Bill Evans Trio, How My Heart Sings!

Album of the Week, January 28, 2023

Producer Orrin Keepnews said in the liner notes to Bill Evans’ How My Heart Sings, “This project was the first time I had set out to record two albums by the same group at the same time,” referring to the album of ballads that came from these same sessions, Moon Beams. The theory behind this album was a set of more up-tempo songs to accompany the unusual all-ballads format of the accompanying recording. As Evans himself noted, “the selections presented here are primarily of the ‘moving’ kind, though there is in the trio’s approach to all material the desire to present a singing sound.”

Whatever you call it, this second recording from the May 1962 sessions, not issued until January 1964, is unusually buoyant. But it’s not extroverted; it rings with a quieter joy. You can hear it from the beginning, where Evans opens Earl Zindars’ “How My Heart Sings” with a gentle swing that leans against the syncopation of Chuck Israels’ bass. Drummer Paul Motian is a little more present here than on Moon Beams, underscoring the shift from 3/4 to 4/4 in the second chorus, but he still stays mostly in the background, setting the stage for the dialog between Evans and Israels.

I Should Care” leans into the rhythm harder, with Motian swinging against Evans through several choruses before falling back behind Israels’ solo. Here the bassist underscores Evans’ point about really singing the line, as the solo is lyrical and all melody. Evans plays with the beat throughout this one, shifting emphasis to the second and fourth beats, especially in the last chorus.

We’ve heard Dave Brubeck’s great standard “In Your Own Sweet Waybefore, but here Evans puts his own stamp on the tune, taking it faster and playing with the beat in the bridge, then briefly departing from the gentle swing of the original into a racing second melody, as though bursting into a second song in the middle of a first. Chuck Israels’ solo takes the melody down into the bass depths and fragments it further; when Evans steps alongside him he tosses the fragments back and forth with the bassist as they go.

Walking Up” is an Evans original, with more than a little of the feel of John Coltrane’s “Countdown,” from Giant Steps. But when he turns the corner (or maybe reaches the landing?) we’re suddenly in a different environment. Perhaps we’ve walked to the top of a bridge and that’s a ray of sun peeking through the fog? At any rate, we’re playing with meter again, moving from straight four into a syncopated off-beat, and it’s fascinating.

If you’re going to play “Summertime” and make it your own, you’d better have some good ideas to share. The version on this record, again, shares some DNA with a Coltrane recording, in this case the version of the great Gershwin tune on My Favorite Things. Both recordings feature a rhythmic motif around the modal suspension underpinning the verse, but where Trane’s version has the beat in McCoy Tyner’s piano, here it’s given to Chuck Israels, who opens the track with the motif and never puts it down. Evans’ version swings more than Trane’s, due in large part to Motian’s skillful fills. This is probably the one track where Motian steps out of the background and you can really hear all of the things he’s got bubbling away under the others.

34 Skidoo” is the second of three Evans originals on the album, and the jauntiest by far. Sliding in and out of different meters, Evans and Israels take turns syncopating the tune and perform some incredible handoffs between their turns at the wheel. The momentum continues through Cole Porter’s “Ev’rything I Love”; the tune leans closer toward ballad status than most of the numbers in this set, but when Evans comes out of the first chorus he takes lyrical flight.

Show-Type Tune” brings us out with another Evans composition. A wistful opening on the piano is followed by a metaphorical “squaring of the shoulders” and a more forthright, lyrical verse. The most extroverted performance on the album, the track features Evans pulling out trick after trick in his solo, shifting chromatic scales at the end, and seemingly taking flight at the end. It is a heck of a closing number from such a deeply introverted performer.

The two albums recorded during the May 1962 sessions re-established Evans as a force to be reckoned with, and put a capstone on his time with Orrin Keepnews’ Riverside Records. The following year saw him move to Verve and producer Creed Taylor, where he would make some deeply original recordings — as well as a fair amount of dreck. We’ll hear some of the more original and less drecky work next time.

You can listen to the album here:

The Bill Evans Trio, Moon Beams

Album of the Week, January 21, 2023

Jazz musicians are often inspired by playing with particular colleagues. Arguably neither Dave Brubeck nor Paul Desmond ever excelled individually the records that they made together. And Miles’ great quintets were defined by the partnership the trumpeter made with saxophonists John Coltrane, then Wayne Shorter. But Bill Evans was inspired by his bassists—first and most famously Scott LaFaro, then following his death with Chuck Israels. It is that collaboration that brings this, the first proper record of the new trio with Israels and drummer Paul Motian, to life.

Evans and his trio entered the Sound Makers Studio in New York on Thursday, May 17, 1962, three days after his second and final session with Jim Hall for Undercurrent was recorded in the same studio. They cut four tunes that day, of which “If You Could See Me Now” appeared on this record. They returned on May 29, June 2, and June 5. The bulk of today’s record was recorded in the June 2 session, along with the more balladic material recorded across the other three dates.

Re: Person I Knew” is an opening statement that is shrouded in modal mystery. Displaying several Evans hallmarks off the bat, including the out of time entrance, the yearning of the modal pivot between the G minor and D minor, and even the cryptic title (an anagram of the name of the producer who had spurred him to reform his trio, Riverside Records founder Orrin Keepnews). And then there’s the playing of the trio. After the solo statement in the first eight bars by Evans, Israels makes his presence known with a bass line that keeps time while sketching out the space around the open fifth and octaves. Motian’s understated but complex drum fills keep the whole thing moving forward as Evans and Israels breathe, listen to each other, make statements. It’s a powerful performance.

Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” which lends the album its title, returns to a more normal and less modal tonality, but Evans and Israels continue their duet. Following the first statement of the chorus, Israels begins a complex countermelody that underpins the entire remainder of the song. The conclusion has him bring the tune to an unusually irresolute finish, descending to a relative minor.

I Fall In Love Too Easily,” the great dark Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne ballad, here drives headlong into the darkness and comes out blinking into the light of a major key. The transition is so gradual that you hardly notice it’s happened until the end, where the pianist underscores the major with a few bars that seem almost like a dance before resolving to the final major chord.

Stairway to the Stars” is lights down, swaying to the music after midnight, with only Motian’s insistent drum pattern nudging things on away from slumber. Thus roused, Evans plays a rhapsodic variation on the theme over a high obligato in Israels’ bass. The coda, which returns to the feeling of out of time, brings the first side to a close.

Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now” opens the second side, with Evans treating the tune as a more straightforward ballad for the initial chorus, then gently swinging into a syncopated restatement of the theme. The interplay between Israels and Evans here is striking and almost telepathic, with the pianist taking a breath as the bassist enters with a chord change or plays the first note of the next verse.

