Tag Archives: Jazz

[104] Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Moanin’

3 Apr

Art Blakey is the drummer and bandleader here, but oh, that trumpet!



So hot.  So cool.  When I hear a horn blowing like this, I actually wonder if Jazz could ever surpass Rock as my true love.  I would never have believed it possible before beginning this blog, but listening to these sublime compositions, these masterful performances, it doesn’t sound so far fetched.

The melody slips and slides all over the scale while the band grooves on beneath, and the result is simply exquisite.  The rhythm section is rock solid – tight and powerful – allowing each soloist to wander and explore far shores without ever losing their way back, and with each drum roll the soloists are pushed further, urged higher.

The original songs on display here are classy and kinetic, intricate and intruguing.  Just when I feel certain that Lee Morgan’s trumpet is the star of the show, Bobby Timmons’s piano takes a turn in the spotlight, astoundng with its frenetic energy, its controlled tumbling.

And always the band is driven on by Blakey’s poking, prodding drums which never allow a moments pause.

By the time Blakey himself features in the aptly named “The Drum Thunder Suite” I am more or less in love.

The only moment which falls slightly flat is the somewhat static cover of one of my favorite standards, “Come Rain Or Come Shine”.  Ironically, the familiar melody is played a little too straight, respected a little too much and the result is far less than the sum of its parts.

For the rest of the ride, the exact opposite is gloriously, upliftingly true.

Here is a rare recording from Tom Moon’s list which inspires me to take a break from the relentlessnes of “what’s next?” and explore the current artist a little further.  For the most part, it has been the Jazz that has brought out this restlessness for more, and in Blakey I have been revealed a performer with decades of high quality content in his hopper.

Moon’s recommended catalog choice is A Night In Tunisia and here the percussion is front and center from the very start, primal and powerful, a most enjoyable assault on the senses.

Blakey and his Jazz Messengers affect me physically.  I can’t sit still, can’t concentrate on anything other than the music, at times can’t even catch my breath while they play.

Needless to say, I approve this message . . .

Next Week:  Bobby “Blue” Bland – Two Steps From The Blues

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 104 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? No. (16 of 104 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (86 of 104 = 83%)

[78] Bix Beiderbecke – Singin’ The Blues, Vol. 1

3 Oct

Bright and breezy, light and crisp.  Listening to these wonderful 90 year old tunes feels like Fall.

Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Eddie Land and co.

Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Eddie Lang and co.

Once more, I initially feel at a loss to explain why this selection of tunes pleases me so when a similar collection from Sidney Bechet left me unmoved.  Perhaps I am unfairly comparing the recording quality, which is noticeably poorer in the case of Bechet.  Maybe I prefer the freedom, the looseness which is more noticeable in the Beiderbecke sides.

Whatever the reason, Beiderbecke and his ever changing cast of accompanying musicians grab my ear and my heart from almost the first note, dovetailing effortlessly with the beautiful Fall weather outside my open window.

The more I listen however, the more I come to realize that there may be another, deeper reason for my connection to this sound.  While I am not certain that it was ever actually Beiderbecke that he played, this sound strongly reminds me of the music that I often heard – between 40s standards and Gilbert and Sullivan operettas – whenever my Grandpa was around.

It is a good memory.

Beiderbecke’s coronet dances up and down the scale, darting in and out of the structures built by the rest of the band.  Although recorded around the same time as Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens, the power of those legendary horns are replaced here with a playfulness that is infectious – a complement, not a challenge.

Here is a sound that is easy to love, instantly accessible, endlessly listenable, and a perfect soundtrack for when the season begins to turn.  That it also reminds me of my beloved Grandpa is just gravy.

Next week:  Harry Belafonte – Live At Carnegie Hall

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 78 = 12%)
Heard before blogging? No. (12 of 78 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (63 of 78 = 81%)

[70] Sidney Bechet – Ken Burns’ Jazz

8 Aug

Timing is everything, and it may be that the timing of my coming to Sidney Bechet has done him no favors.

Ken Burns' Jazz

Ken Burns’ Jazz

At this point in my journey, I have already declared my love for the far more experimental Jazz titans like Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill and Albert Ayler.  That is not to say I haven’t greatly enjoyed some more traditional voices – Adderly, Armstrong and Baker come to mind – but at least on this recording I am not hearing anything that excites me.

