Bill Evans: The Tokyo Concert

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

Today we celebrate the birth of Bill Evans. A fitting album of his to enjoy, and one of my personal favorites, is one that marks somewhat of a rebirth for Evans on the jazz scene, “The Tokyo Concert“. This prodigious album was recorded January 20, 1973 at Yubin Chokin Hall in Tokyo. Bill Evans’ second great trio is in tow with Eddie Gomez on double bass and Marty Morell on drums. Critically acclaimed, this concert was described by Evans’ producer, Helen Keane, as a perfect one.

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Bill Evans Trio with Herb Geller at the NDR Jazz Workshop, 1972. The NDR Jazz Workshop was a concert series established 1958 by public German broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk.

The rebirth comes in the form of Evans’ personal appearance and material. He was described by Kiyoshi Koyama, a noted Japanese jazz critic, as wearing a tailored black tuxedo with a bright pink dress shirt. Evans was known to only wear dark colors, never drawing attention to himself. His change in outward appearance seems to coordinate with his new association with the Fantasy label, a relationship that would prove fruitful.

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For a better understanding of the man behind the music, I recommend reading “Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings,” a biography by Peter Pettinger on Yale University Press.

Aside from his appearance he brought new material to the stage that night—”Mornin’ Glory,” “Up with the Lark,” Yesterday I Heard the Rain,” “When Autumn Comes,” “T.T.T.T.,” and “Hullo Bolinas” were all new additions. Along with Evans’ staples like “Gloria’s Step” and “My Romance” this album is really well rounded with typically introspective ballads, swinging burners and extended solos.

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Bill Evans Trio, 1974 (From left: Eddie Gomez, Bill Evans, Marty Morell)

Packed with lilting, joyous songs like Bobbie Gentry’s “Mornin’ Glory” and Jerome Kern’s “Up With the Lark” it’s hard not to sit through repeat listenings. The trio operates in unison and lives up to their storied past throughout this outing. A very unique composition to note is “T.T.T.T. (Twelve Tone Tune Two)” which describes the work in that it consists of 12 measures utilizing the 12-tone scale. It was quite a feat to get through this demanding track in one take—especially for Eddie Gomez’s role on double bass.

So, if you’re a Bill Evans novice, a longtime fan of his first trio or just haven’t had the pleasure of listening to this gem—do so, it would be a great tribute to a jazz giant and gentleman.

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Fire Music: Jazz and Civil Rights

“… you must listen to me on my own terms. I will not let you misconstrue me. That era is over. If my music doesn’t suffice, I will write you a poem, a play. I will say to you in every instance: ‘Strike the ghetto! Let my people go!'” — Archie Shepp (taken from liner notes to The Magic of Juju, 1967)

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

Archie Shepp has long been a familiar artist in my collection. Before I knew him for his politically-charged poetry, plays and activism I knew him for his stirring brand of music on the Impulse! record label. He came into his own in the early-60s on various recordings on the Savoy and Delmark labels with forward-thinking jazz notables; Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, John Tchicai and Bill Dixon. His record contract at Impulse! in the mid-60s began a new era of self-discovery in support of the burgeoning New Thing movement, a school of jazz based on the inventions of mid-century, avant-garde musicians. His ten-year relationship with Impulse! would prove fruitful for both label and the socio-political climate of a very tumultuous decade.

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Fire Music (1965) isn’t Shepp’s first recording for Impulse!, but it’s the first to showcase his unique talent as a composer, performer and poet, independent of John Coltrane. The album, as a whole, can be interpreted as part and parcel to the soundtrack of the Black Power movement of the era.

“There was a poem I did to Medgar Evers and to Malcom. It’s the same poem. I call it ‘To Medgar’… and sometimes I call it ‘To Malcom’, I may change it from Malcolm to somebody else—the next person they murder. It’s to Medgar. It’s to my people. That’s all.” —Archie Shepp (taken from liner notes to Live in San Francisco, 1966)

Shepp’s spoken-word poetry, referenced above, has always been a major draw for his albums and a good reason for repeated listenings. “Malcolm, Malcolm, Semper Malcolm” on <a href="http://Fire Music (1965), “Skag” on New Thing at Newport (1965) and “The Wedding” on Live in San Francisco (1966) are testaments to his writing ability, wit and political insightfulness.

