Wednesday, November 30, 2011

BYOV - Meeting #6

A month since my last post!?! That sucks. I have been working on a few pieces. They have required some interaction and some research. Hope to have at least one of them up within a week or two.

Once again, it is that time of year. I did manage to escape that web on Black Friday.

Sometimes things just don’t go your way. I had been concerned about attendance for our sixth installment (Nov. 20) because of a slight change in time, 1pm instead of the usual 3pm. Then it had to be a gorgeous, warm and sunny Sunday afternoon. Recipe for disaster. I should have wished for a black Sunday...

To top it off, my friendly relationship with my MacBook ended when it decided not to work at all that afternoon, thus making it impossible to play CDs. Fine, fine… The show must go on. And it did to a smaller crew than usual. But what we lacked in size, we made up for in spirit!

We had one theme for BYOV #6:

Everyone's an expert. Presenters should bring a recording they find best represents the work of an artist they feel that they really get. Then explain what makes them so special. Mariah Carey's biggest fan? Bring your favorite track by your gurl. Bix Beiderbecke gets you revved? Haul out your 78s. Be prepared to defend your choices. We have some critics hanging around.

Before we played any music, there was a long discussion covering a wide range of musical topics. It began with Steve Futterman inquiring if anyone had seen any live music over the previous week. He and his brother Robert had been to see Chick Corea at the Blue Note, both with differing but altogether positive reviews. I admitted not being much of a Corea fan, at least not since his earlier works on Blue Note or ECM (I don’t think I said so much but hope it was implied).

Sorry to sidetrack but some of this will come up again later…

Anyway… This led to a discussion of musicians and their choices of musical direction. David Sanborn’s name came up rather quickly. Most of us had a huge respect for his abilities as a saxophonist but not in his choice of material. It has been interesting to note that many saxophonists from the past couple of decades were weaned on Sanborn and hold him in the highest regard. Discussion entered on where he had played in some more “interesting” musical settings. There were his recordings with Butterfield Blues Band, Stevie Wonder, Tim Berne and the Gil Evans Orchestra.

As I typically present last, I was asked to present first and as fate would have it the first recording happened to be of that aforementioned Gil Evans Orchestra (which happened to include Mr. Sanborn).

1. Marvin “Hannibal” Peterson w/ the Gil Evans Orchestra – “Zee Zee” from Svengali (Atlantic SD 1643 (1973))
Presented by Me – LP

I knew that these guys would guess this track immediately, after all that talk. I put the needle to the groove and as soon as those low brass tones came in:

“Those first notes…”

Everyone knew that it was Evans and the Orchestra. I believe Steve guessed that it was the Svengali recording. Though I had thought of presenting Evans, I was more concerned with the soloist on this particular track.

Then came that trumpet.

Robert: “Is that Hannibal?”

Yes, sir. Marvin “Hannibal” Peterson, aka Hannibal Marvin Peterson, aka Hannibal Peterson, aka Hannibal, aka Hannibal Lokumbe.

I had been juggling the names of a few musicians for my submission, including Mr. Evans, as his arranging work (particularly his later stuff) has been some of my favorite material for years. I decided to go with Hannibal because I thought that he really deserved to be recognized as both an impressive instrumentalist and composer, though he seemed to have disappeared long ago.

“Zee Zee” was an Evans original composition that was essentially a harmonic bed of eerie, moody low tones. The focal point of the song was an extended trumpet solo by Hannibal. This performance has gone on to become the most well known example of the Texas born trumpeter’s playing.

Steve: “That track was a gift from Gil.”

Robert: “Man… I haven’t heard that track for a long time. I must have it on vinyl.”

Hannibal presented a well-defined tone and boundless ideas on the trumpet along with a brute force that really cut through the loose arrangement of Evans.

Hannibal was born in 1948 and started on the trumpet during his early teens. He quickly started his own ensemble, the Soul Masters, which backed many soul and blues greats as they toured throughout Texas. He attended North Texas State University for two years before moving to New York in 1970. Hannibal then joined up with Rahsaan Roland Kirk before settling in with Evans as a principal soloist for nearly 10 years. He later went on to perform in groups led by Pharoah Sanders, Roy Haynes and Elvin Jones.

