Duke Pearson who died in 1980 aged just 47, remains at the heart of the sound of Blue Note records in the sense of an architecturally musically directed rather than audio engineered sound as it is also considered and irrespective of whether the label actually always resembled or is akin in a generic way to the Blue Note sound or not. In other words generalise at your peril (see Richard Cook’s vital, Hank Mobley championing label biography for more on that stimulating if thorny subject).
Instead, sharingly, above, as an example of a figure often taken for granted in a trio setting, an elegiac softly inuring Pearson original tune from a gem of an album¹. The brushes on cymbals first and then hi-hat in this rendering belong to Lex Humphries, Jazztet fans will recall how well met he was in the studio only a year or so before in New York as here also deep inside the five boroughs. However, Duke Pearson sets the overall atmosphere on a much played piano certainly in tune and tastefully not much, even at all, mic’ed, the minor/major tonality subtleties an example of harmonic mood mastery. Let’s not worry about not being able to hear the bass properly Pearson’s left hand is enough. (The later Black Lion version has better Internet sound).
¹The album title from which the song is taken even bearing in mind that its overall discography and issuing history are highly complex and a bit of a mess ought not prove a barrier to enjoyment although surely a headache for completists and labels developing new formats for the millennials alike (it is about time the album was reissued again, 30-ish years since the last wheel around the block in ‘the bonus track era’ is too long). Known down the years under two titles let’s go with Angel Eyes (Polydor), and while a vibraharp-less affair, a later album retitling to arrive at Bags Groove adopted somewhat appropriately enough (given that the more accurately rendered ‘Bags’ Groove’ possessively opens the album) the recognition that Milt Jackson wrote the number, the Modern Jazz Quartet founding member’s nickname referenced and more to the point lovingly acknowledged. 23/05/18 updated.
A how do you do song by Johnny Burke (lyrics) and bassist Bob Haggart (music): intimate friends meeting each other after a while catch up. 'What's New' is their story told from one point of view, our hero's.
The first verse is a compliment; the second the story of the break up, self deprecation on the protagonist's part; and then the curious bathos of the last lines: 'I understand Adieu/Pardon my asking what's new/Of course you couldn't know/I haven't changed, I still love you so'.
Bob Crosby, tune writer Haggart was in his band, did the song early on with a 1938 version as did his famous brother Bing.
Erroll Garner's followed much, 14 years or so, later.
Garner has a fantastic sense of melodrama in his version of the song. It is very visual and full of decoration in an instrumental, solo piano version.
Any great song can be played on nearly any instrument, taste not a factor perhaps sometimes, however. I can't imagine a rendering of 'What's New' on the kazoo given all the goodwill in the world beyond a bit of novelty.
The skill of the instrumentalist is to make the song exist without the crutch of words to paint pictures and these images have to somehow be extremely vivid especially if the song is known to the listener which it often is given the age of some classic jazz standards and the distance of time and if they have been played a lot on the radio or become identified with a singer, say Frank Sinatra or Linda Ronstadt down the years in this instance.
I actually prefer Bags' Wizard of the Vibes version to Erroll Garner's. Its mood is completely different and not just because the melody emerges from the vibes and the counter melody of John Lewis' piano, adding layers of harmonic resource and melodic invention. The Kenny Clarke drum part is jauntier, his brushwork a Picasso, and the bass of Percy Heath is magisterial.
During the 1950s Stan Kenton and Coleman Hawkins delivered versions as did Clifford Brown. The song suits Clifford Brown best of all and this is my overall pick. Listen. It will stop you dead in your tracks and invade you. The song in Brownie's hands has been reborn. It is a stillness.
The song remained popular in the 1960s and versions pile in. Dudley Moore did one worth seeking out as did the great Wynton Kelly.
