Jazz music, news and views

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Miles Davis Features

Friday, May 26, 2006 was Miles Davis's 80th birthday anniversary, and KJazz aired
a retrospective of the trumpeter's career with musical highlights across each of his musical periods. Several other jazz musicians offered their insights on the impact of Miles. Artists interviewed include trumpeters Eddie Henderson, Dave Douglas and Jeremy Pelt, guitarist Mike Stern, composer/bandleader Maria Schneider and pianist Herbie Hancock.

Miles in four movements:

Part I: Miles Davis and Gil Evans: the Birth of the Cool; Evans's orchestral M.O.; modal ideas.

Part II: The First Quintet: from Prestige to Columbia Records; Miles's stamp on straight-ahead; basic Trane-ing; Kind of Blue (of course).

Part III: The Second Quintet: the E.S.P. of the Hancock-Carter-Williams triumvirate; Miles Smiles; new ideas and new sounds.

Part IV: Bitches Brew and Beyond: Hendrix; electronic instruments; the Brew; On the Corner and turning the corner; the Man With the Horn returns; looking back.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Butch Warren Resurfaces

There's a great story by Marc Fisher in the Washington Post on bassist Butch Warren. Like so many great veterans of jazz, Warren has had his share of hard times, as Fisher reveals. The bassist is currently in a psychiatric facility in his hometown of Washington, D.C. An inquisitive worker at the facility discovered who he was when looking online one day.

An excerpt from the article:

" [...] like many players of that era, Warren fell into drinking and drugging. 'Heroin,' he says. 'I always liked that heroin better than cocaine. I joke about it, but that heroin is ridiculous. There's nothing funny about it.'

Then, in 1963, one of Warren's best friends, pianist Sonny Clark, died of a heroin overdose. Warren told a French magazine that 'after Sonny died, I didn't feel like working anymore.' Later that year, when President Kennedy was assassinated, Warren felt overwhelmed. The magazines would say that he had simply disappeared. But he actually went home, where he felt safer."

You may remember Warren's work with Clark. This association found him along side Jackie McLean as well as Donald Byrd, Dexter Gordon, Stanley Turrentine, Thelonious Monk and Herbie Hancock. Throughout his career, Warren was often one of a pair -- half of a match made in heaven with drummer Billy Higgins. Their interplay wasn't just time-keeping; it was a dance, a groove. As mentioned in the Post, Warren's greatest enjoyment still comes from playing the bass, and that's clear enough on record. (The first album I remembering hearing him on was Dexter Gordon's Go, where he sounded especially sprightly on "Cheese Cake.")

Read the whole story here.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Morgan Freeman as Duke Ellington

This is pretty old news, but then again, no one’s ever accused me of being on top of things. According to Variety, Morgan Freeman has been cast to play Duke Ellington in an upcoming film, The Jazz Ambassadors, which will portray Ellington’s orchestra in Iraq during the 1963 coup led by the CIA. Supposedly, as Duke’s band toured certain parts of the world, the CIA had planted spies in his entourage. This is perhaps not without truth, as US State Department official Tom Simons is working with the producers. He traveled with Ellington’s orchestra during at the time. The story’s dramatic interest comes from whether or not Ellington knew of the CIA’s plans and the operatives in his band.

Freeman will also co-produce the film, which is directed by
Antoine Fuqua (King Arthur, Training Day, The Replacement Killers).

Hopefully, Ellington’s person and music will be done justice. I trust Freeman; I’m on the fence about Fuqua; and I’ve a sneaking feeling that jazz may take a back seat to the political focus of the film. Fingers crossed, folks.

The most fruitful part of Ellington's travels to the Middle East, though, is perhaps the (mistitled) Far East Suite. The suite's language and textures are exotic but not corny; the songs are impressions, but they aren't reductive. And the playing is superb. Saxmen Johnny Hodges and Paul Gonsalves sound warm, broad and buttery at their lyrical best here. Drummer Rufus "Speedy" Jones made his debut with Ellington's band on Far East Suite and propels the group with some tasty cymbal rhythms throughout. Ellington's piano voicings are clustery, intriguiging and seem to open up a world (or perhaps transport us to another half of the world) of sonic landscapes.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

RIP John Hicks

Born Dec. 12, 1942 (some sources also say 1941) in Atlanta, Georgia and later relocating to St. Louis, Missouri, pianist John Hicks was gifted with a pliable keyboard style. His admirers have often used two adjectives to describe him: versatile and underrated. Both are quite true. He has also been considered to be the consummate “New York pianist,” possessing the kind of adaptability and technical facility demanded of a first-call pianist in the Apple, where he moved in the early '60s.

