Music Monday: Listening

Like many people, I was saddened to hear about the passing of Pharoah Sanders. I love his music and want to write something, but I need to think a bit about how to do that in a way that’s meaningful to me and to my readers.

In the meantime, I’m going to complain about something incredibly banal and inconsequential. Last week, I noted that the late Ramsey Lewis, whose influence on jazz, R&B, and pop music is undeniable, has not received seen the same barrage of master recordings, authorized bootlegs, and archival remasters as jazz musicians who are more household names. While this is unfortunate, this does make sense to me. I’m likewise disappointed that a good number of Pharoah Sanders 1980s albums released on the Theresa label are not available on many streaming services and only available as rather price CD imports. (I’m particularly disappointed to no longer have my copy of Sanders’s Rejoice where he is joined by Bobby Hutcherson on vibes among many others. It is on Youtube, though. If anyone has a high quality rip of this album and is willing to share…)   

I tend to listen to moderately obscure music at times and some of these things are only available on CD. I’m also susceptible to the arguments put forward by guys like John Darko for why they continue to buy CDs. I like the idea of making sure artists get paid more for their work than they would if it were streamed (even if the idea of “owning” music or books feels a bit perverse to me). In any event, I often find myself conflicted between the ease of streaming music and the desire to listen to more obscure recordings or to collect things.

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been two new released that have attracted my attention. The first is John Coltrane’s Blue Train: Complete Masters. This reissue of this classic 1958 Coltrane album is in Blue Note’s fancy Tone Poet series meaning that it really is all about its release on 180 g vinyl. Of course, you can also get it on CD and through most steaming services. As the title indicates, it includes quite a few alternate takes (which appear on the second LP or CD). The alternate takes appear loosely in the order that they appear on album. This is nice because it helps a listener keep mental track of the original recording and discern the differences present in the alternate takes. For example, it feels like Lee Morgan plays more freely in the “Blue Train (Take 7)” than in the version released on the album.  

(And, yeah, I thought of Rejoice because it includes a version with vocals (!!) of Coltrane’s now standard “Moments Notice” which originally appeared on Blue Train).

John Coltrane Blue Train The Complete Masters

I was also happy to enjoy the latest from the acclaimed Miles Davis bootleg series which featured out takes from the sessions that produced his late classics, Star People (1983) and You’re Under Arrest (1985). Unlike the Coltrane masters, these outtakes do not have the benefit of the original recordings.

This, of course, is understandable considering the complex rights situation. What’s more vexing is the decision to put two versions of the same song back-to-back. I love Miles Davis’s version of “Time After Time” as much as anyone, but close to 15 minutes of it leaves me wanting something else. The back to back versions of “Hopscotch” at different tempos is nice, but it has me wanting to skip ahead (see what I did there?) to the reggae tinged version of “What’s Love Got To Do With It?

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It has become a standard refrain from folks into vinyl and CD that listening to an entire album by an artist is a lost art. As I sit in my comfy chair listening to Rejoice on YouTube without track breaks, thorough or deluxe liner notes or even a track listing, I definitely encounter the music differently. For this very reason, I might be a bit reluctant to buy volume 7 of the otherwise outstanding bootleg series on CD. I’m not sure this is an album that I’d enjoy listening to from start to finish, not because the music isn’t great (it is!), but because instead of releasing an album worth of alternate takes, this is a hatfull of tracks designed, it would appear for skipping and selecting on streaming services rather than setting and enjoying on a physical spinning medium.    

Music Monday: Ramsey Lewis

At various points in my life, I have become aware that much of what I do isn’t really fun. What I read, what I do to unwind, and what I listen to. (Obviously being a Philadelphia sports fan is NOT fun). I’m not sure what triggers this descent into un-fun-ness. I suspect it has to do with a desire to find substance in a world dominated by easy pleasures and distractions. Or maybe, I’m just not a very fun person and this is just how I roll.

Every now and then, my listening habits start to wear me down, and take a deep breath and turn on something fun. The passing of Ramsey Lewis this last week gave me an excuse to create a massive Ramsey Lewis playlist. 

At its heart are his two 1960s masterpieces: The In Crowd (1965) 

And Another Voyage (1969)

Ramsey Lewis recorded some of the deepest, most elegant, most compelling, and most fun soul jazz of the 1960s and 1970s.