I actually went back to the previously named artists in the midst of listening to Bechet, trying to pinpoint why it was that I enjoyed one so much more over another.  And the answer that seems to make most sense to me is “timing . . .”

Would I be raving about the old-fashioned sound of the recordings here if I had heard them earlier in the 1,000?  Would the sound of the clarinet and soprano sax have moved me more if I hadn’t already been wowed by Louis and Chet?

Of course it is impossible to know for sure.

There is nothing at all wrong with the sounds on this career spanning disc – Ken Burns always does his homework – and I spent a pleasant enough week or so with it playing in the background.  But unlike most of the Jazz that has opened my eyes and widened my pallette, Bechet never emerges from the background to the spotlight, never makes me stop what I’m doing to groove with him for a while.

It is possible, even likely, that I do not quite grasp the importance of Bechet’s sound.  Or maybe I just don’t appreciate the Soprano as much as I do the more familiar Alto or Tenor sax?

Whatever the reason, it is time for me to leave Sidney Bechet behind for now . . .

Next Week: Beck – Mutations

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 70 = 13%)
Heard before blogging? No. (11 of 70 = 16%)
Recommend? No. (56 of 70 = 80%)

[61] Billy Bean – The Trio

6 Jun

I have always assumed that if I were somehow forced to choose a single genre to listen to from today onward, it would be Rock. Then I hear a recording like this and realize once again that I could spend the rest of my life just listening to Jazz and still be only just scratching the surface.

But what an enjoyable itch.

Billy Bean - The Trio

Billy Bean – The Trio











Tom Moon pulls a bizarre switch here, actually recommending an album – The Trio: Rediscovered – that appears never to have been officially released. It was certainly not widely released and consisted of a number of outtakes from the sessions that produced the sleek and mesmerizing set captured on The Trio – the album I actually tracked down and devoured.

If the Rediscovered recording really is even better than the stuff that I did get my hands on, it will be worth the years I spend fruitlessly chasing it . . .

The drumerless trio comprises of pianist Walter Norris, bassist Hal Gaylor and Billy Bean on guitar, and they produce a sound that is at once intricate and effortless, both laid-back and driven.

Whether riffing gorgeously on a standard like “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” or just letting rip on the aptly named “Scramble” I am left wondering where the specific album – if not the whole damn genre – has been my whole life.

It is another example of a recording on the list that really should be experienced by everyone at least one time.  Although I can’t imagine not being able to hear this exquisite jam again.

Too engaging to be ignored in the background. Too melodic to be dismissed as Free Jazz. Yet somehow Billy Bean recorded this one perfect set (and another couple of sides) then left the stage for good and I am far from the only one to never have come across his name.

What did he do from 1961 until his death (five decades later!) in 2012, and why didn’t it included more music? Although there is very little information online, there does appear to be a published biography out there that I’ll be keeping an eye out for.

In the meantime I’ll just close my eyes, listen the the music Bean did leave us, and wonder if he just didn’t believe that he could ever top this.

Next Week: The Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique

Owned before blogging? No. (3 of 61 = 5%)
Heard before blogging? No. (5 of 61 = 8%)
Recommend? Yes. (48 of 61 = 79%)

[55] Count Basie and His Orchestra – Complete Decca Recordings

25 Apr

Where a decade earlier Louis Armstrong led from the front of his band, with booming vocals and scorching trumpet playing, Count Basie’s piano is the engine that drives his orchestra and the result is collaborative effervescence.

Complete Decca Recordings

Complete Decca Recordings











Every musician here gets a brief chance to shine in this three hour collection of 3 minute explorations.  No one solos too long, no singer hogs the microphone, and everybody gets their moment, keeping the whole thing chugging along with undeniable energy.

There are familiar standards (“Pennies From Heaven”, “My Heart Belongs To Daddy”) and childhood tunes (“London Bridge Is Falling Down”, “Mulberry Bush”) jazzed up and played with, alongside more traditional jazz compositions.  The instantly recognizable melodies catch the ear and focus attention back on the deceptively simple recipe – a short tune played simply, sparsely by a collection of restrained musicians.

In this case the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts.

The rhythm is unrelenting, always surging forward, and if there is never an instrument doing more than sketching a beat or a melody, still the orchestra as a whole coalesces into a complete and complex sound.

