The Jazz Universe Inside My Head

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Live Around The World

Miles Davis
Live Around The World
Year: 1996
Label: Warner Bros. Masters

Miles Davis put a lot of music out in his over forty years of playing the trumpet. Some say that in his long reign, he changed his genre more than anyone else in the history of music. Such albums that caused a movement and evolution in jazz were Kind of Blue, Miles Smiles, In a Silent Way, and Bitches Brew. Those, along with many more, are solidified as classics and were all recorded in 1970 or before.
After that Davis seemed fall off the map a bit, his work not being as focused as before. From ’75 to ’80 he retired from music, secluding himself from the public eye. But in the early ‘80s he came back and got his chops moving again, which leads up to the question of: What did Miles Davis sound like in the late ‘80s, just years before he passed away.
Well, the easiest approach to that inquiry was to get a hold of a copy of Live Around The World. The album, which actually came out after Davis died, is taken from various spots of the earth; “In A Silent Way” is taken from a NYC show, while “Full Nelson” comes from Osaka, Japan. At this point in his long tenor, the trumpet player was selling out stadiums on just about every continent.
Just 10 seconds into the opening song, “In A Silent Way,” the ‘80s feel is definitely evident. Odd synthesizers sound like their landing spaceships in tune with lightly distorted bass ringing. Then Miles’ trumpet elegantly squeaks in a couple of notes and you remember that not in some warped ‘80s nightmare, you’re listening to one of the greatest jazz players toward the end of his career. From then on it’s pretty damn good.
At this point in his career Miles was playing with a lot of young guys. He had Kenny Garret wailing on the sax, the guy known as only Foley on lead bass, Adam Holzman and Joey Defrancesco on the keys, Ricky Wellman on drums, along with countless others playing a little of this and a little of that. Again, the ‘80s sound can’t be stressed enough, as the band creates a landscape for mostly Davis, Garret, Foley, and the keyboardists to stretch wherever they want to go. Although the music that’s made isn’t as revolutionary as some of the other eras Davis spurned, Davis and company are still breaking new ground in the jazz spectrum.
Highlights on the album include “New Blues,” which has a smooth R&B swing feel with great improvisation from the leaders, “Mr. Pastorious,” a nod to the late, great bassist Jaco Pastorious, and “Hannibal,” a track taken from Davis’ last performance.
There are a couple funny tunes, though. The first, “Human Nature,” was a big mainstream hit the ‘80s and Miles seemed have like it enough to give his extended interpretation of it. It doesn’t quite fit the band but they pull it off enough to make a snobby listener not hit the skip button. The other moment of uneasiness comes when the theme to “Time After Time” sounds from the trumpet master. It’s a terrible song but again the group plays the best version out there, if that’s saying anything.
In conclusion, the Miles Davis catalog from the ‘80s is great, slightly weird, but great. The best way to describe it is to possibly compare it to the Grateful Dead’s long career. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Dead were innovative and in the rock/jazz/jam world they changed a tremendous amount of music that would follow. Miles did the same thing in the ‘50s, ’60, and ‘70s for jazz. When the ‘80s arrived both Miles and the Dead were a bit old and tired, kind of out of their element, but they never stopped moving forward, even if the pace had drastically slowed. Check it out.

Other Stuff I’ve Been Listening To:

Charlie Hunter Iron Horse, Northampton, MA 2/24/06
Art Ensemble of Chicago Les Stances A Sophie
Charles Mingus Mingus at Antibes
Jaki Byard Jaki Byard Experience
Yesterday’s New Quintet Angles Without Edges

