recording for a number of years, he was too old to really be at the hard-bop vanguard (he was born in 1918) but not old enough to be a senior statesman like Coleman Hawkins or Duke Ellington. Much of his involvement with the record label in those years was as an A&R man, scouting for new talent for the label’s owner Alfred Lion. Considered in the context of musical fashion it might be fair to say that, at the dawn of the 1960s, his own musical style was a little dated, even passé. But to hell with fashion; Quebec was a terrific musician and wonderful, big blue tenor saxophone (and occasionally piano) player. His chops might have been rooted in the swing of the late 1930s and All About Jazz Magazine 151
Reviews: Cont. ‘40s but, as the saying goes, good taste never goes out of style. Music Matters has re-mastered Quebec’s last outing for Blue Note, Easy Living, on two 45RPM vinyl records. Recorded in 1961 but released posthumously in 1987, the date features classic Rudy Van Gelder recording sound, recaptured from the original master tapes on state of the art equipment. As with all of the Music Matters Blue Note reissues, the goal is to create an all- analog record with the best possible sonics. The first disk adds Stanley Turrentine on a second tenor, and Bennie Green on trombone. These tracks are tight and well-written, with excellent solos from both Quebec and—with a more 1960s modern playing style—Turrentine. The opening “See See Rider” is a greasy slow chitlin circuit blues that sets the tone for the whole record. It’s hard to go wrong with Mr. T on anything, and Sonny Clark’s comping and occasional fills are shear perfection. But the real meat of the album is on the last three tunes. Turrentine and Green bow out, leaving Quebec in the sole spotlight. His tone is warm, smooth and full, and his balladeering is second to none. “Nancy” possesses the kind of playing that never grows old: tender and emotive, but powerful too. It doesn’t hurt that the recording captures the saxophone with exceptional realism, even if the overall recording retains that period Blue Note sound. The title track closes the date with more brilliant slow play, with Quebec showing his period roots. It’s clear that he came from the school that began with Coleman Hawkins and later begat Lester Young and, especially, Ben Webster. That’s a favorable comparison and Quebec 152 All About Jazz Magazine
plays as well as any of them.
It’s sad to note that within a year of recording Easy Living, both Quebec and Clark would be dead (Quebec from lung cancer and Clark from fast living). But the record is testament to the shear quality of their talent. Some recordings are timeless, and this is one of them. Easy Living is a record always worth hearing and appreciating.
Larry Young Into Something Label: Blue Note records By GREG SIMMONS
Organist Larry Young’s Into Something is full of relaxed grooves, great melodies and strong performances from tenor saxophonist Sam Rivers and 1960s stalwarts Elvin Jones (drums) and Grant Green (guitar). Originally released in 1964, this record has been remastered and released on 45 RPM vinyl by Ron Rambach at Music Matters. Soul Jazz? Groove Jazz? Whatever. It’s good jazz and
that’s what matters. On the opening “Tyrone,” Young plays deep blues at a straightforward, un-showy pace that gets enhanced and expanded, first by Green and then by Rivers who takes his saxophone the furthest out. Rivers, still a relatively new player here, hasn’t reached the creative heights he’d hit in just a few years, but the pieces are clearly forming and his performance noteworthy. Green’s “Plaza De Toros” adds a little Latin rhythm to the date and provides the guitarist an opportunity for an extended workout. Like much of Young’s playing on the date, he says more with less, eschewing flame-thrower licks to stay close to the rhythmic core of the song. Rivers plays with unusual attention to the melody, even as he clearly shows the greatest willingness to play hard. The consummate Jones taps out what, on the surface, sounds like a pretty tame backbeat. But careful listening reveals that he’s actually doing three things at once: tapping the basic rhythm on the ride; adding a polyrhythmic round fill on the toms; and then throwing sharp fills into the short breaks. This isn’t a thunderous drum performance. It’s much subtler than that, but it’s fully up to the standards expected from one of the era’s premier drummers . “Paris Eyes” is a funky, happy melody that provides Rivers with the first workout. He plays it loose, with a fair amount of breath through his horn, but flows along comfortably within
the organ groove. It’s too bad he doesn’t get more time on the microphone, stepping off for Green to take his turn just when he’s getting hot. But, then, there’s that old saying: always leave them wanting more. The Music Matters pressings are all about wringing the most sonic information from the original master tapes. The series has been wildly successful at presenting these old Blue Note titles with better fidelity to the master tapes than they’ve ever exhibited before. Into Something upholds the series’ standards nicely, with dead quiet vinyl and exemplary sound quality. A Hammond B3 has rarely sounded this smooth. Into Something digs a little deeper into the Blue Note catalog, but it’s a good thing that Rambach went this far. This is a great, classic, mellow groove record that’s worth hearing in the best possible light.
