You can tell a lot about someone’s jazz compass by their attitude to Buddy Rich. Compound this with their views on the recent controversial film Whiplash and the gulf separating different opinions may widen even further. The question for Buddy Rich sceptics: will the release of Killer Force-era Birdland make any difference?
Probably not to be frank. But this is previously unreleased, according to the issuing label Lightyear/Lobitos Creek Ranch, recorded with Buddy’s permission by saxophonist Alan Gauvin who joined the Rich organisation in 1976, staying on board in the band until 1980. In his entertaining liner note Gauvin explains: “The ‘Killer Force’ was actually the name Buddy gave to the three man trumpet section at a time when they were a player short for a couple of months. It wasn’t until later that the entire band came to be known by that moniker.”
Released later this month on CD, and on vinyl in June, the Birdland album is depicted in Whiplash in the hands of Miles Teller who plays drummer Andrew Neiman and who hero-worships Rich. Gauvin gives a raconteur-like insight into Rich’s personality in the notes: “He really was a pussy cat, sort of. The trick was to treat him with respect and not take any of his ‘flights’ personally unless of course it was personal, like the time I hit the bandstand late and upon sitting down got a carefuly aimed drum stick in my back.”
By and large the jazz community has rounded on Whiplash with only the odd contrarian view defending it. Away from the film, and 28 years after the death of Rich, the drummer’s sound is still revered nonetheless by many, particularly old fashioned very macho big band players (and the odd rock star like Phil Collins) even if the Rich approach is equally ignored by many others on the grounds of style and above all taste but definitely not chops.
Birdland has 11 tracks: the Zawinul title track, with a solo from alto saxist Steve Marcus, comes second in. ‘Milestones’, ‘CTA’, ‘Moment’s Notice’ and ‘I Hear A Rhapsody’ are among the numbers, nearly all well known standards, with Gauvin soloing on the final tune, the Paul Simon melody ‘Keep the Customer Satisfied.’
The sound quality, given the circumstances of DIY recording, is very murky not that this will deter fans’ devotion. They might even accept Gauvin’s claim that his recordings are arguably the most exciting recordings of Buddy’s band ever offered for sale! Far too full-on and relentless for my taste, if you’re a Buddy nut and value firepower from a big band above all else then you’ll have to have this. Otherwise avoid.
Buddy Rich, above. This Steve Jacobs photograph is used on the cover and CD itself of Birdland