Tuesday, January 16, 2018

John Lewis - 1962 - Essence

John Lewis 
Essence - John Lewis Plays The Compositions & Arrangements Of Gary McFarland

01. Hopeful Encounter 4:47
02. Tillamook Two 7:11
03. Night Float 4:14
04. Notions 3:57
05. Another Encounter 5:09
06. Wish Me Well 7:45

Alto Saxophone – Eric Dolphy (tracks: A3)
Baritone Saxophone – Gene Allen (tracks: A2, B2), Jimmy Giuffre (tracks: A3)
Bass – George Duvivier (tracks: A3), Richard Davis (2) (tracks: A1, A2, B1 to B3)
Basset Horn – Don Stewart (3) (tracks: A2, B2)
Bassoon – Loren Glickman (tracks: A2, B2)
Clarinet – Phil Woods (tracks: A2, B2)
Drums – Connie Kay
Flute – Harold Jones (2) (tracks: A2, B2)
Flute [Alto] – Eric Dolphy (tracks: A2, B2)
French Horn – Gunther Schuller (tracks: A3), Bob Northern (tracks: A1, B1, B3), Robert Swisshelm (tracks: A1, B1, B3)
Guitar – Billy Bean (tracks: A1, B1, B3), Jim Hall (tracks: A2, A3, B2)
Oboe – William Arrowsmith (tracks: A2, B2)
Piano – John Lewis (2)
Tenor Saxophone – Benny Golson (tracks: A3)
Trombone – Mike Zwerin (tracks: A1, B1, B3)
Trumpet – Freddie Hubbard (tracks: A1, B1, B3), Herb Pomeroy (tracks: A3), Louis Mucci*\ (tracks: A1, B1, B3), Nick Travis (tracks: A1, B1, B3)
Tuba – Don Butterfield (tracks: A1, B1, B3)

"John Lewis plays the compositions & arrangements of Gary McFarland"

A3 recorded September 9, 1960.
A1,B1,B3 recorded May 25, 1962.
A2,B2 recorded October 5, 1962.

John Lewis takes on the music of Gary McFarland – working here in a very cool set of McFarland compositions and arrangements – often with a lot more tone, color, and feeling than usual for a Lewis album! John often punctuates his piano notes, almost as if he's using vibes – and the larger backings have this way of being quite spacious – as in some of McFarland's more modern recordings for Impulse from the same time – very open, and quite revolutionary for the time!

John Lewis - 1960 - The Wonderful World of Jazz

John Lewis 
The Wonderful World of Jazz

01. Body And Soul 15:24
02. I Should Care 4:50
03. Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West 5:35
04. Afternoon In Paris 9:55
05. I Remember Clifford 3:25

Alto Saxophone – Eric Dolphy (tracks: B2)
Baritone Saxophone – James Rivers (2) (tracks: B2)
Bass – George Duvivier
Drums – Connie Kay
French Horn – Gunther Schuller (tracks: B2)
Guitar – Jim Hall
Piano, Arranged By – John Lewis (2)
Tenor Saxophone – Benny Golson (tracks: B2), Paul Gonsalves (tracks: A1)
Trumpet – Herb Pomeroy (tracks: A1, B2)

A2,B1,B3 recorded July 29, 1960.
A1 recorded September 8, 1960.
B2 recorded September 9, 1960.

This is one of pianist John Lewis' most rewarding albums outside of his work with the Modern Jazz Quartet. Three numbers (including a remake of "Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West") showcase his piano in a quartet with guitarist Jim Hall, bassist George Duvivier, and drummer Connie Kay. A 15-and-a-half-minute rendition of "Body and Soul" has one of tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves' finest solos, while "Afternoon in Paris" features a diverse cast with trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, Gunther Schuller on French horn, tenor man Benny Golson, baritonist Jimmy Giuffre, and guitarist Jim Hall; altoist Eric Dolphy cuts everyone.

The pianist John Lewis, who died in 2001 at the age of 79, is best known as the leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet, but throughout that group's long life (1952–1992), he also composed, conducted, and played music for many other ensembles, large and small, tinged with influences from swing and the blues to Baroque, Renaissance, and Third Stream avant-garde. The Wonderful World of Jazz, recorded in 1960 on the Atlantic label, is one of his more obscure albums, but it's also one of his freshest.
I'd never heard it, until I received this new 180gm stereo LP, reissued by Pure Pleasure Recordings, and now it's among my treasures. A cool, breeze-swaying album, consisting of two Lewis originals ("Afternoon in Paris," "Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West"), two standards ("Body and Soul," "I Should Care"), and Benny Golson's "I Remember Clifford," it was set down in three sessions. The first, on July 29, featured a trio of Lewis, MJQ drummer Connie Kay, and bassist George Duvivier. The second, on September 8, expanded to a quintet with tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves and trumpeter Herb Pomeroy. The third, a day later, replaced Gonsalves with Benny Golson and added Gunther Schuller on French horn, James Rivers on baritone sax, and—the shocker—Eric Dolphy on alto.

Dolphy's shining moment comes on "Afternoon in Paris," the album's highlight in every way, a gorgeous tune, the octet shimmering through several choruses in rich five-horn harmony, then Dolphy rips the canvas with a bracing solo—brash in tone, Parker-meets-Coltrane in style—yet he fits right in, Duvivier and Kay stepping up the beat but just subtly, Lewis and the other horns sustaining their lushness: the clashing colors intensify the beauty. There's very little like it anywhere in jazz.

Despite his reputation as a classicist, Lewis championed Dolphy, and this was no aberration. Around the same time, he also put Ornette Coleman on the map, urging Atlantic, his long-time label, to sign him up and to book his quartet at the Five Spot in New York. A few months after The Wonderful World of Jazz, he produced Jazz Abstractions: John Lewis Presents Contemporary Music Compositions by Gunther Schuller and Jim Hall, which featured Dolphy and Coleman, among others ranging from Bill Evans to Eddie Costa. (Good luck finding that one; there is no US pressing, on vinyl or polycarbonate, in print.)