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Attica Blues (1972) was a watershed album for Shepp. Large ensembles and complex arrangements are centered around the title piece based on a deadly 1971 confrontation between rioting prisoners and police at Attica Correctional Facility in New York. In an effort to end the standoff, police gunned down 39 inmates and hostages and wounded several others.

To be sure, Archie Shepp was not the only performing artist of the 60s to address civil rights issues—far from it. But, to these ears, he was one jazz musician to consistently deliver an intelligent, entertaining and varied offering in different mediums over a span of several decades. And his message, even though he tackled different aspects of inequality such as drug addiction or violence, was always raw and honest. This approach may be less desirable in today’s homogenized circles, especially with major record labels, but it’s an approach that pushes the envelope and opens peoples’ minds—at times with a push rather than with a nudge.

As for Shepp’s instrumentals, he owed much to John Coltrane’s legacy at the onset of his career. A firebrand, especially to those new to the New Thing sound, Shepp was both volatile and versatile and proved it on just about everything he recorded for Impulse! From hard-edged avant-garde blowing sessions to bluesy funk to big band ensembles reminiscent of Charlie Mingus, it’s safe to say one wouldn’t get bored with his recording output. A couple favorites of mine are The Way Ahead (1969) and Kwanza (1969), both featuring Grachan Moncur III, trombonist, composer and longtime collaborator. Both albums offer infectious post-bop blues, angry blowing and genre-bending arrangements—all the while remaining firmly rooted in Black tradition with nods to both Africa and Ellington.

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The Way Ahead (1969) is another eclectic offering from Shepp and company, showcasing avant-garde music bathed in Afrocentric blues, gospel and swing. This album also signals Shepp’s first time use of a piano in his ensemble, creating a more conventional configuration for an unconventional sound.

“It is my opinion that music born of the emotions will always seek to serve the highest level of legitimate ‘popular’ taste; and it is precisely that music which lasts, simply because it communicates something to people.” —Archie Shepp (taken from liner notes to Mama Too Tight, 1966)

With so many critically-acclaimed recordings, including many non-Impulse! sessions and concerts, Archie Shepp has secured his spot in jazz history and Black culture. During these difficult times it’s beneficial to look back at past accomplishments in the name of civil rights—there is a treasure to be unearthed for the uninitiated, full of anger, deservedly so, but also full of hope. And for those who are familiar with these recordings—don’t forget about them and let them languish. Don’t forget about the artists, the open-minded record executives and their supporters, the fans and most importantly the victims. And don’t forget the message and the rage that stoked these fires.

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Jazz Collecting: Artists & Labels

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

After suffering the impacts of the pandemic, namely unemployment and quarantine, I, like many others, have afforded myself some time. And time is definitely something one can use more of when collecting jazz. So, with this extra time at home I’ve been able to take stock of my personal collection. To be fair, it’s not one of those vast collections where you need a separate listening room or zip code to appreciate. It’s relatively modest but stocked with artists and labels that I believe merit repeated listening.

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Like many other collectors, my entrée into Hard Bop was Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers on Blue Note Records. My first jazz album purchase was “At the Cafe Bohemia – Volume One”. I have to confess, not knowing much about the genre at the time and being a designer, I chose it simply for its typographic cover—a decision I never regretted. Thank you, John Hermansader.

As for the actual recordings, I’m one of those collectors who, for the most part, sticks to certain labels for the bulk of his collection. ECM and Blue Note Records are great examples of this approach. Rule of thumb, if you find one or two artists you really enjoy on one label there’s a good chance you’ll find more—appreciation through chance discovery. Although with certain artists, Bill Evans for example, labels matter less. If you follow an artist throughout his or her career you’ll find that oftentimes they skip around—usually pursuing the best contract or more creative freedom.

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A true visionary in every sense of the word, Miles Davis trailblazed the far reaches of jazz. His second great quintet, including Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, represents the quintessential modern jazz group in my book—conceptual, explorative and intelligent.

As with Bill Evans, you’ll find a fanbase that rallies around a particular period in the recording career of an artist. Take the distinguished career of Miles Davis, there are diehard fans of Miles’ first great quintet and their associated record label, Prestige. Others may gravitate toward Miles’ second great quintet on Columbia Records or his later electric outings on the same label. John Coltrane is another artist who produced many divided camps. He had a successful early solo career on Prestige and Blue Note, then moved to Atlantic with his first great quartet in the early-60s, and then Impulse! Records in the mid-60s which found him exploring more avant-garde avenues with personnel that would prove to be in flux.