It’s just so much fun to listen to.

What makes that fun cerebral as well as emotional is a number of back to back takes on a number of cuts, getting to hear the same song twice, done in totally different styles, exploring the same musical space in very different ways.

Reminds me (in a good way) of listening to a 12 inch remix version of 7 inch single back in high school.

It may be that there is nothing groundbreaking here, but I can hear the beginnings of the codification of Jazz that the Free Jazz crowd I’ve been (for the most part) enjoying so much used as a launch point for their experimentation.

But even without the history, even without the musical theory on display, these tunes brighten up my home for days, putting a skip into everybody’s step, a hum on all our lips.

Next Week:  Waldemar Bastos – Pretaluz

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 55. 4%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 55. 7%)
Recommend? Yes. (43 of 55. 78%)

[44] Chet Baker – Let’s Get Lost

7 Feb

Baker’s simple vocals take a backseat to the trumpet, piano – actually anything else that might be playing – and this laid back, understated blend is honey for the ears – Cool Jazz personified.

Let's Get Lost  - The Best of Chet Baker Sings

Let’s Get Lost – The Best of Chet Baker Sings











Although recorded in the 50s, this album has such a modern sound and sensibility.  His phrasing reminds me of Harry Connick Jr. singing a low tempo ballad (and I love Harry Connick Jr. when he’s singing low tempo ballads . . .)

Once more, I am treated to some stunning versions of the Great American Songbook – this time “But Not For Me”, “Time After Time” and “My Funny Valentine” are the standouts, adding new nuance and textures to these oft heard songs.

There is a charming simplicity here, bright and relaxed – like the listener does not have a care in the world.

It is so at odds with the gritty, drug-ruined biography of Baker who at one point had to quit playing after having his teeth broken in a fight, and who was in and out of jails in multiple countries thanks to his well documented heroin addiction.

Quite a juxtaposition with the breezy cheer of these wonderful performances.  The trumpet solos that are sprinkled throughout almost every track are sunny, perfectly formed interludes, swinging but always perfectly under control.

There is a restraint that is noticeable in every note.

It may be a truth universally acknowledged that Baker’s voice doesn’t hold a candle to the “true” crooners of his day, but it fits the mood of these recordings admirably, and I am happy to hear his low, easy tones whenever they play.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 44. 5%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 44. 9%)
Recommend? Yes. (36 of 44. 82%)

Next week:  The Balfa Brothers – Play Traditional Cajun Music


[34] Albert Ayler Trio – Spiritual Unity

29 Nov

This album is literally dizzying.

Spiritual Unity

Spiritual Unity











My first listen was lying in bed, eyes closed, headphones shutting out the world. Behind my eyelids, my eyes tried to follow the wildfire squeaks and squawks of the saxophone rapidly riffing up and down the scales and triggered a physical reaction – my vertigo kicked in.

Everyone should experience this breathtaking rollercoaster ride.

It is a soundscape, a wall of noise often ugly and raw as the brass, bass and drums get into a loud and obnoxious public argument.  The listener can almost believe that each member of the trio is simply doing his own thing and the hell with everyone else, with cohesion, with musical theory.  But the whole somehow hangs together too perfectly, too correctly (for want of a better word) fot it too have happened by accident.

Unlike the experimentation of Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Urban Bushmen which I found hit or miss, in Spiritual Unity everything is laid out before your ears, no sleight of hand, nothing held back.  The trio seemingly picks an obscure scale and a quick tempo, then appears to jam at random within that series of notes.

And it is like nothing I have ever heard before.  There is no way to mistake this for Jazz as background music!

I can see how someone might not like this, but there is no way they won’t have a strong reaction.  Call it messy, call it noise, noone is going to argue with you.  But more than anything to date this album is something you should hear at least once in your life.

How else will you know whether or not you like it?

This sub 30-minute disc connects with me on a physical level – my heart races, my breath catches and my head spins.  It is almost uncomfortable, almost irritating, almost awful, yet in the end it is none of these things.

It is genius.  And a perfect way to finish the first chapter of the list.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 34. 6%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 34. 12%)
Recommend? Yes. (28 of 34. 82%)

Next Week: Baby Huey – The Living Legend


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