Author Archive for Robert Levin

06
Jul
12

9b) Liner Note: Liquid Krystall Displayed

Now available from K2B2 Records!

Marty Krystall, reeds, with Calvin Keys, guitar, Jerry Peters, piano and Hammond organ, Buell Neidlinger, bass, and Peter Erskine, drums

K2B2 4269

www.k2b2.com

I’ve written elsewhere that, in my judgment, Marty Krystall is the very best of the post-Coltrane reed players. And for anyone still unfamiliar with this remarkable musician (he’s worked and recorded with people like Steve Lacy and Charlie Haden but has largely confined his activities to the Los Angeles area) I can think of no better entrée than the album at hand.

Krystall has said that he wants to surprise himself as well as the listener when he plays. “I want to compose in the moment, spontaneously, and to come up with different sounds. It’s about sounds for me—colors, textures—not licks or notes. I try to get the most juice I can in my tone. And I want to find things on the horns that I couldn’t get to before. I also want to utilize the full capacity of the instruments.”

That statement places Krystall solidly in the realm of the ultra-modernists. But Krystall is hardly a devotee of the arcane. He’s a musician who wants to use his prodigious virtuosity not to intellectually impress or intimidate his audience but to move and shake it. If he’s essentially an emotive player, however, he’s a strikingly disciplined one who never descends to empty pyrotechnics or solipsistic meanderings. Cogent and lucid, his solos can claim a consistently coherent structure and, as highly charged as they may get, are models of focus and compression. Certainly in this album, a celebration of his roots in rhythm and blues, Krystall makes music that is eminently accessible as well as viscerally stirring.

“What I wanted to do here,” Krystall explains, “is recreate a period in my life when I was very much into rhythm and blues, a time, around 1970, when I was in my late teens, and all but consumed by that music.

“It was a busy time for me,” he says, “and I rarely got more than three hours sleep a night. I was teaching woodwinds at a music store in the late afternoon, then making gigs in black R&B clubs in Hollywood and after-hours clubs in south-central L.A. until six in the morning. From 11AM to 3PM it was constant jazz jam sessions. I was living in Venice then, in a court where a lot of musicians lived. We would play in each others garages and musicians from all over Los Angeles County would show up. There was a Hammond organ in one of the garages and I developed my sound mainly by playing over guitars and the Hammond organ.

“By playing R&B,” he adds, “especially in clubs, I also learned how to relate to an audience and how to feed off of it. It was about getting the crowd yelling and screaming. If you could do that then you knew you’d succeeded. If you didn’t you had to figure out what you did wrong and correct it. You could say that I learned how to play performing for black audiences. And, maybe because I was the only Jewish kid on the block when I was growing up and knew a little bit about racism, it was always black music that I gravitated to. I wasn’t interested in West Coast Jazz. My main heroes in that period were John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. But I was also very taken with people like King Curtis and Junior Walker. I wanted to play funkier and more soulfully and with the energy they had. I would practice before gigs to make sure I was hot.

Marty Krystall

“You have to have talent and the chops to pull it off, of course, but it’s really passion and drive that count. And I learned that from playing R&B and jazz seventeen hours a day for eighteen months.”

To assist him in recapturing what he describes as his “R&B side,” Krystall enlisted musicians who, for the most part, he first encountered in the early ‘70s. And it’s an illustrious bunch. Calvin Keys, guitar, Jerry Peters, piano and Hammond organ, Buell Neidlinger, bass, and Peter Erskine, drums are, each in his way, certified legends.

Calvin Keys, present on six of the tracks, is a consummate musician with the rare ability to straddle the full spectrum of styles from gospel to “free jazz.” Keys has worked with some of the great organ trios, including those led by Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff and Groove Holmes. He’s also played with Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Sonny Stitt, Ahmad Jamal and Pharoah Sanders, among others of comparable stature. Jerry Peters, whom Krystall calls “a genius with so much technique—he performs miracles at the keyboard,” is a Grammy award winner and a songwriter best known for the hit single, “Going in Circles” by the Friends of Distinction. Peters has played with some of the most noteworthy performers and groups of his time, including, Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones, The Emotions, The Jacksons, Diana Ross, Deniece Williams, Gladys Knight, Al Green and Lionel Ritchie. Peter Erskine, who was a member of Weather Report, is a first-to-call drummer when you’re in need of a brilliant time-keeper—just ask Diana Krall or Linda Ronstadt. And Buell Neidlinger! His résumé includes stints with virtually everybody from Little Esther, Bobby Blue Bland to Gil Evans, John Cage and Cecil Taylor. Is there any kind of music that this singular musician can’t play, or that isn’t enhanced by his playing of it?

Considering that some of these men hadn’t played with Krystall for several decades, the collaborative ensemble work in this set is nothing short of amazing. And so is what these players do as individuals.

