Solo jazz attempts to make too much of either a good thing or not enough of something else. In solo guitar jazz, Joe Pass set the standard in 1973 with his series of Virtuoso recordings. But, for all the Pass acolytes currently plying their trade, guitarist Ron Affif stands out. And not just because he records for Pass's former producer (Eric Miller) or for the guitarist's celebrated label (Pablo). Affif's fifth disc under his own name, Solotude, strikes enough of a balance to make the tenuous solo guitar thing work and goes one step further in establishing this highly talented guitarist's own identity.
"A lot of guys, when they play solo," declares Affif in the disc's liner notes, "treat it as such a different animal that all of a sudden they play different." How true. Affif - who does sound a bit more distinctive as a soloist - tends to honor this commitment. He does not attempt to fill in for the missing rhythm section or compliment his style with alternative representation. Whereas that may allow a less personable soloist to sound just plain boring on his own, rarely does Affif allow himself to get caught up in his own world either.
program of a baker's dozen tunes, Affif alternates familiar,
well-honed jazz chestnuts with several interesting originals
("Mark," "Charene," "Holly"). He also
switches comfortably between the acoustic guitar (interestingly, on
all three of his originals and "Honeysuckle Rose") and his
more familiar electric axe.
Affif also adds subtle bluesy touches to achieve something unusual from the melodies of "Mark," "Dolphin Dance," "Honeysuckle Rose," and "They Can't Take That Away From Me." And his takes on "Autumn in New York" and "My Romance" have a lovely sort of lullaby quality too. Solotude is an altogether ideal showcase for this this talented guitarist.
Tracks: Mark; Autumn In New York; Charene; Dolphin Dance; I Love You; I've Never Been In Love Before; Holly; What Is This Thing Called Love?; But Beautiful; Honeysuckle Rose; All The Things You Are; My Romance; They Can't Take That Away From Me.
Players: Ron Affif: acoustic guitar, electric guitar.
PRESTIGE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
In celebration of Prestige's 50th anniversary, Fantasy has released a set of ten commemorative editions of some of the label's greatest triumphs. Each of these mostly historic releases is limited to 10,000 copies. Note to fans: get 'em while you can.
Each set continues to be widely available through the Original Jazz Classics (OJC) series of CDs, introduced in the mid 1980s. But these new sets, like the recent Verve VME and Blue Note RVG reissues, recondition the originals with pristine sound clarification. This is due mainly to Tamaki Beck's excellent and masterful 20-bit mastering technique.
Each set is encased in a cardboard sleeve and contains full reproduction of the original LP cover, liner notes, Prestige label art and some of the most spotless aural clarity imaginable. This is perhaps due to the fantastic production technique of Bob Weinstock (Prestige owner and supervisor of eight of these ten sessions) and, especially, the engineering of the most gifted of behearers, Rudy Van Gelder. Beck's clean up job makes these discs sound as good as if they had been recorded with today's digital processes.
Most of the discs below are essential to the most basic of jazz collections. Trumpeter Miles Davis is represented by three of his own discs; as much an acknowledgement of his importance to the label as it is to the importance of Prestige recordings to jazz. One only hopes future releases are indeed forthcoming. Here's what's available so far:
This relaxed, swinging quintet session from 1960 isn't the landmark that many of the other releases in this series are. But it is among the finest, most rewarding music tenor great Gene Ammons (1925-74) ever made. Boss Tenor -- easily confused with Boss Tenors, the 1961 Verve record Ammons cut with Sonny Stitt -- is probably included here due to Ammons's enduring and unprecedented affiliation with Prestige. Ammons recorded over 50 albums for the label from 1950, around the time of the label's inception, until Ammons's death in 1974 (interrupted only by seven years in jail between 1962 and 1969). A warm, burnished, consistently recognizable tone always blew through Ammons's horn and the assured, identifiable manner he could scale ballads, blues, bop and r & b was always reliable and appealing. Here, though, he is ideally teamed with the gracefully elegant and innately soulful pianist Tommy Flanagan, Prestige house bassist, Doug Watkins, and house drummer, Art Taylor, and with just the right amount of Latin spice, Ray Barretto's congas. The feel, less loose than many of the 1950s jam sessions that Ammons participated in, seems unusually well considered and as rehearsed as any Blue Note date. Ammons chooses well here too, glossing musically over Bird's "Confirmation," Bill Doggett's "Savoy" and easing lovingly through Rodgers and Hart's "My Romance" (ranking right up there with Ben Webster's classic interpretations). Two "hits" actually emerged from this record, making it one well worth acquiring: Ammon's soulful blues, "Hittin' The Jug," and a swinging rendition of the otherwise corny pop hit "Canadian Sunset." A winner all the way around, and one of the definitive additions to Ammons's huge discography.
