Archive for the 'JAZZ WRITINGS:' Category

17
Jul
19

Joe Licari/Mark Shane: Swing It, Brother, Swing!!

The following originally appeared, in altered form, on the All About Jazz website.

Scan.jpeg

Joe Licari: Clarinet; Mark Shane: piano.

Had the responsibility of naming this CD fallen to me, I would have chosen “After Hours.” Not that this small gem of an album, rooted in the sensibility and protocols of the swing era (and in certain of that period’s antecedents) isn’t a model of forward propulsion. Indeed, in both its slow and middle tempo numbers, it swings mightily. I’m speaking of the intimate, late night mood it immediately evokes.

What we have here are two gifted artists with a long professional association, subtly functioning as extensions of one another. And while they are obviously making music for themselves, for the sheer joy of it, they never lose, as the structure and cohesion of their interplay and individual flights makes clear, their awareness that they also have an audience to please.

I’ve written elsewhere about Licari’s “unfailing exuberance, his touch with a ballad and the marvelous symmetry of his solos.” In the decade or more that I’ve been listening to him (mostly at Arthur’s Tavern in Greenwich Village on Monday nights) I’ve likewise been impressed not only by his command of all of his instrument’s registers and by the new places he has taken the evident inspiration of Benny Goodman, but by how, week to week, he continues to try different approaches and to grow. And he’s in his mid-eighties now.

As for the estimable pianist Mark Shane, let me quote from Marianne Mangan’s excellent liner notes. “…after an early brush with modernism, [Shane] heard the likes of James P. Johnson and Fats Waller and never looked back. With Teddy Wilson, Count Basie and Art Tatum influences in the mix, he developed an all-star resume as a stride virtuoso himself, a masterful ensemble and solo jazz pianist.” I would add how expertly Shane uses his left hand to compensate for the absence of a bassist.

Wisely chosen to optimally reflect the unique talents of their interpreters, the sixteen tunes in this rich and varied collection, ranging from the ever-appealing “Sugar” to the Sidney Bechet classic, “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere,” include many outstanding if lesser known jazz standards as well. Virtually every track invites and will reward repeated hearings.

Track Listing: Sugar; Please, Waitin’ for Katie; Delta Bound; There’s a Cabin in the Pines; Drop Me Off in Harlem; Sweet and Slow; Evenin’; Deep Night; You Were Only Passing Time with Me; Pee Wee’s Blues; That Rhythm Man; Baby; A Melody from the Sky; Did I Remember?; Si Tu Vois Ma Mere.

Ordering information:Joe Licari, 539 So. Mountain Rd.,New City, NY10956.

$17.50 postage and handling included. Contact Joe Licari: jazzreeds1@netzero.net for information about orders from outside the United States.

 

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09
Dec
18

A Note on Charlie Rhyner

I’ve remarked elsewhere that given the absence of any dramatic upheavals for some sixty years now, jazz has ceased to be the consistently transforming art it once was. This doesn’t mean, however, that jazz has stagnated. Hardly. A small but significant body of gifted young musicians have at once been drawing upon and extending the rich traditions that preceded them (specifically, in the case in point, the innovations of the late 50s and early 60s that cleared so many new pathways to explore). And they are making of the treasures they’ve inherited music that is elevated and solidly their own.

I’m speaking in appreciation of the guitarist and composer Charlie Rhyner’s “The First Second,” released in 2018. Rhyner is an exceptionally talented guitarist and composer who makes full use of his instrument’s resources and, equipped with a fine musical intelligence, plays with subtlety, nuance and surprise. He also knows how to swing and is very good at choosing his sidemen as well. Mike Robinson, bass, Graciliano Zambonin, drums, Imraan Khahn, alto sax and Dan Schnapp, Fender Rhodes, are all standout musicians themselves. Their interplay—the sensitivity with which they complement one another—reflects a musicianship of the highest order.