It Might As Well Be Spring” begins as a yearning statement then seems to take flight, as Evans brings the melody through two choruses and then into a third that almost seems like it’s in double time. Throughout Israels maintains a sort of running commentary that turns outright sly at the end, where after the final chord he seems as though he is playing the beginning of “The Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”) before continuing the downward run one more note.

Jerome Kern’s “In Love In Vain” carries the melancholy burden of being from the last show he worked on before his 1946 death, the musical film Centennial Summer, which also featured “Up with the Lark,” another perennial Evans favorite. Again the dialog between Israels and Evans borders on the telepathic, with the heroic final chorus in particular a stunning example of their collaboration.

The last track, “Very Early,” is the second Evans original on the album, and one that was destined to appear in his setlists for the rest of his life. The tune is in playful Evans mode, as it circles the tone center while keeping things major throughout. Israels’ solo is worth a second listen, as he does some harmonic things that lend an unexpected depth to the musical structure while keeping up a dancing rhythm throughout.

Where some of Evans’ earlier work could be so delicate as to seem tentative, there is joy that rings from these sessions, a feeling of surety and confidence. The album seems to announce that Evans is back, and better than ever; the partnership with Israels was off to a good start.

One interesting side note: another memorable album cover here, with a beautiful model in a provocatively romantic pose. The model is none other than Nico, some five years before her Andy Warhol inspired turn as chanteuse on the Velvet Underground’s debut. Like Evans, there’s more than a hint of sadness behind her smile here.

You can listen to the album here:

Bill Evans and Jim Hall, Undercurrent

Album of the Week, January 14, 2023

In April 1962, Bill Evans was still digging out from under the emotional burden of Scott LaFaro’s death, but at least he was recording. After Orrin Keepnews persuaded him to return to the studio with Herbie Mann in late 1961, he was intermittently in and out of the studio in various contexts — a brief session with the new trio that wouldn’t see the light of day until 2007, a recording with Todd Dameron’s orchestra, a solo session. And on April 24, he entered the Sound Makers Studio in New York City to record with a new collaborator, guitarist Jim Hall.

Hall had built a reputation in the late 1950s in the Jimmy Giuffre Trio, and went on to collaborate with a number of musicians in the following years, including Dave Brubeck’s long-time collaborator Paul Desmond, and Sonny Rollins (that’s Hall on Rollins’ The Bridge). Along the way he had appeared opposite Evans when the latter was in Tony Scott’s quartet, and with the Giuffre Trio opposite Evans in Miles’ band in a run of dates at Café Bohemia in 1958. (Hall recalls, “Miles would tease that our silly little trio would get more applause than his group.”)

The two men got together to toss around some ideas in Evans’ New York apartment, and then headed into the studio, recording the album on April 24 and May 14, bracketing the final recording session for Nirvana with Herbie Mann and the Evans trio. What happened in the studio is an example of jazz alchemy. The two players throughout listen to each other intently, trading melodic ideas and completing each others’ harmonic sentences.

The version of “My Funny Valentine” that opens the album shows off the duo’s musical imagination. Far removed from the meditative flavor of Miles’ various interpretations of the tune, the two take the tune at a breakneck speed that shows off the interplay between the two. In the first chorus, Evans takes the lead, but Hall’s accompaniment anticipates the chord changes up the scale, practically pulling Evans up after him! After the first chorus, things start to breathe a little more, with both Evans and Hall leaving rests in their solos between ideas, as though punctuating a conversation.

The second track, “I Hear a Rhapsody,” likewise flips around the convention established by John Coltrane and others who had covered this unlikely jazz standard. Where Coltrane’s recording takes a brisk pace, Hall and Evans meditate on the tune, with Hall’s guitar setting the pace via an out of tempo introduction that settles into a 60bpm reverie. Again, Evans and Hall exchange ideas in a way that seems psychic.

Dream Gypsy” continues the trance, this time in a waltz. There is more than a hint of “Blue in Green” in the introduction, but rather than heading into modal bliss, this first performance of the lovely Judith Veevers tune settles into a dark mode with flavors of Spanish guitar.

The opening of the second side, Jim Hall’s “Romain” sounds as though it should be “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” before it turns a corner, and changes key. There’s still a tinge of the Cole Porter number in the song, but the melody circles around G minor, as though reluctant to leave, before returning to C major, not quite performing the “major to minor” transition from the earlier song. It’s bewitching, and the duo keeps the tempo moving so that the end effect is bluesy rather than lugubrious.

John Lewis’ “Skating in Central Park” likewise has a touch of the familiar about it, but the genial waltz sweeps you along too ingratiatingly to worry about where you might have heard a bit of it before, circling the proverbial pond until it reaches a final climactic chord.

Darn That Dream” continues in much the same key as “Central Park,” but freely, with a short introduction by Evans yielding to an unaccompanied solo by Hall. The performance has the feel of the best of Bill Evans, that quiet moment where the chords give way into a moment of transfiguration. He was to find that transcendent quality in the next recording project he did, which would see him return to the studio with his new trio; we’ll hear from them next week.

A note on the cover: that’s a photograph from a 1947 Harper’s Bazaar shoot by fashion photographer Toni Frissell at Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida. The tourist attraction, known for its live “mermaids,” is still in operation today.

You can listen to the album here:

Herbie Mann and the Bill Evans Trio, Nirvana

Album of the Week, January 7, 2023

Bill Evans—whom we last saw providing compositions and historic accompaniment for Miles on Kind of Blue—was putting things back together. On June 25, 1961, he and his trio—Paul Motian on drums and Scott LaFaro on bass—performed a legendary set at the Village Vanguard club in New York City, from which the famed albums Live at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby were drawn. The trio was making a name for Evans’ innovative, dreamy compositions and for the unusual equality of voice among the three players in the trio, particularly with Scott LaFaro’s bass playing. Then, on July 6, 1961, LaFaro was killed in a car crash on US 20 in Seneca, New York. Evans was bereft, playing nothing but his and LaFaro’s version of “I Loves You, Porgy” for days and pausing all performances.

By December 1961 Evans was recording again. Spurred by his producer and Riverside Records founder, Orrin Keepnews, he put his trio back together, this time bringing in the bassist Chuck Israels. Before the trio recorded any sessions for Riverside, though, they found themselves in the Atlantic Records New York studios December 8, 1961 with producer Nesuhi Ertegun and flautist Herbie Mann.

If you have been on the Internet for any length of time you’ve seen the listicles of bad 1970s album covers. One, Push Push, is especially memorable, showing a balding, shirtless man in a hairy-chested slouch with a flute over his shoulder. That’s Herbie Mann. But before he was recording (pretty good!) jazz-funk albums with eye-bleach-worthy covers, he was a straight ahead post bop jazz soloist and composer. So while the pairing of the two might sound odd on paper, on vinyl it makes a lot more sense.