While Hannibal was being featured in these various settings, he also maintained his own ensembles that featured his unique compositional voice. Most famously with his Sunrise Orchestra.

2. Hannibal Marvin Peterson & The Sunrise Orchestra – “Movement 1. Forest Sunrise B. Song of Life” from Children of the Fire (Sunrise Records 1944 (1974))
Presented by Me – LP

I brought this one along just to give a taste of where Hannibal had begun as a composer and music conceptualist.

Children of the Fire was a larger ensemble piece that was written by Hannibal and arranged by the talented David Amram. The album also was produced in part by his employer and biggest fan, Gil Evans.

The pieces on the record were written in tribute to the children of Vietnam and presented a feast of eclectic folk sensibilities alongside a strong dose of spiritual jazz. The outcome wasn’t far from where Don Cherry was at the same period with the Eternal Rhythm and JCOA recordings. Peterson might have been a stronger trumpet soloist, however.

The 1970s saw a handful of other releases from Hannibal and more pared down versions of the Sunrise Orchestra, mostly on the Japanese Baystate, German MPS and Enja labels. From the 1980s on, Hannibal’s releases began to be entirely theme oriented. The Angels of Atlanta was a tribute to the victims of racism-fueled bombings of Atlanta. One with the Wind and African Portraits dealt with the African diaspora and how it has been dealt with in modern American history. His latest release Dear Mrs. Parks (Naxos, 2009) was a commission from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra that celebrates the contributions and cultural legacy of African Americans, including that of Mrs. Rosa Parks.

Steve heard a Freddie Hubbard influence on Hannibal’s solo playing along with the obvious references to Strata East and Charles Tolliver.

“I called this stuff ‘acoustic fusion.’ Blending jazz, Eastern and African influences with soul and blues.”

Jason discussed the lack of depth that much spiritual jazz had. His example: a 1970s performance of Pharoah Sanders at Keystone Korner in the Bay. He said that the entire thing had been very predictable and that Pharoah had even left the stage after he was done soloing, as if it had only been routine. Many such performances were equally fomulaic.

I was asked where I found the record. I had picked it up at Jazz Record Center in midtown at a pretty unbelievable price ($25). Great shape, too. This led to a long diatribe about the record market and how it has been shaped over the past 20 years or so. I should expound about that topic at length at some point.

3. Paul Desmond Quartet – “Jazzabelle” from The Paul Desmond Quartet with Don Elliott (Fantasy 3-235 (1956))
Presented by Jeremy Udden – LP

I’m so proud. Jeremy brought an LP.

We heard an alto sax and what seemed to be a trombone playing in a quartet with bass and drums, quite unusual instrumentation for a quartet that seemed to be dating back to the 1950s.

“Is it Brookmeyer?” Nope. Head scratching…

The trombone being the quirkier of the two lead instruments, everyone tried to go for that first.

“It is a valve trombone, isn’t it?”

Not a trombone, valve or otherwise. Hmm…

Once the saxophone tone got settled, I guessed Paul Desmond. The correct guess.

We all agreed that Desmond had an amazing sound and ability on the alto, even though: “Miles said alto shouldn’t be played that way.”

Robert: “I didn’t think Desmond could play a solo of that length.”

Jeremy had to tell us that it was Don Elliott performing on a mellophone.

The tune had a particularly intriguing section that featured a fugue in counterpoint between Desmond and Elliott. Apparently the section had been fully improvised.

That brought Jeremy to mention what he finds as Desmond’s most important contribution as a musician besides his peerless tone: Desmond’s completely compositional direction. Everything that Desmond did was in service to the overall composition. Even his improvisations were extensions of the theme.

Steve: “It its own way, that is some outrageous drumming.”

The drummer was credited as Joe Chevrolet (a pun on his actual name, Joe Dodge) in the notes penned by the comedian Mort Sahl. Funny. The drummer took a very minimalist role, especially while comping solos, as he mainly focused on the rim of the snare.

Sahl had been a prominent comedian in the Bay Area, where Desmond had emerged. A bigger celebrity than Desmond, apparently. It was interesting to note that on the record sleeve, Sahl had quite a bit of room for his own material and even gets a choice photo placement (there wasn’t one for the leader). Rumor has it that Desmond later slept with Sahl’s wife and the friendship was ended. Touchy.