He could turn “Hang on Sloopy” into a Latin-tinged anthem in 1965: 

And then take it to an entirely different level by inject it with some funk-inflected fusion goodness in 1973:

He could record a bunch of Beatles songs from the White Album with the Chicago Symphony (featuring a theremin?) and actually give them a bit of soul:

He could give Summertime some funk without damaging it: 

And add disco to Stevie Wonder’s “Living in the City”:

The album cover of his 1974 album Sun Goddess is worth the price of admission alone:

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What pains me a bit is that quite a few of his classic albums from the 1960s and 1970s recorded for the Argo and Cadet labels as well as for the mighty Columbia aren’t readily available from the usual streaming services. Meanwhile, we’re offered more and more deep cuts from Coltrane, Miles, Mingus, and Monk, serious and worthy artists to be sure, but Ramsey Lewis’s voluminous and intensely entertaining catalogue remains a bit hit and miss. Needless to say, there have been no lavishly produced deep dives into his live catalogue (the anthology of Lewis’s Columbia recordings from 1973-1974 and released in 2016 by the UK’s SoulMusic Records is fine, but it just scratches the surface of Lewis’s recordings). Let’s hope that his passing will encourage a deeper dive into his voluminous catalogue and more serious consideration of his remarkable career. Even if this doesn’t produce profound new insights into the nature of jazz, the character of the soul, or the depth of funk, it should would be fun. 

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.

Music Monday: Flute

I do struggle a bit with the idea that the flute is a respectable jazz instrument. I know that I shouldn’t (especially as a former and rather terrible flautist) especially considering that some of my favorite recent tracks feature flute and some of my favorite musicians, especially Eric Dolphy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, played flute on their recordings.

So to celebrate my struggle to accommodate my view of the flute with my own tastes in music, I thought I’d share three of my favorite jazz flute tracks. 

I rediscovered the first one during my recent re-excavation of some key CTI albums from the 1970s (and a h/t to my friend Sharon Carson for reminding me to listen to some Hubert Laws). James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” is the opening track to Laws’s 1970 album Afro-Classic. The fuzzed out vibes, the flute, and Ron Carter’s amazing bass make this track (and the entire album) feel like the embodiment of early ‘70s soul jazz where the flute fits in perfectly.   

The next track might also owe its inclusion on this list to Professor Carson’s recommendation. Yusef Lateef’s The Complete Yusef Lateef opens with the track “Rosalie” which is is spare and gorgeous (with just enough late-1960s accompaniment and overdubbing to make it feel “period appropriate”). I’m a sucker for close mic-ed flute. (And it is always kind of surprising to hear Lateef’s breaths).

Finally, I am sure that I’ve posted about this track before and it might be my all time favorite jazz flute track. It’s Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing “Ain’t No Sunshine” from his 1972 album Blacknuss. His singing through his breathy notes really does it for me. 

So there you go, some jazz flute to get your week started right.

 

 

Music Monday

Last week was a rough one for music fans. We lost three significant figures whose distinctive visions made our world richer and more interesting.

First, Creed Taylor died. Taylor was a record producer perhaps best know for introducing bossa nova to the United States in the 1960s through Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto. He founded Impulse! Records, worked for Bethlehem and Verve, and, most importantly for my musical interests, founded CTI Record in the late 1960s first as an imprint of A&M Records and then as a stand alone company in 1970. 

I became interested in Taylor mostly through his contributions to genre of soul jazz in the late 1960s and 1970s through his CTI and Kudu labels. There’s nothing better than listening to Grover Washington Jr. play “Georgia on My Mind” from his album Inner City Blues on an overcast, early fall Saturday.   

That said, I am more consistently drawn to his work with Freddie Hubbard in the 1970s. Red Clay (1970) and Straight Life (1970) which trace the far reaches of hard bop (and the contours of post-bop) rank among my favorite albums and combine Hubbard’s energy and willingness to experiment from his mid-60s Blue Note releases, such as Breaking Point (1964) and Blue Spirits (1965) with an interest in more commercial music that he tested (rather unsuccessfully) with a couple of Atlantic releases in the later 1960s.

Hubbard’s willingness to reckon with the intersection of commercially successful R&B and improvised music (even if he tended more toward the latter than the former) followed a formula familiar to anyone who listened to 1970s mainstream jazz music. In many ways, CTI and artists like Freddie Hubbard (among many others) set the stage for artists like Jaimie Branch who passed away last week as well.

Her one album, Fly or Die, has moved in and out of heavy rotation at my house over the last five years.

She was on my list of people who I might even risk COVID to see in concert. Her trumpet playing set her apart from the recent crop of remarkably talented horn players. She seemed not only to stay true to the spirit of improvised music, but also had a deep sense of the historical and novel sonic possibilities of the trumpet:

And man, could she play:

Finally, the word went out at the end of last week that Joey DeFrancesco died. I hadn’t listened to much of his music lately (although like most jazz and improvised music fans, I knew about his remarkable story of touring with Miles Davis as an 18 year old!). 