An album that rewards repeated hearings, I would not hesitate to recommend “The First Second” as an exemplary, indeed quintessential, demonstration of contemporary jazz.

28
Aug
17

9bb) Liner Note: Ahmed Abdul-Malik—New Jazz Imagination

Available on Umlaut Records

Globalization has been a fait accompli for some time now. While it continues to pose serious challenges to long-standing cultural, economic and political orders, and although—as conspicuously demonstrated by Brexit and the elevation in America of a Donald Trump to the presidency—it has ignited reactionary movements that will doubtless interrupt and impede its progress, it is here to stay. Indeed, one area in which it is already fully rooted and very much in blossom is the arts.

I’m thinking, in particular, of the art of improvised music—or “free jazz”— an art of which the recording at hand, a tribute to multinational musical unity as well as to the late visionary bassist, oudist and composer Ahmed Abdul-Malik, is in every respect exemplary.

Jazz, from Ragtime to Dixieland to swing to bebop has, of course, always been a hybrid music, a happenstance of multiple migrations, voluntary and otherwise, that joined Africa and the West Indies to Europe in the United States. If the balances of the sources feeding jazz were in flux from the beginning, and sometimes dramatically, the most radical shift took place in the late 1950s with the emergence of “free jazz.” The intention of the first generation “free jazz” players (most of whom were black) wasn’t to entertain as such, but to enlighten. Animated by the Black Cultural Nationalism and Civil Rights movements, the ambition of these men, in addition to asserting the hegemony of jazz’s African strain, was to restore black music to its original role as a music of spiritual utility. They wanted to affect a spiritual awakening, a spiritual revolution that would transform nothing less than the way we lived. As the bassist Alan Silva breathlessly remarked to me upon coming off a thirteen-piece, hour-long collective improvisation: “Man, in another ten years we won’t even need traffic lights we’re gonna be so spiritually tuned to one another.”

For the most part, the musics of the early “free jazz” players were informed by ancient African methodologies on the one hand and the European avant garde on the other. (In the latter instance, the avowed purpose was to incorporate experimental European concepts into a black aesthetic.) But another group of players was guided by a somewhat different perspective. Contemporaneous with the Black Cultural Nationalism and Civil Rights movements in the United States were major upheavals in Africa, and these men were drawn to the modern African musics that accompanied those upheavals—to the soundtrack, if you will, of decolonization. And in the process of exploring the African musics of the period they became enamored of still other existing musical genres that were not normally associated with the African underpinnings of jazz. I’m referring to the Arabic musics of North Africa and the adjoining Middle East. Prominent among these individuals was Ahmed Abdul-Malik.

New York-bred, Malik was thoroughly steeped in the jazz tradition. He worked, at one time or another in literally every jazz idiom, and with the likes of Bob Wilber, Coleman Hawkins, Randy Weston, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane.

He was also a deeply religious Sufi Muslim who was increasingly at odds with much of the secular and materialistic Western ethos, an ethos he believed was reflected in certain Western musical approaches. In his own work, represented in groups that he led and which is preserved on several albums, he largely eschewed those approaches and gravitated to ways of organizing sound that spoke to his spirituality, to musics both old and current from North and East Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Fusing them with the aforementioned spiritual inclination and procedures of the new jazz, he fashioned an original synthesis of ostensibly disparate traditions that would yield some extraordinary music.

A portion of that extraordinary music is on exhibit in this album and it is played by a group of renowned and exceptionally gifted European musicians—virtuosos all—who know how to listen to each other (a crucial aspect of improvised music) and are more than up to the endeavor.