It was also interesting that Desmond didn’t feature a pianist in his ensemble. He was after all most well known for his work with a pianist, Dave Brubeck. Jeremy thought there might have been an agreement with Brubeck that if Desmond released a recording of his own that there wouldn’t be a piano.

We did listen to another track from the same album, “Sacre Blues.” It featured a very uncharacteristic solo from Desmond including a venture into the altissimo register of the horn.

Though Desmond didn’t receive the respect that he should have from younger generations of saxophonists, he still managed to make an impression on some rather diverse players, including Anthony Braxton. It shouldn’t be surprising then that, as Jeremy mentioned, one of Desmond’s biggest influences was a “jump” style saxophonist named Pete Brown. Quite a stylistic distance from where Desmond ended up.

“If there was an underground poll, he’d be in the top three saxophonists.”

Desmond had an obvious jazz/pop appeal and some wondered if he hadn’t been the David Sanborn of his generation.

Jeremy had mentioned that Jerry Bergonzi had said that he never really got into Desmond but had told him, “It takes balls to play that way.”

4. Ruby Braff – “Royal Garden Blues” from Bravura Eloquence (Concord 423 (1990))
Presented by Steve Futterman – MP3

Steve presaged his selection by stating, “This was the best trumpeter of the past 40 years besides Hannibal.”

The ensemble featured here was a trio of trumpet, guitar and bass. The trumpeter’s facility was pretty extraordinary. Comments were made regarding his breadth of range and dexterity throughout registers.

We needed some hints from Steve. He told us that the trumpeter’s career spanned back to the 1950s.

“Still alive?” No.

Steve: “Apparently, he was the most ornery guy in jazz.”

“He was from Boston and white.”

No one could guess.

Jeremy knew the tune and was impressed with the arrangement: “Kinda like a little big band arrangement.”

No one could guess.

Braff was born in 1927 in Boston. His music career began while he was still very young, in the 1940s, with his real foray into the jazz world beginning in the 1950s. He was well regarded in the jazz community for his ability as a trumpeter in the Louis Armstrong fashion and gained respect as he had been a young white guy able to hang with the black guys. It was interesting that he dedicated his life to the pursuit of an Armstrong ideal, as it wasn’t a popular choice when he was trying to make a name for himself.

Steve found that his most confident playing could be found on his recordings from his peak, much later in his career, from the 1970s to 1990s. As he wasn’t a writer, his recordings found him flexing his chops on well-known jewels like this featured on a 1990 Concord session.

“What does Wynton think of Ruby?”

Steve: “Can’t say that I’ve seen a word written about it.”

This got us into our monthly rant on Wynton.

Speaking of which, had you heard that Jazz @ Lincoln Center has decided toopen new locations around the world, including Dubai?

5. Maze featuring Frankie Beverley– “While I’m Alone” from Maze featuring Frankie Beverly (Capitol C2-91244, 1977)
Presented by Zak Shelby-Szyszko –

Zak can always be counted on to derail the jazz express. This time he was able to use the magic of the internet to give us a soul group that many of us had never explored.

Steve: “Is that ‘What You See, Is What You Get’?” No…

We heard a rather breezy, bass heavy groove. A tenor with a slight rasp comes in with a wordless, scat-ish vocal.

“Donny Hathaway?” An emphatic no – at least from Zak and myself.


Zak: “From the West Coast.”

“Group with a band name or the name of the featured vocalist?”

Zak: “It is a band with a featured vocalist.”

“What year?”

Zak: “1977.”

Me: “I’m embarrassed to say I don’t recognize the vocalist, Zak.”

Steve: “Can we have the singer’s initials?”

Zak: “FB.”

No one had it.

Zak gave us a break – Maze featuring Frankie Beverley. Beverley and Maze had originally come from Philadelphia where they performed as the Butlers. They didn’t quite gel with the “Philly Sound” made popular by Gamble & Huff so they moved to California where they changed their name to Raw Soul.

The group’s break came when they were introduced to Marvin Gaye, who had them tour as an opening act. He also suggested the group change their name to Maze.

“While I’m Alone” was the group’s first hit single from their debut album. Not their biggest hit, by any means. Zak also played the group’s “Happy Feelings” from the same album to see if we had heard it.

Though some of us liked the tune, some thought it kind of boring.

