Jazz File

Remembering Michael Brecker

Remembering Michael Brecker

On January 13 2007, two and a half years after being diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (1), and just one month before winning his 12th and 13th Grammy awards, Michael Brecker passed away from leukemia.

You’ve heard Michael Brecker…as one of the most indemand tenor saxophone players in New York for the last 35 years or so, he’s played on over 900 albums. Artists he’s recorded with include James Brown, Billy Joel, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Parliament/ Funkadelic, Herbie Hancock, John Lennon, Todd Rundgren, Carly Simon, Aerosmith, George Benson, Dire Straits, Charles Mingus, Lou Reed, Dave Brubeck, Diana Ross, Chet Baker, James Taylor, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, McCoy Tyner, Frank Sinatra and many others. He was a key member of the pioneering fusion groups Dreams, The Brecker Brothers (with his brother Randy), and Steps Ahead; and also released a series of very successful solo albums. read more…

Jimmy Raney: Bebop’s Quiet Master

Jimmy Raney: Bebop’s Quiet Master

Jimmy Raney, one of the great unsung heroes of bebop jazz guitar was born in Louisville, KY, in 1927. He moved to Chicago in 1946, where he played as accompanist to piano player Max Miller. He also worked with Artie Shaw and Woody Herman before moving to New York City in the late 1940s. Here, he teamed up with tenor saxophone player Stan Getz, with whom he recorded extensively from 1951 to 1952. He replaced Tal Farlow in the Red Norvo Trio in 1953, and remained with him until some time in 1954. He worked in and around New York, including working in Broadway theater pit orchestras until he returned to Louisville in the 1960s. read more…

Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, “A Night in Tunisia” Music Matters Jazz MM BST-4049  Vinyl Double 45 rpm Album

Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, “A Night in Tunisia” Music Matters Jazz MM BST-4049 Vinyl Double 45 rpm Album

I clearly remember my first exposure to Art Blakey. I was living in New York during the eighties, in my first job out of college, and around ’85 or ’86 a friend invited me to join him at Sweet Basil, one of the pre-eminent jazz clubs in New York on Seventh Avenue South in the Village (sadly, recently closed). Art Blakey was the headline act that night; I had heard the name, but knew nothing about Blakey. It did strike me as odd that a drummer could lead a jazz band, but up to that point my exposure to jazz had been limited to Dixieland and I knew nothing about the artist. That ignorance ended that evening over twenty years ago. I had always viewed drums strictly as the means by which a beat was achieved; never had I heard drums played quite so polyrhythmically (and almost polyphonically). While I was familiar with drum solos, I was new to the concept of percussion as a lead instrument. Blakey and his cohorts nearly blew me out of my seat. It was a memorable evening, and one that was brought back to mind immediately when I listened to this LP. read more…

Barney Kessel – He Played With Everybody

Barney Kessel – He Played With Everybody

If you listen to almost any jazz or pop record from the 1950s and many from the 1960s, you will in all likelihood hear the distinctive guitar of Barney Kessel. From Julie London to Billie Holiday, from Frank Sinatra to Ricky Nelson to the Beach Boys, Barney was there. One of L.A.’s “first-call” studio guitarists (who also included stellar players like Howard Roberts, Jimmy Wyble, Dennis Budimir, Tommy Tedesco, and others), Barney’s distinctive sound and overall musicality and professionalism elevated him to the pinnacle of players, who had the respect and awe of any number of players on the music scene, and is still remembered today as one of the giants in jazz. read more…

The Jazz File: European Offerings

The Jazz File: European Offerings

Some have called the blues the most influential art form that Americans have ever unleashed on the world. Considering these are the roots of nearly all American popular music, including rock ‘n’ roll, I’d say it’s a fair assessment. Rock has proven such an infectious cultural export that many of the greatest bands in history were spawned on foreign soil: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, AC/DC, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, U2…heck, even the Jimi Hendrix Experience was two-thirds British.

But how has jazz, the blues’ “high-brow” offspring, fared globally? Pretty well, actually, although I wouldn’t say there’s anyone on the other side of the pond vying for Charlie Parker or John Coltrane’s throne. I took a listen to some current European offerings this month…don’t take this as comprehensive or any kind of a “best of”, it’s just a collection of recordings that came to my attention for one reason or another. If nothing else, this collection speaks volumes about the diversity of jazz currently happening in Europe, but I found plenty to recommend as well. read more…

The Jazz File: Three on the Six Strings

The Jazz File: Three on the Six Strings

Like many jazz fans, my love for music began with rock. And like many rock fans, my love of rock begat a love of the guitar. It’s an amazing instrument, capable of a wider variety of tonal qualities than any other, with the possible exception of synthesizer. This month I gave a listen to three wildly diverse recordings by jazz guitarists, all released this year, and really liked what I found. Enjoy. read more…

The Jazz File: Happy Music…or not.

The Jazz File: Happy Music…or not.

Interesting couple of albums have taken over my system for the past few months. There’s something of a unified thread running through these…acoustic, improvisational, crosscultural, cross-genre, slow tempos, and not exactly the cheeriest music I’ve ever spun. I’m not sure what this says (if anything) about the current state of jazz or my own psychological state this spring, but I hope you find something to enjoy in this month’s selections. Comments always welcome read more…

The Jazz File: My Grammy Picks

The Jazz File: My Grammy Picks

Some of you are probably thinking, “Why would a self-respecting jazz writer give a rat’s rear about the Grammy Awards?” Well, I never really have before. Not sure exactly what changed my mind this year…maybe it was the pressure to write something before my deadline for this month’s issue, maybe it was guilt over not having a proper “best CDs of 2006” column…this way I can let the Grammy people come up with a list for me, and all I have to do is make comments. Either way, I found that this year’s nominees, at least for jazz, are largely not as bad as I expected, and there’s even some real gems in there. read more…

The Jazz File

December is here, the holiday season…a time for wanton acts of kindness, endless shopping, and (of course) every music critics’ “top 10 best releases of the year” list. Sorry to disappoint, but frankly I don’t pay enough attention to new releases to even list ten total, let alone ten that I could vouch with any certainly that are the best of the year.