Pete La Roca Basra
Label: Blue Note Records By GREG SIMMONS
Pete La Roca was one of those musicians with a long but under-sung career. He was a sideman to some great Blue Note leaders including saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean, and Joe Henderson, but he only ever recorded one date (1965’s Basra) under his own name during the label’s heyday, and indeed only three records total as a leader over a fifty-year career. He was a drummer in the background in almost every sense. According to La Roca’s obituary in the New York Times (he died November 19th, 2012), he left performing to go to law school and then to work as a contract lawyer, mostly because he couldn’t make a living playing the music he wanted to play. Practicing law certainly came in handy when he sued for royalties related to his later album, Turkish Women at The Bath (Douglas, 1967); La Roca only returned to performing when he was able to balance his own financial stability with performing music. His life should serve as a reminder of how difficult it can be to actually make a living as a jazz musician. La Roca really made that one Blue Note album count. Basra features the great Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone, as well as pianist Steve Kuhn and bassist Steve Swallow—an A-list band if ever there was one. It’s a dark record, almost dirge-like in places (“Lazy Afternoon”) but the playing is so solid. It’s truly a shame this band wasn’t recorded more than once. The title track opens with a plaintive bass line with a Middle-Eastern groove, picked up by Henderson stating the keening melody. Kuhn drops arpeggiated chords in the background as comps, creating an almost harp-like effect. La Roca’s drumming is simply structured, crashing out on the symbols and toms at a stately pace. His solo
doesn’t add much more than the odd press roll and some additional snare fills; it might be among the most restrained, measured drum solos of all time. Kuhn intersperses his solo among the drums and doesn’t add much more than he’s already offering through his comping. It’s trippy, deeply grooving and exotic, and it closes the way it starts, with the bass up front. There are six songs on this record, but the title track is the one to hear, as it truly anchors the record.
Again exhibiting his willingness to dig deep into the Blue Note vaults, Ron Rambach at Music Matters has remastered Basra from the original two-track tapes and pressed it onto two 45RPM vinyl records. Like everything else in the series the sound quality is exceptional and really does justice to this unique and underappreciated music. La Roca wasn’t a household name, but he was a musician with a very personal vision of jazz that is worth (re) discovering.
Andrew Hill Point Of Departure
Label: Blue Note Records By GREG SIMMONS
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Reviews: Cont. The folks at Music Matters have been reissuing classic Blue Note albums of the 1950s and 1960s at an aggressive clip, and have been careful to include virtually every style of music the label recorded, including some of its more challenging material. Pianist Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure (1964) will never be mistaken for light cocktail jazz, but it’s inclusion in this reissue series displays Music Matters’ commitment to more adventurous material. In 1964, the term avant-garde could have been applied to any number of different musical angles in jazz. The free experiments of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, with their pure emotional howling set within very limited contextual framework, are perhaps the most notorious. But there was another avenue that retained a significant structural environment with greater emphasis on composition,even if those compositions were themselves quite a stretch. Hill’s third recording as a leader, the diabolically brilliant Point of Departure, may be the apex of this school. This album includes some of the fiercest, high density writing of the era, with each track featuring tight, byzantine written statements and fullthroated blending of timbres. The music includes dissonant harmonies, often employing multiple melodic ideas, and often played very fast. It 154 All About Jazz Magazine
would be easy to imagine the musicians scratching their heads on the first run through, struggling with music that reached for new levels of complexity. Nevertheless, and despite the very complicated, wrought compositions, the band plays rather loosely. They’re all there, but a perfect precision performance does not appear to have been Hill’s core demand. Instead, people come in and out slightly ahead or behind the beats, and even when they’re harmonizing, cacophonous filigrees abound. On top of all that—and that’s already a lot—Point of Departure features extraordinary improvising. Eric Dolphy—on alto sax, flute and his trademark bass clarinet— pursues pathways that make perfect sense within the music, but still sound like they’ve arrived from another planet. Joe Henderson’s tenor work is right out there with Dolphy, and Kenny Dorham’s trumpet adds a bright brass blare over all of it. Hill’s piano is all over the map, and he plays the way he writes: inventive, unpredictable, and fearless. Notably, although the improvising is very aggressive and forward-looking, everyone still keeps his statements within the context of the music. Nothing on this record ever veers off into free territory. As with all of Music Matters’ reissues, Point of Departure comes as two 45 RPM LPs. A decent turntable is a necessity. But the vinyl itself is pressed with tremendous quality control, so with good
equipment these records reveal details that no CD will ever approach. It also helps that the original session, engineered by Rudy Van Gelder, was particularly well-recorded, with excellent clarity and instrument scale. Point of Departure is a cornerstone jazz recording that every serious jazz listener should hear. The Music Matters pressing simply adds elevated sound quality to what was already a musical masterpiece.
