Friday, September 23, 2011

BYOV - Meeting #4

September can be beautiful. Sunday the 18th was a beautiful day in Brooklyn with sun and cool temperatures. Even so, a dedicated group of jazz aficionados still took to the dimly lit backroom of Barbés to enjoy what turned into an inspired afternoon of mostly jazz with classical music inspiration.

Here were the themes the presenters had to work with:

a) I know you got soul! Bring your most heart wringing, emotion pulling tracks. We want to feel it.

b) Classical-ish. Selections should be music that either uses instrumentation or techniques typical to the classical genre. Chamber groups, Third Stream, strings, etc.

c) Mangled covers. Well known songs that get the Picasso treatment.

Sometimes you can tell what will be the most popular theme. The group definitely fell into the classically inspired / third wave theme. There were, however, a couple different takes and thoughts on what works most successfully when bringing classical forms or classically trained musicians to work with those of jazz.

Once again, all the selections were done as blindfold tests.

On with the show…

1. Billy Childs – “A Man Chasing the Horizon” from Autumn: In Moving Pictures (Artists Share, 2010)
Presented by Joel Harrison – Theme: B – CD

This was a lovely, long and varied composition that seemed to vacillate between jazz and classical with equal ability. A long introductory section that featured a prominent soprano sax had the first guesses to see whether it was related to Oregon because of the Paul McCandless overtones. “Ralph Towner on piano?”

Lush strings accompany the woodwinds before a brief piano feature. This would be the only way to identify the pianist as the leader of the group. “Only pianists can write like this,” Joel opined.

Ed Simon? No. Danilo Perez? Nice guess. But no…

The rhythm section was given. Bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade powered this ensemble. Finally, someone mentioned the West Coast residency of the leader. Mr. Adam Kolker then guessed Billy Childs.

The song was a nice example of what could be achieved between a blend of classical and jazz elements. The use of all these structural and expressive elements led to a composition that contained many shifts in mood, color and texture. Maybe too much?

“This song never ends…”

“It sounds like an all acoustic version of Weather Report. Or ELO…”

Joel wanted a consensus on whether we considered this truly “Third Wave.” I think everyone agreed that it was. I did mention that I found it interesting that the instigators of the Third Wave movement (Gunther Schuller, John Lewis, etc.) really made a point of coming at the music by way of jazz. Most of the pieces that were written or arranged on the Jazz Abstractions record (check # 11) were classical arrangements of jazz pieces, mostly by Monk. Most practitioners have now taken the opposite approach, using elements of jazz (improv, rhythmic devices, etc.) within a classical framework. Evolution happens…

2. Classical Jazz Quartet – “Blues à la Russe” from Play Tchaikovsky (Kind of Blue 10011, 2006 – Recorded 2001)
Presented by Steve Futterman – Theme: B – CD

“No extra credit for guessing the composer,” remarked Steve as he plugged in.

We were hit with an extremely swinging quartet tune with a strong vibraphone lead. The quartet also included piano, bass and drums. Vibes player was the odd man out, so the identification process began with him.

Lionel Hampton? Red Norvo? More contemporary.

Too upfront to be Modern Jazz Quartet… Joe Locke? Nope.

Stefon Harris? Yep. The next sequence of identification was pretty impressive. Someone got Lewis Nash on drums. François pieced Kenny Barron in on piano. No one guessed the bassist, Mr. Ron Carter.

The ensemble gave an obvious nod toward the MJQ based on their choice of instrumentation and choice of classical themes. Regardless, some thought it had nothing to do with classical music as the group arranged the Tchaikovsky theme to the service of jazz changes for blowing solos. François maintained that the use of familiar material was “utterly commercial,” as buyers were sure to know the themes from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.

The playing was great and the arrangement was fun but the combination of classical and jazz never really took. The two genres never really co-existed. The ensemble had made a modern jazz tune using the theme from Tchaikovsky.

Gave the group some good talking points.

3. Jimmy Giuffre – “Jesus Maria” from Fusion (Verve V-8397, 1961)
Presented by Thomas Heberer – Theme: B – LP

Thomas’s track was identified right away. The distinctive sound of Jimmy Giuffre’s clarinet along with Paul Bley’s piano and Steve Swallow’s bass has been imbedded in the ears of most progressive musicians and fans for generations.

“The best thing is that it swings…”

Giuffre’s was intense music that really pushed the limits of what was considered jazz but never abandoned the most important principles.

