Branford Marsalis Quartet, Cary Memorial Hall, April 28, 2017

I saw Branford live for the first time with Sting, on January 29, 1988, and with his band in 1989 (if my notes are correct). Because of Branford, I started listening to jazz in earnest, first finding John Coltrane, then Miles Davis, Monk, and others. Last Friday I finally got to hear him live again.

What struck me about the performance by the Branford Marsalis Quartet with Kurt Elling was the high level of talent in all the musicians on stage, and the high level of generosity from the leader. Joey Calderazzo in particular stood out for his range, going from high volume warfare with Justin Faulkner to atmospheric washes generated by plucking the strings of the piano to some moments of Bill Evans/Erik Satié inspired playing. Faulkner himself was a force of nature, dropping bombs left and right over the stage and performing incredibly complex fills. And Eric Revis was a solid pivot who proved in the encore of “St. James Infirmary” that he could play a solo of high complexity and sensitivity. Branford himself blew my socks off in a few moments, but mostly stood out for how well he accompanied Elling.

Elling is an astonishing vocalist who was not on my radar before his collaboration with this quartet, but whose other work I’ll be seeking out.

From Dakar with love

Doom and Gloom from the Tomb: Duke Ellington Orchestra – Festival Mondial d’Arts Nègres, Théâtre National Daniel Sorano, Dakar, Senegal, April 9, 1966. I’m so ambivalent about this. I mean, on the one hand, yes, every bootleg or live broadcast recording of a long-dead jazz artist makes it that much harder for live, working jazz artists to sell albums and earn coin. On the other: DUKE ELLINGTON. WITH PAUL GONSALVEZ, HARRY CARNEY, and JOHNNY FREAKIN’ HODGES. LIVE IN DAKAR.

Rainy Wednesday blues

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It’s the middle of the week—a three-rehearsal week, two down—and it’s been overcast and rainy all day. Nothing but gray. Which is why all the caffeine in the world isn’t enough and I’m staring at gray skies, and listening to Charlie Haden.

Ah, Charlie Haden. I’ve had the privilege of seeing both Haden and his son Josh Haden (with his band Spain) live. My experience with Charlie was in the context of his Liberation Music Orchestra, with Amina Claudine Meyers on piano and Makanda Ken McIntire, among others. I can’t say that I recall much of the show; I was unprepared to understand the complexities of what that band was playing and didn’t know much about Charlie at that time, including the fact that he had been the bassist with Ornette Coleman’s band featured on The Shape of Jazz To Come. But he made an impression on me for the serenity of his playing and the staggering complexity of some of the music.

What I’m listening to this afternoon is something else entirely. Haden’s other group, Quartet West, performed simpler, melodic, and overwhelmingly romantic jazz, and his 1997 album Now Is The Hour features all of that plus a string orchestra section. The ballads are sentimental and enveloping, the fast tunes are bracing and the playing is absolutely impeccable. Highly recommended.

Catch-up post vacation music link post

We were out of town for a week doing family things, during which time I managed to refrain from posting (much) on social media, but still collected a handful of interesting links. Here we go:

Aquarium Drunkard: James Booker, Montreux Jazz Festival, July 1978. Looking forward to checking this out; I’ve heard of Booker but never heard his music.

Doom and Gloom from the Tomb: Funkadelic – Rocky Mountain Shakedown. A farewell to the giant Bernie Worrell (DY16).

Boing Boing: Legendary Betty Davis and Miles Davis funk/fusion/psych session released. The vinyl bundles are all sold out, but the single vinyl LP and CD offerings are still available.

Doom and Gloom from the Tomb: Miles Davis – Paul’s Mall, Boston Massachusetts September 14, 1972. Live On The Corner era Miles.

“Eighty-One”

KGB at the Lilypad in Inman Square, June 1, 2016

KGB at the Lilypad in Inman Square, June 1, 2016

I met some work colleagues at Bukowski’s in Inman Square last night. Generally when I’ve been there in the past it’s been to go to Hell Night, which is a pretty all-consuming experience in itself. Last night I was able to soak in a little more of the ambience.

Like Lilypad, a jazz club that’s only about half a block away from Bukowski’s. As I walked by last night to go to the bar, there was a pretty hot sounding quartet going (Tetraptych, if their calendar is right), but by the time we got back to the club KGB was playing. This trio (Ethan K. on guitars, Patrick Gaulin on drums, Rich Greenblatt on vibes) was sounding pretty good, playing a variety of originals, some standards (a Gershwin tune floated past at one point) and some post-bop stuff.

The last tune was “Eighty-One,” the Ron Carter/Miles Davis standard that he premiered on E.S.P. Here Ethan K. played the melodic line as Greenblatt provided chordal backup, with Gaulin providing elliptical drums underneath. I loved it, but the interpretation was a little different than what I think of as the core of the song, and it got me thinking about what that means.

In the original recording, by the second great Miles quintet on their first album, the essence of the song is the strong central bassline centered on the relationship between F (the tonic) and B-flat and providing rhythmic drive, while the horns play the melody complete with the leap up the octave and into a moment of silence, followed by sustained chords. The same players, with Wallace Roney filling in for Miles on the 1991 A Tribute to Miles, begins with a minute of free playing by Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter before going to the melody, and plays up the pause dramatically, with everyone but Carter and Tony Williams dropping out for a whole measure before the tune continues. I’ve heard some live Herbie recordings that do the same trick, with different players spotlighted in the gap, including his V.S.O.P. quintet live recordings from the 1970s. I’ve come to love this interpretation.

Last night, the gap wasn’t there–each player drove ahead into the space, letting the groove take them. It was a great version, but I missed that pause. It clues you in to listen to what’s happening underneath—the groove, the drive, the breakneck craziness at drums and bass that was Carter and Tony Williams at their best.

Grab bag: Seduction of the innocent edition

Lush Life

There are certain records, certain tracks, that instantly take you back to where you were when you heard them for the very first time. John Coltrane’s “Lush Life” (the first version he recorded, the 1958 version with Red Garland, Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers, and Louis Hayes) is one of those albums, and one of those tracks.

The whole record is unusual in Trane’s discography. The first three tunes are performed by a pianoless trio (Red Garland apparently forgot to show up for the session), and they show a keen sense of rhythm and a searching intelligence while still demonstrating Trane’s mastery of playing over the chords. The fifth track, a quartet session with Garland, Chambers, and Albert Heath on drums, is a straight ahead reading of “I Hear a Rhapsody”–a nice enough performance, but unremarkable by itself.

No, it’s the title track that makes one sit up and pay attention, as I did when I brought it back to my dorm room in the fall of 1990, a story which I’ve told before. All the more if you think of the story (not the words. The words themselves have so little poetry that it’s a miracle that Johnny Hartman brought what he did to the song five years later)–the sad, romantic story of the man who was idly bored until a miracle of love came into his life, and then quietly heartbroken when love departed. So he tries to bolster his spirits, only to confront his own solitude: “Romance is mush/stifling those who thrive/I’ll live a lush life/in some small dive/and there I’ll be/while I rot with the rest/of those whose lives are lonely too.”

Only the artistry of Strayhorn could take us through the gorgeousness of the tune into the depths of that solitude within a single song. One thinks, he must have been a lot of fun at parties.