Sam Rivers Fuchsia Swing Song
Label: Blue Note records By GREG SIMMONS
The Music Matters reissue of saxophonist Sam Rivers’ Fuchsia Swing Song is likely the finest pressing of this record ever produced. Remastered from the original two- track tapes, and pressed on two 180 gram 45 rpm LPs, this vinyl is dead quiet, and sonically stunning. The instruments are huge in the soundstage and the clarity blows any CD version—
and likely most prior vinyl versions—out of the water. Add to that a gorgeous gatefold cover with additional session photos and thick plastic sleeve liners, and this truly ranks as a first-class, ultra deluxe edition of this 1964 Blue Note classic.
“Cyclic Episode” takes it all even further out. Opening again with a defined melody, the tune quickly pushes the boundaries of its structure as pianist Jaki Byard uses his comping to distort the rhythm But the music—oh, that music! and key signature, before allowing it all to snap back Sam Rivers’ first album as a into place for an aggressive leader, as well as his first album Rivers solo. But when Byard for Blue Note, blends two of takes his turn he quiets it down the major saxophone schools dramatically, slowing the tempo of the day. By 1960, jazz tenor until, with the drums laying had been redefined by the very out, he achieves a soft, almost different playing styles of Sonny Bill Evans-style melancholy Rollins and John Coltrane. before exploding back into the Rollins was (and remains to this original theme with his own day) a melodist at heart which, high flying improvisational even when he was stretching statement. out his improvisations, left them accessible and easily The brilliance of Fuchsia contextualized. On the other Swing Song is that it’s endlessly hand, Coltrane’s genius was ingenious at every level. The built on his fearless harmonic musicians have an uncanny inventions, speed, and raw ability to pull and stretch every emotion. Rivers’ achievement passage like taffy without with Fuchsia Swing Song is how actually breaking the core successfully he blends those two melodic framework of the schools of performance in his tunes. They can be subtle, own voice. belligerent, tender, and even completely over the edge, but all The first few bars of the of these disparate contributions opening title track are indeed become integral to one of the a pretty, well-defined melody: most thrillingly satisfying very Rollins-esque with a records of the era. Fuchsia warm, if somewhat loose, Swing Song doesn’t seem to breathy delivery. But that garner as much attention as doesn’t last long. Rivers begins some of the more popular titles improvising after just one turn in the Blue Note catalog and of the melody, immediately that’s a real crime because this blending components as diverse is truly one of the finest jazz as Coltrane’s “sheets of sound,” albums of the era. as he pushes the boundaries of his horn into false notes, before throwing in a few traditional threads of bebop. There is a lot going on in this track and Rivers’ enormous skills hang it
“Being a Blue Note artist means that you have your own voice and you have something singular to bring in terms of creation just like our idols did in the past. It’s a beautiful and challenging responsibility but also an honor to be part of this family.” -Lionel Loueke
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Kenny Dorham Una Mas
Label: Blue Note records By GREG SIMMONS
Kenny Dorham: Una Mas Trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s Una Mas was one of 1963’s best records. The thought of hearing it reissued on ultra-high quality vinyl by the good folks at Music Matters should make jazz heads swoon. With its melding of hard-bop, bossa nova, and the blues, Una Mas is a prime example of the memorable vamps that Blue Note favored at the time, finding ultimate success later that year with Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder. Dorham was a prolific recording artist for almost a decade before Una Mas—both under his own name and as a sideman for some of jazz’s most notable leaders. He wasn’t the flashiest or most aggressive player, but he had impeccably