The sound quality of The Wonderful World varies a bit (three engineers are credited, one for each session), but generally it's excellent. Pomeroy's trumpet blares with a golden palpability; all the saxes exude a warm brassiness; the bass plucks; the cymbals sizzle. I received two pressings. The first was quiet except for a swarm of ticks on "Afternoon in Paris" (disaster). The second was dead quiet except for a few ticks on "I Should Care" (I didn't care much). Were these anomalies? I don't know. Get this for "Afternoon in Paris" alone—and if that track is noisy, send it back.

There is nothing hurried about this disc. That said, the music is focused and will stretch your mind. Lewis employed masterful melodic improvisers here : Paul Gonsalves, Eric Dolphy, Jimmy Giuffre, Jim Hall among others. Listen to "Body and Soul" as it builds powerfully and the soloists explore every possible melodic theme, where the quiet power of these master musicians is almost too much to take. Listen to "I Remember Clifford" where the players are essentially the MJQ with Jim Hall replacing Milt Jackson. Listen to "The Stranger" (written by a young Arif Mardin) with that harmonious-yet-discordant brass. This set swings, but oh-so-elegantly. Just like Mr. Lewis.
Steven C. Berry

John Lewis - 1960 - John Lewis Presents Contemporary Music: Jazz Abstractions

John Lewis 
John Lewis Presents Contemporary Music: Jazz Abstractions

01. Abstraction 4:06
02. Piece For Guitar & Strings 6:22
03. Variants On A Theme Of John Lewis (Django) (10:15)
Variant I 5:27
Variant II 1:38
Variant III 3:10
04. Variants On A Theme Of Thelonious Monk (Criss-Cross) (15:23)
Variant I 6:22
Variant II 1:49
Variant III 4:12
Variant IV 3:00

Alto Saxophone – Ornette Coleman (tracks: A1, B)
Alto Saxophone, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy (tracks: B)
Bass – Alvin Brehm (tracks: A1), George Duvivier (tracks: A3, B), Scott LaFaro
Cello – Joseph Tekula
Drums – Stick Evans (tracks: A1, A3, B)
Flute – Eric Dolphy (tracks: A3, B), Robert DiDomenica (tracks: A3, B)
Guitar – Jim Hall
Piano – Bill Evans (tracks: A3, B)
Vibraphone [Vibes] – Eddie Costa (tracks: A3, B)
Viola – Alfred Brown (tracks: A2), Harry Zaratzian
Violin – Charles Libove, Roland Vamos

The Modern Jazz Quartet managed that rarest feat of all: to make great art that pleased the serious listener as well as it did the general public. The M.J.Q., as they were known, featured vibraphone, bass, drums, and piano, and yet had the breadth of an orchestra and the intimacy of the most delicate chamber ensemble. Even when they played music written by others, it sounded as though it had been written for them, but they played mostly original compositions by musical director John Lewis, about whom too much can never be said. His was one of those quintessentially American lives a tale of someone who truly invented a life based on a love of music.

John Lewis is certainly a unique figure in American music. Born in 1920, he grew up in New Mexico, graduating from Albuquerque High School in 1937, and from the University of New Mexico in 1941 with a degree in anthropology. Before he joined the army, Lewis encountered both tenor saxophonist Lester Young and composer, bandleader, and pianist Duke Ellington. They were to be formative influences”Young for showing how improvisation can have all the hallmarks of great composition, and Ellington in terms of how to set the music down on manuscript paper without sacrificing its spontaneity. Both these men also reveled in musical counterpoint. And throughout his life, Lewis thrived on the frisson that one good idea engendered. In fact, many of his achievements can be viewed through a prism of action and reaction. Lewis was an avid student and admirer of European music, and used it as a model from which to launch his own penchant for variations. He managed to retain the flavor of some these influences, yet created an idiom that was intrinsically American. Lewis could made a quartet sound like an orchestra, and knew how to make an orchestra swing and move on a dime like the best small jazz groups.

He collaborated with many of the prime innovators of his time, and was a major force in bringing the savant of “free” jazz, Ornette Coleman, to the fore at a time when the jazz establishment was skeptical, to say the least. Yet Lewis's own music always had a traditional feeling to it. He relied heavily on the blues and the indigenous forms of jazz, but brought them into a wide variety of progressive contexts where they always sounded fresh. Lewis remembered times past, but always created in the present tense. Like many original artists, he had an aura. On the surface a shy, gentle man, Lewis had a will of iron, yet he exuded for the most part a feeling of calm.

Emerging from the army in 1946, Lewis came to New York and met Dizzy Gillespie, who quickly recruited him to join his big band as composer, arranger, and pianist, replacing Thelonious Monk. Gillespie's music was so punishing on the brass players that they had to rest frequently, spelled by the rhythm section. Lewis, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Kenny Clarke, with whom Lewis had served overseas, evinced a natural affinity for each other. This led to the formation several years later of the Modern Jazz Quartet. The intervening years found Lewis freelancing with Charlie Parker, Young, Miles Davis (including the seminal Nonet recordings), and Ella Fitzgerald. Ever the student, Lewis managed to combine his nighttime jazz life with studies at Manhattan School of Music, where he received his M.A. in 1953.

Lewis's piano playing was one of jazz's greatest treasures, though it has been overshadowed by his reputation as a composer, arranger, and musical director. From his first recordings with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in 1947, however, it was clear that Lewis brought something new and challenging to the idiom of jazz piano. At a time when young pianists were scuffling to play as fast as they could, and to sound like Parker on the keyboard, Lewis championed a more orchestral/contrapuntal style. His piano frequently functioned behind soloists in the same way that the Ellington or Basie bands did. Lewis's solos were spare and pithy. It was not for nothing that he was sometimes compared to Count Basie for his mastery of space and depth of accompaniment. Both Parker and Lester Young made some of their most inspired recordings with Lewis at the piano. They will become friends for life. Lewis's playing is nothing short of brilliant in its epigrammatic way, which should come as no surprise given his encyclopedic knowledge of the jazz tradition in general, and the Kansas City blues idiom in particular.