Let's stop off for a breather by taking Art much, much later; and, then, a 1990s Hammond B3 slow slow version by Joey DeFrancesco to be listened to back to back if you can. That trademark tart reality from Art; super softness and tender elasticity from Joey D show the imagination at work from both. The sheer scope the song allows artists down through the years is remarkable.
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A memory of Palle Mikkelborg on the beautiful 1989 Miles Davis album Aura that the Danish trumpeter was at the heart of emerges without playing a note of it.
That notion of colour is an artefact abidingly of his timbral texture in the struggle to describe an abstraction. Taste it you would if you could because it is so tactile and sensory.
Belonging to guitarist composer Jakob Bro, above, in one sense as pathfinder but territoriality and possessiveness are at the very bottom of the list of priorities of the band who play in complete empathy, you will in an apparent contradiction want to own this record and be selfish about it.
Bro knows how to work the small details and magnify them into a universe at ease with his presence. He sells the cell and dismantles its rusty ironwork.
Mikkelborg’s fellow Dane also in the ensemble has the very big eared sure fingered American Thomas Morgan (Wisława) operating in all quietude, reminiscent in fundamental timbral conceptualism if not style of the very different free player Dominic Lash, on bass; and there, too, is the great Jon Christensen who blesses the skins of his drums and metal of his cymbals with his own unguent almost as the sound pours out of him.
The title track is the most experimental and engrossing in its utilising of a jarring dystopia via distortion, and every track is accessible, choose your area of interest. Last words: Eicher is like a Pep Guardiola, producing, in on the sorcery as so often. Returnings, ECM, out now *****
Bassist in the Pat Metheny Quartet alongside the guitar great, pianist Gwilym Simcock and Birdman drummer composer Antonio Sánchez, Linda (May Han) Oh’s latest studio album is to be released in mid-April on Biophilia Records. Oh, as the Malaysian-born Australian was known when she burst on the scene, now also including her birth name in her full nomenclature, initially championed by Dave Douglas is I suppose alongside Esperanza Spalding, among the most high profile female jazz bassists probably anywhere on the international club and festival jazz scene. But her style and artistic persona is of course different. Spalding, certainly in a funk rockier space at the moment and moving more electric while Oh prefers acoustic primarily. Both players certainly came out of modern mainstream straightahead jazz situations, in Spalding’s case with Joe Lovano who of course Douglas has worked with a lot. And Oh has played with both the trumpeter and Blue Note label veteran tenorist in their popular Soundprints outfit who put out for instance a high profile Live at Monterey record not so very long ago and regularly tour to the UK. Walk Against Wind features the core quartet of Kneebody saxophonist Ben Wendel, guitarist Matthew Stevens, who was coincidentally with Spalding on Emily’s D+Evolution, and the highly effective drummer Justin Brown last heard by marlbank on brilliant form performing with Ambrose Akinmusire and who reminds me of the power and glory of Dennis Chambers or Billy Cobham. The net result of the Oh concept on these tracks is some remarkably gutsy highly propulsive pulse-heavy yet airy very rhythmic freed up post-bop which is full of engrossing melodic twists and turns and where intersecting rhythms and different points of entry create driving patterns and somehow rational resolutions. Listen to excerpts, above
Gilad Atzmon pays tribute to John Coltrane 50 years on at intimate Spin club show.
They have a new album together but on a day storm Doris wreaked havoc on travel plans for millions, Alan Barnes was not able to join Gilad Atzmon at the Spin in Oxford's Wheatsheaf. Instead the fiery saxophonist breezed into the long upstairs room of the pub on the High playing a John Coltrane-themed set half a century as he observed in a wry intimate aside to the front row after the great man departed this mortal coil. 'Impressions,' 'Afro Blue', Atzmon switching from tenor sax to a heavily amplified viscerally effective clarinet reminiscent of his dazzling For The Ghosts Within co-leading stint with Robert Wyatt and Ros Stephen, and a waltzing 'Giant Steps' saw the set well underway the confirmed Ornithologist joined by Frank Harrison on piano, Yaron Stavi on double bass and Enzo Zirilli, drums. The Spin's Mark Dorfmann, manning the door and standing up on a table at one point to better view the stage explained to marlbank, dipping in briefly, that the Spin club night at the boozer which serves decent Hobgoblin ale among other beer on tap has been running for 18 years and he and guitarist Pete Oxley are regular performers.
