Bobby Hutcherson in 1968: Total Eclipse

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

Recorded in July of 1968, Total Eclipse offers a lean and progressive sound. Although featuring a top-flight quintet, much like Patterns from March of the same year, its minimal aesthetic is evident. One could attribute the spare soundscape to the pianist on the date, Chick Corea. Less prone to embellishments than his Patterns counterpart, Corea embodies a wholly modern approach to piano. A contemporary of Herbie Hancock, the two share a similar tact on keyboard when comping behind soloists as well as a later fascination with fusion and electronics. Corea’s contribution can be felt throughout this 1968 session.

The album springs to life with an upbeat track entitled “Herzog”. With Hutcherson’s main collaborator, Harold Land, firmly planted in the tenor seat a theme is established and Corea takes the lead with a brisk-paced solo. Hutcherson punctuates throughout until he takes a solo which matches Corea’s in speed and invention. Joe Chambers and Reggie Johnson shore up any loose ends while keeping perfect time on drums and double bass respectively. Harold Land then takes over for Hutcherson and wails on his outing. A perfect foil for Corea, Land is also uniquely modern in his approach to tenor. At times he plays with outside leanings but never moves above middle register — a straight arrow for tenor in 1968.

A perfect foil for Corea, Land is also uniquely modern in his approach to tenor.

Up next is the title track, “Total Eclipse”, which slows down the quintet’s pace to a contemplative mood. The slower time signature offers Land more space to explore which comes as a benefit to the listener. Here is where Land excels and shines with a signature solo — breezy, earthy and tasteful. Corea also takes advantage of the space and comps beautifully behind Land, punctuating his lines yet staying out of the tenor giant’s gait. Clocking in at just shy of 9 minutes, “Total Eclipse” has enough space for every lead voice and Hutcherson moves forward with a gentlemanly approach to his solo. Much more concise than Land’s, Hutcherson bows out quickly to allow Corea more time to feel his way around. And just like Land, Corea shines in this hushed environment. With the bottom-end firmly planted by Johnson and Chambers, Corea is granted access to investigate the terrain with an abstract solo.

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Harold Land, tenor saxophone. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

“Matrix”, the following track and penned by Corea, picks things up again and pushes Land out in front with a rough and tumble solo. We hear Land approaching the top of his register which adds to the intensity of the track. While Chambers bubbles and churns underneath, Hutcherson takes an extended solo displaying his quick dexterity on the unwieldy instrument. After a somewhat free outing Hutcherson allows Corea to venture in and take the reins. After a short burst of energy on the keyboard, the quintet returns to the theme and closes it out.

A seeming roller coaster of emotions, the session takes another turn down a melancholy avenue with the following track, “Same Shame”. At nearly 9-1/2 minutes, this track unfolds slowly allowing each member ample time in the spotlight. After Hutcherson’s mid-tempo solo, Land slows things down at the beginning of his outing but Corea and Chamber’s edgy comping styles push the tenor player to more agitated activity. Corea again takes full advantage of the allotted space and lays down a brilliant solo. The languid lines of the theme fold back in on itself and ends the dreamy track.

The real standout of this session anchors the album in truly modern panache, the final track, “Pompeian”, features a sweet and sour approach — a compositional style used on sessions past by Hutcherson’s former session leader, Jackie McLean.

The real standout of this session anchors the album in truly modern panache, the final track, “Pompeian”, features a sweet and sour approach — a compositional style used on sessions past by Hutcherson’s former session leader, Jackie McLean. A straight-forward theme carried throughout the composition is repeated by the quintet which is then dissected by abstract interludes used as a means to jointly solo. Land is at home on flute which flutters throughout the stormy turbulence. Chambers finds himself in familiar territory which harkens back a few years to albums like 1965’s Components. Either an apparition of Hutcherson’s former days in the avant-garde or a foreshadowing of things to come — it’s hard to say. Whatever it is it’s amazing and it totally engulfs the listener. One does not have long to wait for what comes next in this auditory game of cat and mouse. “Pompeian” is a somewhat unorthodox end to what some say is a transitional album — one is at a loss for what exactly may come next in Hutcherson’s outstanding catalog.