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The often imitated Bill Evans has made his way back into my collection for over twenty years. One can easily hear echoes of Evans in the works of many contemporary artists. His years on the Riverside label with his first trio are still one of my favorite periods of his—romantic, subtle and introspective. If you’re not already familiar with Evans, try spinning a couple of his critically-acclaimed albums, “Portrait in Jazz” (1960) and “Sunday at the Village Vanguard” (1961).

If you’re a completist, like myself, you’ll collect from every recording period of a favorite artist—oftentimes picking and choosing particular albums based on year recorded, personnel or audio fidelity. Bill Evans, one of my perennial favorites, definitely falls into the multi-period, multi-label category. His first trio on the Riverside label, featuring Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums, defined the gold standard for jazz trios. A deft and cohesive unit famous for anticipating each others’ actions. After the untimely death of bassist, Scott LaFaro (one of my personal jazz heroes), Bill Evans began to move around with solo and trio stints on Verve, Blue Note, Fantasy and Warner. There are hardcore first trio fans who only swear by the early Riverside recordings as a measure of Bill Evans’ improvisational genius. As for myself, I can appreciate all his outings, be it solo, trio or third stream. If you find an artist who really hits a chord you’ll follow him or her anywhere.

If you’re a completist, like myself, you’ll collect from every recording period of a favorite artist—oftentimes picking and choosing particular albums based on year recorded, personnel or audio fidelity.

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Keith Jarrett, a virtuoso pianist with an uncanny ability to improvise lengthy solo concerts, gained his global following on the ECM label. Although he led groundbreaking groups, including his long-lived trio, he became best known for his solo output. His massive “Sun Bear Concerts” 1978 box set, showcasing over six-and-a-half hours of very personal music, is an achievement hard to be matched by any performing artist, past or present.

By following an artist from one label to another one can also experience the creative growth an artist achieves. Some Coltrane fans lament his move to Impulse! Records as it would eventually showcase his interest in spiritualism and the avant-garde which, regrettably, shed some of his followers who were only interested in his modal music. Another artist who would truly come into his own because of his association with a particular label is Keith Jarrett. His early career as sideman to jazz masters Art Blakey, Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis on various labels would eventually jettison him to a famed solo career starting at Atlantic Records in the late-60s. But it wasn’t till his move to ECM in 1971, for an astonishing 49-year partnership, where he would flourish and rise to international fame with unprecedented live solo recordings such as Solo Concerts: Bremen and Lausanne (1973), The Köln Concert (1975), The Sun Bear Concerts (1976/78), and Concerts: Bregenz/München (1982).

So, be it artist-centric or label-centric, starting and maintaining a jazz collection will always prove fruitful, especially if the listener devotes time to enjoy the fruits.

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The Herb Alpert Movie

By David Barras, Guest Contributor

My parents bought Herb Alpert’s Going Places! when it was released, so it was always around the house during my childhood. I remember my fascination with the cover. The colorful, biplane with a “TJB Express” sign, the innocent sexuality of a maid reclining on the wing and Alpert grinning broadly, with his white scarf flowing behind him create a ridiculous picture. Today, it might be easy to simply dismiss this photo as sexist. But if you consider the absurdity of the premise and Alpert’s wide grin that lets you in on the joke, you can help but laugh, in spite of your more sophisticated, enlightened attitudes.

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Going Places!, 1965

For years, Herb Alpert was a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine because I always considered “Tijuana Taxi” and “Spanish Flea” to be novelty songs. In recent years, though, I’ve listened more closely and now appreciate the musicianship of the band, the arrangements of the songs and the way Alpert makes the songs he covers his own. Unfortunately, even though I’m trying to judge Alpert’s music only on its artistic merits, my love of the culture of the 1960s keeps getting me sidetracked. I have to ask myself — why was there never a movie produced staring Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass? I remember watching Elvis’ movies on TV on Saturday afternoons, and wonder why the same formula was never applied to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass? He had some chart success. He had leading man looks. One could even argue his music was the soundtrack for the period with it’s presence on television programs and commercials.

It would have gone something like this. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in Going Places!