Monday, February 20, 2006


Pharoah Sanders
Year: 1969
Label: Impulse

In 1969 jazz seemed to have lost most its original roots. It was the year that Bitches Brew shattered record sales and got the attention of the flower generation. To many the evolution was a deficient leap but to others, well, their eyes were wide open to the natural shift. At the same time, though, there was an emptiness of creativity left by the premature death of Coltrane. But as pianist /keyboardist Keith Jarrett said of Tranes’ death, “Everyone felt a big gap all of a sudden. But he didn’t intend to leave a gap. He intended that there be more space for everybody to do what they should do.”
When Coltrane passed in 1967 he did indeed open up more space for everybody to play in. He had a school of younger players that were eager to carry the blazing saxophone torch that he lit. They included Marion Brown, Archie Shepp, and Pharoah Sanders. Each of these players incorporated what they knew and mixed it with Trane’s deep influences. The combinations of creativity aligned perfectly in 1969 when Sanders’ Karma was released.
The album has only two tracks: “The Creator has a Master Plan,” which clocks in at 33 minutes and the six-minute “Colors.” “Creator” is a journey that touches on a full spectrum of moods, at times going from free chaos to uplifting peace in the matter of seconds. It must be listened to attentively and all the way through to truly understand its intention. The track begins with a nod to Coltrane and the continuing influence that he had on Sanders’ work. A variation of “A Love Supreme” can be heard after the songs introduction. But it’s evident that Sanders and his mates have something different in mind; a sound more brightened. For the first eight minutes this record grooves (Sanders’ sax wails and groans) over a two-chord progression. At about this point vocalist Leon Thomas enters and yodels a bit, then begins singing the song’s theme of the creator and his master plan. The song never stops heightening until about the eighteenth minute, where it just explodes into an emotional mixture of joy and holy mess. All the musicians are let free to do what they want, including Thomas’ howling yodels. The music then, maybe around the twenty-sixth minute, begins to bend back into the shape of its theme. Like a circle, it finishes where it began. There is nothing like it.
So, what could follow the massive “Creator?” Like a beautiful sunset after a deeply spiritual night, “Colors” delivers the necessary ending to the album with its easy flow. Sanders solos around its loose feel but Thomas’ vocals are featured here:

…People say that life is misery
but in him there is no mystery
so he sends to us his rainbow of love
I see red and orange and purple
yellow and blue and green

Without him there is no harmony

The album finishes off before you know it and there’s nothing to do but smile. It would be a mistake to not get a hold of a copy of Karma right now because it’s that supreme.

What I’ve Also Been Listening In Addition To Karma:

Art Ensemble of Chicago 11/11/76
Jimmy Smith Root Down
Medeski, Martin and Wood NY Jazz Fest 6/8/98
Bobby Hutcherson Components
Cecil Taylor Conquistador!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Mike Raitzyk Quartet at The Haven

Mike Raitzyk Quartet
Friday February 3, 2006
The Haven Lounge, Baltimore

Back in the summer of 2003 my boss at the time gave me a copy of a City Paper article that raved about this jazz club in Baltimore called The Haven. Its full name is the New Haven Lounge but as she told me, “Don’t call it that, just call it the Haven, and go if you like jazz.” Agreeing to her, I shook my head and told her I was going to check it out for sure. I hung the article up as a reminder; that was well over two years ago and I just recently made it in. It’s my new joint.
The Haven is quite a unique spot. Placed in a run-down strip mall at the intersection of Northern Parkway and Havenwood Avenue (that makes sense), you’d never know that such a gem could exist. But it does and it’s been there for nearly four decades doing the same thing: Delivering top-notch music and an atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re in another time, maybe a jazz scene from, say, the 40s or 50s with a touch of 70s funk. I could go on and on about it but if you love jazz just do as my old boss told me to do.
When I arrived on the spot the band was on set break (I had to work late). Soft sounds of a sax played over the light chatter; it was mellow, positively. I grabbed a Bombay and tonic and took a seat in front of the stage. I could see that the quartet was guitar, bass, sax and drums. I’d never heard of Mike Raitzyk and didn’t really know what to expect.
Minutes later the band took the stage, well the floor because there isn’t really a stage. Without hesitation the jumped right into John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and things got hot in an instant. I’ve been to a lot of clubs where maybe the music was good but the crowd wasn’t into it or vice versa. Not the Haven; at least not this night. There was a guy standing behind the drummer saying, “Work it now. Come on now, work it.” I knew right then I was where I was supposed to be as far as personal locality.
The quartet ran through some Charles Mingus, more Coltrane, particularly one of my favorites “Naima,” and some stuff that I didn’t recognize as well. I didn’t get the rest of the band member’s names (I should have) but they were a tight unit, playing off each other with what looked like ease. Raitzyk was a master on the guitar. It turns out that he has been on the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. scene for the last 15 years, playing in everything from quartets to orchestras. He’s played with a mix of people: Pepper Adams, Mel Torme, Clifford Jordan, and Bill Hardman to name a few.
Listening to the sweet sounds took me away from any sense of time and all of a sudden it was last call. I snagged another drink concoction and listened to the last tune. Then I was gone, out into the parking lot, with the music with me every step. I’ll be back to the Haven.