The opening track, “Nirvana,” is a Mann original, but it opens up sounding a lot like a Bill Evans composition, as the trio introduces the chordal progression almost at a whisper, Evans exploring modes around the chords as Israels’ bass quietly marks the fifths. When Mann’s flute enters it’s as though he was whispering too, and his melody provides Chuck Israels with the moment to start exploring the tune independently. The dialog among the players is sensitive and you can almost see them listening to each other and nodding quietly as each introduces new ideas. The tune unfolds like breathing.

The mood continues with “Gymnopédie,” one of the rare jazz covers of the second of the Erik Satie compositions, instead of the more commonly encountered first. The trio introduces the theme and Evans and Mann take turns essaying the melody of the composition. It’s a gentle meditation and true to the original composition, which depending on your inclination is either refreshing or slightly stultifying. Interestingly, though it sounds like a continuation of the first track, “Gymnopédie” and the final tune “Cashmere” were actually recorded at a different session in May of 1962.

I Love You” changes things up, with the players digging into the faster tempo of the Cole Porter song and Mann’s flute ringing in a higher register. On the second chorus, Evans drops out and we hear just Mann, Motian and Israels, which seems to spur Mann’s improvisatory muscles. By the time the players reach the end of the tune, all are fully engaged, with Israels’ stretto in the accompaniment no less exciting than his solo passage, one of only two on the record.

Willow Weep for Me” is back in ballad territory, and here the weakness of the record reveals itself: Herbie Mann is not that compelling a ballad player. He largely sticks to the melody or to very close improvisation around it, and while he tries to find the bluesier corners in Ann Ronell’s legendary tune, it’s ultimately not a compelling exercise. Evans finds more interesting things in the melody but ultimately this track is a little flat. “Lover Man” is better. The tempo is up just a touch, but more importantly Mann is more engaged, his improvisation and statement of the melody more compelling.

Cashmere,” closing the album, is another Mann original and the trio digs into it, finding a slightly off-kilter syncopation in the accompanying line under Mann’s first statement of the melody. Mann’s subsequent improvisation picks up the syncopation and makes it central to his interpretation of the tune, and when he hands it back to Evans the latter’s chorus is sprightly and sly, zigging from corner to corner. Israels’ solo (here’s the other one!) digs into the silence between the melody lines and also into the syncopation, trying a one-note variation of the syncopation pattern over three bars as though leaning into the groove. His solo is supported by Motian’s unshowy but brilliant drumming, which quietly anchors each pulse of the entire album. The band’s returning statement brings the tune through several modes before closing on a final suspension.

Mann and Evans wouldn’t record again, but Evans would go on to make some essential records with his trio. We’ll hear some of them soon, but first we’ll hear another unusual record in his discography that he began recording between the December and May dates for Nirvana. Come back next week for more on that record.

You can listen to this week’s album here:

Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas

Album of the Week, December 31, 2022

Every family has their holiday musical traditions. Many play the Vince Guaraldi A Charlie Brown Christmas album (we do, a lot). Some might play the Partridge Family Christmas album (we don’t, at all). But a tradition that Lisa and I discovered in the late 1990s, when it was reissued on CD, was Ella Fitzgerald’s first Christmas album.

I was thinking the other day about why jazz Christmas albums work so well. My conclusion: there’s a whole lot of Christmas songs that are really just Great American Songbook numbers, most of them from the same writers as those august luminaries. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”? Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, who also gave us “You Go to My Head.” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”? Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, of “The Trolley Song” (both from the musical Meet Me in St. Louis). “What Are You Doing New Years’ Eve?” is a Frank Loesser song, who also wrote “Slow Boat to China,” “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year,” and the songs for the Hans Christian Anderson musical, among many others. And that’s just picking three tracks from the first side of this album…

The 1960 recording session for Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas came at a propitious time in Ella’s career. As we noted in reviewing Ella and Duke at the Côte D’Azur, she was in the middle of recording her Song Book series, each release of which celebrated a particular composer of the Great American Songbook. In 1960, she had just released the George and Ira Gershwin volume the year before, which followed the Irving Berlin volume from 1958, the Duke Ellington volume in 1957, and both the Rodgers and Hart and Cole Porter volumes in 1956. Accordingly, the selection here features six numbers from Song Book composers (side 1 ends with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” by Bob Wells with Mel Tormé; on side 2, there’s also Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”). But there are also numbers from other sources, including Leroy Anderson’s great “Sleigh Ride,” Johnny Marks’ “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (surely the most durable 20th century song based on a Montgomery Wards advertising mascot!), “Frosty the Snowman,” Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith’s “Winter Wonderland,” and even Count Basie’s “Good Morning Blues,” which here receives its definitive 20th century performance. (The 21st century crown for this number might go to Cécile McLorin Salvant with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.)

And then there’s “Jingle Bells.” It may be the oldest tune on the album, but Ella and arranger/conductor Frank DeVol give J. S. Pierpont’s most famous contribution a mighty workout. This is the one tune on the recording where Ella really lets fly with the jazz swing vocals she is most famous for, culminating with the absolutely bonkers declaration at the end, “I’m just crazy ‘bout horses!” Us too, Ella.

The arrangements throughout veer between relaxed and exuberant, swinging hard throughout, a characteristic shared by Ella’s songbook recordings. In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch to dub this a “missing” songbook recording, as it fits right in. It’s an absolute joy and one worth adding to your record collection.

Listen…

Robert Shaw Chorale, Joy to the World

Album of the Week, December 24, 2022

Last time we wrote about the Album of the Week, a little more than a week ago (so sue me!), we wrote about Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. There’s more than an indirect connection to this week’s Album of the Week from that recording; as I noted then, Waring gave Robert Shaw his first job, asking the newly minted graduate of Pomona College to assemble and train a glee club for him.

That was the first of a series of groups led by the young, charismatic musician, culminating in the 1990s in the Robert Shaw Festival Chorus, an invitational choir that assembled each summer for workshops with Shaw in France (and in which many choral musicians in my life, including John Liepold, Bruce Tammen, and Christine Goerke participated). But probably the best known of Shaw’s groups was the Robert Shaw Chorale, the artists behind today’s recording.

Shaw became legendary for his ability to take ordinary—especially amateur— musicians and get extraordinary performances from them. I recall him telling the Cathedral Choral Society when we sang under his direction, either in 1995 or 1999, that “choral music is like sex. Both are far too important to be left solely to professionals.” He meant that it was important to perform with skill but maybe more important to perform with sheer love of music.