This particular Giuffre trio has been placed on a pedestal. The group’s interplay and dynamic range was completely unique at the time of their existence. Giuffre had been a lonely experimenter on the West Coast, finding opportunities every so often to lead ensembles through his inventive music.

This particular Trio played an important role in free improvisation as it approached freedom with restraint and poise. The classical overtones came from their attempt to work as a chamber ensemble of sorts.

Soon after he released a handful of recordings with Bley and Swallow in 1961 and 1962, Giuffre abandoned the music industry to teach because of the lack of opportunity to present his more advanced musical forms. He resurfaced at the beginning of the 1970s.

Steve Swallow was only 18 years old 20 years old at the time of the Fusion recording. Amazing to think that he had such advanced vocabulary at that time. Obviously, he was very serious about the music and his own direction. Swallow switched to electric bass very early on. Apparently, he was so steadfast in his switch that he passed up opportunities to play with his hero Thelonious Monk and what would be a high profile gig with Keith Jarrett to pursue his muse.

4. The Dave Brubeck Octet – “Fugue on Bop Themes” from The Dave Brubeck Octet (Fantasy EP 4003, 1951)
Presented by François Zalacain – Theme: B – 10” Red Vinyl LP!

Oh… Pretty… Clear red vinyl ten inch. Sorry… Just so aesthetically pleasing. Cover looked nice, too. Love that aggressive modern look of the ‘50s.

Larger ensemble without a clear lead player. The clarinet was a real standout as it weaved in and out of the other woodwinds.

Benny Goodman? Nope. C’mon!

Harrison, “I’ve heard everything George Russell ever put out. This isn’t him.”

Mr. Futterman asked if it wasn’t West Coast clarinetist Bill Smith’s date possibly with Dave Brubeck on piano. Pretty good.

This was an early recording of Brubeck and his Octet that included Bill Smith, vibraphonist/drummer Cal Tjader, trumpeter Dick Collins, bassist Jack Weeks, trombonist Bob Collins and saxophonists Paul Desmond and Dave Van Kriedt. This particular composition was recorded in July 1950. One of Brubeck’s first recordings with Desmond, their collaborations would become legendary in years to come.

Brubeck was always interested in classical form and used many classical techniques in his compositions. “Fugue” utilized counterpoint writing between the horns. This was a pretty successful marriage of the two idioms that came out right after the Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool sessions that ushered in the wave of classical thought in jazz.

Interesting that the West Coast of the late 1940s had so many characters that played a part in the development of Third Stream thought. Brubeck, Gil Evans, Giuffre, Gerry Mulligan…

“Ah... The years of bebop counterpoint!”

5. David Holland / Barre Phillips – “Song for Clare” from Music From Two Basses (ECM 1011, 1972)
Presented by Jason Weiss – Theme: A – CD

Jason decided to present us with a soulful performance. I won’t deny the track’s power.

Low string duet. Slow paced with nice apathetic interplay.

Is it a single artist? Maybe overdubbed? No.

Fred Hopkins and Deidre Murray? Interesting guess… But no.

Miroslav Vitous? Nope.

No one was getting it. Hint given was that one of the performers was from the US and the other was not.

Michael Bates guessed Dave and Barre.

Surprised that no one picked up on the recording earlier. I’ve found that many record collectors (whether jazz fans or not) began their ECM and/or jazz collections with this duo record. Pretty strange, no?

Great piece that showed fantastic rapport between two amazing musicians that have very different approaches to the same instrument.

Barre Phillips has become a BYOV fav, apparently.

6. John Coltrane (Alice Coltrane) – “Peace on Earth” from Infinity (Impulse! AS-9225, 1972 (1965-66))
Presented by Me – Theme: B – LP


Nobody batted an eye when the lush, modal strings came streaming from the turntable. The descending harp lines and full swathes of the orchestra sunk in without trouble.

Then that familiar saxophone sound came in. Eyes bugged, eyebrows raised. The group kept listening.

Futterman, “Is this Alice Coltrane with Ornette Coleman?” One out of two.

“C’mon… It’s on the tip of your tongues, guys,” I urged.

Is that John? Yep. The group looked a little shocked.

In 1972, John Coltrane’s widow Alice decided to honor her husband’s memory by making a tribute album. She took unreleased recordings that the legendary Coltrane Quartet had made from 1965 to 1966 and recorded her own orchestral arrangements to accompany them. This essentially created a remix of the original compositions. She even went so far as to add members of her current ensemble to the compositions, most notably subbing Charlie Haden’s bass parts for those of Jimmy Garrison.