Peters, for example, who contributed two terrific numbers to the session, “Round & Round” (with its compelling chords and syncopated beat) and the stunningly lovely, samba-inflected “Hannah’s Tune,” swings mightily throughout on both piano and organ—what a right hand! And, harmonically and melodically, Keys is superbly inventive in his solos, particularly on “Round & Round” and “Tenor Badness.”

But this is Krystall’s date and it’s his extraordinary musical gifts that shine the brightest.

I’m speaking of his capacity for relentlessly swinging, as in, most conspicuously, his flights on “Round & Round,” Thelonious Monk’s “Introspection” and “Beybluhor.” (The latter piece, taking its inspiration from vocal music—opera and R&B—and influenced by Krystall’s experience in a backup role for R&B singers, is based on Peters’s rearranged harmonies of “Beyond the Blue Horizon,” and it’s notable for the interpolation, by Krystall, of his arresting original melody.)

But that’s just for openers. I’m pointing as well to Krystall’s ability to sustain a creative line at breakneck speed, as he does in Monk’s “Skippy,” and to the poignant lyricism of which he’s capable, as evidenced on “Hannah’s Tune” and Billy Strayhorn’s haunting “Blood Count” (an homage to Johnny Hodges). I’m also referring to the depth of his connection to the blues that is manifested on the classic Benny Golson composition, “Stablemates,” on Neidlinger’s “Billy’s Blooze” and on the album’s title number, “Liquid Krystall Displayed” (a take on LCD for those too old to grasp the reference). Not least, I’m talking about the authority with which he embraces and commands the full resources of the tenor saxophone, as demonstrated on “Tenor Badness” (after Sonny Rollins’s Tenor Madness).

Talent. Chops. Passion and drive. These are skills and virtues that Krystall owns in abundance and which he exhibits to perfection in this album—an album that, as I’ve indicated, will afford the listener an excellent introduction to a genuinely outstanding jazz musician.

29
Dec
10

9) Liner Note: Buell Neidlinger with Steve Lacy

Buell Neidlinger Quartet Live at Ravenna Jazz ’87
with Special Guest Steve Lacy
K2B2 Records 3969

K2B2 Records
1748 Roosevelt Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90006-5219
k2b2.com


Buell Neidlinger

 

Recorded at the Ravenna, Italy jazz festival in 1987, and including some of Thelonious Monk’s classic compositions, this exemplary demonstration of post-bebop jazz presents five remarkable musicians at the very top of their game.

Leading the group is the legendary bassist Buell Neidlinger, a musician distinguished not only by the size of his talent—his extraordinary acuity, accuracy, intonation and tone—but also by what one writer called “the sheer, bewildering diversity of his resume.”

Possessed of an uncanny affinity for virtually every category of music, Neidlinger, as a bassist and cellist, and in clubs, concerts, on records and for TV and films, has worked in every imaginable musical context from polka bands to the Boston and Houston Symphony orchestras. The people with whom he’s played range from Lester Lanin to John Cage and they number among them such luminaries as Cecil Taylor, Ben Webster, Dick Wellstood, Tony Bennett, Herbie Nichols, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Igor Stravinsky, Elvis Costello, Gunther Schuller, Billie Holiday, Lester Young and the Beach Boys.

Neidlinger takes a justifiable pride in his history and his ability to shine in any musical situation. But if he’s a monster soloist (go immediately to “Epistrophy” and “Reflections” for confirmation) and not without an ego, his first purpose—the specific use he wants to make of his astonishing virtuosity—has always been to “serve” the music he’s playing, whatever it is. And this attitude extends beyond his role as a sideman. It applies to bands that he fronts as well. He puts bands together, he says, to “play and promote other people’s music.” In this instance, Thelonious Monk’s music.

Neidlinger regards Monk, with Ellington and Herbie Nichols, as the “greatest” of American composers, and bemoaning the fact that, because of their idiosyncratic nature, Monk’s tunes—like those heard here: the riff-rollicking “Epistrophy,” the intensely melodic “Reflections” (among the most beautiful of Monk pieces), the witty and humorous “Little Rootie Tootie” and the compellingly built “Criss Cross”—are largely neglected by current jazz musicians, he wants to correct this circumstance. “Monk is on a level that very few got to,” Neidlinger says. “I mean in the sense that he created a sound and a concept. It was probably Monk who had the most to do with creating those tunes at Minton’s Playhouse—to confuse guys like Coleman Hawkins—and which became bebop. I want to keep the tunes of Monk alive.”

And the band that Neidlinger assembled to accomplish his objective is more than up to the assignment.