That sheer love of music comes through in this recording. There aren’t elaborate arrangements or unusual repertoire on the album. Most of the tracks consist of a few verses of familiar hymns or carols; there are 25 different carols in just over 33 minutes represented here. And, while I don’t often commend albums for just listening, this is one that I wholeheartedly recommend putting on and just listening. Enjoy…

Side one, part 1:

Side 1, Part 2:

Side 2, Part 1:

Side 2, Part 2:

Exfiltration Radio: riding in a wonderland

“Portrait of woman wearing dark suit, possibly Vera, holding record album,” Charles “Teenie” Harris (c.1960). Courtesy Carnegie Museum of Art.

So you’re stuck at home this Christmas. You have Covid, or someone in your family does, or both. Might as well crank the music up, and what better way to ring in the season than an hour of Christmas jazz?

This set, and yesterday’s, have been percolating for a few years, ever since my “Off Kilter Christmas” showed me how hard it was to trim all the holiday music I wanted to share down to an hour. But when I was putting together yesterday’s set, I realized I had something like four mixes worth of material, so I started separating the jazz out… and what came was remarkably coherent. Though maybe that says more about my record collection than fate. The track listing is below, though be prepared for Babs Gonsalves to pop up a few times.

“Sleigh Ride,” Duke Pearson (Merry Ole Soul). Pearson was, in addition to being the A&R man for Blue Note Records in the 1960s and composer of the great Donald Byrd track “Cristo Redentor,” a pretty fair pianist and arranger. This uber-cool take on “Sleigh Ride” is viewed through the prism of spiritual jazz, with a drone in the bass and drums that’ll knock your socks off.

“Marche Touche,” Classical Jazz Quartet (Christmas). This record is one of my happy discoveries this season. Featuring Ron Carter on bass, Kenny Barron on piano, Stefán Harris on vibes and marimba, and Lewis Nash on drums, this take on the March from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” is something else.

“Littler Drummer Boy,” Tia Fuller (It’s Christmas on Mack Avenue). If you want a modern classic of jazz interpretations of Christmas standards, I’d check out this compilation. Fuller’s take on “Little Drummer Boy” is representative, with a combination of traditional melodic interpretation and contemporary rhythm.

“We Three Kings of Orient Are,” Ellis Marsalis (A New Orleans Christmas Carol). This standout album from the late patriarch of the Marsalis clan has a lot going for it, especially Jason Marsalis’s beat on tracks like this one.

“Carol of the Bells,” Wynton Marsalis (Crescent City Christmas Card). I remember listening to this with my family with some puzzlement when it first came out. Now I love it: the horn line that shifts around the beat with each chorus, the typically crunchy Wynton chords, the classic Wynton Marsalis Septet members throwing everything into the arrangement (yes, that’s Marcus Roberts, Wycliffe Gordon, Todd Williams, Wessell Anderson, Herlin Riley, and Reginald Veal on the track).

“White Christmas,” Ill Considered (An Ill Considered Christmas). The Ill Considered Christmas album might be the 21st century equivalent of Crescent City Christmas Carol for dividing family opinion. There are some mighty interesting reharmonizations on this album. But I love the inclusion of Eastern melodies over the traditional Irving Berlin tune here, and the band is uptempo and bright.

“Christmas Time Is Here,” Ellis Marsalis. A second track off Ellis’s Christmas album, this is a solid reinterpretation of the Vince Guaraldi classic and a completely different mood from “We Three Kings.” Contemplative and mellow. You might want to refill that eggnog.

“Vauncing Chimes,” Bobby Watson (Blue Christmas). This contemporary collection from Blue Note has a bunch of fairly faithful covers of classic jazz arrangements, but this one actually comes from a different 1991 compilation and is a retitled version of “Jingle Bells,” with Watson’s saxophone taking us on a tour of the outer reaches.

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” Jimmy Smith (Christmas Cookin’). A top five holiday jazz album, Smith’s Hammond organ sizzles throughout this set. While I enjoy the numbers with orchestration in this set, this cut just has the trio, and they make a joyful noise.

“Here Comes Santa Claus,” Ramsey Lewis Trio (Sound of Christmas). This set from 1961, like the Jimmy Smith set, has trio numbers and orchestral arrangements, and this is also “just” a trio setting. But with Ramsey Lewis at the keys, it might as well be an orchestra. Rambunctious, bluesy and jolly, this’ll have you wondering what you put in that eggnog.

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Bill Evans Trio (Trio ’64). Just why the otherwise straight album by Evans, Paul Motian and Gary Peacock contained this cover of the Fred Coots/Haven Gillespie holiday standard is up for debate. What’s not up for debate is the high level of artistry on this track, with Evans, Motian and Peacock displaying telepathic abilities throughout. Worth the price of admission for Motian’s bass part alone.

“Sleep, Holy Infant, Sleep,” Dave Brubeck (Christmas Lullabies 12”). I don’t know too much about this vault issue, which was a Record Store Day release a few years ago, except that Brubeck demonstrates a delicacy of touch and interpretation that’s characteristic of some of his later Telarc recordings. This is, true to the release name, a lovely lullaby.

“Auld Lang Syne,” Bobby Timmons (Holiday Soul). The great soul jazz pianist and composer Bobby Timmons sees us out, with a great soul-inflected cover of the New Years Eve classic (or, depending on your leaning, unofficial University of Virginia alma mater).

Enjoy!

New mix: Exfiltration Radio: tinsel covered Christmas blues

“Cold War Christmas, 1960,” from Shorpy.com

It’s time for more Christmas craziness, so break out the eggnog, put up your feet, close that window that’s blowing open, and enjoy! Big range this time, with tracks from Yo La Tengo, Low and Jane Siberry joining the expected bits of old blues and funk.

The tunes:

  1. The Last Month Of The YearVera Hall Ward (Where Will You Be Christmas Day?)
  2. Getting Ready for Christmas DayPaul Simon (So Beautiful or So What)
  3. A Groovy Christmas and New Year (Kojo Donkoh)Houghas Sorowonko (A Groovy Christmas and New Year (Kojo Donkoh))
  4. It’s Christmas TimeYo La Tengo (Merry Christmas From Yo La Tengo)
  5. Christmas In Jail – Ain’t That A PainLeroy Carr (Where Will You Be Christmas Day?)
  6. When It’s Christmas Time on the RangeBob Wills (Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree II: The Eggnog Is Spiked)
  7. To Heck With Ole Santa ClausLoretta Lynn (Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree – A Vintage Holiday Mixtape)
  8. The Christmas BluesBob Dylan (Christmas In the Heart)
  9. Santa’s Got A Bag O’ SoulSoul Saints Orchestra (Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree II: The Eggnog Is Spiked)
  10. Merry Christmas BabyBootsy Collins (Christmas Is 4 Ever)
  11. Xmas Done Got FunkyJimmy Jules & Nuclear Soul System (Santa’s Funk & Soul Christmas Party Vol.1-3)
  12. Christmas on Riverside DriveAugust Darnell (A Christmas Record)
  13. Have Yourself a Merry Little ChristmasDread Zeppelin (Presents)
  14. Go Where I Send TheeFred Waring & The Pennsylvanians (The Sounds of Christmas)
  15. Some Hearts (at Christmas Time)Low (Some Hearts (at Christmas Time))
  16. Like a SnowmanTracey Thorn (Tinsel and Lights)
  17. Are You Burning, Little Candle?Jane Siberry (New York Trilogy III: Child (Music For The Christmas Season))
  18. SherburneAlabama Sacred Harp Singers (Where Will You Be Christmas Day?)
  19. Merry ChristmasA Festival of Village Carols, Grenoside (English Village Carols: Traditional Christmas Carolling from the Southern Pennines)

Christmas comes but once a year, but when it does, it brings good cheer.

