Music Monday: A Trio of Two-Fers

There are times when two (or sometimes more) albums are so closely related in sound, date, or personnel where they get closely associated with one another. In fact, it’s pretty common in the 1950s and 1960s for jazz musicians to record tracks in single recording session that go on to appear in different albums. In other cases, albums that capture a particular sound or start a particular trajectory almost seem to demand a follow up album that continues to trace the potential of this sound. And in some cases, a group develops a sound and explores it for a number of albums before moving on. For this Monday, I thought I would identify three paired albums that I’ve had in rotation lately.

First, I’m very much enjoying JD Allen’s Americana Vol. 2 that came out earlier this summer. It is a follow up to Allen’s critically acclaimed album Americana: Musings on Jazz and Blues from 2016. Americana (and its successor) focus heavily on blues music and JD Allen’s saxophone. It received strong reviews and the trio format gave Allen plenty of room to explore the deep pathos that blues music can convey.

The follow-up is not quite a concentrated or probing affair, but instead captures a bit more the raucous potential of the blues. Charlie Hunters guitar joins Allen’s saxophone, and this changes the album’s sound about as much as one might expect. It’s still a really good album (even if it never quite achieves the power of the first Americana).

The next album is one that Kostis Kourelis tipped me to just a couple of days ago: Etudes from Charlie Haden and Paul Motian with Geri Allen. The interplay between Haden and Motian is so well-known to almost be a universe unto itself. Geri Allen’s piano fits seamlessly and never threatens to steal the show (even though Allen is totally capable of doing that!). The opening track is Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” which is such a singular recording that sometimes it seems too iconic to yield anything more than imitation. At the hands of Haden (who, of course, played in the 1959 original), Motian, and Allen, however, the interplay between Haden and Allen runs almost like a commentary on or a conversation about the original song. It’s really quite remarkable. 

Geri Allen records a good bit with Motian and Haden in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but for some reason, the algorithms kept nudging me to listen to their live set in December 1990 at the Village Vanguard. This album came out from a Japanese label in 1991, which I have not been able to find, but I did find the 2022 release of “Unused Tracks.” I have a soft spot for Thelonious Monk and am always game for a version of “In Walked Bud,” so I’ll share that here:

Finally, as readers of this blog know, I have a soft spot for the California-based piano player Horace Tapscott. His late-1970s Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra is fantastic and combines the drama of Sun Ra’s Arkestra with the community oriented jazz work of any number of Chicago large ensembles. 

In the late 1960s, Tapscott recorded two albums, the first of which, The Giant is Awakened from 1968 is classic of very late hard bop (or maybe post bop) jazz with Tapscott’s sometimes relentless piano pushing Arthur Blythe’s sax forward to greater and greater heights. It’s worth a listen, but not if you plan to have a calm and relaxing morning. It’s what my friend Sharon Carson would call “get out the door music.”

Apparently, Tapscott (who had more than his share of punk rocker in him) became annoyed with what he perceived as broken promises, decided not to record his small ensemble again and invested his efforts into grassroots music making and small (often obscure) label releases. Evidently, he came to this decision after recording the start (or perhaps better part of a new album in 1969) which was released only last month. Titled simply The Quintet, it features the same personnel as the 1968 date and the same driving Tapscott piano and ambitious Arthur Blythe sax. It’s worth a listen to Tapscott speaks to you the way that he speaks to me.

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