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good taste as a soloist, and his compositions have enjoyed consistent attention from musicians ever since. With Una Mas, Dorham takes a few risks. Not every jazz musician that tries to infuse Latin rhythms is successful, and in retrospect, some efforts sound contrived. By contrast, Una Mas manages the fusion seamlessly, leaving a record notable for its insistent but not overpowering rhythm, and simple, powerful melodies. Una Mas is also notable as the first recorded appearance of the great tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. Fresh out of the Army, Henderson’s debut is unusually self-assured. A disciple of Charlie Parker, his playing here doesn’t betray any copycat licks; instead, he turns in a solid performance of beautifully constructed solos. In many respects his playing here is more adventurous than Dorham’s, a hint of great things yet to come. The catchy and suave title track is one of the most recognizable tunes in the Blue Note catalog, built on brilliant economy and using a simple two-note bounce with a tight, blue chorus. Herbie Hancock contributes a particularly sophisticated handling of the two-note theme by modifying the chords
almost continuously, even as he remains tightly within the rhythmic framework. The lineup, rounded out by bassist Butch Warren and drummer Tony Williams (only 17 at the time) is as tight and swinging as they come. Music Matters’ series of classic Blue Note re-pressings include two 45 RPM discs that have been remastered directly from the original two-track analog tapes to capture as much of the original session detail as possible. Now pushing 100 titles, this series delivers the highest possible sound quality in beautifully produced packaging. But even by Music Matters’ high standards, Una Mas stands out for its sonic excellence—no small compliment. The entire record enjoys an unusually spacious three-dimensional quality that defies the physical boundaries of the loudspeakers. In the interest of full disclosure, the review sample is a test pressing, but given Music Matters track record with this series, there’s every reason to think that the final production version will sound just as good. A classic and essential recording, the perfectionist sonic qualities of Music Matters’ reissue of Una Mas just makes it that much more compelling.
and Meade Lux Lewis and pursuing a favorite of both, clarinetist-soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet. In fact, the company’s first hit was Bechet’s “Summertime.” The documentary focuses on Lion and Wolff and their relationships with artists of their times. In the face of oppressive racism, Lion and Wolff offered their artists the same respect that those same musicians experienced when touring Europe. These artists lovingly imitated Lion’s thick German accent and mannerisms that they witnessed while being recorded.
Blue Note: A Story of Modern Jazz Director: Julian Benedikt EuroArts By C. MICHAEL BAILEY
The musicians interviewed included Tommy Turrentine, Johnny Griffin, Lou Donaldson, Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, and Freddie Hubbard. Ira Gitler, Michael Cuscuna, and Bob Belden also play critical roles in the film. The result is a well-rounded look at not the entirety of jazz, but an entirety contained within the Blue Note story, a considerable part of jazz, to be sure.
Also addressed in this film was Blue Note was not the only But the story begins well before the photography of Francis the popularity of Horace Silver, Wolff and the artwork of Reid jazz label recording America’s Miles that made up many of indigenous music from the ‘30s Art Blakey and Jimmy Smith through the 1960s, but it may with the arrival of two German the most influential album be the only one that mattered. Jewish emigres, Alfred Lion and covers, now an art form in The title Blue Note: A Story Francis Wolff, in the late 1930s. themselves. This marriage between the visual and auditory Lion had tried to immigrate a of Modern Jazz is not an idle decade earlier but was stricken became a hallmark for the label boast. In the 1950s and ‘60s, in the post-war period. This Blue Note provided urban with illness and was forced artwork and selected concert America its soundtrack—a to return to Germany. But by footage is used intelligently gritty, organic, humid music, 1939, Lion and Wolff were and appropriately, making Blue the love child of bebop and cool together in New York City, Note: A Story of Modern Jazz jazz that came to be known as recording the boogie-woogie an enjoyable and informative Hard Bop. piano duo of Albert Ammons documentary on jazz. All About Jazz Magazine 157
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All About Jazz Magazine 159
FOR THE FINEST IN JAZZ SINCE 1939
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Published on May 9, 2014
Special edition of the All About Jazz Magazine celebrating the 75th anniversary of Blue Note Records. This edition features articles and int...