|Songs We Know
Fred Hersch / Bill Frisell
Pairing two such superior soloists as guitarist Bill Frisell and pianist Fred Hersch seems a most unlikely match. Despite having gigged together a couple times in the 1980s, the only thing the two seem to have in common is they both record for Nonesuch Records. As it turns out, it was Fred Herschs idea to finally get the two together in the studio and it couldnt have been a more inspired combination.
The brilliant, eclectic Frisell is perhaps the most original guitarist of the last two or three decades and hes hardly ever combined his unique sound arsenal with a pianist.
Hersch, on the other hand, has carved out a substantial body of work illustrating his sensitivity as a soloist and finesse as a superior accompanist (particularly for singers), yet hes almost never heard with a guitarist.
The result is the marvelous new Songs We Know, a fine song cycle of contemporary jazz standards, played with a laid-back ease that only two such sharp and original stylists can bring to such well-known music.
Frisell and Hersch concur that the session could have gone many different ways, but it was their mutual love for the standards, with their open palette of simplicity, history and potential for new interpretation that lead to the inspired sounds heard on Songs We Know.
Both leaders have logged many miles playing these and other standards too: Frisell, as part of Paul Motians trio with tenor giant Joe Lovano, and Hersch, through his recent Plays Monk and Plays Rogers & Hammerstein discs and, even more substantially, on his jazz-the-classics Angel recordings.
But, together, Frisell and Hersch like Bill Evans and Jim Hall did together before them -- bring to bear a fresh chemistry that is too rarely applied to such oft-played material. Hersch remains a melodic, sensitive even erudite explorer. And Frisell maintains his sense of humor and displays his ever-inspired internal logic. Together, they explore and experiment with the contours of each others sound and style and arrive some place that neither might have approached on their own before.
The eleven Songs We Know have many highlights. Chief among the pleasures to be heard here include the playful and unusually funky "There Is No Greater Love," where Frisells textbook witticisms engage with Herschs perky, almost abstract commentary. Likewise, Antonio Carlos Jobims "Wave" is creative music at its most expressive: where Herschs piano provides the soft undercurrent while Frisells sprite, melodic tones carry the tide in, conveying the hypnotic beauty of the sea that Jobim intended.
The two engage most spectacularly, and so nearly at odds, on "What is This Thing Called Love," where the metallic Frisell frolics in the warm cushions Herschs block chords provide. Then, the pair commiserates romantically (a Hersch specialty) on the lullaby-like (a Frisell specialty) "Someday My Prince Will Come."
For real fireworks, listen to how quickly the two depart from the corniness of "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" to explore a Monk-like tango of arched, deconstructed sonorities. Then, hear how their dissimilarities are unified on the dance-like "My Little Suede Shoes," where Frisell lays down a jig style head while Herschs interacts brilliantly with lovely tango cadences.
Songs We Know is a success and, more notably, a singularly pleasurable listening experience -- because its about more than songs. Its about sounds. Separately, these two stylists have crafted much music that is about the creation and interaction of sounds. Together, they have achieved something special, or what Boston Globe jazz critic Bob Blumenthal calls in his excellent liner notes, "an example of how texture works to shape a performance as directly as melodic or rhythmic invention."
Recorded in San Francisco last year, Songs We Know pins down the provocative sensitivity both Fred Hersch and Bill Frisell bring to creative music. But more importantly, it captures the wondrous result of two great minds spontaneously being expressed as one strong voice. It is a collection that calls out for more, hopefully an added set of the pairs originals. Until then, Songs We Know are songs creative music listeners will want to hear.
Songs: It Might As Well Be Spring; There Is No Greater Love; Someday My Prince Will Come; Softly As In A Morning Sunrise; Blue Monk; My One And Only Love; My Little Suede Shoes; Yesterdays; I Got Rhythm; Wave; What Is This Thing Called Love.
Players: Fred Hersch: Steinway piano; Bill Frisell: acoustic and Klien electric guitar.