Listen…

Apple Music library cleanup time

I’ve been working in the background on a long-overdue project: cleaning up my Apple Music library on my Mac. As longtime readers know, I have a lot of digital music, having not only ripped my original 1000+ CD collection but also quite a few records, and have been a major purchaser of downloadable music as well. That means a lot of tracks—over 70,000, to be precise. And more than will typically fit on the internal drive on a Mac, so I’ve been hosting them on an external drive for years. And that works well … except when it doesn’t.

Problem number 1: Let’s there is a power outage and the Mac unexpectedly shuts down. When the power comes back up, there’s a race condition where the Mac is back up and running before the external drive is fully mounted. That wouldn’t be a problem, except that Music (and iTunes before it) automatically reopens after a crash, so it thinks the volume where all the music is has disappeared. And that wouldn’t be a problem, except that if you then go on to work in Music instead of shutting it down and reopening it, it gets confused about where the music is and somehow ends up creating duplicate entries of some songs in the library—one entry for the local file when the drive comes back on line, one entry for the entry in the remote library.

It gets worse. It’s possible to do this multiple times. I have had to clean up cases where there were three copies of each song on a given album.

And the cleanup is manual. I typically have had to go album by album in the Songs view; sort by Cloud Status (“Matched”/“Uploaded”/“Duplicate”/“Removed”/“Waiting”), remove the songs I didn’t want to keep, and then do cleanup on the rest. How that happened depends on what the situation was:

  • Lossless rip marked as “Removed” or “Duplicate,” low-res copy marked as “Matched” or “Uploaded.” This happens a lot. The answer turns out to be pretty simple: select all the low-res versions, right click and choose Remove Download, then select all the lossless copies, right click and choose Add to Library. And wait. Sometimes, depending on the fates, the tracks stay in “Waiting” status indefinitely. Fortunately you can choose “File” > “Library” > “Update Cloud Library” and force it to re-evaluate its life choices.
  • Low-res copy marked as “Removed” or “Duplicate.” This is an easier fix. Just delete the low-res copies.

Of course, you have to repeat this album by album. Did I mention I have over 7,500 albums? Breaking it up by genre helped my sanity.

The very worst is when the library itself gets hosed. I got in a situation a few weeks ago where I was seeing tracks marked as Duplicate but there was no duplicate in the library. I finally realized that somehow, the last time I had reconnected the Cloud Library to my computer, it had not completely downloaded all the available tracks. I crossed my fingers, turned off Cloud Library, rebooted, and turned it back on, and all the missing tracks appeared.

This last opportunity turns out to be an excellent restorative, for both the library and your heart, and I don’t recommend it if you’re out of shape. But I finally am at a point where all the tracks are de-duplicated and only a few (which are probably legitimately corrupted) show up as in an error state.

Progress! Now, I have to fix the duplicated playlists…

Putting the S in Christmas

If you visit this blog from time to time, there’s something new you may not have noticed up in the address bar: a padlock. Since starting my site, it’s been available over HTTP only, but as of this weekend, if you try to connect via HTTP, it’ll quietly redirect you to HTTPS.

I work at a security company, and ironically that’s what may have delayed my installation of a security certificate on this site. The risk here is low, given that I’m the only one that logs in. However, it always bugged me that I hadn’t added transport level security (TLS) to the site, and this weekend I logged into my hosting provider’s console to see what I needed to do to fix it.

It turned out to be ridiculously easy. My hosting provider, Pagely, has a direct integration with LetsEncrypt, a nonprofit – and free – certificate authority that generated a new secure certificate for my site with just a few clicks. After that, the door was closed.

It feels a little sad to take this step, like moving out of a neighborhood where you don’t need to lock your doors. But it certainly couldn’t be easier.

Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, The Sounds of Christmas

Album of the Week, December 17, 2022

I knew of Fred Waring before I heard his music. Popular radio (and later television) show. First employer of Robert Shaw, who put together and trained Waring’s Glee Club as a kid fresh out of Pomona College in 1938. Even, improbably, major contributor to 20th century cocktail culture, via the invention of the Waring Blendor, and indirectly to the development of the polio vaccine as Waring Blendors were used in the lab in the production of Jonas Salk’s vaccines.

But I had never heard Fred Waring. Then, somehow, I came across this album, a 1959 session for Capitol Records . Friend, I was not prepared. It comes on gangbusters, with a sound effects track of a train passing, bells ringing, carols singing, and probably barnyard animals too. There’s an immediate segue into a jolly rendition of “Ring Those Christmas Bells,” which I first sang with the Boston Pops years ago, not knowing its connection to this record.

And then? By all that’s holy, the carolers break into Alfred Burt’s “Caroling, Caroling.” I sang Alfred Burt’s carols as a high schooler in the church choir at Denbigh Presbyterian Church, but had never really heard them on record. This album gives a full Robert Shaw Chorale-style performance to the carol, and makes you believe that the carolers are just standing outside the window, thanks to some interesting studio magic.

An aside about that: If you insist on the purity of live recording without recording trickery, this is not the album for you. Here choirs of children are doused with reverb to simulate outdoor performance down an echoing street — or maybe at the other end of a church? Tracks are stitched together without a break, giving the impression of a television variety show that is being sped up for rebroadcast. And those bells and trains return from time to time to remind you of the artificiality of the whole thing. This is a record that revels in audio montages, recapitulations, and other reminders that you should really go out and get that television set like the Joneses down the street.

I don’t mean to sound Grinchy. There are some truly magnificent choral performances on this album; in addition to “Caroling, Caroling,” other Alfred Burt compositions include “O Hearken Ye,” “The Star Carol,” “Jesu Parvule,” and “Bright, Bright the Holly Berries.” There’s a spine-tingling alto solo on “I Wonder as I Wander” and a gospel rave-up on “Go Where I Send Thee” that has me shouting along. Unfortunately the latter is preceded by one of the rare missteps on the album, an otherwise vocally impeccable performance of “Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow” that is performed in dialect.