John Lewis ranks with Ellington, Mingus, Monk, and Morton as one of the great jazz composers. As an educator, he was a prime mover in the Lenox School of Jazz in the 1950s, and spent many years at the City College of New York in the '70s and '80s in addition to lecturing at Harvard. There were also workshops and residencies all over the world. Largely and unfairly forgotten today is his pioneering Orchestra U.S.A., which was decades ahead of its time in Lewis's desire to cross the musical borders between jazz and classical music at will.

At the center of Lewis's musical life was the aforementioned Modern Jazz Quartet, and it might have very well been the ultimate expression of his love of counterpoint. Lewis sought out a varied group of guests to join the quartet in special projects and this led to a plethora of brilliant music. Among the most notable M.J.Q. pairings were the ones with Jim Hall, the Beaux Art String Quartet, Sonny Rollins, and Laurindo Almeda. As a unit, the group made for a wonderful contrast with the bulk of their peers in the jazz world. No long solos, no endless repetitions of basic form; indeed, Lewis went way out of his way to ensure that every tune sounded different from another. Keys were varied, as were textures and the lengths of the pieces themselves.

These four jazz giants Lewis, Jackson, bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Connie Kay (who replaced Clarke in 1955) were as different as individuals as they were instrumentally when deep in some extended Lewis composition. They meshed perfectly and kept perfect (and swinging) time. They were also a family, with all that implies. Suffice it to say that as individuals they never sounded better than when they played together. The aura is still there”inside the fugues, the counterpoint, the blues, the abhorrence of cant and cliché that was John Lewis and that remains alive in his music.

John Lewis died aged 80 on March 31, 2001, in his last years he recorded a pair of albums for Atlantic, “Evolution,” and “Evolution II,” (1999-2000) which were a beautiful summary of his career. Fittingly, his final concert appearance came in a lavish gala at Lincoln Center in New York, when he played in settings ranging from solo piano to big band.

Although John Lewis is listed as the leader (this album's alternate title is "John Lewis Presents Contemporary Music"), the pianist does not actually appear on this record and only contributed one piece ("Django"). On what is very much a Gunther Schuller project, Schuller composed "Abstraction" and was responsible for the adventurous three-part "Variants on a Theme of John Lewis (Django)" and the four-part "Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk (Criss-Cross)"; Jim Hall contributed "Piece for Guitar & Strings." One of the most successful third stream efforts, this LP combines avant-garde jazz with aspects of classical music. Among the more notable stars, altoist Ornette Coleman is on "Abstraction" and "Criss Cross" (both of which have been reissued in his Rhino CD box) and multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy is on both of the "Variants." Other musicians in the eclectic cast include guitarist Hall, bassist Scott LaFaro, pianist Bill Evans, and several classical string players. This is very interesting music.

Gil Evans - 1964 - The Individualism of Gil Evans

Gil Evans 
The Individualism of Gil Evans

01. The Barbara Song 9:55
02. Las Vegas Tango 6:13
03. The Flute Song 12:25
04. Hotel Me
05. El Toreador 3:30

Conductor, Piano – Gil Evans
Bass – Ben Tucker (tracks: B1a), Gary Peacock (tracks: A1), Milt Hinton (tracks: B2), Paul Chambers (3) (tracks: B1a to B2), Richard Davis (2) (tracks: B1a, B2), Ron Carter (tracks: A2, B1b)
Drums – Elvin Jones (tracks: A1, B1a, B1b), Ozzie Johnson (tracks: B2)
French Horn – Don Corrado (tracks: B1a), Gil Cohen (2) (tracks: B1a), Jimmy Buffington (tracks: B2), Julius Watkins (tracks: A1, B1a), Ray Alonge (tracks: A1, B1b), Bob Northern (tracks: B2)
Guitar – Barry Galbraith (tracks: B1a), Kenny Burrell (tracks: B1b)
Harp – Bob Maxwell (tracks: A1), Margaret Ross (tracks: B1a)
Reeds, Woodwind – Al Block (tracks: A1, B1a), Andy Fitzgerald (tracks: A1), Bob Tricarico (tracks: A1, B1a to B2), Eric Dolphy (tracks: B1a, B1b), Eric Dolphy (tracks: B2), Garvin Bushell (tracks: B1b), George Marge (tracks: A1), Jerome Richardson (tracks: B2), Steve Lacy (tracks: B1a to B2), Wayne Shorter (tracks: A1)
Trombone – Frank Rehak (tracks: A1), Jimmy Cleveland (tracks: B1a to B2), Tony Studd (tracks: B1b, B2)
Trumpet – Bernie Glow (tracks: B1b), Ernie Royal (tracks: B2), Johnny Coles (tracks: B1b, B2), Louis Mucci (tracks: B2)
Tuba – Bill Barber (tracks: A1, B1b)

B1a, B2 Recorded September, 1963 at A&R Studios, New York City
Released in a gatefold cover.

A2 & B1b Recorded April 6, 1964 at Webster Hall, New York City
A1 Recorded July 9, 1964 at Van Gelders Recording Studio, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

“Born with the Victorian-sounding name Ian Ernest Gilmore Green, and first marketed by major record labels in the 1960’s as a middle-aged hipster in a business suit, Gil Evans … was a unique American artist who rebelled against stereotypes of class and race. Born in Canada of Australian parentage in 1912, Evans was raised mainly in California.   He seemed to live with a spirit that was marked by the Californian dream in its purest form: to create the impossible in everyday life, through means that are both peaceful and sensual. It was this humble fire, expressed through an unpretentious demeanor and relentless musical curiosity, which fueled Evans' works and won him the respect of such younger rebels of the 1940’s Jazz scene as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan and Max Roach.”
- Eliot Bratton

As Richard Cook and Brian Morton observe in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.: “Evans’ name is famously an anagram of Svengali and Gil spent much of his career shaping the sounds and musical philosophies of younger musicians. … His peerless voicings are instantly recognizable.”