Oh, and What I’ve Been Listening To This Week:

John Scofield Live at the Mercury Lounge (download it at this page)
Modern Jazz Quartet European Concert
Yusef Lateef Psychicemotus
William Parker Violin Trio Scrapbook
Ahmad Jamal The Awakening

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Bad Plus

The Bad Plus
Saturday January 21, 2006
The Rams Head, Annapolis

For months I had been saying to myself, “Man, I need to see The Bad Plus…NOW.” I always imagined myself in Europe for some reason. I don’t know, it sounded nice. But the sweet daydream came to an end the other day when my friend Brendon told me that the trio was playing in Annapolis the night before the gig. Not being from Maryland, I’d never had the chance to catch show at the Rams Head. It just never fell into place. We were at work and I immediately jumped online, bought two tickets and solidified the deal.
The Bad Plus, made up of Reid Anderson on bass, David King on drums and Ethan Iverson on piano, have been scorching the jazz world for a few years now. On their first three records the band has an entirely acoustic, extremely tight sound that blends jazz and pop in a way that has never been heard before. Breathtaking at times, it creates a mixture of emotions that demands close attention. It’s jazz all right but they’ve brought into existence a quite unique interpretation of it. Their latest disc Suspicious Activity? has hardly left my CD player since I got it. With that in mind, I knew that seeing them live would a thrilling experience.
The show had an early 7:00 p.m. start and we made right before the band went on. The Rams Head seemed like a real laid back joint right from the beginning. We had reserved seats not to far from the stage and the rest of the audience seemed just has excited as I was to see the trio. By the time we ordered a pitcher of beer the band took the stage to a warm welcome. They were dressed in nice suits, as I heard they did, and seemed extremely professional. To get things started Anderson ran off a 10 minute-plus bass solo that made everyone around smile and slowly bop their heads. Iverson and King jumped in and that was it-something special was in the air.
The band ran through extended versions of many tracks of Suspicious Activity?, including “Let Our Gardener Grow,” “The Empire Strikes Backwards,” “Rhinoceros is My Profession,” and (Theme From) Chariots of Fire.” There was only one song that I knew I needed to hear of the new one and that was “Lost of Love.” They played it and that was it for me. The song made me want to spill tears (I’ll admit it). I don’t know many of the song titles of the previous records, and Iverson did announce most of them (should have paid more attention), but everything sounded fresh and inspired.
The thing about The Bad Plus is that they are three of the most skilled players that I’ve ever laid eyes on. Sometimes when a trio has amazing individual players egos tend to get in the way. Not so for The Bad Plus. Together they make acoustic magic. I mean, King has gained total control of the drums and played everything he had in front of him, including the drum stand with spastic mastery. He is truly one of the best drummers around today. Anderson, the composer of most the tunes, plays the upright bass with the same sort of authority. Nothing gets by him. Iverson, the spokesman for the group, reminded me of a mad scientist behind the grand piano. They were up for anything and had the audience’s full attention (except for these loud yuppies near us). I will travel long distances to see this band for a long time. You should if you know what’s good for you.

What I’ve Been Listening To This Week:

Thelonious Monk Quartet Plus Two At The Blackhawk
Miles Davis The Cellar Door Sessions 1970
Eric Dolphy The Illinois Concert
Masada 50th Birthday Celebration Vol.7
George Russell Ezz-thetics