Upon release, this album was seen as heresy among John Coltrane devotees. Still is, I found. Though the opinions of the overall performance were mixed.

“We don’t know where Trane would have gone but this album presents a foreign conception to where he was going at the end of his career.”

“This is some new age bullshit.” `

“This is a revolutionary album. It is essentially one of the first uses of remixing.”

Personally, I found the recording well done. Who else could have touched the musical legacy of Trane other than his wife (also collaborator) and kin? Who’s to say that she didn’t know where he was planning on taking the music next?

The group’s main issue was that the album came out under Trane’s name, not that of Alice. Impulse!’s last ditch attempt to cash in on the Trane’s legacy on the label? Probably.

“The jazz police say ‘hmmm…’”

7. Mark Feldman – “Xanax” and “Kit Suite (Kit / Les Tenebrides / Murmur)” from Book of Tells (Enja ENJ-9385 2, 2001)
Presented by Michael Bates – Theme: B – CD

Michael played a selection by a wonderfully advanced string quartet. He mentioned that two of the musicians were improvisers while the other two were not.

One of the lower string voices had the lead in the ensemble. Turned out to be the cello.

We needed more hints.

Based in New York City. A more recent release.

Is the cellist Erik Friedlander? Yep. Hmm… Who else could be in the ensemble?

Joel, “Is it Mark Feldman? I don’t hear the usual Feldman licks.”

It was Feldman and his record. The other musicians on “Xanax” included viola player Joyce Hammann and violinist Cenovia Cummins.
Michael played us the “Kit Suite” so we could hear the more distinctive side of Feldman with his fast high register moves that grace the works of the Aracado Trio, the Masada String Trio, various ensembles with pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and the John Abercrombie Ensemble. Feldman has a reputation as a virtuoso string player and master improviser.

Gotta get that one. Michael mentioned that it was an Enja release that didn’t get much distribution in the States, his copy being one of the few that made it over the pond. I found it available digitally on iTunes and Amazon. Get it and dig it.

8. Joe Maneri / Joe Morris / Mat Maneri – “What’s New” from Three Men Walking (ECM 1597, 1996)
Presented by Oran Etkin – Theme: A, B & C – CD

Mr. Etkin decided to go for the triple: all the themes in one selection.

The most distinct voice on the track was a slippery tenor sax that seemed to dip and rise within each note. There was also the pointillist attack of a guitarist and what seemed to be a legato bass.

I knew that I’d heard that tenor tone before. Wracked my brain and buzzed in with Joe Maneri, the microtonal woodwind player and major improviser. That meant that the trio had to be his son, viola expert, improviser extraordinaire Mat Maneri and long time collaborator, guitarist, master improviser Joe Morris.

I had thought that the low register was Morris on bass but it was really Mat playing low on the viola. There were times where Joe and Mat’s instruments couldn’t be discerned from one another.

I heard similarities between this and the Giuffre Trio, played earlier. The Maneris and Morris are almost an extension of the Giuffre Trio legacy from 30 years before. Both groups are without percussion, have woodwind leads, tonal ambiguity and a typically restrained approach that could veer at any point. The main difference seemed to be that the Maneri ensemble had more focus on the use of nonlinear tones in their communication, and maybe a tad larger vocabulary than that of Guiffre.

The listening group was struck by the tones that Joe and Mat were able to pull from their respective instruments.

“Man… That’s fucked up. And I mean that as a compliment…”

This was a cover, after all. A well disguised rendition of the standard “What’s New”.

Oran, “It was also played rather soulfully, no?”

Okay, Oran. You got the points for the triple.

9. Dan Tepfer / J.S. Bach – “Variations 8-10” & “Reinterpretations 8-10” from Goldberg Variations / Variations (Sunnyside 1284, 2011)
Presented by Ben Wendel – Theme: B – MP3

"Variation 8"

"Improvisation 8"

"Variation 9 - Canon at the Third"

"Improvisation 9 - Thirds"

"Variation 10 - Fughetta"

"Improvisation 10 - Fuguelike"

Disclaimer: Yes – Sunnyside Records was well represented. Not only by the members of the discussion group but also in this selection. The selection was an upcoming release picked because it fit the classical meets jazz theme so well.