• A new piano bar called Sandy's that marlbank is looking to check out will also open in this city of dreaming spires later this year on nearby King Edward Street.
Joyce guests on Harry Allen quartet set Something about Jobim (***1/2) on the Danish Stunt label, an album recorded in a Brooklyn studio the summer before last. The Brazilian adds her low toned poetically oblique sensuous input that Allen in his more fogeyish days never really could capture.
Her tune written with Gerry Mulligan, ‘Theme for Jobim,’ (above in a much earlier version with Milton Nascimento), remains simply, staggeringly beautiful. Tenorist Allen whose tone lifts even his non-fans to admiration and silence simply plays out of himself. There isn’t too much distracting swing, drummer Tutty Moreno instead plays a blinder, keeping it really casual by casting a rhythmic invisible spell hypnotically in the air.
While there are dozens of Jobim songbook albums his music is so constant it reels back the years. Jobim songs are on hundreds of albums but if push were to come to shove I’d go for 1967’s Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim or, just one song, one version, ‘Corcovado’ on Quiet Nights by Miles Davis from four years earlier. On the Allen album the tenorist is joined by Helio Alves on piano, producer Rudolfo Stroeter on bass join Moreno and Joyce (on a few tracks), the album opening with the classic ‘Dindi.’ Allen has learnt a lot from Coleman Hawkins and is now a falconer of considerable skill and taste. In brief it is the Tom and Harry, Joyce-stealing show. And no one can ever in the theme for Tom forget Gerry.
Interesting, understatement or what? Actually pretty stimulating – today’s listening has revolved mainly around Matt Mayhall’s Tropes, out next month on Skirl records (the tasteful US label that has Anna Webber on it).
Mayhall is a drummer/composer who reminds me of Steve Reid a little with dollops of Paul Motian thrown in. Based in Los Angeles his jazz playing credits include Larry Goldings and Adam Benjamin, Tim Lefebvre and Eric Revis, and he was drummer on Charlie Haden’s final recorded performance, Spain’s song ‘You And I.’ He also drums for Aimee Mann, that’s as cool as it gets as any Paul Thomas Anderson fan well knows.
Tropes has guitarist Jeff Parker from Tortoise on it and bassist Paul Bryan (Aimee Mann, Meshell Ndegeocello), as well as keyboardist Jeff Babko (Frank Ocean, Mark Guiliana’s Beat Music), and tenor saxophonist Chris Speed (Human Feel, Claudia Quintet).
The tunes are Mayhall’s and there’s a great lazy quality to them, mood and space hugely catered for and interesting riffs arriving from nowhere that suddenly go somewhere as the band catch on and run with new ideas and input.
It’s the sort of record you might have thought can’t really exist as it falls through the cracks of so many different kinds of music, a kind of a slacker ECM vision with a bit more blood and guts to it than some of the German label’s more pastel shades and poking through lots of bluesy connotations, hints and nods. Parker is magnificent as ever and Mayhall has incredible cymbal touch and a authoritative swagger about him that frames the whole sound. Just great.
Mayhall’s website is here if you want to check out more on the drummer, pictured.
Photo: Kelly Jones
ason Moran’s Fats Waller Dance Party project when it makes it to a release in the autumn is bound to shake up our perceptions of the music of Waller. It’s safe to speculate the perception of the distance of years and clash of styles in Moran’s hands is likely to, respectively, shrink time to the point of collision and metamorphose a range of historic musical idioms in front of our very ears. Think back to what Moran did with his epic Town Hall Monk re-imagining for some kind of clue.