After attending Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri and Berklee School fo Music in Boston, Hicks moved to New York City in 1963, having been encouraged by his early mentors Clark Terry, Miles Davis and Oliver Nelson. He performed with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the mid-‘60s before joining Betty Carter’s band in 1966, staying until ’68 (he would rejoin her for the latter half of the ‘70s). He found a spot in Woody Herman’s band in the late ‘70s as well. His sidemen credentials run the gamut from bebop to hardbop to more adventurous sounds: Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins, Frank Foster, Roy Haynes, Arthur Blythe, David “Fathead” Newman, Pharoah Sanders, Charles Tolliver, Roy Hargrove, Oliver Lake, Peter Leitch, and the Mingus Big Band.

Dark voicings, bright right-hand runs, a percussive attack or a gentler touch -- Hicks could be called upon for any of his pianistic attributes. He could swing straight-ahead or treat the time more flexibly. He was a very attentive “inside-outside” player. This kind of malleability as a performer is a surefire indication of his musical mastery. His most recent releases on HighNote paid tribute to several other piano greats: Mary Lou Williams, Sonny Clark and Earl “Fatha” Hines. All are worth acquiring for a sampling of the blues, bop and rhapsody he was capable of. And he has over thirty other albums to his name. His ubiquity as a performer is a testament to his talent, but it doesn’t mean he didn’t have a signature. Betty Carter once told Downbeat, “Nobody sounds like John Hicks. When you hear a piano player, you know it's John Hicks, no doubt about it. You hear his way of phrasing, his way of attacking the piano. The energy is always there, no matter what kind of condition the piano is in. He's gonna [...] let you know ‘This is John Hicks here.’”

He passed away yesterday morning. They say you can’t please everybody, but it seems those who truly love jazz have nothing but praise for John Hicks.

Listen to the intro of "Infant Eyes" from Single Petal of a Rose.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Odds and Ends

My apologies once again for the sudden hiatus, which will continue a bit into next week as I travel to Philly. In the meantime, though, I had a few odds and ends that I wanted to put out there:

1) Back in January, Doug Ramsey of Rifftides mentioned an ongoing John Cage composition for organ, "Organ2/ASLSP," currently being performed in Halberstadt, Germany. Cage intended for the piece to last 20 minutes, being played as slow as possible; the John Cage Organ Project decided to interpret him much more literally: this performance of the piece should take 639 years to complete. This past Friday, they changed notes.

2) I added this blog to the sidebar a while back but still wanted to draw your attention to Darcy James Argue's Secret Society. Fans of forward-looking large ensembles and long-form composition drawing on jazz, classical and indie influences will especially enjoy his pieces. Notable "co-conspirators" in the orchestra include Ingrid Jensen, Mike Holober and Donny McCaslin. Full-length mp3s of his group's adventurous live performances are available there in addition to musings on music, politics, musical politics, etc. Also check out HisSpace.

3) This past weekend, I caught a couple great shows:

3a) The Music of Miles Davis at the OCPAC: Eddie Henderson, Steve Wilson, Wayne Escoffery, David Kikoski, Ed Howard and Jimmy Cobb. Solid hard-bop playing from all involved, dipping into the songbook from Miles's first quintet and sextet ("Milestones," "All Blues," "Someday My Prince Will Come," "Straight, No Chaser," etc.). I'm particularly fond of Dr. Henderson's dark, bronze-like horn sound. Wilson's clarity of tone was quite powerful, and Escoffery had some very exciting things to say. Kikoski sounds top-notch on record, but seeing him live is quite another experience. He builds a solo like any other player, but it's as much a physical experience as a musical one. He was tipping the piano bench forward, fingers flying over the keys. He has a modern, elastic sense of time, a brilliantly percussive touch (with very hip voicings) and a deep blues vocabulary. And he's got chops to burn. Get a taste here.

3b) David Sills at the Lighthouse Cafe: Sills, Gary Foster, Larry Koonse, Putter Smith and Tim Pleasant. One of the first things Ozzie Cadena said to me when I got there was that it reminded him of some of Lee Konitz's and Warne Marsh's best work. Sills is cool-toned indeed, and Foster's sound fits like a glove, much like the Konitz/Marsh pairing. Of course, they both clearly have more to offer than licks from their predecessors. Foster's tone is simply gorgeous and gives a healthy dose of bebop in his solos without sounding like a Charlie Parker impressionist on autopilot. Sills can either deliver a warm, clean tenor sound or dirty it up for more aggressive statements. Smith and Pleasant sounded great together (the latter had some very tasty solo moments), and Koonse gave a simple but outstanding chord melody solo strummed with all four fingers fluttering. He says, by the way, that he may be recording a new album soon (likely on his own label) with some classically inspired sounds... Very cool.

4) Finally, tune into KJazz later this month for a special 4-part feature on Miles Davis, leading up to his 80th birthday, including interview excerpts from Mike Stern, Dave Douglas, Maria Schneider, Eddie Henderson, Jeremy Pelt and Jimmy Cobb. The features will be posted here in time. In the meantime, check out some thorough posts and podcasts on Miles's evolution from Straight No Chaser.
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