Herb Alpert and the band play themselves. An actor plays their manager, a greedy, nervous fellow who, while out to protect the goose that laid the golden egg, still cares about “his boys”. This character is easily flustered as the band faces the trials ahead and provides excellent comic relief. Herb Alpert plays himself as a confident, tough and capable leader of the band who, though he takes his music seriously, still has a sense of humor and plays by his own rules, much to the chagrin of his manager.

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What Now My Love, 1966

The movie opens at a party where it’s being announced that Alpert and the band will be playing a benefit concert for a children’s charity. A young bratty millionaire is in attendance who becomes jealous of the attention the band is receiving. After he has a confrontation with Alpert at the party, the young millionaire bets Alpert that he and his band can’t cross Mexico north to south and back again in time to play the charity event the next week. A condition of the bet is that they must be self-sufficient without assistance from anyone back in the states. If they win, the millionaire donates $50,000 to the charity. If they lose, the band must perform a Lawrence Welk style show, potentially ruining their careers. Alpert, seeing this as a matter of pride and an opportunity to present the charity with a boon, accepts the challenge.

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Whipped Cream & Other Delights, 1965

Unbeknownst to them, the young millionaire is following them, attempting sabotage at every opportunity. He’s successful as soon as they enter Mexico, making the band’s tricked-out tour bus crash and injure their driver Speed, who used to be on the demolition derby circuit. All seems lost until they spot a noisy, run-down tour bus driven by Bill Dana in character as Jose Jimenez. The band pools the last of their cash to hire his services. Unfortunately, they still need cash for food, gas and lodging for a week long trip. According to the terms of the bet, they can’t wire home for cash, so they have no alternative but to play every cantina and night club in which their manager can book them.

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The Beat Of The Brass, 1968

This is where the movie really takes off with many opportunities for comedy and music; a rehearsal session on the bus, an impromptu song for a group of kids playing around a fountain in a town square and, of course, a sunset walk on the beach with a “señorita” while Alpert sings “This Guy’s in Love with You”. He promises to return to her town one day, and we’re left wondering and hoping.

Following the formula Hal Wallis established for Elvis, the climax is a fight where Alpert must prove himself worthy of leading man status. The band is one day away from the concert and well within driving range. Unfortunately, their bus’ water pump, fuel pump and suspension were all blown during a speedy escape from a gang of motorcycle banditos who misunderstood a band member’s intentions towards their leader’s sister.

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Herb Alpert’s Ninth, 1967

To pay for the repairs, they must play one final gig in Tijuana. After the performance, though, the cantina owner, a big, ugly piece of work, refuses to pay. Alpert stands up to him, saying “Either The Brass and I get our money, or you and I are going to have a problem.” The owner throws a punch which Alpert easily dodges, “El Garbanzo” starts playing and the whole bar starts fighting. Alpert takes on the tough leading man role as the band fights the owner’s goons with various comedic shenanigans. The bartender ducks behind the bar and takes advantage of the situation by reaching up from his hiding place, grabbing bottles of liquor so he can get some free drinks. Completely by accident, he grabs bottles just as they are about to be hit by flying chairs or glasses. After beating the owner to submission, Alpert collects the band’s pay and they’re able to pay for the repairs to the bus.

“Either The Brass and I get our money, or you and I are going to have a problem.”

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Spanish Flea, 45rpm single, 1966

There’s one final hitch at the border crossing when a nearsighted border patrol officer (a brilliant cameo by Don Knotts) doubts the band’s US citizenship. While the manager argues with the officer, the band takes out their instruments and begins playing “Spanish Flea”. The officer is beside himself with joy, exclaiming that he’s their biggest fan. He lets them pass, nodding his head and saying “What a swell bunch of fellas” as the bus drives across the border.

The band takes to the stage just under the deadline and performs “A Taste of Honey” to an enthusiastic crowd. The millionaire is pulling his hair out during the performance, but is kept from escaping by the manager. After the concert, the millionaire’s father arrives and it is revealed that the kid has no money of his own. The father, a fan of the band, honors the bet and his son is forced to pay off the debt by working as the band’s roadie. Bill Dana (Jose Jimenez) is now the band’s permanent driver since their old driver decides it would be safer to return to the demolition derby circuit. Tijuana Taxi plays over the closing credits as we see the rich kid trying to load the band’s equipment on the bus, tripping and dropping cases.