“Sounds like a vamp looking for a tune.”

“There didn’t seem to be a hook.”

Zak mentioned that the group still toured and sounded good when they played in Brooklyn last summer. He felt that they should have been better known in their prime but they were never able to break through into the white mainstream, though they had a similar sound to that of the extremely popular Earth Wind & Fire.

6. Steve Lacy – “The Uh Uh Uh” from Dreams (Saravah SH 10058, (1975)
Presented by Jason Weiss – CD (Couldn’t play – computer meltdown)

Jason had seen baritone saxophonist/Lacy devotee Josh Sinton’s group Ideal Bread play this tune a few nights before our meeting. He decided to present Lacy as he had been a big fan of the soprano saxophonist for years and had conducted many interviews with him, which he later presented in a fine collection (here).

“The Uh Uh Uh” featured a typically strong Lacy melody alongside an ensemble featuring a more subdued Derek Bailey, who avoided playing his more typical language of squiggles for one that was a little more approachable (I still hear some clangs). The tune was a tribute to the late guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, who’s music Lacy was familiar with via a long relationship with Gil Evans (we come around, yet again).

Jason looked back to this period of Lacy’s career as one of the better ones. Though he played in many different situations, his own groups were pretty well established. Lacy had always looked to establish long term relationships with musicians he played with, most notable were his relationships with Mal Waldron and Roswell Rudd. This period was also before he added vocals to his music, which alienated some fans.

The fan base for Lacy’s music has been large and dedicated. Jason himself has been involved with a particularly devoted gang of Lacy aficionados, including four Frenchmen. They have been trading recordings of Lacy’s for years. He remembered meeting a European couple that would come to New York on their vacation to hear every set of Lacy’s annual, week-long stand at Sweet Basil.

Jason’s own fondness for Lacy’s music stemmed from the saxophonist’s singular sound and writing. Lacy’s soprano sound was completely unique. He was possibly the only saxophonist to fully identify with the smaller horn and never got caught up in using the horn in a purely “Eastern” esthetic, as many doublers would in the future. Lacy was also a creative composer who wrote memorable themes with melodic hooks and plenty of repetition. The songs have stood out.

Jason: “Just like with Monk. I can remember the tune but not the name of the tune.”

In interviews that he conducted with Lacy, Jason was able to learn about Lacy’s writing style. Lacy would write with lyrics in mind, which Jason thought added another dimension to the music.

Jason: “I like to compare the vocal to the instrumental version of Lacy’s songs. I prefer the instrumental.”

Lacy’s wife and collaborator Irene Aebi would typically take the vocal duties on these tracks later on. Her voice has been equally heralded and derided for decades.

Robert: “My wife has always made me stop the record when she heard Irene and, believe it or not, Abbey Lincoln.”

Strange bedfellows…

Lacy created his own brand of art song while putting others’ words to music. Jason mentioned that most of his meetings with Lacy were spent talking about books. This tradition has been kept alive recently by a number of musicians. Some that came to this group’s collective mind were John Hollenbeck, Frank Carlberg and Sam Sadigursky.

Steve: “Do you think that Lacy recorded too much?”

Jason: “I almost think he did.”

Lacy has been one of the most prolifically recorded jazz musicians ever. The race between him and David Murray could be very close. The amount of recordings could be seen as a sign of the times he lived in. Much of his income derived from recording sessions from numerous independent European labels during the 1970s, where the music was more appreciated.

“Is he an inimitable figure?”

Jason: “Yes and no.”

Jason explained that Lacy’s work on the soprano stood alone. Listening to Lacy’s soprano had ruined him for other saxophonists that have taken up the instrument, mostly on the side. Lacy had mastered the horn as others merely added it to their repertoire.

We discussed the best starting points for Lacy newbies. Most thought that starting with his early recordings and easing your way in might be best, the same strategy might prove to be helpful in tackling the music of Cecil Taylor. Another method would be listening to Lacy interpret tunes of well-known composers, which he did quite often. He was recognized as one of the best interpreters of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols and did some interesting interpretations of Ellington, as well.

Example below.

Steve Lacy - "Prelude to a Kiss" from 10 Of Dukes + 6 Originals (Senators Records SEN 01 (2002))

Next BYOV will be on Dec. 11th. Come get some cake.

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