Beginning with New Bottle, Old Wine with its very revealing subtitle - “The Great Jazz Composers Interpreted by Gil Evans - and continuing with his orchestrations for Miles Davis on their Columbia epochal associations including Miles Ahead and Porgy and Bess, my repeated listening to Gil’s arrangements revealed a relaxed sophistication, use of very simple materials, and lots of open measures and other forms of space that created a texture in his music that was unlike any other that I’d ever heard before - and with the rare exception - since.

“Texture” joins with melody, harmony and rhythm [meter] as a fourth building block used to create a musical composition? Ironically, of the four basic musical atoms, the most indefinable yet the one we first notice is – “texture.”

“Texture” is the word that is used to refer to the actual sound of the music. This encompasses the instruments with which it is played; its tonal colors; its dynamics; its sparseness or its complexity.

Texture involves anything to do with the sound experience and it is the word that is used to describe the overall impression that a piece of music creates in our emotional imagination.

Often our first and most lasting impression of a composition is usually based on that work’s texture, even though we are not aware of it. Generally, we receive strong musical impressions from the physical sound of any music and these then determine our emotional reaction to the work.

By the time of its issuance in 1964 The Individualism of Gil Evans represented a major step away from the close Columbia collaboration that Gil had formed with Miles and a major step into his own music on Verve [and later Impulse!] which allowed the sonority [texture] of Evans’ arrangements to become even more pronounced.

As Stephanie Stein Crease explains in her definitive biography Gil Evans Out of the Cool: His Life and Music:

“ … Gil held his own first recording session for Verve with Creed Taylor as producer in September 1963. Gil lucked out with Taylor (founder of the Impulse! label and producer of Out of the Cool). Arriving at Verve not long before, Taylor made an immediate splash as producer of the first wildly successful bossa nova records (with Stan Getz, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Joao and Astrud Gilberto), including "The Girl from Ipanema." Verve gave Taylor carte blanche, which he passed along to Gil. Gil was allowed the number of musicians and recording time he wanted. He was even able to record some sketches on studio time—an unheard-of luxury for a composer/arranger. Gil was also allowed to record one or two pieces at a time, whenever he had something ready, instead of conceiving of an entire album beforehand. Taylor was confident that an album would eventually materialize if he gave Gil free reign.

At the first session, Gil recorded two of his own compositions, "Flute Song" and "El Toreador," It wasn't until April 1964 that he recorded another two arrangements; then, in the following six months he recorded six new arrangements for large ensembles and several sketches with a quartet. The resulting album became The Individualism of Gil Evans, released in late 1964.

The album contains some of Gil's best music on record. Selections include Kurt Weill's "The Barbara Song" and four Evans originals: "Las Vegas Tango," "Flute Song," "Hotel Me," and "El Toreador." Several of the musicians, including Johnny Coles, Steve Lacy, Al Block, Jimmy Cleveland, Tony Studd, Bill Barber, Elvin Jones, and Paul Chambers, played on all the sessions, preserving a consistency in the textures, mood, and overall sound. Other stellar personnel—Eric Dolphy on various woodwinds, Wayne Shorter on tenor, Phil Woods on alto, and Kenny Burrell on guitar—were on hand for some sessions and recorded with Gil for the first time. Gil plays piano on every track, and his performance, particularly on "The Barbara Song," functions as an indicator of his conceptual direction. On the Weill song, the mood is full of pathos, with Wayne Shorter's tenor sax taking up the cry. "El Toreador," built on one chord, sounds like a development of one of the Barracuda cues; Johnny Coles's plaintive trumpet is the foremost voice, cutting through the rumblings of the low brass and three acoustic basses and a whirring tremolo in the high reeds.

The musicianship on all the Verve sessions is of the highest order. The musicians dig deeply into the music, both as soloists and as ensemble players. Again there is an Ellingtonian parallel; the musical personalities are so strong on these recordings that horn voicings and ensemble passages are characterized by the collective sound of the people playing them.”

And here are excerpts from Gene Lees’ original liner notes to  The Individualism of Gil Evans:

“The gifted young composer, arranger, and critic Bill Mathieu once wrote of Gil Evans: "The mind reels at the intricacy of his orchestral and developmental techniques. His scores are so careful, so formally well-constructed, so mindful of tradition that you feel the originals should be preserved under glass in a Florentine museum."

Mathieu's feelings about Evans are not unusual. Without doubt the most individualistic and personal jazz composer since Duke Ellington, Evans is held in near-reverence by a wide range of composers, arrangers, instrumentalists, and critics. This feeling is only intensified by the fact that he is a rather inaccessible man — not unfriendly, or anti-social; just politely, quietly inaccessible — whose output has been small, and all of it is indeed remarkable.

What is it that makes Evans' work unique? This is impossible to say in mere words, but with your indulgence, I'm going to try to clarify some of it. What I want to say is not for the professional musician but the layman; the pros are invited to skip the new few paragraphs.

Every "song" is built of two primary components: its melody and its harmony. Rhythm is the third major factor, but I want to confine myself to the first two.

As the melody is played, a certain sequence of chords occurs beneath it. Now the bottom note of these chords sets up a sort of melody of its own. This is referred to as the "bass line" and it has great importance to the texture and flavor of the music. As a first step to the appreciation of Gil Evans, try not hearing the melody but listening to the bass line on some of these tracks.

Between the bass note and the melody note fall the other notes of the chord. You can put them down in a slap-dash fashion, so that you've got merely chords occurring in sequence like a line of telephone poles holding up the wire of melody; or you can link the inner notes of one chord to the inner notes of the next one, setting up still other melodies within the music. These new lines are called the "inner voices" of the harmonization. How well he handles inner voices is one of the measures of a composer's or an arranger's writing skill.