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A Taste Of Honey, 45rpm single, 1965

I could easily convince myself that I had seen this movie on TV on a Saturday afternoon in the 1970s when it was too rainy to play outside. I can see the old bus careening down a dirt road to “Mexican Road Race” or the band playing “Bittersweet Samba” at an upscale night club in Mexico City. If you close your eyes and listen closely, you can see the imagery inherent in these songs. I know there are trumpeters with greater technical ability, but when I listen to Alpert, his playing sounds deliberate, like he’s making conscious choices to create visual imagery and emotion.

Maybe it’s best this movie was never filmed. In a way, it never needed to be. No doubt the original print would be faded and in need of restoration. The advantage to Alpert’s music, though, is that today, its vibrant Technicolor images are as pristine as they were when he recorded them over 40 years ago. Anything else might be a distraction.

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Reid Miles: 500 Album Covers can’t be wrong

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

 

The man with a thousand layouts up his sleeve, Reid Miles has been a major influence on my personal design aesthetic throughout my career. His style exudes modernism with the occasional nod to the Bauhaus and International Style—God was always in the details.

Miles began working at Blue Note Records in the late-50s where he would go on to design almost 500 record sleeves. He typically worked on tight deadlines, oftentimes restricted to a 2-color palette and limited typefaces. He would at times hand-cut his own letterforms to realize some of his concepts, some of which are still emulated to this day. Layouts would range from economical and austere to complex and detailed with the occasional visual pun.

Layouts would range from economical and austere to complex and detailed with the occasional visual pun.

Among Miles’ collaborators, Blue Note co-founder, Francis Wolff, was his most prolific. Wolff doubled as staff photographer on hundreds of album covers—offering jazz enthusiasts intimate artist portraiture taken during and throughout recording sessions.

The early-60s witnessed the multi-faceted Miles adding photography to his list of duties, which would soon usher in a dramatic career change in the mid-60s and ultimately his departure from Blue Note. His photographic style proved to be just as modern and forward thinking as his layouts—displaying an interest in experimental techniques and the avant-garde.

The handful of album covers chosen to illustrate this post typifies Miles’ recognizable design and playful photography.

 
 
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Breaking Point, 1964
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Steppin’ Out, 1963
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Wahoo, 1964
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Some Other Stuff, 1964
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Maiden Voyage, 1965
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Out To Lunch, 1964
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Free Form, 1961
 
 

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Herbie Hancock and the Shock of the New

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

After the release of his 1970 Warner album, Mwandishi, Herbie Hancock was well on his way to introducing electronics to his brand of jazz. His top-flight team of improvisers made it that much easier to make the transition to fusion. Although naysayers were wrapped around Hancock’s funky hard bop from his Blue Note years, there was an audience to be had with this new free-form, electric jazz.

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Mwandishi, 1970

Miles Davis had already taken off with his 1969 Columbia release, Bitches Brew, plus a handful of live recordings which featured an even edgier take on his dark vision. Hancock’s work, by comparison, did not display the raw bravado of Davis’, its strength, rather, lied with its creator’s love affair with technology and the possibilities it could bring to his music.

Hancock’s work, by comparison, did not display the raw bravado of Davis’, its strength, rather, lied with its creator’s love affair with technology and the possibilities it could bring to his music.

This love affair becomes all the more evident in Hancock’s next Warner release, 1971’s Crossings. He pulls out all the stops here, adding an additional voice in Dr. Patrick Gleeson on Moog synthesizer. Here, Hancock crosses over to an avant-garde realm only visited briefly, and acoustically, on his already long resume. With banks of synthesizers, Hancock plugs in and creates a world wholly his own.

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Crossings, 1971

Although the Davis influences are impossible to deny, it’s Hancock’s own genius in multilayered arrangements that forges each piece into something unique. With track titles like “Quasar” and “Water Torture” it’s obvious this isn’t the laid back hard bop of years past — the future is now. The opener, “Sleeping Giant”, is just that — a giant. It’s a near 25-minute roller coaster of a suite incorporating Hancock’s new electronic instrumentation. Changing tempos, frenetic drumming, and the blips and chirps from synths soon show the way to a new approach that will eventually be more fully embraced on Hancock’s next release.

Experimentation abounds, much of Sextant sounds as if it was created live in a science lab setting.