Marty Krystall

Nat Hentoff called the tenor saxophonist Marty Krystall, who’s played with Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard, “one of the most passionate, powerfully swinging, and just plain unselfconsciously original players in all of jazz.” And Kirk Silsbee observed that “Krystall remains one of the strongest reed players in jazz. His mobility on the tenor and ability to retain a fullness in any register is formidable. He can slide effortlessly into the stratosphere and avoid the thinness that plagues so many overtone excursions. Just as quickly, he’ll drop down into a low explosive note for an accent and be up the ladder again.”

I would add that Krystall’s ability to stir the emotions is matched by his stunning inventiveness. (His work on “Epistrophy,” “Reflections” and “Criss Cross” offers especially salient examples of the breadth of his capabilities.) I always thought of John Gilmore as having been the best of the lesser known tenor players in jazz—until I heard Marty Krystall.

The late pianist Brenton Banks came from much the same musical background as Thelonious Monk, but as a gifted violinist as well as a pianist, he spent most of his career in Nashville where, as Concert Master and String Arranger for the likes of Patsy Cline, Chet Atkins and Elvis Presley, he attained something of a legendary stature of his own. In addition to his achievements in country music, Banks was an authentically creative and individuated jazz soloist (check out his right hand on “Epistrophy” and “Reflections”) and, in Neidlinger’s words, “a wonderful comper.” He was also a venerated teacher who could claim Jim Hall and Hank Crawford as his students.

Billy Osborne has a connection to Neidlinger that reaches back to the ‘50s, when they accompanied Chris Connor and Big Joe Turner together. Of Osborne, Neidlinger says: “He’s one of the greatest drummers I’ve played with—he’s right up there with Philly Joe Jones. Coltrane and Miles wanted him to play in their bands.” Osborne, who has worked with Ray Charles and Wes Montgomery among myriad others, is a bright and intuitive drummer, thoroughly versed in all genres of music from R&B to every species of traditional and modern jazz.

Steve Lacy

And Steve Lacy. If Neidlinger views this set as being more about Monk than about him, he also wants it to function as a reminder of the considerable artistry that was the late Steve Lacy’s. Invited to join in on the gig, Lacy, an expatriate since the early ‘70s, came down from his home in Paris to play it. And renewing a musical relationship with Buell that began in 1955, when they both worked with Cecil Taylor (and later with Gil Evans and Jimmy Giuffre), he acquitted himself brilliantly.

Lacy, who single-handedly brought the soprano saxophone into modern jazz and in whose hands the instrument seemed almost to be an organic extension of himself, was no stranger to Monk. On the contrary, a devoted disciple of Monk since the late ’50s (and a member of several of Monk’s bands), Monk compositions, notably in a group he co-led with Roswell Rudd, had long been at the center of Lacy’s repertoire. In fact, he had made of himself the leading interpreter of Monk tunes.

Recognizing, as he said once, that Monk’s “harmony comes from the melody,” Lacy’s expertly composed solos never fail to respect this essential aspect of Monk and they are, everywhere here, beautifully structured—by turns heated and jagged, soaring and lyrical.

So played by elevated musicians, all of whom fully comprehend the intricacies and complexities of Monk’s rhythmic, harmonic and melodic uniqueness, this is a ferociously exhilarating album that from the opening notes of the high-velocity “Skippy” (Monk’s satiric take on “Tea For Two”) crackles with energy and marvelous interplay.

Indeed, feeding, challenging and extending one another, these musicians make each of the tunes models of group interaction (listen to the astonishing unity and the wondrous exchanges on “Little Rootie Tootie” for a prime case in point), and they succeeded in producing a set that, in its entirety, yields new marvels with each hearing.

A master played by masters.




Books by Robert Levin

When Pacino's Hot, I'm Hot
The Drill Press LLC

109415877-0-m31 Music & Politics
by John Sinclair and Robert Levin
World Publishing

"Robert Levin's articles...make up the second half of Music and Politics, and they're something else again. He's a quietly briliant writer (not flashy but subtly dazzling) who knows jazz extremely well and who knows how to let us know what he knows. His piece on Sunny Murray says more about the birth of the New Jazz than most writers could say in a volume; the Anthony Braxton interview is one of the freshest, most reassuring articles on the future of music (of the arts in general) that I've read; his 'found critique' of 'Space' by the MJQ, which contrasts Murray's thoughts on music at the White House with President Nixon's introduction of the MJQ in that very place, is brilliant; his piece on the unfortunate evolution of Willis Jackson...is a minor masterpiece; and he's lucid and painful and thoroughly correct when he writes that 'What is meant by 'every man has his price' is that every man has his uncertainty about the validity and sanity of his perception of the truth. To 'sell out' is to capitulate to that uncertainty.'"
—Colman Andrews, Creem

giants
Giants of Black Music
Edited by Pauline Rivelli and Robert Levin, with a foreword by Nat Hentoff
Da Capo Press
Music & Politics and Giants of Black Music are no longer in print, but remain available from Amazon.com and other outlets.