Gil's handling of them is often astonishing. His original melody, his bass line, and his inner lines are always exquisite. The result is that one of Gil's scores is faintly analogous to a crossword puzzle: it can be "read" both vertically (up through the chords) or horizontally in the form of ihe various melodies he sets up. Heard both ways simultaneously, his music can be breathtaking.

That's part of it.

Another and important part is his use of unusual instrumentations. Evans has virtually abandoned the standard jazz instrumentation of trumpets - trombones - saxes. He uses flutes, oboes, English horns (the standard classical woodwinds), along with French horns and a few of the conventional jazz instruments to extend the scope of the jazz orchestra. Evans was one of the first to use French horns in jazz, in the days when he was chief arranger for the celebrated Claude Thornhill orchestra. Not only does Gil use "non-jazz" instruments (usually played by jazz players, however), but he puts them together in startling ways, to create unearthly and fresh lovely sounds.

Finally, there's his sense of form, of logical construction. Everything he writes builds to sound and aesthetically satisfying climaxes, beautifully developing the previously-stated material. I know of no one in jazz with a more highly-developed sense of form than Gil Evans.

Yet, with all his gifts, Gil is oddly down-to-earth about his music. Once, when I told him that some people were having trouble deciding whether an album he had done with Miles Davis was classical music or jazz, he said, "That's a merchandiser's problem, not mine." Another time he said, "I write popular music." What he meant, of course, is that he wanted no part of pointless debates about musical categorizations; that he was making no claims on behalf of his music; and that since that music grew out of the traditions of American popular music, he was content to call it that.

On another occasion he said, "I'm just an arranger" This comment I reject. Even when Gil is working with other people's thematic material, what he does to it constitutes composition. …

To say that this album has been long-awaited is no cliche. It is the first Gil Evans recording in three years. "I stayed away from music for two years!' he said. "I wanted to look around and see what was happening in the world outside of music."

My favourite Gil Evans CD…even without the bonus tracks that more than double its playing time. 13m 46s of Spoonful is enough for me to up its rating by ½ a star! It’s consistently the most soulful of all the Gil Evans recordings I own.
   The opening Time Of The Barracudas is the first of the bonus tracks and is simply hilarious. Elvin Jones is relentless in his attempt to drive the band – but the band can only dip and dabble in such a way as refuses to be driven: a most incongruous match that works wonderfully. At the close, Elvin Jones just drifts to a halt satisfied that he’s done his job even if none of the band seemed to take any notice of him – not even the bass player! Wayne Shorter and Kenny Burrel solo and are always dependable (I love the occasional echo on the guitar). but it’s Elvin Jones who is ever present. The harp at the end is a nice touch.
   What a moody opener The Barbara Song must have made if this is now the correct running order. Evans plays his plinkety plonk piano against some of his most mournful arrangements. (The low-register flute-vibrato sounds like an old sound modulator and reminds me of side two of Bowie’s Low album). Jones could have busied himself like he did on the previous number but plays super-minimalistic brushes instead.
   I was familiar with Robert Wyatt’s version of Las Vegas Tango before I’d ever heard this one. (His has to be heard to be believed!) This is as mournful as the previous one but is buoyed up by Jones’ Latin tango. The upward theme played on the oboe (or is it a bassoon?) and echoed by the piano, is the most memorable part of the piece. The pep section is a little grating – even more so the fanfares that follow the edit, making the final result a little uneven.
  The sombre mood returns where Flute Song begins but soon gives way to a backbeat blues with a ridiculous fluttering accompaniment over which Evans bashes his piano. It’s almost a bad joke but weaving in and out are the flutes and somewhere at the back; Dolphy’s bass clarinet. It doesn’t work perfectly but it’s unusual and has some soul though slightly too long, perhaps. (At one point Evans piano is cut off by an edit suggesting his parts have been added later). 
   At 3m 30s, El Toreador is never given the chance to go anywhere and sounds like an intro to something that failed to happen. But it fits well into the general mood as Thad Jones playful trumpet seems to mock its grim orchestration. Only Gil Evans could think up something like this. It’s followed by Proclamation; only slightly longer and a companion piece. This time Shorter noodles and Evans rounds things off. These mood pieces wouldn’t bear being extended but make interesting little interludes instead.
   Nothing Like You seems a little out of place here: To be generous, it’s a welcome change but is less interesting than most of what has gone before. It ups the tempo but only as fast as the tempo gets anywhere on Miles Ahead...to give you an idea. Anyway Shorter solos and it’s all over in 2 and a ½  minutes. 
   I’ve never heard MJQ play John Lewis’ Concorde but this arrangement is a minor miracle. Evans exploits the melody to the full, passing it around amongst the instruments - fugue like - and venturing into some ferocious polyphony. Although the trumpet, sax and bass all contribute solos, it’s this rich tapestry that holds the attention. 
   Alluded to earlier; Spoonful is perhaps my favourite Gil Evan's arrangement. According to the liner notes he had his doubts about it but was persuaded to release it in its full, unedited glory. It’s a slow downbeat blues that restrains itself to the point of cruelty before finally releasing itself orgasmic like with a walking trombone and a two note theme so understated as to conquer all. Kenny Burrel, Thad Jones and Wayne Shorter all play with elegant poise inspired by Evans magnificent scoring. Burrel is so far behind the beat he’s a lost soul: Thad Jones doesn’t need a fancy technique as less is more and Shorter with no extraneous elaboration takes it to the climax. Evans interpretation of the blues reaches its apotheosis here in the way his harmonies treat the simplest of two not phrases over and over without ever sounding bland. When it’s over he skits up and down the keyboard as if to say; “nowhere else to go, let’s call it a day”.