Hancock’s debut on Columbia Records is an album that some may consider menacing to say the least. 1972’s Sextant is a full-on fusion album, quite literally equal parts man and machine. Experimentation abounds, much of Sextant sounds as if it was created live in a science lab setting. I like to call this sub-genre of music Sci-fi Jazz. Much of the album sounds like a funky, and oftentimes frightening, soundtrack to a science fiction journey. The opener, “Rain Dance”, sets the spacey mood with a flurry of electronic effects which carry throughout the piece and register as electronic water drops. Perhaps giving credence to the surrealistic album cover as a sort of alien dance ritual.

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Sextant, 1972

The second of the three tracks is “Hidden Shadows” and is indeed dark. And for all the percussion, synths and alien effects there is still the signature Hancock sound that musters familiarity right off. The keyboard chordings, the solos and the group harmonies — all transplanted from Hancock’s former life at Blue Note. There is a theme that continues to reign in the blowing and keyboard wizardry to keep “Hidden Shadows” as the most conservative and least likely to scare off the uninitiated.

The crowning achievement on this album is the final piece, “Hornets”. Abstract and nearly inaccessible, it begs further inspection. The redundant use of kazoo instills the frenzy of the track’s namesake. There are Fender Rhodes passages with free blowing over top in this 20-minute piece that sound reminiscent of Davis’ live outings from the same period. There was something undeniably in the water back then. Sometimes, I wish that certain something would make a return posthaste.

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Prime Cuts: Gil Evans & “Where Flamingos Fly”

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

I revisited some of my favorite albums on the Impulse! label and decided to take another look at Gil Evan’s thought-provoking 1961 release, Out of the Cool.

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Out Of The Cool (Japanese remastered edition), 1961

Although many people may prefer the lengthier and more complex “La Nevada” or the upbeat throwback of “Sister Sadie”, I, historically, have always been drawn to the quiet simplicity of “Where Flamingos Fly”. Let’s start with the title — and what a title! Already, it evokes a sense of mystery and noir. What was Evans imagining when this track was arranged and performed? Seemingly, it’s a very moody and somber place where these brightly-colored birds dwell.

Seemingly, it’s a very moody and somber place where these brightly-colored birds dwell.

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Evans’ mastery of arrangement and timing is brought to life in this 5-minute masterpiece. It could be described as a concerto for trombone. Which leads us to another curiosity — the selection for lead voice: trombone. It may have worked with a trumpet or, even more so, a flugelhorn. However, Evans’ choice in a trombone sets the mood beautifully here. There is an understated melancholy in the sound of Jimmy Knepper’s playing which also displays an uncanny grace and humility. After listening to this track countless times I can’t really see any other instrument playing this all-important role.

There is an understated melancholy in the sound of Jimmy Knepper’s playing which also displays an uncanny grace and humility.

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Ron Carter, double bass. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

A solitary piano repeating the same 4 notes opens the track, soon woodwinds join in the theme and Ron Carter’s strong arco double bass picks up the bottom end with slow, melodic lines. The drama conjured up by the short introduction is staggering. Knepper’s trombone rises out of nowhere to start off his sad, lengthy solo. As the trombone winds around slow-moving turns the sound of hushed percussion and brass begin with fills. But through it all we hear that lonely trombone as it courses through the track. It ends with a return to the 4-note theme and it gently expires — as if vanishing into thin air. It’s an achingly beautiful composition that rarely gets much play these days.

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Sketches Of Spain, 1960

When Gil Evans is mentioned it’s hard not to look back at his historic stint on Columbia with collaborator Miles Davis. Albums like Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain are the usual suspects in most playlists. But as far as creativity and raw emotion go it’s hard not to give Out of the Cool, and more specifically a gem like “Where Flamingos Fly”, a spin or two.

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A Houston House of Jazz

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

An unassuming mid-century bungalow in southwest Houston holds a jazz horde to be reckoned with. Local musician, photographer and jazz aficionado, Lindy Pollard, has turned his small but tasteful home into a living jazz museum. Some 5,000 titles grace his walls in custom-built shelving installed by the owner and his brother. Upon entering this treasure trove a visitor is oftentimes overwhelmed at the sheer volume. His collection spans decades as well as formats. Pollard will occasionally spin an LP but the bulk of his collection is of the compact disc variety. As neat and precise as the surroundings with its modern appointments, each album is arranged alphabetically by artist and is easily accessible. Pollard is quite literally ensconced in jazz whenever he sits to listen to one of his recordings or play with his cats. Seven-foot tall, vintage Klipsch speakers anchor his living room and offer a surround sound experience to be coveted by any audiophile. It’s safe to say this Houston native will never run out of things to listen to. His musical tastes run the gamut, from Brazilian jazz to vintage ECM releases to hard bop staples. Row upon row of out-of-print and rare releases sit waiting for an eager listener to happen by. Just standing amidst the volumes makes a jazzophile feel anxious.