Pittsburgh native Eric Kloss (b. 1949) was one of the most distinctive, original voices to emerge on alto sax in the mid-60s. He was only 16 when the first of his eleven Prestige albums was released in 1965. These records featured the cream of the crop of New York musicians and the young Kloss more than held his own with heavyweights like Booker Ervin, Jaki Byard, Chick Corea, Cedar Walton, and most notably, guitarist Pat Martino.
Kloss switched to the Muse label in 1972 and debuted with this outstanding quartet recording, One, Two, Free; which remains his finest achievement. In a group featuring Martino on guitar and Ron Thomas on electric piano as well as bassist Dave Holland and fellow Pittsburgher Ron Krasinski on drums, Kloss pushes and pulls his group to take chances that explore the outer edges of bop, fusion and even funky pop music.
The 18-minute, three-part title track is clearly influenced by Bitches Brew (on which bassist Holland also participated). But here, like on the surprisingly substantial funk of Carole Kings "It Too Late," Klosss arched sound and searing style move the ostinato vamp in a more avant-garde direction (the way Arthur Blythe later would). Martino gets a notable share of the solo spotlight and never ceases to amaze in his mixture of cool chordal comps and fleet runs up and down the fretboard.
Klosss beautiful ballad, "Licea," guided by Dave Hollands moody, signature string work, is the jewel of this collection and probably deserves to be better known. Martino waxes lyrically before Kloss enters for a rueful countenance thats worth the price of admission.
32 Jazz was wise to bring One, Two, Free back into circulation and maintain Don Schlittens beautiful cover-art photography too. Priced well below other recent jazz reissues, One, Two, Free is a significant chapter in 1970s jazz and provides a great opportunity to discover the interesting music of Eric Kloss (who, despite no widespread releases since the early 1980s, still performs infrequently at Pittsburgh events with his vocalist wife). Even though theres 42 minutes of music here, one wishes creative interaction this good kept on going. Recommended.
Songs: One, Two, Free Suite: Pt. 1, One, Two, Free; Pt. 2, Elegy; Pt. 3, The Wizard; Its Too Late; Licea.
Players: Eric Kloss: alto sax; Pat Martino: guitar; Ron Thomas: electric piano, tambourine; Dave Holland: bass, electric bass; Ron Krasinski: drums.
Steady Comin' At Ya
Don Patterson (1936-1988) wasnt the most distinctive organist to follow on the heels of Jimmy Smiths success. But, like Larry Young and Shirley Scott who also played piano first, Patterson was undoubtedly one of the more melodic and lyrical of organ practitioners. Whats more, while his more popular peers ventured into soul jazz, funk and pop, Patterson stayed firmly rooted within the bop tradition.
He recorded a whopping 15 albums for Prestige between 1964 and 1969, then recorded only five more for the Muse label until his final 1978 album, recorded a decade before his death.
Steady Coming At Ya includes all five tracks from Pattersons terrific 1973 Muse LP, These Are Soulful Days, adding one track ("Lori") from his 1972 Muse debut, The Return of Don Patterson and two tracks ("Harolds House of Jazz" and "Room 608") from Movin Up (1976).
The Soulful Days tracks make this a most worthwhile set and catch Patterson at his very best in a fine quartet featuring Jimmy Heath on tenor sax, Pat Martino on guitar and Albert Heath on drums. The four reflect winningly on Cal Masseys title tune (perhaps better known from Lee Morgans performance), two standards ("Skylark" and a remarkably un-corny "Whistle While You Work") and two blues (Dizzy Gillespies "Blue n Boogie" and Pattersons 18-minute "Muse Blues"). Throughout, Patterson solos with the sensitive, understated flair of a pianist. Jimmy Heath is well featured on "Whistle While You Work" and "Blue n Boogie." Martino, perfectly matched to Patterson for slower tempos, however, excels as he does elsewhere -- on the faster tempos. The remaining tracks are of interest to hear Patterson interact in separate quartets featuring the altos of Richie Cole and Eddie Daniels. But they only fill out the CD and dont offer enough of the interest these groups can offer on their own.