Eddie Lockjaw Davis - 1960 - Trane Whistle

Eddie Lockjaw Davis 
Trane Whistle

01. Trane Whistle 6:05
02. Whole Nelson 3:25
03. You Are Too Beautiful 5:00
04. The Stolen Moment 7:40
05. Walk Away 5:15
06. Jaws 4:28

Bass – Wendell Marshall
Drums – Roy Haynes
Piano – Richard Wyands
Reeds – Eric Dolphy, George Barrow, Jerome Richardson, Oliver Nelson, Bob Ashton
Tenor Saxophone – Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis
Trombone – Jimmy Cleveland, Melba Liston
Trumpet – Bob Bryant, Clark Terry, Richard Williams

This CD reissue brings back an Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis session in which the distinctive tenor saxophonist is joined by a 13-piece big band arranged by Oliver Nelson. Most significant is the inclusion of the original version of "Stolen Moments" (here called "The Stolen Moment" and predating the more famous Oliver Nelson recording by several months). Eric Dolphy is in the backup group but is not heard from in a solo capacity. There are some spots for trumpeters Richard Williams, Clark Terry and Bobby Bryant along with Nelson on alto but this is primarily Davis' showcase. On a set comprised of four Oliver Nelson originals, the ballad "You Are Too Beautiful" and the leader's "Jaws," Lockjaw as usual shows plenty of emotion during his driving solos.

The inclusion of Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis' "Trane Whistle" on "The Complete Prestige Recordings of Eric Dolphy" was a matter of some controversy. Technically the iconoclastic reedman did play on Davis' big band recording, but as he occupied one of five saxophone chairs and was not a featured soloist, it seemed superfluous. But I suppose complete means complete. In any event, Dolphy fans will be disappointed by his lack of a meaningful contribution, but if you can get passed that, "Trane Whistle" is a solid big band date. This September 1960 recording finds some big names, in addition to Dolphy, in Lockjaw's big band -- Clark Terry, Melba Liston, George Barrow, Roy Haynes and Oliver Nelson (who did the arrangements as well) to name a few. The album features a terrific version of Nelson's signature "Stolen Moments," and the title track and "Whole Nelson" aren't too shabby either. Overall, I would probably rate this disc three-and-a-half stars if I could since I'm not a huge big band fan, but those of you who are will thoroughly enjoy "Trane Whistle."

Benny Golson - 1962 - Just Jazz!

Benny Golson 
1962 - 
Just Jazz!

01. Groovin' High 3:16
02. Moten Swing 4:14
03. Out Of Nowherre 4:12
04. Autumn Leaves 4:40
05. Donna Lee 2:44
06. Quicksilver 3:53
07. Stella By Starlight 4:21
08. Ornithology 3:43
09. If I Should Lose You 3:00
10. Walkin' 3:37

Alto Saxophone – Eric Dolphy
Bass – Ron Carter
Drums – Charlie Persip, Jimmy Cobb (tracks: B5)
Piano – Bill Evans
Tenor Saxophone – Wayne Shorter
Trombone – Bill Hardman, Curtis Fuller, Grachen Moncur
Trumpet – Freddy Hubbard

Recorded in the early days of stereo experimentation, the bonus album was first issued as "Triple Play Stereo: Pop + Jazz = Swing", featuring the jazz group on the right channel, and a pop group playing the same song or a related tune on the left channel.

Many jazz fans have probably searched for this long out of print (except for a lousy bootleg CD reissued by Fresh Sound) record by Benny Golson because of the promising list of musicians present: Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, and Curtis Fuller, among others. But the disappointing fact is that these sessions have a rather tortured history. Initially after these small-group sessions were taped (not all of the musicians are on every track), an 11-piece pop orchestra was dubbed over the original recordings, playing the chord changes of the pieces on which each of the jazz compositions was based. This LP, Pop + Jazz = Swing on the Audiofidelity label, was evidently a total flop. Some time following Eric Dolphy's death in 1964, the original masters, minus the overdubbed pop orchestra, were released as Just Jazz! There are still several problems with this later issue. Golson's arrangements are rather conservative and stiff, with the rhythm section proving to be rather stifled; neither are many of the individual solos very risk-taking. Only Dolphy's alto sax solo on "If I Should Lose You" has stood the test of time very well. Another major annoyance is that the horns frequently seem to have too much reverb added, making it sound as if they were recorded out in a hall away from the rhythm section and then mixed in later. The lack of attention to the packaging of the album includes a very boring front cover, misspelled names of musicians, an incorrect or incomplete list of composers, and, finally, "Groovin' High" and "Quicksilver" have their titles swapped. Collectors will, no doubt, still seek out this LP in spite of its flaws, but at least they have been forewarned before paying a premium price for it.

When I first encountered this record, in 2011, my eyes popped out on stalks. Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Paul Chambers … all the young lions out to play.  Couldn’t see Benny Golson listed , because he doesn’t play, he conducts and arranges. Golson was a fine driving tenor in the Art Blakey line up, his work in Blakey’s Moanin‘ is outstanding, as with The Jazztet, and his long list of compositions includes many distinctive memorable tunes (Whisper Not, Killer Joe, Stablemates) . How could it fail?

Whereas George Russell took great risks with tunes, turned them inside out, re-arranged them, Golson is determinedly mainstream, no nod in the direction of third stream or avant garde.  The tunes are all from the jazz classic playbook. The arrangements are to my untutored ear stiff,  dense, even schmaltzy, layed on the tunes thickly like with a trowel. From the artist roster and their individual playing styles  I wouldn’t have pitched this recording as late as 1962, it feels much much  earlier, I’d guess 1958, but the claim 1962 remains. What Golson showed me, unintentionally,  was how great George Russell is.

Ken Dryden of All Music Guide  picks up some interesting history of the record

After the small-group sessions were taped (not all of the musicians are on every track), an 11-piece pop orchestra was dubbed over the original recordings, playing the chord changes of the pieces on which each of the jazz compositions was based. That LP  released as “Pop + Jazz = Swing” on the Audio Fidelity label, was evidently a total flop.  Some time following Eric Dolphy’s death in 1964, the original masters, minus the overdubbed pop orchestra, were released as Just Jazz!