Seymour Wright has devoted his career to an exhaustive examination of the alto saxophone’s resources—the instrument would seem on occasion to be an organic extension of him—and he is capable of creating astonishing textures of sound with it. It is in no way hyperbolic to say that Wright is redefining the alto’s very scope. Turned on to the piano by Oscar Peterson, Pat Thomas took the leap into “free jazz” in his teens, and in gigs with luminaries like Derek Baily and Tony Oxley quickly became one of its most lauded practioners. Double bassist Joel Grip is no less versed in the intricacies of improvised music and his intuitiveness and ability to intermingle with the other players is central to the unit’s success. The master percussionist Antonin Gerbal, whose prodigious technical proficiency gives full expression to the sonic possibilities of the drums, expertly propels the group.

Calling what they play “New Jazz Imagination,” the quartet makes music, Wright says “inspired by our shared love of the work of Ahmed. We use memories and ideas that we draw from his music as a core for our improvisation and imagination. We excavate and re-inhabit documents and fragments of plans and compositions that he left behind to make music that though it originated in the twentieth century will speak to the twenty-first. We play the notes, but we use them and the ideas contained within them as vehicles for our own creativity.

“We want to move from the known into a new creative space.”

And that they do. Introduced by a simple folk-like tune and quickly advancing into a hypnotic use of repetition, almost as a motif, the music ultimately gives way to an ensemble improvisation that is at once loaded with heat, tension and surprise and remarkably controlled and contained. The intelligence here is stunning and the music produced is of the loftiest caliber. Building at times to ecstatic heights, it never once descends to the anarchic cacophony that often taints the “free jazz” indulged in by the lesser equipped. Albeit openly emotional at various points, it can claim coherence, subtlety and structure, not to mention a fidelity to the multicultural material and philosophy of the musician it honors. And the freshness of ideas it exudes will invite and reward repeated hearings.

Though he did achieve a measure of recognition during his lifetime, a proper acknowledgement of his unique vision and contribution eluded Malik. This recording is offered as a correction. If Malik was in many ways ahead of his time, globalization, and the phenomena of mass migration and racial intermingling that are among its components, has profoundly altered our aural landscape. It may well be that his time has finally come.

09
Jul
15

7a) Photos of Cecil Taylor and Robert Levin, 2015

photo  IMG_4066

(Left) Cecil Taylor & Robert Levin at Taylor’s Brooklyn home, June 2015. (Right) Cecil Taylor & Robert Levin leaving Ornette Coleman’s funeral service, June 27, 2015.

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.

14
Apr
11

9a) Liner Note: Marty Krystall’s Mojave: Gunsmoke

NOW AVAILABLE FROM K2B2 RECORDS!

K2B2 4069

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

Marty Krystall is a genuine rarity—at once an accomplished and practicing studio musician, and a tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist who Nat Hentoff could rightly call, “one of the most passionate, powerfully swinging, and just plain unselfconsciously original players in all of jazz.”

Anonymity goes with the studio musician’s territory. That not everybody knows what Hentoff knows about Krystall’s creative dimension is because, with exceptions like four European tours with the bassist Buell Neidlinger and a period in Japan where he journeyed as a soloist, Krystall has largely confined himself to playing in the Los Angeles area where he was born and raised. Were he living and playing in New York there’s no question that Krystall would be recognized as one of the very best of the post-Coltrane reed players. Maybe the best.

Indeed, dynamic and muscular, relentlessly propulsive and endlessly inventive, Krystall’s work, interspersed where called upon with a searing lyricism and always informed by an exceptional musical intelligence, is routinely astonishing. Go directly to the title track, the theme from “Gunsmoke” (which Krystall manages to transmute into a credible, even elevated, jazz tune) or Thelonious Monk’s haunting “Ask Me Now,” for exemplary demonstrations.

Krystall says of his approach that he wants to “surprise myself as well as the listener. 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 tenor or bass clarinet that I couldn’t get to before. I also want to utilize the full capacity of the instruments.“

Artists frequently derive inspiration from what, to others, may seem unlikely sources. Much of Krystall’s inspiration (and this would apply to both of the hats he wears) comes from television shows that he watched growing up, especially “Have Gun, Will Travel,” “Gunsmoke” and “The Twilight Zone.”