Tenor Titan John Coltrane (1926-67) made his solo recording debut on Prestige in 1956 and during his two and a half years with the label, sat in on an incredible 25 sessions. In 1958 alone, he'd recorded eight albums for the label and Prestige had enough material to continue releasing new Coltrane material into 1964! He never slowed down, leaving Prestige to record prolifically for Atlantic. Then, of course, there were the truckloads of significant records made for Impulse during the 1960s. This February 7, 1958, session - which came to be known as Soultrane - was the tenor's seventh session as a leader, and the first LP that followed his one Blue Note session, the more historic Blue Trane. Soultrane, made right after the tenor player rejoined Miles Davis's group, features the trumpeter's rhythm section of Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor. It has also has a noticeably looser, more felt vibe than the better known Blue Note session. Coltrane and Garland are especially compatible, and while nothing magical happens (as Coltrane showed effortlessly elsewhere), this remains an especially strong session. The mode is still strongly bop-oriented, with none of Coltrane's originals and the introduction of a favorite Coltrane theme, Billy Eckstine's "I Want To Talk About You" (revisited throughout the remainder of Coltrane's career). Also here are exceptionally good - but not necessarily definitive - takes of Tadd Dameron's "Good Bait," Irving Berlin's "Russian Lullaby," the lovely "Theme For Ernie" and Jules Styne's "You Say You Care." For a blowing date, though, it's hard to improve upon the appeal of this exceptionally fine session, alight as it is with some of the tenor's most assured and accessible playing. Highly enjoyable.
Hyperbole aside, this disc's title could hardly be more accurate. Miles Davis. Milt Jackson. Thelonius Monk. John Coltrane. That doesn't even count the legendary rhythm sections (Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke in one, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones in the other). Miles Davis And The Modern Jazz Giants is made up of two sessions, with four tracks from an all-star group with Jackson and Monk from 1954 (which also yielded the title track to Davis's Bags Groove) and one track from the first of the famous 1956 Davis quintet's marathon recordings that produced Workin', Steamin', Cookin' and Relaxin'. The music is unquestionably excellent, yielding sterling and signature input from each participant. The first of these two sessions is famous for being the one where the cranky trumpeter was miffed by the cantankerous Monk's playing behind his solos. "That's bullshit," according to label owner and session supervisor Bob Weinstock in the recently released The Prestige Records Story box set (and confirmed in this disc's liner notes by Ira Gitler),. "Miles didn't want him to comp on one tune. There was no hostility, no fighting. I've heard that story many times but those guys had total respect for each other." Indeed, the musical evidence bears Weinstock out. The rapport among these leaders -- however edgy it certainly must have been in the studio on that Christmas Eve day -- works to the music's advantage. The quintet excels on Davis's "Swing Spring," Monk's "Bemsha Swing" and two very different takes of Gershwin's "The Man I Love." The lone 1956 track is Davis's breathtaking signature reverie on Monk's "Round Midnight," with the trumpeter's familiar and definitive quintet. This collection essentially documents two important summit meetings from some of the greatest individuals jazz has ever known. Hyperbole aside, the results are significant and timeless.