The net result is an object lesson. With no group leader, it doesn’t matter how much talent you gather in a studio, it’s hard to imagine a more talented group of jazz musicians than this, and the song selection outstanding, an arranger can still suffocate it with the wrong vision, pointing in the wrong direction. If the vision was to create Pop+Jazz=Swing, with orchestral overdubs, Golson’s finger was not on the modern jazz pulse of 1962, not The Space Age.

Bill Evans doesn’t shine as he did with Russell’s arrangements, Shorter is restrained, not the bombastic sour tone we came to know through Blue Note, even great tunes like Autumn Leaves (think Adderley’s spine-tingling also solo on “Something Else”)becomes stiff and formulaic, strangled by over-arranging, falling in love with the process of arranging instead of bringing out a bigger new vision of the tune.  On the positive side Fuller and Moncur romp infectiously,  and Dolphy is irrepressible as always, worth the price of admission alone.

Chico Hamilton - 1959 - Gongs East!

Chico Hamilton 
Gongs East!

01. Beyond The Blue Horizon 3:04
02. Where I Live 3:59
03. Gongs East 4:48
04. I Gave My Love A Cherry 4:40
05. Good Grief, Dennis 3:08
06. Long Ago (And Far Away) 2:58
07. Tuesday At Two 2:57
08. Nature By Emerson 5:04
09. Far East 4:03
10. Passion Flower 3:19

Alto Saxophone, Flute, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Bass – Wyatt Ruther
Cello – Nathan Gershman
Drums – Chico Hamilton
Guitar – Dennis Budimir

Recorded at Radio Recorders, Hollywood, CA December 29 & 30, 1958.

Former Gerry Mulligan Quartet drummer Chico Hamilton formed his own quintet in the mid-1950s and proceeded to record some of the best and most definitive music to emerge from the West Coast "cool" jazz school. He is probably better remembered today, however, for having introduced multi-reedsman Eric Dolphy to the world in the second incarnation of his band. GONGS EAST! was the first album released by that famed lineup, and it's a fine introduction to Hamilton, Dolphy and the subtler side of fifties jazz generally.
At a time when the blues-based post-bop sound ruled the jazz roost, Hamilton was exploring Asian, chamber and avant-garde classical influences, with the ironic result that the leader/drummer is the least-featured player here. Instead, it is Dolphy - in a far more restrained and accessible form than his explosive later performances would lead one to expect - and cellist Nate Gershman who hold the spotlight for most of GE!, though the whole quintet does an outstanding job of realizing Hamilton's influential and historically quite underappreciated vision. All but one of the tunes are covers (and for some reason the track listing is completely jumbled), but the unique chemistry of this unit remakes everything with its own indelible stamp as slow, quiet grooves part like a soft fog, allowing the soloists to shine before closing again with a tinkle of chimes or the distant thunder of a Chinese gong.
Now out of print, GONGS EAST! is well worth seeking out for anyone interested in fifties jazz and/or the duly celebrated musicians involved. For more from this combo, check out THE ORIGINAL ELLINGTON SUITE and Dolphy's HOT, COOL & LATIN. Those were the days, indeed!

Gong's East is easily one of the freshest, most experimental and eccentric sounding recordings in my Jazz collection.   Chico Hamilton, a masterful drummer, has very particular tastes.  For a guitarist to be in his band it helps if he has a sound that is slightly out of the ordinary.  The cello was an instrument that Hamilton enjoyed having in a band too.  The pieces that are selected for Gong's East are really interesting.  They might have been ordinary before for all I know but this quintet makes them stand out.

What really pushes Gong's East over the top is Eric Dolphy, making incredible performances on flute, bass clarinet and alto sax.  I bet most people aren't aware of the fact that it was Chico Hamilton that gave Eric Dolphy his first big break, probably assuming that it was Charles Mingus.  Without owning this recording your Dolphy collection is missing quite a vital piece.  This isn't a weird album in the sense of a Dolphy album as much as it is weird for being completely different.  In my opinion this may be the absolute best that Eric Dolphy ever sounded, out of all of his playing that I've heard.

Chico Hamilton - 1958 - With Strings Attached

Chico Hamilton 
With Strings Attached

01. Something To Live For     03:57
02. Andante                   02:31
03. Speak Low                 02:29
04. Pottsville, U.S.A.        05:43
05. Don's Delight             03:50
06. Strange                   03:09
07. Modes                     06:38
08. Fair Weather              03:00
09. Close Your Eyes           04:38
10. Ev'rything I've Got       02:03
Chico Hamilton - drums, percussion
Eric Dolphy - alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute
Nathan Gershman - cello
Dennis Budimir - guitar
Wyatt Ruther - bass
unidentified string section arranged and conducted by Fred Katz

Studio / Venue Radio Recorders
Place Los Angeles, Calif. 
Recording Date October 1958

As Ted Gioia noted in his seminal work on the subject of West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960:

 “Despite his aversion to such recognition, [baritone saxophonist] Mulligan continued to exert a strong influence on the California scene until the end of the decade. The use of counterpoint, the emphasis on relaxed tempos, the restrained drum sound, the experimentation with different combinations of instruments, the heavy reliance on compositional structures, the openness to new sounds — all of these remained trademarks of West Coast jazz in the 1950s. ….

 Drummer Chico Hamilton was one of those who learned the most from Mulligan's model. Hamilton had performed on many of the early quartet and tentette sides before leaving the group to tour with [vocalist] Lena Home. Along with Shelly Manne, Hamilton contributed greatly to the establishment of a West Coast style of drumming. "It is a very melodic instrument,” Hamilton has said of the drums, "very soft, graceful in motion as well as sound: a sensuous feminine instrument.”

 Hamilton reached back to prebebop drummers such as Jo Jones and Sonny Greer in developing his sound. Despite these roots in the big band era, his drum attack was far from old-fashioned; his sensitivity, taste, and dynamic range were fresh and invigorating in the wake of the modern jazz revolution. "When Chico Hamilton took a drum solo," critic Ralph Gleason once wrote, "it was probably the first time in history that a jazz drummer's solo was so soft you had to whisper or be conspicuous.”