Steady Coming At Ya contains some of Don Pattersons best recorded work and offers proof that this melodic bop organist is a neglected talent that, even a decade after his death, remains deserving of wider recognition.
Songs: These Are Soulful Days; Whistle While You Work; Skylark; Blue n Boogie; Muse Blues; Harolds House of Jazz; Room 608; Lori.
Players: Don Patterson: organ; Jimmy Heath: tenor sax; Richie Cole or Eddie Daniels: alto sax; Pat Martino or Vic Juris or Ted Dunbar: guitar; Albert Heath or Billy James: drums.
Blues The Most
Blues the Most gathers ten vintage blues tracks that West Coast pianist Hampton Hawes (1928-1977) recorded between 1955 and 1958 and adds one track from 1976. The 11 tunes are taken from six of Hawess Contemporary LPs (Hampton Hawes Trio, For Real!, This is Hampton Hawes: Vol. 2, Four!, Hampton Hawes At The Piano, Everybody Likes Hampton Hawes and All Night Session) and offer a fair representation of how Hawes applies his bop background to a variety of different blues. Most tunes feature a Hawes trio while several others add a guitarist (Jim Hall or Barney Kessel) or the tenor sax of Harold Land. Trouble is, as with most compilations, so much more could have been added (there were plenty of meaty blues from all three volumes of All Night Session). But producer Eric Miller had quite a challenge successfully collecting these tracks and, as a result, Blues the Most is a valuable introduction to one interesting aspect of this great pianists work.
Songs: Blues The Most; Hamps Blues; Hip; Blues for Jacque; Yardbird Suite; Soul Sign Eight; Up Blues; The Sermon; For Real; Takin Care; Hamptons Pulpit.
Players: Hampton Hawes: piano; Jim Hall or Barney Kessel: guitar; Harold Land: tenor sax; Red Mitchell or Ray Brown or Scott Lafaro: bass; Chuck Thompson or Frank Butler or Shelly Manne or Buzz Freeman: drums.
Pianist Red Garland (1923-84) could spin any of a million tunes into a smoky, slow after-hours blues. Churning em out one after the other with his melodic block-chord style, he could go set after set, leaving listeners wanting more. Red's Blues collects eleven such tracks from as many albums the pianist recorded for Prestige Records between 1956 and 1962 (around the same time he was with Miles Daviss famed quintet). The blues featured here combine Garlands basic originals and a few traditional numbers and chronicle some superb blowing by top-drawer reedmen like Coleman Hawkins ("Red Beans"), John Coltrane ("Birks Works"), Arnett Cobb ("Black Velvet") and Oliver Nelson ("Skinnys Blues"). Red's Blues is a terrific introduction to one of jazzs finest pianists, doing what he does best (though I would have added the lengthy "Soul Junction" too). Long time fans will want the original LPs (all now available on CD), but beginners could hardly hope for a better introduction to the man who gave Miles Daviss 1955-58 rhythm section much of its appeal.
Songs: See See Rider; Red Beans; Your Red Wagon; Birks Works; Ralph J. Gleason Blues; The P.C. Blues; Black Velvet; St. James Infirmary; Skinnys Blues; Ahmads Blues; Prelude Blues.
Players: Red Garland: piano; Coleman Hawkins or John Coltrane or Arnett Cobb or Oliver Nelson: tenor sax; Donald Byrd or Richard Williams: trumpet; Sam Jones or Doug Watkins or George Joyner or Paul Chambers or Wendell Marshall or Peck Morrison or Jimmy Rowser: bass; Arthur Taylor or Charles "Specs" Wright or George Joyner or Charlie Persip or Philly Joe Jones: drums; Ray Barretto: conga.