But overall the album wraps you in a kind of woozy mid-century cocoon woven of equal parts sincerity, joy, and made-for-radio sonic joy. And isn’t that what some kinds of Christmas music are all about, Charlie Brown?

You can hear the album here:

Boston Camerata, A Renaissance Christmas (1974)

Album of the Week, December 10, 2022

The Boston Camerata was founded in 1954, but they didn’t enter my consciousness until the late 1970s, when my mother brought home a copy of Sing We Noel. The record, an unexpected combination of medieval and Renaissance English carols and 19th century American hymns for Christmas, was a hit in our house, sparking my love of Middle English (I can still sing “Nova, nova: aue fitt ex Eva” in the original from memory, and brought “Nowell, Out of Your Slepe” to the Suspicious Cheese Lords), early American hymnody (“Sherburne,” anyone?), and the Boston Camerata. Our household bought both the follow-up records on Nonesuch: A Renaissance Christmas and A Medieval Christmas, and I followed the group to their recordings for Erato and other labels. I’ve taken my kids to see them here in Boston. (I’ve also developed working relationships with at least one musician on that original series of recordings; the Virginia Glee Club’s director Frank Albinder sang as a graduate student on A Renaissance Christmas.)

So it was with a certain thrill that I found a Camerata record that predates all of the above, and hits some of the same repertoire from Sing We Noel and A Renaissance Christmas. Also called A Renaissance Christmas, this 1974 recording on the small Turnabout Records label proved to be an unexpected addition to our Christmas listening.

The biggest unexpected thing, perhaps, is the quality of the sound on the recording. The Nonesuch records featured impeccable balance and clarity of sound; this record, not so much. In several numbers, the wind instruments overpower the women’s voices, and there are moments of impaired pitch in some of the men’s singing, particularly in the Obrecht “Magnificat” when the men enter unaccompanied.

There are also, though, delightful moments, including the pairing of “Nova, Nova,” here sung in modern English, with the 15th century Czech carol “Salve, lux fidelium.” Here the voices are clear and strong, and full of personality. Indeed, this is one of the hallmarks that sets this recording apart from the Deller Consort record we heard last week, where the balance was delicate, sometimes overly so.

Most distinctively, the program for the recording covers an immense amount of ground inside the theme of “Renaissance Christmas,” from anonymous English carols to motets by Mouton, Victoria, Praetorius, Clemens Non Papa, Francesco Guerrero and others. And the repertoire is creatively sequenced, too, with all the Spanish motets and carols coming together to tell the birth of Jesus. This should come as no surprise, as even at this early date, about five years after he took leadership of the Camerata, music director Joel Cohen was already demonstrating his flair for creative programming.

The strongest performances, to my ears, come in the repertoire that Cohen would return to in Sing We Noel and in the 1986 version of A Renaissance Christmas, namely “Marvel Not, Joseph,” which except for its modern English text could be mistaken for the version that the group would perform four years later; the Victoria “O Magnum Mysterium,” which would return on the 1986 Renaissance; and of course “Riu, Riu, Chiu,” which swaggers appropriately just as it did on the later recording. (Unfortunately, there is only a single album-length version of this record available on YouTube; you’ll have to listen to the whole thing to get the samples from this 1974 version.)

But the vocal performances get stronger as the album goes on, including the “Virgen Santa” and “Sweet Was the Song the Virgin Sung,” featuring a countertenor solo that’s as lovely as anything I’ve heard from this group. All told, it’s a fun collection that is just familiar enough to trigger nostalgia for some of the Camerata’s later recordings, and just distinctive enough to be worth a listen on its own.

You can listen to the album here:

Alfred Deller, Carols & Motets for the Nativity of Medieval and Tudor England

Album of the Week, December 3, 2022

We shift gears this week to start a short series on Christmas records. This’ll go some different places, but if you’re just with me for jazz, hang in there—we’ll get to some holiday jazz recordings during the series. Today, though, takes us to a very different place—almost to a beginning.

Living in the Boston area in the early 21st century, it’s hard to believe that there was a time when no one was really performing early music. But that was exactly the situation as recently as 80 years ago. It took the work of today’s featured artist, alongside other like-minded English musicians, to change that. Alfred Deller’s and the Deller Consort not only brought countertenor performance out of the English choral tradition and back onto concert stages, he also brought about a serious revival of early music repertoire and helped launch the careers of other like-minded singers and musicians, including Rogers Covey-Crump and David Elliott of the Hilliard Ensemble, and singers Mark Deller (his son), Robert Tear and Maurice Bevan; the latter three appear on this album.

Deller’s countertenor voice doesn’t sound exceptional today, if you’re familiar with the work of the Hilliard Ensemble or other early music ensembles, but it must have been shocking at the time. I like the anecdote quoted in his Wikipedia article:

Michael Chance tells the story that once, a French woman, upon hearing Deller sing, exclaimed “Monsieur, vous êtes eunuque”—to which Deller replied, “I think you mean ‘unique’, Madam.”

But how is the record? I think it’s fair to say that the performance is an acquired taste. The instrumentation of Musica Antiqua—here under the direction of the great René Clemencic—is heavy on period instruments, with plenty of crumhorn, recorder, positive organ and bells, and maybe even a sackbut or two lurking around the edges. The instrumental numbers are accordingly unusual in timbre to modern ears; both the “Carol with Burden” and the “Angelus ad Virginem” had me checking my watch a few times.

The vocal music is why one listens to this record. And while some of the performance practices are unusual by current “early music” standards—there’s nary a straight tone to be found, and most of the works are sung in modern English rather than the Middle English that would be more authentic—the quality of the singing is still uniformly high. The “Nova, Nova” which can be heard in Middle English on the Boston Camerata’s Sing We Noel is performed in modern English here but with fully appropriate enthusiasm. Fifteenth century composer Richard Pygott’s ten-minute-long “Quid Petis O Fili” engages the listener throughout.

And a number of the songs approach definitive performances. “Hail, Mary, Full of Grace” and the medieval carol “Edi Beo Thu Hevene Quene” (here sung in modern English as “Blessed, Be Thou Heavenly Queen”) are both tenderly and sensitively performed. The “In Die Nativitas” is sung with more vigor, but comes across with a little less balance. Of the more sturdy numbers, “Nowell, Nowell: Out of Your Sleep” is perhaps more successful. But the standout is “There is no Rose of Such Virtue,” sung with a great amount of rubato and delicacy. It single-handedly vaults this record to my annual Christmas list, and I hope you’ll find it on yours as well.