During the early 1950s, trumpeter Miles Davis (1926-91) recorded for both Prestige and Blue Note, the most distinctive independent labels in jazz at the time. Davis himself was developing and perfecting a style that was beginning to gain notice, popularity and substantial influence. By 1955, he had formed such an exemplary quintet of musicians, it came to be known as the quintet. Featuring the bursting torrents of John Coltrane, which perfectly balanced the spare romanticism of Davis's trumpet, the quintet was rooted in the guileless precision of Red Garland's piano, the musical dexterity of Paul Chamber's bass and the hard swing of Philly Joe Jones's drums. Each complimented the other in uncountable and still fascinating ways. A stunning performance at the Newport Jazz Festival that year led to a contract with Columbia Records. But Davis closed out his relationship with Prestige by laying down two spontaneous marathon sessions with this marvelous quintet during May and October 1956. The sessions yielded four classics in the Davis discography: Relaxin', Workin', Steamin' and this record, Cookin'. All four titles accurately describe the overall mood throughout. Davis thrived under such spontaneity and this disc, in particular, marks the emergence of a most distinctive personality - for band and leader alike. The three performances and one medley performed here come from the last of the two sessions and feature numbers Davis had recorded before ("Tune Up," "Airegin"). But it is here where David premiered his definitive take on the ballad, "My Funny Valentine." It is one of his grandest, most passionate-ever performances (on muted trumpet) and while Trane lays out, the song ascends on the fragile loveliness Garland brings to it. Davis's snappy "Blues By Five" and the particularly aggressive "Airegin" show the band in full-force communiqué. The after hours medley "Tune-Up/When Lights Are Low" is appropriate and well done, but less stunning than what's preceded it. Cookin' totals a little over 33 minutes in music (Fantasy has chosen to keep the four LP-length sets separate). But its definitive lineup, exceptional musicianship and classic delivery make this as essential a set as the other three from these two sessions for any jazz collection.
This bop-era classic finds trumpeter Miles Davis (1926-91) leading two groups from two sessions in April 1954: a superb sextet and a compelling quintet. Both groups center on a blue-chip rhythm section consisting of pianist Horace Silver, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Kenny Clarke. But despite the rock solid foundation and substantial decoration these three provide, Walkin' is all about the horn players. Trombonist J.J. Johnson and tenor saxist Lucky Thompson (returning to music after the first of one of his absences) help Davis helm the sextet for Richard Carpenter's title song - a 12-bar blues that turned into a genuine jazz standard after its first reading here - and Dizzy Gillespie's "Blue 'N' Boogie." The quintet, featuring the Bird-like alto of the little known Dave Schildkraut, takes leave of the blues for some of Davis's craftiest playing -- interestingly, hereafter, with his trumpet muted. Starting with "Solar," the group seems to be able to handle whatever trick Davis plays any quirk he pursues. This is most apparent on the lovely, but rather spiky version of "You Don't Know What Love Is" and the set's closer, the surprisingly sprite "Love Me Or Leave Me." Throughout, Davis sounds grand: comfortable, authoritative and well within his gamely element. His partners seem well teamed with him too, ready to walk - or run -- to Davis's beat. Walkin' offers at least two jazz essentials ("Walkin'," "Solar") and it serves as an excellent place to begin -- or continue -- appreciating the trumpeter's bop significance, shortly before he contributed greatly elsewhere.