Moanin' Blues isnt really a blues set as much as its a collection of pianist Bobby Timmonss (1935-74) better known hits. "Moanin," "Dat Dere" and "This Here" (all from 1960s This Here Is Bobby Timmons on Riverside) are here as well as three tracks from 1960s Soul Time and two tracks apiece from 1961s Easy Does It, 1963s Born to be Blue and 1964s underrated Workin Out!. These songs, each one worthwhile and interesting, are really only blues in the sense that jazz is derived from the blues. Timmons often utilized blues figures in his playing. But his music was often informed by a soulful bop style that was too easily (and incorrectly) dismissed as simple soul jazz. As was true throughout much of his too-brief recording career, Timmons is heard here most often in trios, occasionally enhanced by undersung soloists like vibist Johnny Lytle ("Trick Hips," "Bags Groove) or trumpeter Blue Mitchell ("Soul Time," "So Tired"). Despite the well-known material (and the lack of anything from 1966s Soul Man), nice surprises are in abundance (particularly "Pretty Memory" and the rollicking "A Little Busy"), making Moanin' Bluesa valuable place to begin exploring the music of Bobby Timmons.
Songs: Moanin; Trick Hips; Dat Dere; Soul Time; Bags Groove; So Tired; This here; Pretty Memory; A Little Busy; Born To Be Blue; Know Not One; Stella B.
Players: Bobby Timmons: piano; Johnny Lytle: vibes; Blue Mitchell: trumpet; Sam Jones or Keter Betts or Ron Carter: bass; Jimmy Cobb or William "Peppy" Hinnant or Art Blakey or Connie Kay: drums.
Almost everything tenor sax man Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (1922-86) blew had a deep understanding of the blues. He was one of the most expressive (and identifiable) of the growling tenors, and his blues sensibility was infallible. He was at his best as one of Count Basies featured soloists (1952-53, 1957 and 1964-73) and made his greatest, gutsiest music in the successful 1955-60 quartet he co-led with organist Shirley Scott. Straight Blues could have filled one disc with just some of the many original blues Davis and Scott recorded on their numerous Prestige records. As it is, only three such themes are featured here ("The Rev," "Heat n Serve" and "Pots and Pans). The rest of the set includes two tracks a piece with the Red Garland Trio ("Untitled Blues," "Softly Baby"), the Oliver Nelson Orchestra (the original "Stolen Moments" and the excellent "Trane Whistle"), "Straight, No Chaser" (from a 1960-62 union with fellow tenor man Johnny Griffin), "Street Lights" (a 1962 quartet featuring organist Don Patterson), "Jawbreakers" (a 1962 meeting with Harry "Sweets" Edison) and "Edisons Lights"" (a 1976 quintet featuring Count Basie). Unfortunately, Straight Blues is a bit too much of a hodge-podge, jumping from one excellent Davis group to another. One disc a piece could easily have been devoted to the blues recordings Davis made with Shirley Scott, Red Garland, Johnny Griffin, Harry "Sweets" Edison or Count Basie. But for the sake of economy, this is probably an ideal introduction to the blues power of Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and offers beginners a good place to start exploring the tenor greats tough and earthy music.
Songs: The Rev; Stolen Moments; Heat n Serve; Untitled Blues; Edisons Lights; Pots and Pans; Trane Whistle; Softly Baby; Jawbreakers; Straight, No Chaser.
Players: Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis with the Shirley Scott Trio, Oliver Nelsons Orchestra, Red Garland Trio, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Count Basie and Johnny Griffin.
Despite all-star accompanists and sterling production, organist Jimmy McGriffs Milestone output (since 1983) has more of a lounge-combo sound than the wicked blues he cut for Sue in 1962-65 or the heady grooves of his Groove Merchant and LRC records of the 1970s. Still, Straight Up, the organ grinders eleventh Milestone recording, occasionally moves out of the lounge and offers its share of interesting moments.