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Bobby Hutcherson in 1968: Patterns

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

An artist whose musical prowess can still be felt in today’s youth-centric jazz scene, Bobby Hutcherson cut his teeth in the service of such legends as Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp and Jackie McLean. His choice of instruments, the vibraphone, may have kept him out of the limelight — earning him favorable reviews but never achieving super stardom on the international scene. Hutcherson’s notoriety had as much to do with his recordings as sideman as his sessions as leader. When Hutcherson did take helm of a session modern jazz listeners were sure to enjoy the transcendent mix of cerebral compositions and angular interplay. His playing was different from his contemporaries on the instrument, more lyrical and mellower perhaps — at least in the post-avant-garde years. In the early to mid-60s, however, one could hear his percussive accents beaten out blacksmith-style.

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Patterns, 1968

The late-60s witnessed the emergence of another side of Hutcherson, still brimming with creativity, although, without the blunt-nosed abandon of his younger days. He also maintained the company of forward-thinking musicians, all of whom were virtuosos in their own right. An outstanding recording exemplifying this matured approach is Patterns from 1968 on the Blue Note Records label. It begins on a mysterious note with the track “Effi” — Stanley Cowell’s composition dedicated to his wife. With the feel of traversing through a dark, dense forest, “Effi” captivates the listener and moves him to another place altogether. James Spaulding’s flute solo weaves a fine tapestry — one with all the filigree to be expected, yet, all the while holding the listener in a somber state of mind. “Effi”, and more specifically Spaulding and Hutcherson’s interplay, reminds one of all the beauty in this world in spite of its dark corners.

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Joe Chambers, drums. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

“A Time to Go”, composed by Spaulding as a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is perhaps the most melancholy track Hutcherson ever cut as a leader, with the possible exception of “Bouquet” from his 1966 outing on Happenings, also on Blue Note. More a vehicle for Spaulding’s extended flute solo, “A Time To Go” offers up reflection, heavy with emotion. Spaulding’s high notes are tightly crisp and his buoyant ideas are kept modern and succinct, never overtly saccharine.

On Patterns, Spaulding dishes out some of his best, and sadly underrated, alto work alongside Hutcherson’s bright vibes.

In stark contrast, the title track brings with it a sense of lilting intensity. On Patterns, Spaulding dishes out some of his best, and sadly underrated, alto work alongside Hutcherson’s bright vibes. Both race toward their respective ends in quick and sure-footed solos. Heated interplay is key to this track and its non-stop action doesn’t disappoint.

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Stanley Cowell, piano

Irina, which pulls a drowsy cover over this session, resonates with the same sense of loss found in “A Time To Go”. Stanley Cowell’s delicate solo work on piano is pushed to the forefront. It’s a classic Hutcherson ballad, much in the same vein as “When You Are Near” on Happenings or “Summer Nights” on Stick Up! both from 1966.

On the last track, Nocturnal, drummer/composer Joe Chambers makes use of Reggie Workman on double bass as pure foundation. Workman, a jazz veteran at this point, lays down a deep groove on which Hutcherson and Spaulding effortlessly skate across — pushing and pulling the composition in many directions. Spaulding’s alto emerges out of Hutcherson’s driving solo and soars upward and out, breaking through the cacophony laid down by the outside-minded Chambers on the kit. “Nocturnal” proves to be focused and wild all at once, a brilliant piece of jazz and an ideal end to a truly unique and personal listening experience.

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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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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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Alice Coltrane and the Death of a Giant

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

Alice Coltrane replaced McCoy Tyner in John Coltrane’s lineup in 1966. After her joining, the group’s output became even more spiritual in context and Coltrane’s personal playing kept pushing boundaries. There was an undeniable symbiotic relationship and mutual influence between John Coltrane and his wife, Alice. Coltrane took on the role of teacher in the ways of his brand of music and its relationship to Eastern mysticism. Religion had become an overt part of Coltrane’s music ever since 1964’s A Love Supreme.

There was an undeniable symbiotic relationship and mutual influence between John Coltrane and his wife, Alice.