“I remember, in 1960, being obsessed with those shows. They had a deep moral compass. Especially the character of Paladin in ‘Have Gun, Will Travel’. He would hire out, but never as an assassin, more like a problem solver. And sometimes he would forego his fee for the opportunity to do something good, like finding justice.

“Paladin was the classic anti-hero, exposing his client’s lunacy or greed. I struggled as a nine-year-old to understand these morality tales, but he was my hero because he was educated, worldly, dressed to the nines, usually accompanied by beautiful women and had his pistol custom made. To me he was like the ultimate studio ‘doubler’ [multi-instrumentalist]. Show up with the finest instruments and play anything that’s put in front of you perfectly. The first time!

“For me, it’s have horns, will travel.

”But it wasn’t just the stories and the characters that captivated Krystall. The musical scores, by composers like Morty Stevens, Bernard Hermann and Leonard Rosenman, seriously impressed him as well. “That same year my dad took me to my first hi-fi and stereo show where we heard the latest recordings of those scores on state-of-the-art audio equipment. Talk about ‘mind-expanding!’ And if that music was very romantic and expressive it was also scary and filled with tension, which appealed to me a lot and still does. Sounding much like what Gil Evans was writing, it had very hip modern chords and was heavily weighted with clarinet and bass clarinet solos. So when my Dad, an amateur pianist, asked me what instrument I wanted to play, it was the clarinet.

“Of course,” Krystall adds, “when I heard Eric Dolphy on the local jazz station, and then Art Blakey and John Coltrane, I realized that this was it for me musically. Tenor sax, bass clarinet and modern jazz, here I come! Yeah, I would listen, in those early days, to people like Trane, Dolphy, Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker and write out their solos to see how it was done. Ben Webster, too. Buell Neidlinger turned me on to Ben Webster and also to Duke Ellington and Cecil Taylor.”

In addition to fronting groups of his own, Krystall went on to play with other bands, notably Krystall Klear and the Buells, Thelonious, the Word of Mouth Orchestra and the Liberation Orchestra, that included or were led by three outstanding and innovative bassists: Jaco Pastorius, Charlie Haden and Neidlinger. Playing and recording with Buell, Krystall acknowledges, was a major factor in his development as an improviser and composer.

“But I also wanted to make a living,” he unabashedly admits, “and to that purpose, I was determined to become a studio musician as well. When I was fifteen, I learned that to be successful in the field one had to play at least the clarinet, saxophone and flute. I studied the flute and later the oboe and, by the early ‘70s, started to break into the studio scene while earning a reputation for sight reading the most difficult music—like Frank Zappa and Anton Webern—and also as a legit clarinetist who could rock out on tenor. One gig led to another and I became fairly busy as a freelancer. Especially gratifying has been the chance to work with three world-class pianists, Peter Serkin, Brenton Banks and Jerry Peters.”

While continuing to do studio work Krystall has of late become increasingly focused on his own musical adventures, specifically his new band “Mojave”.

Krystall checked out any number of people before he encountered the drummer Sinclair Lott and the bassist J.P. Maramba and knew right away that he’d found the combination for the band that he wanted. It should be noted that Krystall deliberately chose to omit a piano. “Unless you have the absolutely right pianist the piano can inhibit harmonic freedom and get in the way.” In any case, Maramba and Lott are uncommonly skilled and intuitive musicians and it’s hard to imagine Krystall coming up with more suitable partners or a more complete and perfect unit. “We played together,” Krystall says, “and it just happened. They are amazing.”

J.P. Maramba, who takes a justifiable pride in his ability to adapt to any musical situation, has worked with Willie Nelson, Adam Rudolph, L’Esprit d’ Afrique Pan-African Performance Ensemble, Gilbert Castellanos, Bennie Maupin and Ingrid Jenson. Not unlike many musicians he regards the organization of sound from a spiritual perspective and he’s earnest in his belief that “the vibration in the air we call music is, in the most practical sense of the word, magical. Music not only has a way of unifying people and cultures, and all of their nuances, but it can also affect the physical chemistry of your body.”