Multi-talented reed player Eric Dolphy (1928-64) makes his 1960 debut stand out for many reasons. It is foremost an ardently passionate gathering with pristine contributions from some of jazz's most flexible avatars -- trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, pianist Jaki Byard, bassist George Tucker and drummer Roy Haynes. Then, of course, there is Dolphy himself: all wonder and myth, a firebrand of energy and effervescence. His gifts were abundant, his talent seemed limitless and he contributed plentifully to the jazz dialog. Outward Bound was originally supervised by Esmond Edwards and, it turns out, only one of two sets in this series not produced by Bob Weinstock. This new version, however, also adds three titles not on the previous OJC edition: alternate takes of "GW" (originally from Dash On) and "245" (from Eric Dolphy: The Complete Prestige Recordings) and Dolphy's own Chico Hamilton-esque "April Fool" (from Here and There, with the leader a knockout on flute). The music ranks, perhaps, as some of Dolphy's most accessible and most easily enjoyed. Opening with "GW," Dolphy perfectly captures the singing, swinging qualities of the song's namesake (Gerald Wilson, an early Dolphy mentor who responded in kind with "Eric" in Dolphy's honor). "On Green Dolphin Street" -- so originally quirky, it deserves to be called "On Green Dolphy Street" -- elicits sterling Dolphy-isms on bass clarinet. Hubbard here takes one of his most uncharacteristically Milesian solos ever (which he might have reconsidered following Davis's nasty comments about Dolphy in 1964). The quintet cooks on "Les" (named for trombonist Lester Robinson) and wails on the blues-drenched "245." Dolphy switches to flute for his particularly lovely take on Rodgers and Hart's "Glad To Be Unhappy," then moves back to his heavenly bass clarinet for "Miss Toni," which also elicits ripping input from Hubbard. Suffice to say, the alternates are worth hearing -- bound in subtly different directions, but nonetheless informative or interesting than the originals. Outward Bound, despite the goofy Dali-inspired cover art, is necessary music that's essential to any true jazz collection.
This trio was known as the rhythm section when Groovy was made. Pianist Red Garland (1923-84), bassist Paul Chambers (1935-69) and drummer Art Taylor (1929-95) were in the midst of a long tenure with Miles Davis and stayed busy in studios backing one horn player after another. The unit's simpatico refinement never wavers in doubt. They were made for each other, honed in night-after-night of performances in a variety of settings. Consider the way Garland balances his chunky block chords on the left with a dancer's lightness on the right. Or the kinetic way Chambers and Taylor interact to trade rhythm and musicality among each other. Consider, too, this is the same unit that ably bridged the spheres between the romantic Miles Davis and the more protean John Coltrane. Surely, this is a combination, or partnership, of truly compelling proportions. The program on Groovy is a warm, sultry mix of jazz standards ("C Jam Blues," "Willow Weep For Me"), then-popular fare ("Gone Again," "What Can I Say," "Will You Still Be Mine") and a de rigueur Garland blues ("Hey Now"). This was Garland's third Prestige release, the result of two sessions on December 14, 1956 (not May 24, 1957 as the disc indicates) and August 9, 1957. It is typical of the many trio recordings Garland made. But it is grand and easy to enjoy over and over again. Groovy is, well, totally groovy.
The longevity, popularity and surprising durability of the Modern Jazz Quartet is striking upon listening to Django, the group's very first full-length LP. Recorded at various times between 1953 and 1955, it introduces what amounts to Dizzy Gillespie's big band rhythm section, with pianist John Lewis (b. 1920), bassist Percy Heath (b. 1923, who replaced original bassist, Ray Brown), drummer Kenny Clarke (1914-85, who left shortly hereafter to be replaced by Connie Kay) and vibraphonist Milt Jackson (b. 1923) -- one of the greatest improvisers in jazz and a full member of the MJQ until his sad and unfortunate passing this very day, October 9, 1999. The MJQ actually began life in 1952 as the Milt Jackson Quartet, which of course, still makes it the MJQ. But it was John Lewis, a composer greatly influenced by classical and European traditions, who ultimately guided the group's too-serious formality, most successfully realized in the disc's title hit -- one of jazz's enduring staples. With the exception of Gillespie's "One Bass Hit," Vernon Duke's gorgeous "Autumn In New York" and Gershwin's "But Not For Me," this is an all-Lewis program (Jackson's "Bag's Groove" first showed up on an earlier Blue Note set with this group under the vibist's own name). Like so much of Lewis's contribution to the music, these five pieces endure for good reason. Yes, they're seemingly strict structures. But the creativity of the bop language (and even earlier swing styles) greatly informs Lewis's logic ("Delauney's Dilemma" and "Milano" most memorably). The other three group members have no problem bringing Lewis's vision to dazzling life, but Jackson in particular is a joy to behold. This is classic jazz in construction and execution. Ultimately, it has become a classic on its own and, certainly, the place to begin appreciating the many and great virtues of one of jazz's finest aggregates.