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John Coltrane, saxophones. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

Coltrane’s highly-creative, cart-blanche tenure with Impulse! Records aided in his musical and religious journey, producing a varied and vast body of work in a relatively short amount of time. As Coltrane put it, he was in search of a “universal sound”. I believe it was in Alice Coltrane that he found his “musical compass”. His late-career recordings such as the posthumous Expression and Cosmic Music display the raw vigor and spiritual connection that his deft unit was known to typify. There was a new sense of urgency in Coltrane’s sound, his avant-garde leanings, along with frontline partner Sanders, were oftentimes brutal. A question which resurfaces time and time again is with regard to the direction of Coltrane’s music — what did he have in store?

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Cosmic Music, 1968

After the dust settled from her husband’s untimely death in July of 1967, Alice Coltrane returned to the studio to cut her 1968 solo debut, A Monastic Trio. Dedicated to Ohnedaruth, John Coltrane’s mystic pseudonym, this release teems with brooding and reflective tracks sometimes expressing anguish, other times promise. Some believe this release may have hinted at John Coltrane’s musical direction, a jumping off point of sorts. After all, Alice Coltrane was closest to the master and may have had the best insight to what made him tick.

On A Monastic Trio there is a heavy use of percussion, namely bells and shakers, which creates an Eastern-inspired drone effect. An effect that would be further developed by the addition of classical Indian instruments on later sessions. Alice Coltrane divides her playing equally on piano and harp. She tends to focus her piano on either upper or lower registers based on the mood of her composition.

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A Monastic Trio, 1968

The first two tracks are from a prior John Coltrane posthumous release, Cosmic Music. A fiery Pharaoh Sanders belts out angry solos on the opener, “Lord Help Me To Be”. Alice Coltrane rambles beneath the fire with thick, bluesy chords while Jimmy Garrison lays down a melodically strong bass line. On “The Sun”, we hear the band, including the late John Coltrane, on a vocal intro repeating a mantra: “May there be peace and love and perfection throughout all creation, oh God”. It eerily sets the stage for a composition of remembrance where Alice Coltrane plays a restless, searching piano. There are very lucid moments in her soloing with cascading notes that follow.

“May there be peace and love and perfection throughout all creation, oh God”.

The composition “Ohnedaruth” comes off as a requiem for the late saxophonist. The longest track, at just under 8 minutes, as well as the darkest, with its lower-register piano, droning percussion and menacing saxophone. John Coltrane is definitely top-of-mind in the frenzied voice of Sanders’ oblique playing. The following track, “Gospel Trane” most assimilates to John Coltrane’s bluesy modal work from earlier dates. As the most accessible track, we hear a more upbeat piano from Alice Coltrane as well as an orthodox drum solo from Rashied Ali. And Jimmy Garrison walks his bass, adding to the feel of a track from years past.

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Pharaoh Sanders, tenor saxophone. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

“I Want To See You” is the last track where Alice Coltrane plays piano. Again we hear a pervasive use of percussion. Her playing is comparatively brighter and shows off her exquisite right hand approach on keyboard. Based on its title it’s a heart-wrenching personal reflection by a still-grieving widow.

Although I’m a bigger fan of her unique and gospel-inspired abilities on piano her harp playing lends itself to the dreamlike quality of her compositions.

“Lovely Skyboat”, “Ocean Beloved” and “Atomic Peace” all feature Alice Coltrane on harp. These tracks are a precursor to her many subsequent albums on the Impulse! label. Although I’m a bigger fan of her unique and gospel-inspired abilities on piano her harp playing lends itself to the dreamlike quality of her compositions. The steadfast Jimmy Garrison continues to ground the bottom end of these tracks with his rich, ever-present notes.

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Jimmy Garrison, double bass

It’s still up for debate whether Alice Coltrane propagated her husband’s musical direction — in effect becoming an extension of his own vision. And although nobody can claim to play anything like John Coltrane we do have Pharaoh Sanders on several more recordings as a reliable and sincere follower on saxophone. With all the acclaim and idol worship surrounding John Coltrane and his other-worldly abilities you just have to wonder if he really was on loan from another planet. He stood alone. And now that both he and his wife have been taken from us that vision, that unique musical direction, will forever remain a mystery to his legions of adoring fans and disciples.

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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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