You can listen to the record here:

Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, Ella & Duke at the Côte d’Azur

Album of the Week, November 26, 2022

Duke Ellington, in 1967, was in the prime of his post-peak creative years. Having spent some time between labels building his reputation as an elder statesman, as we saw last week with Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, he was shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1965 (though ironically no award was given that year; he is said to have joked “Fate doesn’t want me to be famous too young”). He was still recording major works, including the Far East Suite in 1966. And he was touring and performing with dozens of other musicians. I’ve reviewed a record from that period, when he performed with the Boston Pops; see my write up of The Duke at Tanglewood, which I found ultimately dissatisfying due to the lack of simpatico between Ellington and his competent, yet square, stage-mates.

No such problem exists between the performers in today’s recording. Ella & Duke at the Côte d’Azur feels as though it ought to have been a bootleg due to the electricity of the crowd energy that’s captured and that clearly infects the performers. It is, in a word, jumpin’.

Ella and Duke had recorded several times together by the time this recording was made in 1966, starting in 1957 when she collaborated with Ellington on Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Song Book. Part of her great Song Book series in which she elevated the work of American songwriters from Tin Pan Alley to canon, this was the only record in which she performed with the songwriter himself. She had also recorded Ella at Duke’s Place in the studio in 1965, and The Stockholm Concert, 1966 was cut earlier the same summer that the two met at the International Festival of Jazz for a series of concerts. The double LP here is apparently only a taste of the combined performances; together they recorded some 80-plus tracks, which eventually saw release in an 8 CD Verve set in 1998 as the Côte d’Azur Concerts.

What’s striking is how much fun Ella, in particular, seems to be having. She gets a full two choruses into “Mack the Knife” before she starts scatting and improvising over the band. According to the liner notes, there was no arrangement for the tune—they just started playing, and it’s audible in the music as it goes through multiple key changes. At one point, Ella sings “We’re making a record of the same old song… we swung old Mackie down for you people here at the Jazz Festival! We’re going to sing, we’re going to swing, we’re going to add one more chorus!” And she adds another two choruses, then a third, going up a half step in between each one. You can hear the socks of the crowd being blown off.

While Ella and Duke play together on the first track, many of the remaining numbers are played only by one group or the other, starting with Ellington’s usual group—Paul Gonsalves, Cat Anderson, Harry Carney, Ray Nance, Johnny Hodges, Mercer Ellington, Buster Cooper, Sam Woodyard, etc.— on “The Old Circus Train Turn-Around Blues.” The liner notes call out the tune’s similarity to “Night Train,” but it’s a fun enough romp nonetheless.

Ella’s group takes the stage next. She’s backed by the Jimmy Jones piano trio featuring Jim Hughart on bass and the mighty Grady Tate on drums. Her “Lullaby of Birdland” is not very lullaby-like, but it’s delightful nonetheless. This is followed by Ellington’s group, with Ellington announcing, “Buster Cooper will be the virtuosoist in ‘Trombonio-Bustiosso-Issimo.’” Cooper is hot indeed in the solo, with the band lighting a fire underneath him.

Ella’s group switches things up a bit with “Goin’ Out of My Head,” the newest composition on the record and a reminder of her late-sixties pop work on albums like her 1969 Ella. But if the tune sounds a little dated to modern ears, she gives it her all here. Ella never really belts on her records, but she certainly comes close on this one. Grady Tate provides a slightly samba-inflected beat behind the tune, swinging back into a rock beat in the chorus and keeping things lively throughout. She continues with “How Long Has This Been Going On?,” singing the Gershwin standard with nuance and subtlety and taking us into a different world for an all too brief moment.

Ellington’s band returns for a medley of “Diminuendo in Blue/Blow by Blow,” with Ellington growling and shouting encouragement to his players above the fray. Paul Gonsalves reprises an abbreviated version of his infinite solo from the famed Newport 1956 concerts. Next the band begins a performance of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing” that has the crowd applauding from the first chords of the tune, and Ella joins them in, breaking up as Ellington shouts inaudible encouragement from the piano. After a few verses and some spectacular scatting from Ella, another from Ellington’s band steps up and trades scat bars with her. But Ella cannot be imitated or brushed off, and she carries the rest of the song, dropping in a reference to “A Hard Day’s Night” before driving the song to closure. The Ellington band concludes this set with “All Too Soon,” providing Ray Nance an opportunity to show off his violin playing together with Ben Webster and Buster Cooper. There’s no showboating here, just solid solos from all three protagonists.

Ella’s band returns with settings of “Misty” and “So Danço Samba,” called “Jazz Samba” on the original label but corrected on my copy. “Misty” is played straight and sensitively, with a closing straight out of the Sarah Vaughan playbook, but “So Danço Samba” is something else again. Combining a sensitive approach to the Brazilian original with interspersed scatting, a touch of “The Girl from Ipanema,” and ending with a whispered beat-box of a vocal solo that has her trading percussive licks with Grady Tate before she takes a resurgent and triumphant sung conclusion, she cracks up the band and takes the crowd by storm.

The Ellington band returns with a request, a “totally unprepared, unrehearsed, no arrangement” version of “Rose of the Rio Grande.” Buster Cooper takes the solo on his trombone, duetting with Sam Woodyard’s bass in a brief interlude and closing the whole work out in a roaring crescendo. Ella’s band then takes over with an achingly tender “The More I See You” before yielding again to Ellington for “The Matador (El Viti).” Ella rejoins Duke for a final performance of “Just Squeeze Me (But Please Don’t Tease Me),” where she trades scat syllables and bluesy growls with the great pianist and trades verses with Ben Webster, and finally addresses the audience, “You’ve made us sentimental, the way you received our show/We’d love to squeeze you, really don’t want to tease you.” The audience returns the expressed affection with a roar of applause, bringing the set to an end.

This brings our series on Duke Ellington to a fitting close, as I’ve run out of vinyl with his compositions. We’ve heard many different sides of the man: the innovative composer, the bandleader who played the orchestra like a piano, the sensitive, intuitive collaborator, and finally the master showman. There’s a lot more Ellington to explore, but the calendar is turning. Next week we’ll be exploring something very different.