 Unlike many at the forefront of West Coast jazz, Hamilton was a native of Los Angeles, where he was born as Foreststorn Hamilton on September 21, 1921. ….

 [After his stint with Mulligan and with vocalist Lena Horne] when forming his own group Hamilton  … decided to experiment with more diverse instrumentation. The subsequent addition of Buddy Collette, a Los Angeles native born on August 6, 1921, was a major coup. Collette—who was fluent on flute, clarinet, tenor, and alto—gave Hamilton access to a rich variety of tonal colors. … The unusual voice Hamilton was seeking emerged fortuitously when he learned that Fred Katz, primarily known in jazz circles as a pianist, was interested in exploring the jazz potential of the cello. Katz, guitarist Jim Hall, and bassist Carson Smith constituted the "string section" in the new Hamilton unit.” [pp. 187-188]

 So given the fact that three-fifths of Chico Hamilton’s quintet had always been comprised of a “string section,” I was only a slightly bemused when Chico was recruited by George Avakian, a producer with a long association with Columbia Records, to join him at Warner Brothers for the release of Chico Hamilton With Strings Attached [Warner Brothers B 1245].

 In fairness to Chico, by 1960, the date of the Warner Bros LP, although the guitar-bass-cello format complemented by flute and reeds had remained the same for almost three years, it’s sound had changed when Paul Horn replaced Buddy Collette in the woodwinds section and John Pisano took over for Jim Hall on guitar. 

 Paul added more clarinet, stressed the alto saxophone and played flute with a more “legit” sound than Buddy, who also favored the tenor saxophone while with Chico, and John Pisano’s guitar wasn’t tuned in fourths as was Jim Hall and his solo were not as angular nor as sparse as Hall’s. During the first three years of its existence, Fred Katz and Carson Smith had remained as constants in Chico’s quintet cello and bass, respectively.

 But what I didn’t know when I acquired my copy of Chico Hamilton With Strings Attached [Warner Brothers B 1245] was that Chico had done it again!

 Amazingly, he had taken what could have been the fundamentally restrictive range of the Jazz equivalent of a Chamber Group and expanded it to include new “textures” or sonorities which were created by the more harmonic orientation of the group’s new lead voices: Eric Dolphy on flute and alto sax and Dennis Budimir on guitar.

 Wyatt Ruther had replaced Carson Smith on bass and Nate Gershman took over for Fred Katz on cello while Fred, who had originally been trained as a pianist stepped up as the arranger for the Warners Bros. date and surrounded Chico and the quintet with a full - you guessed it string section.

 The result was the familiar sonority of Chico’s quintet but with a new depth and breadth. In his liner notes to Chico Hamilton With Strings Attached [Warner Brothers B 1245], George Avakian explained the magnitude of Chico’s accomplishment and the context for the recording this way:

 “There is a familiar TV commercial in which a slightly self-satisfied voice proclaims, "They said it couldn't be done!' When Chico Hamilton, three short busy years ago, formed a quintet that consisted of drums, bass, guitar, one man doubling a lot of reed instruments, and—this is where night club owners and friends furrowed their brows—a cello, the voices echoed "Couldn't be done, couldn't be done!'

 Chico Hamilton did it with success on every front, including the necessary one of paying off the mortgage. His is a musical organization of unusual quality, skill, and variety. Each member is a technician of extraordinary quality who can improvise with rare ingenuity; collectively, they blend tastefully in a seemingly endless number of combinations of sound.

 The Chico Hamilton Quintet represents both a challenge and an opportunity to arrangers. An unusual number of musicians have paid Chico the ultimate compliment by asking if they may write for the group. This has served as an inspiration to the Quintet, and has helped keep alive the freshness which has always characterized its music.

 In this collection, the Quintet appears both in its original form and with a string section which augments its normal sound, often as a supplement to the role of the cello in the ensemble. Appropriately enough, the arranger who wrote the scores in these particular pieces is Fred Katz, the original cellist of the group, who left the group to concentrate on composition and scoring in Hollywood. He not only wrote many of the Quintet's arrangements, but it was his instrument which gave it its unusual color. Fred's writing, which has been heard in motion picture soundtracks as well as on records, is well ahead of the crowd, though not so far out as to lose his audience. Imagination and sensitivity characterize his work in the slower .tempos; imagination and happy playfulness mark his up-tempo writing.”

 Of the musicians on the recording, George wrote:

 “The members of the Chico Hamilton Quintet are a mixture of highly-respected veteran musicians and talented youngsters. Leader Hamilton is one of the best-known percussionists in both the jazz and show-business fields. At 18, he played with the Duke Ellington orchestra. A stint with Count Basie followed, but Chico was not content to be only a jazz drummer; he also went into theatre work in Los Angeles, and then combined the two backgrounds in the first long-term engagement of his career—eight years with the greatest night club performer of them all, Lena Home. In 1955, he applied everything he had learned to form the Quintet — a masterful combination of jazz, showmanship, and just plain good music to play and to listen to. Bassist Wyatt Ruther is best known for his tours with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, the Erroll Garner Trio, and with Lena Home. Cellist Nat Gershman is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Philadelphia and an alumnus of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. Newcomers Eric Dolphy and Dennis Budimir are native Los Angelenos; Eric is a discovery of Chico's, and Dennis broke in recently with the Harry James band.”

 Sadly, this version of Chico’s quintet did not stay together very long as Eric Dolphy moved to New York to join Charlie Mingus and Dennis Budimir went with alto saxophonist Bud Shank’s new quintet featuring Carmel Jones on trumpet.

 As to Chico, he moved on to his next surprise - in 1962, he formed a quintet featuring Charles Lloyd on flute and tenor saxophone, George Bohanan on trombone, Gabor Szabo on guitar and Albert “Sparky” Stinson on bass.

 At least he kept the guitar!