That said, I remembered how much I enjoyed Joey DeFrancesco on, Enjoy the View, a 2014 date with Bobby Hutcherson, David Sanborn, and Billy Hart. There’s something about how DeFrancesco’s organ sounds against Hutcherson’s vibes that just feels right. You can listen to this album here.

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Music Monday: Two Singles

Jazz singles have always sort of baffled me. I mostly find them unsatisfying because I really enjoy the experience of listening to an album. Maybe this is because I feel very satisfied when an album works and songs flow into one another or react to one another across an entire disk (LP or whatever). More than that, most (but certainly not all jazz albums) feature a single group performing at a particular time and often showcase the range or character of a particular ensemble and moment. 

I suppose I also felt like jazz was one place where album preserved a certain amount of integrity (at least in the “LP” and post-LP era; I recognize, of course, that jazz music was released over a wide range of formats historically). 

Anyway, I offer two relatively recent jazz singles here that captured my attention. The first is tuba player Theon Cross’s version of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy.” Cross is part of the remarkable London jazz scene and I first came across him playing with Sons of Kemet. His version of “Epistrophy” is pretty great and it definitely has made me enthusiastic for the release of his next album!

The other single that I’ve listened to this weekend is Miles Davis’s version of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” I have a massive soft spot for Davis’s 1980s stuff (especially his version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”), and even as I’ve tried to distance my listening from Miles Davis in general (for vaguely formed ethical reasons), his 1980s output continues to be a guilty pleasure. Apparently this single is a teaser for a release of “bootleg” material of his from the 1980s.

Music Monday: Archie Roach

As many people likely know, Archie Roach died last weekend. Unfortunately, there was a brief interruption in the ole blog as I was on the road. He is an important (and perhaps the most important) Aboriginal song writer who was the voice of the stolen generations.

It seems appropriate to post a few of my favorite Archie Roach songs (and to recognize that his family has approved folks posting images of him after he had died). I’m especially fond of the song “Charcoal Lane,” which he performs here live: 

(Here’s Courtney Barnett doing it with Paul Kelly (who is also a Australian music legend):

I also really like his song “We Won’t Cry” with its reggae influences. It’s the kind of song that brings a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. Here he is performing it with Uncle Jack Charles, a well-know Aboriginal performer:

Of course, he is particularly known for his song “Took the Children Away” which helped catalyze public sentiment regarding the horrors of the forced removal policy that produced the stolen generations:

And, finally, here is his last recordings where he covers a series of Bob Marley songs and demonstrates his intergeneration reach: 

Music Monday: Summertime Music

Summer music is its own thing. In my truck, I’ve been enjoying roots reggae. In the afternoons, I’ve been trying to find some new indie pop that captures a summertime vibe. A friend recommended Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram (and sent along this nice feature from the Washington Post) and I enjoyed the track “Rock & Roll” from his album 662 that came out last summer. There’s something summery about Delta Blues especially when the sky is a bit low, the humidity is a bit high, and the breeze blows with occasional ambivalence through our wood-frame house.

Mostly, though, I still listen to jazz and for some reason, I want to listen to a few jazz albums in the summertime. I’m not sure why. They don’t necessarily have a summertime feel or anything, but they do for whatever reason evoke the summer for me.

First, I feel the urge to listen to Donald Byrd’s A New Perspective: Band & Voices from 1964. Not only is this album a classic of early soul or spiritual jazz (performed by a class Blue Note band of the mid-1964 with Hank Mobley, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Burrell, and Rudy Van Gelder recording wizardry). The version of “Cristo Redentor” recorded here is transporting and gorgeous. The entire album is brilliant.

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Last week, a buddy of mine sent me a text message that simply read “Yusef Lateef,” and this started a series of pleasant afternoons with the Detroit legend. His album Yusef Lateef’s Detroit: Latitude 43°30’ Longitude 83° from 1969, is one that I had in heavy rotation a few summers ago. It’s isn’t the typical small ensemble Yusef Lateef joint from the late 1950s or early 1960s. It featured a band that at times swelled to over a dozen performers, with multiple percussionist, strings, and horns. As the title of the album suggests, it creates a musical topography of Detroit that would befit a chapter in Krysta Ryzewski’s book, Detroit Remains. It’s expansive, brilliant, soulful, spiritual, and compelling summertime music.