Here, McGriff stacks the front line with the double-barreled reeds of regular associate David "Fathead" Newman and (in an inspired move), Frank Wess. Rodney Jones (a ringer for the jazzier George Benson) and Wayne Boyd are on guitar and Bernard Purdie mans the drums.
The highlight of the set is Newmans title cut, a slow, dark, funky blues featuring both hornmen wailing on flute with signature commentary by the leader. The obligatory funk track -- the Isley Brothers classic, "Its Your Thing" -- starts off right. But at nine minutes, the vamp goes on a little longer than necessary. McGriff is certainly in his gospel-blues element here, though, and offers wonderful, heated commentary on his Hammond X-B3, a sort of synthesized organ that provides richer sound potential and, in McGriffs hands, emits a likeable, identifiable sound.
The group, steered, more than led by McGriff, goes back to the lounge for the Basie-like blues of McGriffs "Doin My Thing," Joness "Blues For The Baby Grand," Newmans "Brother Griff" and the less-than-thrilling arrangements of standards "It Had To Be You" and "Oleo." But despite the sometimes corny atmosphere, each tune still contains at least one interesting solo.
Straight Up isnt perfect. But the variety on display here is nice and the ageless organ master proves he can still grind with a style thats worth hearing.
Songs: Doin My Thing; It Had To Be You; Straight Up; Blues For The Baby Grand; Its Your Thing; Dream; Brother Griff; Oleo.
Players: Jimmy McGriff: Hammond X-B3 organ; David "fathead" Newman, Frank Wess: tenor sax, flute; Rodney Jones, Wayne Boyd: guitar; Bernard Purdie: drums.
(And Other Love Songs)
This superb quintet session is the third, and undoubtedly best Milestone disc 39-year-old vibraphonist Joe Locke has released to date. Locke, a veteran of the Mingus Big Band and former Pepper Adams, Eddie Henderson, Dianne Reeve and Hiram Bullock sideman, has made his strongest personal statement with Slander (And Other Love Songs).
The influence of Bobby Hutcherson is overwhelming here -- especially as evidenced by the strong boppish originals Locke has crafted (the exceptional "Song for Cables," "Saturns Child," "Cecil B. DeBop," "Second Story Man" and "Slander"). But Locke is a more aggressive, and at times, more interesting "inside" player.
The vibist, whose inspiration comes from such horn players as Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, John Coltrane and Steve Grossman, is aided by some exceptional folks here too. Pianist Billy Childs, who has walked this ground before with Freddie Hubbard and Bobby Hutcherson, is muscular and consistently interesting as he alternates between acoustic and electric pianos. Bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Gene Jackson round out the rhythm section. But it is undersung guitarist Vic Juris appearing on five of the nine tracks here, a sort of cross between early Pat Metheny and jazzier John Scofield who is the second star here. His commentary is really something special, providing an edgy counterpoint to the mellifluous strength of Lockes melodic vibe work.
A nice surprise is Lockes improving take on strong source material. In the past hes taken well-known works like film themes or Henry Mancinis music and found more than his share of sap to squeeze. But on Slander, he reworks, rethinks and reinvents Lalo Schifrins "Mission: Impossible," refashions Joni Mitchells "Blue" into a lovely piano/vibe duet and manages to restructure the pop hit, "Cant Help Falling In Love," transcending each into something truly personal. Nice touch.
Slander (And Other Love Songs), the tenth of Joe Lockes solo discs since his 1983 debut, is a memorable representation of what good contemporary mainstream jazz can accomplish. And, if things are right in the world, it should help Joe Locke ascend to become one of the more important figures in contemporary jazz. Recommended.
Songs: Song For Cables; Saturns Child; Tuesday Heartbreak; Mission: Impossible; Blue; Cecil B. DeBop; Slander; Cant Help Falling In Love; Second Story Man.
Players: Joe Locke: vibes; Billy Childs: acoustic and electric piano; Vic Juris: guitar; Rufus Reid: bass; Gene Jackson: drums.