Pretty sure that most folks in the room knew who this was. We let the uninitiated try to suss it out.

The first piece played was in the baroque style of Bach. Obviously one of the Goldberg Variations. This was followed by a short improvisation that used elements from the source Variation to make a new unique composition.

Jean Michel Pilc? It isn’t Uri Caine…

They couldn’t guess.

François expounded on the story behind Tepfer’s project to record all of the Goldberg Variations alongside his own “variations” of the Variations. Got your head around that?

Over the past year, Dan has been going into the Yamaha piano show room in NYC recording the Variations and his own improvisations. All 31. He recorded 62 separate tracks for the upcoming CD. Pretty amazing stuff.

Discussion focused on if this might create any controversy between classical and jazz music buffs. Seems that folks would probably be used to the idea of musicians challenging the idea and past forms of these master composers. It wasn’t as if Tepfer ignored the original material. It would be presented alongside his “remixes”.

Glenn Gould’s own interpretations of the Goldberg Variations were controversial but this was over 50 years ago. I would think that the classical world would accept any project trying to vivify the work of Bach and that extend his legacy.

“Bach… The Coltrane of classical music…”

10. Bobby Previte – “Open World” from Pushing the Envelope (Gramavision 18-8711-2, 1987)
Presented by Jim Macnie – Theme: B – CD

Jim put it on and Thomas Heberer named Previte right away.

What a unique and immediately identifiable style. Previte has been one of my favorite composers for some time.

“But what sounds classical here?” queried Joel.

Jim admitted his classical ignorance but stuck to his guns. Previte came up when the Downtown scene was still in its prime. A place where genre wasn’t important, it was about the intent of the music. “A time before minimalist composers were superstars…”

Improvisation was just as important as composition to many practitioners and composition could be anything. Look to the music of George Lewis, Elliot Sharp and John Zorn for further evidence. Jazz with metal, Morricone soundtracks with electronics, disco with banjos… Eclecticism was at its height.

Here’s where the New Music versus Classical debate reared its head.

Maybe the composition doesn’t have the typical traits of classical pieces but there was certainly a lot of thought put into the form. This concentration on the composing aspect puts Previte’s work in a unique place away from the jazzers. Weiss mentioned the tonalities that Previte made use of that were much more varied than what many at the time were using in composition.

Previte’s mastery of both improv and composition has been well documented, especially on the now defunct Gramavision label. There was a moment of silence for the beloved label. The catalog has held up as one of the strongest of the time period and definitely should be made available once again. Can’t argue with the cast of characters: Previte, Anthony Davis, Bob Moses, John Carter, Billy Hart, etc., etc. “With Gramavision, I had found a label that made sense…”

Mr. Jonathan Rose - If you are reading, please, please consider getting these important documents back into circulation. Even if only digitally. We’d be happy to help.

11. Ornette Coleman w/ Gunther Schuller – “Abstraction” from Jazz Abstractions (Atlantic SD 1365, 1960)
Presented by Joel Harrison – Theme: B – CD

This was the official beginning of the Third Stream.

The two previous “streams” were classical and jazz, of course. Composer/French horn player Gunther Schuller had been on both sides of the coin. He had begun his career early as a horn player for the American Ballet Theatre, then the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. He then ventured into jazz, performed on what was perhaps the closest marriage of the two genres up to that time, Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool.

Along with pianist John Lewis, Schuller started the Jazz and Classical Music Society, which attempted to bridge the two genres into a style that he christened the Third Stream.

The first appearance of the Third Stream on record came from this 1960 Atlantic LP. “Abstraction” is a piece composed for nine musicians, including soloist Ornette Coleman (who I imagine had no written part). Apparently, the rest of the piece was notated but sounded very much improvised.

Impressive piece that made our conversation possible.

12. Jerry Butler – “Giving Up on Love” from “I’ve Been Trying / Giving Up On Love” Single (Vee Jay VJ 588, 1961)
Presented by Steve Futterman – Theme: A – MP3

Steve wanted to finish the session with a song that “made him cry.” We indulged him. I didn’t see any tears.

The Iceman. Mr. Jerry Butler. A former member of the Impressions who went on to have a successful solo career that included “Giving Up on Love.”

Steve was always impressed at Butler’s ability really go for it but has the class to hold it back. “He’s kind of like Billy Eckstine with an R&B esthetic.”

Nice way to end the afternoon.

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