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Finally (and to depart a bit from Byrd’s and Lateef’s Detroit), there is Eddie Gale’s Black Rhythm Happening from 1969. Nothing is more summertime than sixth one: “Ghetto Summertime”. Check it out. I feel like I’ve blogged about Eddie Gale, but apparently not. He came up through Sun Ra’s outfit and recorded two iconic albums for Blue Note in the late 1960s, along with Ghetto Music from 1968, that combine soul jazz with the spiritual flavors of the avant garde. There are both amazing albums that capture the sound of urban summertimes and fill me with a kind of languid summer happiness.

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Music Monday: More Philly Jazz

The last couple of weeks have been a bit busier than I had expected and this has unfortunately impinged upon my music listening time. Oddly enough, I’ve found it more enjoyable lately to spend time outside on my bike, with the dogs in the park, or, even, jogging. 

That said, I found time to enjoy an album that I hadn’t heard but has floated around the edges of my “try to find” list for years. In fact, I hadn’t seen a CD version of this for sale for a few years and had more or less given up on finding it. The album is Khan Jamal’s Creative Arts Ensemble’s Drum Dance to the Motherland recorded in 1972 and originally released by a tiny label Dogtown Records in 1973 (Dogtown is a “sub-neighborhood” of Germantown in Philadelphia and in the 1970s, it was a hotbed of the Philly Jazz scene). It was re-released a number of times on vinyl and once on CD and it sounds like the digital release available on Bandcamp was a “needle drop” recorded from a well-preserved LP.

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The album itself is remarkable. Khan Jamal is a vibe player whose work across various 1970s free jazz, avant garde, and soul jazz recordings is pretty well known. I’ve blogged about his work on the Philly soul jazz classic New Horizons by Sons of Liberation last year on the blog. In fact, the Creative Arts Ensemble who accompany Khan Jamal on Drum Dance for the Motherland is essentially the same band that plays on New Horizons sans Byard Lancaster. The opening track on Drum Dance is true to the album’s name and features some remarkable polyrhythmic drumming that wouldn’t sound out of place on any number of late-1960s or early-1970s jazz albums. The album hits its stride, however, with “Drum Dance” and especially “Inner Peace.” The latter is a funktastic soul jazz classic that deserved to be listened to at high volumes!

My opportunity to appreciate the drum work on Drum Dance for the Motherland coincided with the release of some previously unreleased recordings by another drum-forward avant garde and free jazz outfit, The Pyramids. They appear to have released a box set titled Aomawa: The 1970s Recordings and featuring their essential early 1970s albums: LalibelaKing of Kinds, and Birth/Speed/Merging as well as a fourth album in this set: Live at KQED, 1975

A recent New York Times’ review of the Pyramids box set gives an overview of their genealogy, work, and commitments. They started at Antioch College in Ohio under the mentorship of Cecil Taylor and Charles Tyler and traveled Africa while developing their distinctive sound. Live at KQED, 1975 won’t change your feeling about this band, but it will serve as a nice introduction to their work. 

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One of the amazing things about Khan Jamal and The Pyramids is how these performers created their own record labels, their own performance spaces, and a sense of community. They saw their music as a catalyst for social change as well as an effort to build an financially sustainable and independent present.  

Music Monday: Lee Morgan

July 10th is Lee Morgan’s birthday. He would have been 84 today had be not been killed at age 33 at Slug’s Saloon in New York.

Lee Morgan is a complicated figure. He had drug problems, had a complicated and violent relationship with his partner Hellen Moore, and recorded constantly over his 15 year career.

Over the weekend, I listened to The Sidewinder (1963), which was Morgan’s most popular album by far. It’s a solid hard bop date that is as good as any hard bop date from the late-1950s and early-1960s. It’s a pleasant listen and great for a Sunday evening in the summertime. Joe Henderson’s saxophone is great across the entire album.

Lee Morgan The Sidewinder album cover

I was more captivated by Morgan’s 1964 date: Search for New Land. It features a sextet that includes Grant Green’s unmistakable guitar.  

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This morning, I’m listening to Infinity, which was recorded in 1965 and features Jackie McLean on saxophone along side the same sidemen who played on Search for the New Land. If Search and The Sidewinder represent kind of high water marks for hard bop, Infinity seemed to stretch the style into something a bit different and seems to anticipate jazz sounds that are more challenging to the listener and are less explicitly oriented toward a popular audience.  

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Readers of this blog know that I have a soft spot for Morgan’s final recordings: Live at the Lighthouse which I blogged about on Thanksgiving last year. You can read about that here.

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