Hard as it is to believe, states this disc's back-cover blurb, "Thelonius Monk was widely dismissed as an eccentric, while many found the young Sonny Rollins's tenor far too aggressive compared to the then-cool norm." As time passed, though, Monk became progressively more Monk-like (and less likely to explore anything outside of his own increasingly familiar repertoire) and Rollins continued to carve out an aggressively individual style of his own. Today, Thelonius Monk & Sonny Rollins seems positively tamed by everything that followed from these two jazz mavericks. This disc, the culmination of two Monk-Rollins sessions in 1953 and 1954 and a Monk trio session from 1954, contains several significant highlights. Prominent among these is the premiere recording of Monk's spiky "Friday The 13th" (recorded on just such a day in November 1953), featuring Monk, Rollins, bassist Percy Heath, drummer Willy Jones and, oddly enough, French Horn man Julius Watkins. The trio session (without Rollins), featuring bassist Heath and drummer Art Blakey, debuted Monk's own quirky "Work" and the appropriately titled "Nutty." A later session from October 1954 reunites Monk with Rollins -- and bassist Tommy Potter and drummer Art Taylor -- for the popular tunes, "The Way You Look Tonight" and "I Want To Be Happy" (a niche that Rollins absolutely personified: taking corny pop tunes and making commendable jazz classics out of them). It's an appealing, bop-based session, but nowhere near as pronounced or as definitive as these two iconoclasts and genuine jazz titans proved to be separately elsewhere.
In 1956, while still a member of the legendary Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet, tenor titan Sonny Rollins (b. 1930) cut one of his most definitive albums. Imposingly titled Saxophone Colossus, it very quickly became a jazz classic and remains today one of a handful of absolutely essential jazz albums. As vast as Rollins's talents proved to be -- up until this time and in many cases hereafter -- this one remains special: for Hannan's stark blue cover art, Rollins's pristine and blustery playing with an utterly perfect quartet featuring the impeccable Tommy Flanagan on piano, the steady Doug Watkins on bass, the debut of Rollin's signature piece, "St. Thomas" and an essentially perfect program of originals ("Strode Rode," "Blue 7"), one standard ("You Don't Know What Love Is") and an in-vogue show tune (Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's "Moritat" from Three Penny Opera). Rollins, the lone survivor among the leaders featured in Prestige's first batch of 50th anniversary issues (as of this writing in 1999), is simply astounding throughout this excellent music. His thoughts seem to cascade effortlessly from his fingers. Even the air he breathes through his horn seems to be a different air than you and I breathe. He's a magical player. And just when you think he could be any of a number of easily-pegged bar honkers, he adds something -- a familiar song, a witty line or just a plainly original thought -- that sends the music and the listener some place deeper, some place you may or may not ever know again. Truly, Rollins brings life that is deeply felt and wonderfully joyful to the music he senses in equal parts spiritual and intellectual. Best of all, it's easy to enjoy. Saxophone Colossus makes for essential jazz and remains (nearly half a century later) a premiere example of excellent musicianship.
For someone like Milt Jackson to declare this a new setting is really saying something. After all, the ageless vibraphonist has recorded in countless small groups capable of any style as well as in big bands, with strings, as a vocalist and as a guitarist too. What's new in this recently reissued 1964 quintet session is the surprising - and surprisingly complimentary - addition of pianist McCoy Tyner (who recorded A Love Supreme the same month). The rest of the group is more familiar to Jackson and includes the marvelous tenor of Jimmy Heath, Bob Cranshaw on bass and MJQ drummer Connie Kay. The other news is that most of the one dozen songs included here are in the three-minute range -- all intended for radio play. Jackson has always been one of music's great communicators. But here, on the first of his three Limelight sessions during 1964-66, Jackson is proudly aiming to be heard by more people. Unfortunately, none of these songs ever became a hit. Still, all of tracks are all tremendously catchy and still achieve a high level of easily appreciated musicianship, most especially evident from the leader, Tyner and Heath.
