Grant Green and Idris Muhammad

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

Deemed as the original funky drummer, Muhammad played a pivotal role on several Blue Note sides throughout the late 60s and early 70s. His unique and immediately recognizable sound propelled Blue Note Records into the world of jazz funk and inspired legions of followers along the way. The drummer usually found himself teamed up with the label’s heavy hitters of the day, Lou Donaldson and Grant Green were among his esteemed recording partners.

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Idris Muhammad, drums. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

The year 1969 marked a rebirth of sorts for the jazz guitarist and the beginning of a fertile partnership with Muhammad firmly planted behind the drum kit — a match made in heaven.

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Grant Green, guitar. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

His infectious backbeat graced one certain standout 1969 Grant Green recording, Carryin’ On. Muhammad laid down a solid foundation for Green’s airy, explorative lines which focused on the lighter side of the guitarist’s funk repertoire. This was a standout session for Green because it marked the beginning of a new direction in his recording career. He intentionally moved into a more economically-viable vein within the label, for obvious reasons. However, unlike some of his peers, he excelled at this new sub-genre and went on to record several inspired studio and live sessions, including the excellent Live at Club Mozambique in 1971. The year 1969 marked a rebirth of sorts for the jazz guitarist and the beginning of a fertile partnership with Muhammad firmly planted behind the drum kit — a match made in heaven.

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1958 Album of the Year: Porgy and Bess

By Justin Scoville, Guest Contributor

Wow, I have had a tough time with this one. Although 1959 was certainly a watershed year for Jazz, 1958 wasn’t too shabby either. A Great Day in Harlem, the famous photo taken by Art Kane, was captured in 1958. (And yes, this photo is hanging in my living room). Many pivotal albums were released in 1958, including these personal favorites:

  • Deeds, Not Words Max Roach’s innovative piano-less group that featured Ray Draper on tuba and a stunning, 20 year old Booker Little on trumpet. My mom bought this for me when I was a teenager and that was the start of my fascination with Booker.
  • Somethin’ Else Miles Davis’, er, Cannonball Adderley’s sublime Blue Note album which offers the definitive, most swinging-est versions of “Autumn Leaves” and “Love For Sale”.
  • Moanin’ If you had to choose one Jazz Messenger’s album that encapsulated all of Art Blakey’s mission as a musician, this wouldn’t be a bad choice.
  • Cool Struttin’ Man, Sonny Clark swung hard. Love that guy. He was out of the Bud Powell school with a lighter touch and infused his solos with blues and wit.
  • Looking Ahead One of Cecil Taylor’s first forays into the New Thing.
  • Milestones An absolute classic. Trane, Miles, and Cannonball as a front line… Wow. The title track foreshadows Modal Miles.
  • Everybody Digs Bill Evans: Keepnews Collection Recorded in 1958 but released in early 1959, this album saw Evans conceptualizing his modal approach in the hypnotic Peace Piece.

Anyways, my choice for 1958 is Porgy & Bess, Miles Davis’s second of three collaborations with Gil Evans in a large ensemble setting. (I’m cheating on this one… Porgy and Bess was actually released in 1959 but recorded in 1958. The field for 1959 is too crowded).

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Miles Davis at the Porgy & Bess sessions, 1958

Miles Ahead (1957) augmented the Birth of the Cool’s nonet into a full-blown big band, allowing Miles to pontificate against an obtuse instrumental backdrop. 

Sketches of Spain (1960) was, at the time of its release, a radical departure from jazz convention and stirred up controversy about what was and wasn’t jazz.

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Miles Ahead, 1957

Porgy and Bess falls in the middle of Miles Ahead and Sketches of Spain chronologically and musically. Gershwin’s conglomeration of the American Folk tradition and European Classical harmony made a perfect musical playground for Evans. His complex yet melodic voicings, brought to life by a top-notch group, laid the foundation for Miles to advance his pioneering style away from Bebop and into the Unknown. Evans also captures the drama of the opera in his adaptation, along with Miles as the lead soloist. Both Evans and Davis were fascinated with the nascent modal innovations of George Russell, and although Milestones captured some of what was to come in Kind of Blue, I feel like Porgy and Bess is the first full realization of the modal approach in Jazz.

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Porgy And Bess, 1959

“Buzzard Song”, “Summertime”, and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” are clear historical favorites from this album. For me, from a strictly musical standpoint, “Gone” and “Prayer” are the standout tracks. “Gone” opens with ragged but spirited ensemble passages sandwiched between brilliant drum fills from Philly Joe Jones. The centerpiece of the song is Miles blowing chorus after chorus over a minor mode with Philly Joe and Paul Chambers. The absence of a chordal instrument doesn’t hinder Miles at all; instead, he sheds his old Bebop skin and emerges a new man. Prayer builds from a mournful blues statement from Miles into a wailing climax. (I always love how Cannonball plays during the crescendo; his levels are so high he must have freaked out the recording engineers). Prayer is a radical departure from the Head-Solo-Head structure of most jazz songs from then and now, with the ensemble building organically together with Miles’s melodic improvisations.

The absence of a chordal instrument doesn’t hinder Miles at all; instead, he sheds his old Bebop skin and emerges a new man.

Porgy and Bess is a beautiful masterpiece and a lasting monument to Gil and Miles, whose musical partnership would span several decades, not to mention genres, of Jazz.

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Justin Scoville is a Denver-based trumpeter and jazz blogger.


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Jazz and the Hunt

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

Never say never, or so I quickly learned one humid, summer afternoon at a used book store in southwest Houston.

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Something In The Wind, 1969

I seldom get the opportunity to thumb through used record bins these days, so stumbling upon a collector’s item would almost seem out of the question. Defying all odds, I discovered something priceless — a worn-out LP copy of a 1969 The Winter Consort release, Something In The Wind. I know what you’re thinking — a dime a dozen. Well, this one was different. It was priced at only a dollar, hiding between tattered releases by Wendy (Walter) Carlos and Tony Orlando in a neglected clearance bin. Right off I was drawn to the thought-provoking photo of Paul Winter on the cover, proudly standing in a forest, dwarfed by a giant, emerald canopy — not unlike something out of the Jethro Tull catalog. Turning it over I noticed some scribbling on the back cover. I immediately jumped to conclusions, wondering why people are so careless with their LPs. Upon closer inspection I noticed it was a collection of autographs, each band member having signed their name and some including their respective instrument. Included in this group was the remarkable sitarist, and long-deceased, Collin Walcott. The wheels in my head were spinning out of control. How did this end up here of all places and in my hands? I felt as if I just found the Holy Grail tucked away in a dumpster behind a Taco Bell. And the kicker—all this for a dollar? That’s all I needed, off I went. I think I may have skipped to the register to purchase this small piece of jazz memorabilia.

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Something In The Wind, 1969. Autographed back cover.

It was priced at only a dollar, hiding between tattered releases by Wendy (Walter) Carlos and Tony Orlando in a neglected clearance bin.

Driving home with my treasure stowed safely out of harm’s way, I wondered how many more gems might still be out there — wasting away in written-off clearance bins or dusty attics. There’s no telling, but one thing’s for certain — you don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades of laying your mitts on one without getting out there and looking under some rocks. Happy hunting!

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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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