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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Donald Byrd’s Transitional Period

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

In the wake of jazz great Donald Byrd’s passing, there has been a revived interest in his critically-acclaimed Hard Bop period as well as his later involvement with funk and disco. There is a time between years 1969 and 1972 that is oftentimes overlooked — I like to call this Byrd’s transitional period. It was during these explorative years that electric instruments as well as a much more relaxed compositional style were introduced.

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Fancy Free, 1970

Byrd’s 1970 release, Fancy Free, offers a larger ensemble than previous recordings including key creative partner Duke Pearson on electric piano. Some call this abrupt end to hard bop stylings a knee-jerk reaction to the sparks that came from Miles Davis’ release In a Silent Way just a few months prior. Although not earth shattering as Davis’ effort, Fancy Free marks a significant change in direction for the hard bop trumpeter. The title track itself proved to be a favorite cover to such contemporaries as Elvin Jones and Grant Green, both on the Blue Note label.

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Electric Byrd, 1970

Davis’ 1970 release, Bitches Brew, opened a Pandora’s Box with regard to shifting the jazz paradigm and the dawn of jazz fusion. This powerful influence was felt in Byrd’s 1970 release Electric Byrd. Here we find Byrd in full experimental mode complete with post production studio effects. The material leaned to a floating, cerebral compositional style with less focus on groove and backbeat. Decidedly a brave outing by an even larger band consisting of 11 members. Davis sideman, Airto Moreira, keeps a tight bond to the Dark Prince as he lays down complex percussion over Brazilian themes. Collaborator Duke Pearson is back on electric piano adding to a very stylized and dreamy soundscape. Reedmen Frank Foster and Lew Tabackin are also in tow. After much free-form improvisation and Davis leanings we do get a taste of plain funk with final track “The Dude”. It shores up the album as if to put listeners at ease after the storm of pioneering uncertainty.

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Kofi, 1971

Along comes 1971 and Byrd releases yet another stellar session, Kofi. Regulars, Tabackin and Foster are heard here along with legendary bassist Ron Carter and percussionist Airto Moreira. The title tune nears 8 minutes and is a burner, it easily earns its Blue Note Rare Groove monicker. The rest of the album covers more adventurous territory. Most tracks hark back to the heady sound of Electric Byrd with its use of space and percussion supplied by magician Airto. Heavy electric piano dominates arrangements with Byrd’s airy trumpet gliding on top like a hawk riding a thermal. The album ends on Foster’s composition “The Loud Minority” which rings like a dark interval from the Buddy Rich Big Band songbook.

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Ethiopian Knights, 1972

Many critics will end Byrd’s transitional sessions here but I like to include the excellent 1972 release Ethiopian Knights. On this album we find Byrd delving into a dark jazz-laden funk. This is not the vocal-tinged upbeat funk of Black Byrd and definitely not the polarizing disco from down the road. This recording still owes indebtedness to Miles Davis and his experiments with funk elements at the time. There are still lengthy solos here along with a lot of electric bass and a barrage of drums. With only three tracks this album blows away many straight-up funk contemporaries with its hard-driving beats and surgical precision. All three Byrd-penned pieces are more singularly focused than their free-wheeling predecessors. Two long tracks, “The Emperor” and “The Little Rasti”, sandwich the 3-1/2 minute “Jamie” — an interlude piece which offers to cleanse the palette in between double helpings of multilayered funk.

After sitting back with these four excellent outings one can appreciate Byrd’s intent to experiment and reach. He still maintains a firm footing in hard bop interplay and virtuosity, added is his uncanny ability to mix electronics and funk elements to great effect. With so many artists indebted to him for his creative genius, pioneering spirit and focus on education Donald Byrd will be sorely missed.

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Big John Patton’s “Understanding” Misunderstood

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

I usually use AllMusic.com as a litmus test for unfamiliar recordings. I’m glad I went with my gut when I found a 1995 Blue Note re-issue of Big John Patton’s Understanding at a local, used book store. If I had gone with the AllMusic critic’s opinion I would have avoided it like the plague and tossed it aside. For the uninitiated, Patton is an organist who came to prominence on the Blue Note label in the early-60s. He was known for his economical, modern approach and inspired, bluesy solos. One of the few organists of the era to dodge the Jimmy Smith comparison.

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Understanding, 1968

After outputting a handful of releases with label regulars Grant Green and Lou Donaldson he ventured off into some uncharted territory. The 1968 release Understanding is not truly a dramatic departure but it does house some free playing by saxophonist Harold Alexander and that is what AllMusic took issue with. It’s stated to somehow interrupt the groove and comes across as disjointed and out of place. Perhaps to the untrained ear, or to a listener not familiar with or accustomed to the unorthodox sounds of Pharaoh Sanders or the other artists from the Impulse! New Thing stable. Alexander’s playing is by no means that of Peter Brotzman or a young Gato Barbieri. To these ears, it comes off as more to do with exuberance, where the spirit of the session takes the helm. Understanding still defaults to a soul jazz category and it’s easy to dismiss free (or freer) playing in this arena, but one listen to this vibrant interplay and you’ll fall into the groove and won’t want to leave. Patton is at the top of his game and his bandmates push him to his swinging limit. The trio is rounded off by Hugh Walker on drums who gives his all — keeping a steady, turbulent backbeat under the soulful wailing laid down by Patton and Alexander. This is music to drive to, you’ll want to be moving and moving quickly.

Patton is at the top of his game and his bandmates push him to his swinging limit.

Right from the opener “Ding Dong” you know exactly where you stand – this is some heavy-duty soul and these players aren’t about to let up. That’s what’s so enticing about this particular release, the raw sounds of Alexander’s sax really churns the already boiling pot. Each player builds on one another adding more fuel to the fire, keeping things interesting. This certainly isn’t the Soul Jazz recordings of previous years — dare I say — in some ways it’s even better. Patton proves he’s not afraid to go out on a limb with a loose canon like Alexander. The addition of Walker on drums is a great move, his style adds some necessary backbone to help ground a free range player like Alexander. Patton is spot on, as usual, with soloing and his signature basslines. It’s Patton’s buoyant, almost hypnotic, bass that really adds a sense of forward motion to each track. His lines are deceptively simple, undulating deep down under Walker’s rock-steady drumming — the album’s blood and guts.

This certainly isn’t the Soul Jazz recordings of previous years — dare I say — in some ways it’s even better.

It’s now time to go out and seek this holy grail of groove. And when you do, you’ll want to turn up your hi-fi and tune out the naysayers.

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