Upon entering this treasure trove a visitor is oftentimes overwhelmed at the sheer volume.

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Pollard’s dining room, one of many rooms surrounded by his massive collection.

Having grown up in the 50s Pollard has held such virtuosos as Paul Desmond and Sonny Stitt in high regard. As we talked about the artists that fill his walls, he fondly remembers attending a Paul Desmond concert as a young sax student back in 1963. He recalls racing a classmate backstage to grab one of Desmond’s used reeds — one man’s treasure. His enthusiasm for jazz hasn’t wained one bit over the years. Having so many titles at his disposal helps to maintain a learning environment. “There’s always something new on a recording you haven’t heard before,” Pollard points out.

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Agharta, 1975. Miles Davis is a staple in Pollard’s collection.

Aside from being a long-standing Bayou City multi-reedist Pollard is also an accomplished jazz photographer and graphic artist. Boasting several hundred originals, he has attended countless venues showcasing some of the most notable icons in the history of the genre. Many images catch artists in candid and even reflective poses. Artists such as Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Duke Ellington are only some of the mainstays you’ll see in his portfolio. His love for the artform is apparent in his attention to detail — each shot a special moment in jazz history. His photos have been exhibited at local galleries over the years to much acclaim. As of recent, Pollard has taken up nature photography as well. With trips to state parks, and even to his own backyard, he has begun to fill new photo albums with his boyish love of nature.

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Despite being ensconced by CDs, Pollard still likes to spin vinyl.

Having visited this personal jazz vault several times over the years I never tire at slowly perusing the titles, wishing today’s circumstances would still allow me to do the same at local retail outlets—those were the days.

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The ECM Sound

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

The sounds contained in certain ECM recordings are evocative of the stark, oftentimes abstract, artwork that grace their covers. At the core there is a consistent sound that binds most vintage ECM recordings. It’s one of reflection and meditation rooted in a northern European melancholy. Major players, Ralph Towner, Eberhard Weber and John Surman are the keepers of that flame. For decades these jazz veterans have established and exercised the ECM sound. They’ve managed to create a musical brand unique to their own personal pursuits all the while unifying a label’s output.

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Solstice, 1975, allows one to delve deep into the Northern European aesthetic of the ECM sound.

With a multitude of introspective compositions in both solo and group settings, Towner cements himself as a pillar of the ECM sound.

Stepping out of his longtime association with the genre-bending group, Oregon, guitarist Ralph Towner began his long-time association with ECM in 1973. Along with his technical prowess Towner brought with him an established artistic direction and personal sound which meshed naturally with his new label mates. Towner outputted several solo albums which showcase his virtuosity on classical guitar as well as his uncanny talent for writing. With a multitude of introspective compositions in both solo and group settings, Towner cements himself as a pillar of the ECM sound. Some standout sessions are 1978’s Batik with legendary bassist Eddie Gomez, 1979’s Solo Concert with its excellent covers of John Abercrombie’s Timeless and the Bill Evans-associated “Nardis”, 1989’s City of Eyes and 1995’s Lost and Found. Towner continues his visionary association with the label to this day.

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Later That Evening, 1982, is one of many excellent outings by Weber in the lates-70s and early-80s.

German bassist, Eberhard Weber, brings a wholly-unique approach to the label. Weber’s background in mainstream jazz changed dramatically with his appearance on ECM in 1973 with his classic recording, The Colours of Chloe. Weber is a true virtuoso in every sense of the word, pushing the envelope on his own instrument and venturing into new sonic territory. He took initiative to re-construct his own instrument to suit his personal playing style, adding one then two strings to his double bass. The resulting effect is near magical — long, fluid lines seemed to dance off the fingerboard giving them a life of their own. His standout recordings usually include his working group Colours. 1975’s excellent Yellow Fields catches the bassist with feet in both reflective and faster-paced settings. On 1976’s The Following Morning Weber’s bass proves to be a subtle beacon in the gray mist that is the 10-minute “T. On A White Horse”. His playing here is indicative of what he brought to the label — a floating, elevated and cerebral sound that relies as much on space as it does technical virtuosity.

