Jazz Cds: Whimsy and improvisation aplenty

Collection of Jazz album reviews, from Israeli-related composers.

A musician plays a trombone during the first day of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana April 25, 2014. (photo credit: JONATHAN BACHMAN/REUTERS)
A musician plays a trombone during the first day of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana April 25, 2014.
Erroll Garner Nightconcert Mack Avenue.
In 1964, in jazz terms, Erroll Garner was a superstar. The then-41year-old pianist had been at the top of his game, and popularity stakes, for over a decade – his 1955 live release Concert by the Sea sold over a million dollars’ worth of retail copies by 1958 – so by the time he paid a return visit to Amsterdam, a city he liked a lot, the scene was set for yet another hugely successful showing.
Nightconcert, recently put out as a vinyl double album by Mack Avenue Records, in partnership with Octave Music, captures the magic of the nocturnal set. The gig took place at the fabled Concertgebouw auditorium, a place then almost exclusively identified with performances of classical musical. The show kicked off close to midnight, as the evening slot had, naturally enough, been reserved for a classical concert.
The nocturnal scheduling put me in mind of Saturday midnight cinema screenings, back in the day, when the audience almost entirely comprised irreverent students. The filmic material programming was chosen to suit the insouciant vibe, and the cock-a-snook atmosphere, and a great fun time was had by one and all.
By all reports there was a heady air of expectation as Garner strode out to the stage, along with bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin. That comes across palpably in the handsomely produced album, complete with 180-gram discs. There is a lavishly printed booklet housed in a beautifully crafted gatefold sleeve with gold foil graphics, and with learned texts by revered jazz critic Nate Chinen and historian Robin Kelley. The pictographic design also includes reproductions of typewritten telegrams from Garner to his manager, Martha Glaser, in New York; Glaser’s good luck wishes to her client; and instructions to the Concertgebouw staff about how to set up the lighting and sound. The latter also includes a delightful “base” (instead of “bass”) typo.
The concert hall was packed to the rafters for the Garner trio gig, and the great man did not disappoint. He reeled off thundering chords, white hot arpeggios and ethereal filigree ornamentation at will, often keeping his audience guessing about the core melody.
Particularly prominent in the veiling department is his masterly rendition of “My Funny Valentine.” The original chart direction remains fuzzy, as Garner unleashes melodic forays that touch on the margins of the source score, suggesting subtle interfaces and nuanced runs, and always keeping his listeners on board by dropping in fleeting quotes.
Nightconcert is an offering of the most sumptuous kind, in both visual and sonic aesthetic terms. It is a valuable and rewarding documentation of Garner at the height of his inventive powers, and at the top of his whimsical game.
Eric Dolphy Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions Resonance Records
That Eric Dolphy was at the forefront of musical exploration in the early 1960s is well known. But, many who delight to his 1964 landmark Out To Lunch! record, universally acknowledged as one of the pivotal ventures into uncharted improvisational waters, may not be aware of the multi-instrumentalist’s battle to keep the wolves at bay.
With work opportunities in his country of birth inconsistent, to say the least, Dolphy opted to relocate to Europe, following a tour there with bassist Charles Mingus. Prior to flying out, in 1964, Dolphy left papers and other effects with friends Hale and Juanita Smith. Some of the items, including scores and actual tapes, were subsequently passed onto flutist James Newton. Sadly, Dolphy never returned to the States, tragically dying and the age of only 36 due to complications brought on by undiagnosed diabetes.
To cut a long story short, Zev Feldman, from Resonance Records, was informed by pianist Jason Moran that Newton had some unissued recordings by Dolphy. Feldman wasted no time in contacting Newton, and Musical Prophet - The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions eventually came to be.
This is a triple album, released both on vinyl and CD, comprising 1963 record Conversations, and Iron Man, which was recorded in 1963 but only released, posthumously, in 1968. Musical Prophet is the surprise augmentation, and is exclusively made up of alternative takes. This, too, is a lush production package, with all the trappings of a deluxe issue.
While, Conversations and Iron Man were never as lauded as Out To Lunch!, which is viewed as one of the standout avant-garde jazz records of all time, they catch Dolphy at his most adventurous, spreading his prodigious gifts across an expansive framework of sounds, textures and energy levels. In particular, he enjoyed a seamless musical brotherhood with bassist Richard Davis and the simpatico sense comes through powerfully in such numbers as Muses for Richard Davis, with the leader complementing Davis’s luxuriant arco work with his equally rich lines on bass clarinet.
Muses for Richard Davis was recorded in 1963, but not released until half a century later, on Muses, and there are two previously unissued alternative takes of the chart on the Conversations LP. There is also a different reading of “Jitterbug Waltz,” and Davis and Dolphy do their intimate thing in irresistible style on “Ode to Charlie Parker,” the closing cut from Iron Man, with Dolphy breaching the stratosphere on flute, and wending mellifluous trails around the bass. Add a wide-ranging personnel roster that include the likes of Woody
Shaw on trumpet, vibist Bobby Hutcherson, saxophonist Clifford Jordan and drummer Charles Moffett, and you have yourself one mean support cast.
As Newton said in an interview, shortly after the release of Musical Prophet, here’s hoping the triple album helps to boost Dolphy’s profile closer to where it should be – among the pantheon of improvised music.
Chris Potter Circuits Edition Records.
Chris Potter has racked up a pretty discography over the years. His debut as a leader, Presenting Chris Potter, came out in 1993 and, in the intervening more than quarter-century, the reedman has blasted out decibels and wattage by the bucketful, with plenty of lyricism and, most notably, an abundance of captivating groove too.
After three excursions with German record label ECM, which, naturally, often found Potter in a somewhat more circumspect mindset, the 48-year-old American has come roaring back with Circuits, his inaugural effort for the British Edition Records label.
It is primarily a trio effort, with irrepressible drummer Eric Harland and the highly gifted 24-year-old James Francies principally on keyboards, but also chipping in on flute, sampler, guitars and percussion. Bass guitarist Linley Marthe appears on four cuts.
It is a somewhat surprising curious effort from Potter and, indeed, from Edition. The British label started life 10 years ago and has steadily built up a sizeable stable, mostly of British or Scandinavian persuasion. Potter’s inclusion represents a dip in the US side of the Pond. The CD cover design has something of a ’90s vibe about it – very different from the ECM-leaning atmospheric visuals that have adorned many of Edition’s covers to date – but the music is definitely of the here and now.
Israeli jazz fans might feel at home with the overture to “Invocation,” the opening track. The thematic substratum sounds suspiciously as if it was taken from the Great Israeli Songbook, à la Sasha Argov with dense bittersweet note clumps underscored by bass clarinet.
“Hold It” then kicks in and, with it, we are back on more familiar Potter territory with the leader producing robust melodic lines as Harland powers hard and tight from the back, and Francies drops in plenty of rich shading. It is an infectious groove-driven number augmented by atmospheric electronics.
On “The Nerve,” Potter, once again, appears to have taken in more than a glimpse of Middle Eastern and/or Jewish sensibilities as he spins out textures that seem to feed off shtetl climes, as Harland punctuates the undulating keyboard-supported sax lead with the odd bass drum accentuation. It is a roller coaster of a work, on all levels.
There is ne’er a dull moment on Circuits, and it will be interesting where the Potter-Edition pairing heads next.