Maramba contributed the sweet and rhythmically infectious “We’ve Heard It All Before,” to the set and he can be a fascinating soloist, as witness his work on Krystall’s “Trini’s Blues” and Herbie Nichols’ boppish and challenging “Terpsichore” in particular.

Sinclair Lott, whose father, Sinclair Sr., was principal horn of the L.A. Philharmonic has played and/or recorded with Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Diane Reeves, Frank Zappa, Big Joe Turner, Dorothy Donegan, Otis Rusch, Tigran Hamasyan, Tierney Stafford, Billy Childs and Bob Sheppard. Lott sustains an extraordinary level of focus and concentration throughout the album and is especially mesmerizing on “Duo at Diablo,” on which Maramba lays out. The depth of his accord with Krystall on this number and the compelling results it yields might put you in mind of Cecil Taylor’s legendary duets with Max Roach, Elvin Jones and Tony Oxley.

And what exactly prompted Krystall to name this band “Mojave” instead of, say, “The Marty Krystall Trio”?

“Mojave is where my roots are. In the late 19th century, my grand uncle left what’s now Poland for America and, after meeting and consulting with the man who would become Barry Goldwater’s father, decided to open a general store (the first of its kind) in the southeastern California desert town of Mojave. My grandfather, the son of a rabbi, came here when he was thirteen. He stepped off the boat, ordered a ham sandwich and, journeying to California where he took a job at the store with my grand uncle, never looked back.

“That was, of course, when Mojave was still the ‘wild west’. And my grandfather would tell me about shootouts on the street and a Chinese cook that nobody messed with because of the hatchet strapped to a shoulder holster that he carried.

“Now if Mojave gives me the connotation of a hard blowing, desolate wind, and a harsh existence, it also reflects a pristine and spiritual beauty. And this is why I call the band ‘Mojave’. It’s to represent that and also to remind me of where I want to come from when I play—a windy plain where the air is clear and all of the stars come out at night.”

Whatever location Krystall may in his mind be coming from when he plays, he is also, as I’ve indicated, coming from a large musical gift. His capacity to stir and shake the emotions is unfailing. His facility on both the tenor saxophone and the bass clarinet is never on display for its own sake, but always dedicated to the service of his fertile imagination. Moreover, his statements are pithy and cogent—there’s no meandering or repetitiveness. He says what he has to say and then it’s on to the next tune. His performances on Ben Webster’s jaunty “Ben Addiction,” where his lines and tone implicitly acknowledge his debt to Webster, Jaki Byard’s “Mrs. Parker of KC,” on which, playing bass clarinet, he honors Eric Dolphy by both emulating and taking him to new places, “Blue Dunes” (“Blue Skies,” actually, but with a new melody that he came up with on the spot), and his own immediately seductive “Renovation Blues,” are, as is true of the aforementioned tunes, all revelatory of a talent that can claim an extraordinary force and singularity.

But Krystall’s brilliance and uniqueness notwithstanding, there’s another reason this group isn’t called “The Marty Krystall Trio”. Maramba and Lott function not as Krystall’s sidemen but as his collaborators. Their artistry and controlled intensity are every bit as prominent as his own—and due in large measure to a remarkable alchemy, the trio has a much bigger sound than its number would suggest. These qualities make for a single and powerful sonic entity and a set that’s loaded with heat, exquisite interplay and wonderful tensions.

Discover the marvelous with Mojave.

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.




Writings & Miscellaneous

Books by Robert Levin

When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot
The Drill Press LLC
Reviews

Against Mental Health: Short Stories

Cyberwit

“Distinguished quality…profound emotion.” —Dr. Karunesh Kumar Agrawal

“Some real gold in here.”—B.D. Charles

 

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

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