The program is a typical Jackson menu of blues, ballads and a bit of bop with a higher than average content of originals: five by Jackson including the marvelous "Sonny's Blues" and "Clay's Blues," two by Heath, including his near-perfect, near-standard "Project-S" (offering one of the pianist's catchiest-ever solos) and Tyner's interesting "Spanish Fly." Verve's CD release of In A New Setting is packaged in a terrific cardboard case with original, hipodelic cover art well in tact, similar to other releases in the excellent Verve By Request series. Unfortunately, though, Limelight's original packaging, featuring heavy vinyl, cardboard covers and arty booklets with unbelievable, colorfield (and 'shapefield' if that's possible) die cuts mounted inside are all gone. Still, the music retains the cutting edge artistry the packaging no longer has and retains its entertainment value long after the first listen.
Tracks: Sonny's Blues; I'm Gonna Laugh You Out Of My Life; Spanish Fly; No Moon At All; Slow Death; Clay's Blues; Lazy Melody; Project-S; Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye; That's In; Ineffable; The Other Half of Me.
Players: Milt Jackson: vibes, arranger; Jimmy Heath: tenor sax, flute, arranger; McCoy Tyner: piano; Bob Cranshaw: bass; Connie Kay: drums.
Flautist Dave Valentin is fast becoming as ubiquitous a player as his former teacher, Hubert Laws, used to be. Indeed, Valentin has become the flautist of choice on a great quantity of recent Latin jazz recordings by such varied artists as McCoy Tyner, Tito Puente, Elaine Elias and Dave Samuels. Not as distinctive as Laws (nor as notable as many reed players who blow flute part time), he is nevertheless a highly appealing player whose often simple melodies seem to inspire some superb improvisation that positively sings and dances.
Valentin's Concord debut, Sunshower, is the first recording under the flautist's name since 1996's Primitive Passions. Like many of the 18 albums he recorded for GRP between 1979 and 1996, Valentin here weds jazz, pop and r & b with his own particular blend of smooth Latin sounds. In essence, the man knows how to craft a purely pleasurable listening experience. One part of the disc's success is that Valentin sounds very much at ease in this setting. Well he should, too, for he's featured along with his working quintet here, which features the under sung virtues of pianist Bill O'Connell's marvelous playing and catchy songwriting.
This is an exceedingly well programmed disc. Valentin starts with "Reunion," his own appealing fusion redux, segues into the sprite Caribbean dance of Valentin and O'Connell's title track (recalling Columbia-era Laws) and heads gently toward the ultra-smooth "Embers" (featuring Rodriguez's popping bass and Ed Calle's Brecker-istics on tenor).
From here, Valentin explores his varied interests with dedicated abandon. He goes full-on Latin with "Bandit," funky with "Porkchops" (Calle here sounds Sanborn-esque on alto), sweetly sensitive to Duke's "I Got It Bad," straight ahead on O'Connell's "Sierra Madre" (featuring guest guitarist Steve Khan) and genuinely witty on his funkified take on "Feelin' Alright" (also covered by Laws in 1970). The disc's high point is O'Connell's effervescent "Subway Six," a solid Latin groover -- with one of the simplest heads ever conceived and reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi's Peanuts classic, "Skating." It features outstanding, breezy solos from the leader, the pianist and vibraphonist Dave Samuels (and closes with some fiery interjection from Valentin).
Not as deep as Valentin has proven elsewhere to be, Sunshower is nevertheless hugely enjoyable music that will satisfy a variety of musical cravings and invite repeated listening.
Tracks: Reunion; Sunshower; Embers; Bandit; Porkchops; I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good; Subway Six; Sierra Madre; Feelin' Alright; Space Cadet.
Players: Dave Valentin: C flute, alto flute, piccolo on "Porkchops" and assorted flute sounds; Bill O'Connell: acoustic piano, electric piano, synthesizers; Ruben Rodriguez: electric bass, Ampeg Baby bass; Robbie Ameen: drums; Milton Cardona: congas, shakere and various percussion instruments with Dave Samuels: vibes; Steve Khan: electric and acoustic guitars; Ed Calle: alto sax, tenor sax; Rafael de Jesus: percussion on "Embers," "Porkchops" and "Feelin' Alright."