That said, I have been listening to some new music of late, so I’ve got something of a list for you. All of this month’s selections were, in fact, released this year, and have provided me with a good bit of stimulating listening. These would work equally well as gifts for your music-loving friends as gifts for yourself, and if you hurry, you can probably still find them at your local soon-to-be-doomed Tower Records for 40% off. Enjoy. read more…

The Jazz File: William Parker, Part 2: A Three and a Four…

The Jazz File: William Parker, Part 2: A Three and a Four…

Bob’s Pink Cadillac

Bob’s Pink Cadillac, credited to the “William Parker Clarinet Trio”, features sidemen not normally associated with Parker’s music: drummer Walter Perkins (who passed away in 2004), best known for his recordings in the ‘60s with Ahmad Jamal, Gene Ammons, Carmen McRae, Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus and others; and Perry Robinson, who has striven his entire 40+ year-long career to bring the clarinet into wider acceptance in avantgarde jazz circles. According to the liner notes, Parker has played with both of these gentlemen in live settings periodically over the past 20 years or so, but this is the first recording they’ve made together. read more…

The Jazz File: Trying Something New

The Jazz File: Trying Something New

Frequent readers of this column (and there may be 3 or 4 of you out there by now) have probably noticed something missing from my reviews: coverage of new releases. Not that I have any problem with new records, it’s just that there’s so much great material out there that was recorded before 2006 I haven’t felt any urgency to filter through more recent catalogs in search of the gems.

Sometimes life has a way of hitting you on the side of the head, and this September did that to me, with two albums hitting store shelves that were simply begging for my (and consequently, your) attention. If you were looking forward to the second part of my series on William Parker (and there may be 1 or 2 of you out there) have no fear! We’ll get back to Parker in November.

read more…

The Jazz File: William Parker, Part 1: A One and a Two…

The Jazz File: William Parker, Part 1: A One and a Two…

William Parker is one of the strongest personalities in avant-garde jazz today, both musically and otherwise. Having spent the ‘80s as bass player in Cecil Taylor’s groups, in the early ‘90s he settled down in New York, where he catalyzed the Improvisers Collective: a group of some of the Lower East Side’s most adventurous musicians. Parker has recorded with nearly all its members in various settings, and the Collective later spawned the Vision Festival, now in its 11th year, and one of the largest jazz festivals in the world that operates without major corporate funding.

Parker has led far too many dates to do a comprehensive list of his recordings, and too many of those are great to compile any kind of a “best of”. I’m taking this month and next to dig into four albums: a solo and a duet performance this month, a trio and a quartet in October. read more…

Jazz File: A Short Stack of Cheskys for Summer

Jazz File: A Short Stack of Cheskys for Summer

Summer is the time of year we seem to switch off certain parts of our brains. It doesn’t matter how high our cultural brows may be during the rest of the year…during the summer Stephanie Plum novels top bestseller lists, America tunes in to find out of it’s really “Got Talent”, and the internet goes abuzz over a movie called “Snakes on a Plane”. And why not? We’re on vacation, or at least enjoying ourselves outdoors more than usual, and as stimulating as “real” art can be, sometimes it’s just too much work.

I had in mind this month to review a bank of recordings from one of the most influential avant-garde jazz musicians alive today, someone whose albums have been spending a lot of time in my system over the past few months. But lo and behold, a record club I belong to started clearing out their entire remaining Chesky Records catalog for a mere two bucks each. I picked up three discs by trumpet & flugelhorn extraordinaire Clark Terry, and a bossa nova date by Brazilian singer/guitarist Rosa Passos and bassist Ron Carter. For less than a single Hamilton plus shipping, the sound of my summer changed instantly. Knotty? Complex? Challenging? Nope. Not even particularly innovative, by today’s standards. But some fine music to be sure, and the bottom line for summer listening: a whole lot of fun. read more…

Jazz File: The Elder Redman (Dewey Redman)

Jazz File: The Elder Redman (Dewey Redman)

There is an enormous amount of talent in the jazz world, sadly the vast majority of it goes unrecognized in the U.S. Take the subject of this month’s reviews, Dewey Redman. Virtually unknown outside of jazz circles, in fact many jazz fans (myself included) may have never heard of him if it wasn’t for the fact that his son, Joshua Redman, is one of the biggest-selling jazz artists of all time.

Dewey Redman has always been a more audacious risk-taker than his son. A pioneer of the avant-garde tenor sax, the artists on whose records Redman has guested could make up something of a “who’s who” of late 20th century jazz: Ornette Coleman in the ‘60s, Keith Jarrett’s “American Quartet” in the ‘70s, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, Pat Metheny’s 80/81 band, Randy Weston, etc., but his own recordings remain relatively obscure. Despite his frequent forays into the extreme fringes of jazz, the root of his playing has always been the big, brusque Texas tenor sound he’s honed since his days growing up in Ft. Worth (where he played in the I.M. Terrell High School marching band alongside his future employer, Ornette Coleman). Redman has developed a few other sonic trademarks over the years, including playing the musette (actually a Chinese suona: a small, double reed horn with a brash, bright tone) and a technique for speaking through his saxophone.

While many articles could be written to describe his playing as a sideman, this month we focus on his dates as a leader. Picking which albums to leave out of a survey like this is often harder than deciding which to include, but I feel the recordings below best illustrate the more enduring aspects of his unique approach. read more…

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