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Private City, 1987, situates itself in a timeless state—a place that Surman comfortably inhabits.

Last, but certainly not least, is English clarinetist John Surman. Having had experience outside the jazz mainstream before joining the label in 1979, Surman brings a sense of restless exploration. His recordings define the ECM sound in yet another light — one of experimentation and wanderlust. Surman’s playing is akin to that of a medieval minstrel, with storytelling at its core. Armed with soprano, baritone and bass clarinets Surman makes use of overdubs and synthesizers to round out most of his solo efforts. Although he also shines in group settings its his one-man shows that showcase his unique compositional style and depth of playing. Titles such as 1979’s Upon Reflection, 1984’s Withholding Pattern and 1996’s A Biography of the Rev. Absalom Dawe expose his inventive soloing and tasteful use of electronics. Surman’s style lends itself to other genres as well, having ventured into classical territory. Works by Elizabethan lutist John Dowland are among some of his more popular achievements on ECM, offering proof of his flexibility and range as an elite instrumentalist.

Surman’s playing is akin to that of a medieval minstrel, with storytelling at its core.

One may find the only obstacle in truly appreciating the recordings by these modern masters is a lack of time. Time to focus on nuances, time for introspection and time for further investigation.

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Art Blakey’s Hardest Hits

By Carl Glatzel, Editor
Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

This isn’t jazz, it’s war. On February 10, 1964 Art Blakey enlisted the aid of a special ops unit for his trailblazing mission — Free For All. This edition of the Jazz Messengers was the quintessential hard bop lineup and the perfect team for the job. The frontline was a heavily-armed triple threat consisting of Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor sax and Curtis Fuller on trombone. Cedar Walton on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Art Blakey on drums brought up the rear and had the near impossible task of grounding this tour de force. Blakey was a well-known beast on the skins — infamously destroying drum kits on stage — and was relentless on the Shorter-penned title track, which opens the album. There’s no slow build here, it’s an all-out assault from the word go. Blakey pounds away with everything at his disposal while the frontline crashes through the gate as if charging a bunker amid heavy shelling. With Blakey’s detonations blasting all around, each horn takes an extended solo while weaving through their fearless leader’s tumult. After a glorious 11-minute show of bravado from all parties the finale ends with a classic example of Blakey’s pure adrenal rush on the kit — a thunderous roar followed by a single hit on the hi-hat and then peaceful silence. An outright classic and well worth the price of admission.

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Free For All, 1964. For all its bravado and firepower there is an overarching sense of control and forward motion on this Jazz Messengers album.

By this outing, Shorter was at the very top of his creative game and shortly after he would be on his way to joining the fabled Miles Davis Quintet as its principal composer. On this album we have two great works by Shorter — displaying his versatile style in all its glory. The second track, “Hammer Head”, another Shorter original, is cooler than the bombastic opener and moves with a well-defined swagger. This is classic Blakey material where his famous press rolls and shouts introduce soloists who take the floor with commanding flair.

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Wayne Shorter, tenor saxophone. A follower of Coltrane, Shorter’s tenor is still one of the most distinguishable in modern jazz. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

The third track, “The Core”, is a Hubbard original and another cooker. This piece is a great example of Hubbard’s writing ability and another great showcase for the raw power behind this seamless unit. I’ve always been of mind that Hubbard played to his full creative potential as a sideman at Blue Note rather than session leader. His outings on both the Atlantic and CTI labels in the late-60s and early-70s have always been go-to listening to these ears.

I’ve always been of mind that Hubbard played to his full creative potential as a sideman at Blue Note rather than session leader.

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Freddie Hubbard, trumpet. A bright, muscular tone and chops to match, Hubbard’s performance on this session sizzles. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

The last track, a Clare Fischer composition, will throw you for a loop. Suddenly, and most dramatically, a truce is called and “Pensativa” is the white flag. This laid-back bossa tune would be right at home on a Hank Mobley album of the same period. It clocks in at just under 8-and-a-half minutes and is a sheer joy to listen to. We finally hear the bright, clarion call of Hubbard’s pristine trumpet and Blakey’s effortless timekeeping. “Pensativa” balances out this amazing album to create a truly unique recording — one which rewards fans with new insights upon repeat listenings.

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