You can listen to the album here:

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane

Album of the Week, November 19, 2022

Duke Ellington’s run of albums for Columbia Records in the mid to late 1950s was spectacular. In addition to Masterpieces by EllingtonEllington at NewportBlack, Brown and Beige, and Ellington Indigos, the run also included such classics as Ellington UptownA Drum is a WomanSuch Sweet ThunderJazz Party (featuring the debut of the Billy Strayhorn tune “U.M.M.G.”), and the soundtrack to Anatomy of a Murder

However, by 1962 his contract with Columbia had come to an end, and in a way this ushered in an even more significant period in Ellington’s development, as he began to record sessions for other labels with an array of artists. From this period came his great collaboration with Max Roach and Charles Mingus, Money Jungle, and two collaboration albums on Impulse! Records, Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington & John Coltrane

It’s worth pausing for a second to acknowledge that we have stepped into the timeline of Impulse! Records. One of the undisputedly great jazz labels alongside Blue Note and Verve (and later, CTI), Impulse! was established in 1960 by producer Creed Taylor, who may be the most significant contribution to jazz music to have come from Pearlsburg, Virginia. At Bethlehem Records, his first recording, a session backing vocalist Chris Connors with Ellis Larkins’ piano trio, earned him the position of head of A&R for the label. He parlayed this brief but successful stint into a role at ABC-Paramount, where he created Impulse! as a subsidiary label with the tagline “The New Wave in Jazz.” Creating immediate success with records by Gil Evans, Kai Winding, Ray Charles, Oliver Nelson and others, Taylor’s lasting accomplishment was to sign John Coltrane to the label in 1960. Due to Coltrane’s long association with the label, it became known as “The House That Trane Built.” Taylor left Impulse! for Verve in 1961, leaving the session Coltrane recorded with Ellington to Trane’s long-time producer Bob Thiele and engineer Rudy Van Gelder. (We’ll see Creed Taylor again.)

Ellington did not bring along his orchestra, or even his usual horn players, to the session. Without a regular record contract, he could not keep the band together indefinitely. Instead, bringing drummer Sam Woodyard and bassist Aaron Bell, he met Coltrane on more or less equal footing.

This recording found Coltrane at an interesting point in his development. While still performing with the Miles Davis Sextet, he had recorded music with an increasingly avant-garde flavor, perhaps culminating in the residency at the Village Vanguard with Eric Dolphy, Reggie Workman, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner that saw a release as Impressions. Critics were bitterly divided over the work, misunderstanding Trane’s searching approach, and 1962 apparently brought some retrenchment, with a greater focus on ballads, but no lack of innovation in the playing. Trane had just stabilized the membership in his own Great Quartet, with Jimmy Garrison replacing Workman on bass; Garrison and Jones join Coltrane on this session, and indeed support Ellington on all but two of the numbers.

As with Money Jungle, Ellington paired with the new players brings a sense of fresh spontaneity and depth to the album, many of the selections on which are familiar Ellington standards. The opener, “In a Sentimental Mood,” could not be performed more delicately by the band, with Jones’ muscular but nuanced hand at the drums joining Aaron Bell on bass. Trane’s melodic playing seems to search through the key changes of the tune, but never goes “out” in the way some of his earlier work stretches beyond space and time. Instead, he seems anchored to our world through the combination of Ellington’s gentle arpeggiated introduction and Jones and Bell’s steady, subtle pulse.

Take the Coltrane” is one in a series of Ellington compositions devoted to musicians with whom he collaborated, and it’s a remarkable achievement, highlighting both Trane’s arpeggiated “sheets of sound” and a slyly modal melody. Elvin Jones does unnaturally wonderful things on the hi-hat throughout, and Trane’s solo is of a piece with the work he was recording on his own Impulse! recordings. This recording features both Bell and Garrison on bass, and both plus Jones support Trane under his solo while Ellington steps aside. When Duke returns, he slyly drops in a little “Ooh Pa Pa Da” as though in reference to the bop origins of the tune. It’s genuinely fun.

Big Nick,” the sole Coltrane original on the record, is a fun, loping melody that takes the harmonic ideas of “Giant Steps” and swings them, creating a slow blues that rides on Jimmy Garrison’s loping bass line. Coltrane’s solo takes off for something like the outer stratosphere but never loses the blues progression, so that when he yields the floor to Duke his more straightforward take on the blues feels like a continuation of the conversation, rather than a rebuke. But it really all comes back to the melody, one of the quirkiest and most fun that Coltrane authored.

Stevie” carries on the swing but in a more Ellingtonian harmonic language, swerving from a minor blues into a major key. His introductory choruses veer through at least three different modes before returning to the original minor. Trane mostly stays within the first minor mode for his solo, which carries flavors of “Impressions” in its blistering runs but never goes too far outside. Ellington’s initial take on the melody stays cool in contrast to Coltrane’s heat, finishing with a low tolling note to close out the first side.

My Little Brown Book” is one of the most gorgeous ballads on the record. The Ellington introduction, with Woodyard and Bell backing, revisits the feeling of “In a Sentimental Mood,” but when Coltrane enters on the melody of this Strayhorn composition, we’re suddenly swaying to a half heard melody on an empty dance floor somewhere near midnight. This is Trane at his most romantic, with echoes of his performance of “I’ll Wait and Pray” from Coltrane Jazz, and the rest of the band is there for him, with only small ripples from Ellington disturbing the serenity of the track.

Angelica” is, for me, the standout track here. Just listen to that opening beat from Elvin Jones, and the bounce that carries over to Ellington’s opening choruses, backed up by a jubilant Garrison. Coltrane’s entry keeps the swing going, and he plays it pretty safe for the first few choruses. Then on that fourth, after Ellington drops out and it’s just him and the rhythm, he cuts loose, with sheets of sound swirling around the beat, never losing the swing but somehow taking a step left through a door into, well, a John Coltrane record. After that chorus, he brings it back to the melody, and you can hear Ellington recalibrating his approach before he re-enters. It sums up so much about the connection between Coltrane’s approach and the harmonic and rhythmic innovations that had come before him, and is a complete blast to listen to. And maybe even dance: I want Elvin Jones playing that beat for my entry music as I stroll, sashay and jitterbug into heaven.

The Feeling of Jazz” brings us back to a slow blues to close out the album. True to its title, it bridges both Trane’s searching quality and Ellington’s formalism to give us something that feels like a little of both worlds. Trane’s solo continues throughout most of the song; we are reminded of the time he told Miles, the latter having asked why he played such a long solo, that “it took that long to get it all in.” At the end, Trane finally steps back from the microphone and Ellington and his rhythm section play through the fade-out, the elder titan getting the last word.

In the liner notes to the album, Trane famously remarked, “I would have liked to have worked over all those numbers again, but then I guess the performances wouldn’t have had the same spontaneity.” The whole session was recorded in a single day on September 26, 1962 at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio, just eight days after the recording of “Up ’Gainst the Wall” that rounds out Impressions. But the album speaks for itself, the meeting of two giants and of two sympathetic musicians who bring their separate conceptions of the music into a unified whole. It remains as spontaneous and fresh for me today as when I first heard it almost thirty years ago.

You can listen to the album here: