Thursday, July 20, 2017

Bill Saxton: ATYMONY

Back in April, I used my Facebook page to observe International Jazz Month by posting a jazz video every day. My little conceit was to include a musician I had heard live at some time in my life―a bit of braggadocio, if you will. While flipping through my mental Rolodex, Bill Saxton’s name Popped up. I had heard Saxton with Roy Haynes at the three Sisters in West Paterson, NJ in the late 1970's and remembered enjoying his work on tenor and soprano. After that, he slipped from my ken, although I thought he had made a record or two as leader after I saw him.

I’ve been listening to this music long enough that I did my Internet search with at least a little trepidation. Years ago, jazz musicians often ran into career or personal problems that took them off the scene―sometimes permanently. Happily, I was pleased to find that Bill Saxton is still playing and has his own website and, since 2006, jazz club. He’s even been written about in the New York Times.
I was also able to track down ATYMONY (short for And the Young Musicians of New York), a 1994 recording on the Jazzline label, apparently recorded during one of Saxton’s numerous European tours. It’s a solid date, featuring several of his original compositions, like Almost Is Nothing and Thabiti, along with beautiful renditions of In a Sentimental Mood and Over and Over Again, and Clifford Jordan’s Bearcat. I was impressed with his strong, individual style on tenor and lyrical soprano―both intelligent and full of feeling.   Carlos McKinney contributes some fine Tyneresque piano, and Omer Avital on bass and Noel Parris on drums provide excellent rhythmic support throughout. (Through the miracle of theIinternet, I learned that McKinney has gone on to become an important music producer―who knew?).

Bill Saxton is a fine, underrated jazz warrior. If you’re in New York, check him out! Meanwhile, here are Almost is Nothing, Thabiti, and In a Sentimental Mood.

Almost is Nothing


In a Sentimental Mood

Monday, June 5, 2017

Mainstream Records Jazz: A Loud Minority

Some time back, I posted a review of a compilation of soul, soul jazz, and funk from Bob Shad’s Mainstream Records. I’ve been curious about Shad because his lengthy career as a record label owner extended from the 1940s through the 1970s, from jazz and blues on his Sittin’ In Records to rock and roll and jazz on Time, Shad, and Brent Records to the aforesaid productions on Mainstream. Add to that a stint as producer of such artists as Clifford Brown, Max Roach, and Sarah Vaughn on Emarcy Records, and you’ve got quite a career. Also, as far as I can ascertain, he was a relatively decent guy in a cut-throat business (and Judd Apatow’s grandfather!).

You can get a pretty good picture of Mainstream’s early 70s jazz output on A Loud Minority, an Ace Records compilation. Although the subtitle says: “Deep Spiritual Jazz from Mainstream records, 1970–1973,” my own version would read “Late 60s Blue Note/Prestige/Contemporary Hard Bop with Electric Piano” instead. The artists (Blue Mitchell. Harold Land, Roy Haynes, Johnny Coles, Charles McPherson, etc.) and the tunes (almost all originals by band members) are right out of that period, which was an early manifestation of the ongoing “Jazz is dead” prophesy. The striking thing about this collection is how underrated Mainstream was and is as a harbor for fugitives from those dying or transforming labels. Like Muse and Xanadu in the 1970s and 80s, Shad gave these musicians an outlet when the majors were dumping jazz and buying out the older independents.  

Overall, A Loud Minority is a strong collection that repays repeated listening. In addition to the artists mentioned above, there’s fine work by Hadley Caliman, Frank Foster, and Buddy Terry, whose Kamili is closest to the post-Coltrane spirituality referred to on the album cover. Another gem is Johnny Coles playing Miles Davis’s Petits Machins. Note: Contrary to the track list and liner notes, Charisma, the Charles McPherson entry, is really Bronislaw Kaper’s Invitation―beautifully done, of course.

I’m impressed enough by the quality of A Loud Minority to want to investigate Mainstream’s jazz recordings in more depth, and check out other types of music from Bob Shad’s long and varied career. Meanwhile, here are a couple of standout tracks: Kamili and Hadley Caliman's Watercress.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Blues in Cincinnati: Stovepipe No. 1

Steven C. Tracy’s excellent book, Going to Cincinnati: A History of the Blues in the Queen City, served as my introduction to Sam Jones, AKA Stovepipe No. 1. Stovepipe played everything from gospel and square dance tunes to hokum and jug band blues, both in the streets and in various establishments in Cincinnati, although more often in the city’s West End. He was on hand from at least the 1920s to as late as the 1960s, and his voice in 1924 sounded as if he already had been around a bit. He was called “Stovepipe” because he wore a stovepipe hat as part of his shtick, but primarily because he literally played a length of stovepipe; if a jug is the equivalent of a tenor sax, a stovepipe is a baritone sax.  He also played guitar and harmonica, often as a one-man band.

Stovepipe’s first one-man band recordings were made in 1924 for Gennett Records in Richmond, Indiana; unfortunately, none of them survives. As the story goes, when he hit Richmond, billing himself as “Daddy Stovepipe,” he found out that Gennett had just recorded another Daddy Stovepipe (go figure!). Thus, he started billing himself as Stovepipe No. 1―the original. A few months later, he also recorded for Columbia Records, again as a one-man band. The first day’s session is still missing in action, although the tracks he cut seem to have been blues and perhaps square dance calls. The next day’s recordings are still around, including a couple of gospel tunes (Lord, Don’t You Know I have No Friend Like You and I’ve Got Salvation in My Heart), some old-time songs like Turkey in the Straw, and an instrumental (Fisher’s Hornpipe).

In 1927, Stovepipe teamed up with guitarist David Crockett to record some novelty songs (A Chicken Can Waltz the Gravy Around) and some jokey blues tunes like Bed Slats. He wrapped up his recording career in 1930 as singer and stovepiper-in-chief with King David’s Jug Band (presumably the “king” was the aforesaid Mr. Crockett); they recorded some prime examples of jug band hokum, including Tear It Down, another version of Bed Slats.  After that, Stovepipe went back to the streets of Cincinnati, following his calling into what one would assume was relative old age.

My take: Stovepipe No. I’s music is charming. Like Henry Thomas of Texas, his repertoire included a variety of forms that predated the blues; Fisher’s Hornpipe goes back to the 18th century. Steven Tracy surmises that the old-time and square dance material was for white audiences and the blues and gospel material for African Americans, but it may be that the latter (and maybe both groups) liked a variety of material presented by a top hat-wearing and hokum-loving street minstrel. Stovepipe was also the starting point for an impressive array of blues recordings produced by Cincinnati artists in the 1920s and 1930s, which I hope to talk about in future posts. I highly recommend Tracy’s Going to Cincinnati for more background; it seems to be out of print, but second-hand copies are out there at a reasonable price. Anyway, give old Stovepipe a try―after all, he was Number 1.

Here are Fisher’s Hornpipe, A Chicken Can Waltz the Gravy Around, and Sweet Potato Blues (I love the jug band’s mandolin player―I wonder who he was? I love this stuff!

Fisher's Hornpipe

A Chicken Can Waltz the Gravy Around

Sweet Potato Blues

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Dreaming of Spanish Harlem: Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers

Henry “Pucho” Brown isn’t Hispanic, but he grew up in the vibrant cultural stew of what used to be called Spanish Harlem. His resultant immersion in said stew resulted in the formation of Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers, which recorded repeatedly for Prestige Records in the late 1960s. This band was only a name to me until I listened to this compilation from BGP, one of the Ace family of reissue labels. There are lots of funky Latino beats, of course, but what really resonates with me is the subtle background influence of John Coltrane and other contemporary jazz artists. It’s not just the versions of Herbie Hancock’s Cantaloupe Island and Maiden Voyage, but also the slightly melancholy tones of Vietnam Mambo, the bristling Psychedelic Pucho, and the pulsating Cloud 9

Maybe it’s the current dismal political environment, but I hear undertones of spiritual jazz and Vietnam-era political unrest behind the party beats and soul vocals. OK, maybe it’s just me and my reaction to the climate of lies and impending rule by corrupt plutocrats, so it's fine just to listen and move your body to some vintage butt-shaking sounds. Special kudos to Claude Bartee on sax, Eddie and Al Pazant on reeds and trumpet, respectively, Neal Creque on keyboards, and Pucho on timbales. I’ve got to check out more of the Soul Brothers! Here's Maiden Voyage.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Lester Leaps Again: The Brew Moore Quintet

In its pell-mell rush from New Orleans to infinity, jazz has left a number of styles behind. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing in some cases, but others ought to be placed on an endangered species list and lovingly fostered. Right now, I’m thinking of the school of bop-influenced Lester Young tenor disciples like Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Allen Eager, and Brew Moore. They all achieved a beautiful mix of sound and ideas that seems all the more refreshing in contrast to the Hawkins/Rollins/Coltrane school that dominates our  era. Above all, they had the gift of easy, inevitable swing in every note they played.  I love today’s tenor players, but couldn’t they relax once in a while? Given the news these days, we could use some relaxation.

Take Milton (Brew) Moore (1924–1973), for example. He famously stated that “Anyone who doesn’t play like Lester Young is wrong,” yet he also assimilated the language of bebop. A true jazz itinerant Jack Kerouac was a fan), Moore wound up in Denmark before his untimely death from a fall in 1973.  In the 1950s, he temporarily relocated to San Francisco, where he recorded The Brew Moore Quintet, a good introduction to his work. It’s a fine collection of old standards like Tea for Two and Them Their Eyes, along with a number of originals by pianist John Marabuto. Moore tips his hat to Prez with I Want a Little Girl. Although he could really caress a ballad, as on Fools Rush In, the other tracks are exemplars of the wonderful laid-back swing that seems to be virtually a lost art these days. Trumpeter Dicky Mills, Bassist Max Hartstein, and drummer Gus Gustofson are uniformly good, but this album is Brew’s show.

Here's I Can't Believe that You're in Love with Me. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Roots of Georgie Fame: R & B, Soul, Ska, and Jazz

In one of those infinite universes out there, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones never made it big. Instead, the sounds of the British mods—1950s R & B, 1960s soul, ska, and hip jazz tunes—swept the world, led by my man Georgie Fame. I wouldn’t really want to do without the British invasion, but…

Because we have to operate in the universe we’re given, Georgie Fame, aka Clive Powell, remains a fine but relatively unheralded (at least in the U.S.) singer and organist who had a bunch of hits in the 60s and an excellent musical career in the years since. I’ve been a Fame fan since I first heard Yeh-Yeh, his biggest U.S. hit aside from The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde (not a favorite of mine). Years later, I picked up the U.S. pressing of his first studio album and subsequently have collected as many of his LPs and CDs as I could. I recently ordered an elaborate, five-CD box set of all of his 1960s recordings via Juno Records in the UK ( a good price and excellent service, I might add) and will be talking about it here in the near future.

Meanwhile, Ace Records has assembled a first-rate collection of originals that Georgie covered in his heyday: Georgie Fame Heard Them Here First. From soul (Sweet Thing by the Spinners in their lesser-known Motown days) to R & B (Pink Champagne by Joe Liggins and the Honey drippers) to obscure funky instrumentals (Soul Stomp by Earl van Dyke), and including Jamaican sound system classics (Dr. Kitch by Lord Kitchener—risqué!) and King Pleasure’s version of Eddie Jefferson’s jazz anthem Moody’s Mood for Love, Fame covered the best. Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Paul Anka (!) and more—this is a great anthology whether you dig Georgie or not. Ace does its usual fine job of annotating each track with interesting info, with lots of photos.Here are a couple of my personal favorites, from Mose Allison and Joe Hinton.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Dark Tree: Horace Tapscott, the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, and the Community Arts

A few months ago I picked up a copy of Stephen L. Isoardi’s The Dark Tree: Jazz and the Community Arts in Los Angeles at our local library’s semiannual book sale.  I hadn’t heard of the book, but it was about  Horace Tapscott, a legendary figure in the West Coast avant-garde, came with a CD, and was only four bucks, so why not? Having just finished it, I’m here to say it’s an important read for anyone interested in the culture and politics of the 1960s, 1970s, and beyond; the evolution of spiritual jazz; and the ongoing racial and political issues it reflects. Beginning with a brief history of L.A.’s Central Avenue jazz and R & B scene in the 1940s, it recounts Tapscott’s lifelong commitment to the arts in the African-American community, his bringing together the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and the Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension (UGMAA), and their participation in a host of arts projects and organizations from before the Watts riots through the early 2000s.  The book, based mainly on interviews with about 100 Arkestra/UGMAA participants, also provides a glimpse at the personality of Tapscott himself, a charismatic yet modest person who was both a devoted family man and night-wandering bohemian (his wife Cecelia must have been a very patient woman).

This story resonated with me because of my own knowledge of how all of the arts became weapons in the Movement of the 1960s and 1970s against war, racism, and imperialism. The abundance of groups and efforts that were born and died in the struggles of those days come alive in Isoardi’s narrative, which also demonstrates how little I knew about this important segment of the jazz world —one that continues in various forms today. In a period of time during which the perennial issues of race, class, and the arts continue to haunt American society, it’s both depressing to see how little progress has been made and uplifting to see the persistence of efforts to make this country what it professes to be.

The accompanying CD contains a number of previously released recordings of the Arkestra and its various components.  It made me want to hear much more of this fine music. Here’s a sample.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Rein de Graaff and Gigi Gryce

Sometimes you start out in one direction and wind up somewhere else. Years ago I bought a record by Rein de Graaff, the Dutch pianist. Recently, I ran across a de Graaff CD I had bought with several others on the (also Dutch) Blue Jack label.  What I hadn’t remembered was that the CD, Blue Lights, was a tribute to the compositions of saxophonist Gigi Gryce. I knew about Gryce’s career in the late 1950s, his renown as a composer, his struggles on the business side of the music biz, and his sudden disappearance from the jazz scene. A few years ago, I read an article about his personal crisis, conversion to Islam, and lengthy career as a dedicated music teacher in an NYC public school. Aside from knowing the names of some of his compositions, like Social Call and Nica’s Tempo, that was it for me.

Thanks to Rein de Graaff and Blue Lights, I now appreciate Gryce’s compositions much more. I was particularly taken with Sans Souci and Evening in Casablanca. Both are impressionistic pieces in the Tadd Dameron mode, although Gryce must have visited Casablanca round midnight. Some tribute albums are slapdash affairs, but this one provides a well-thought-out showcase for a neglected composer.

The musicians are first rate. Altoist Herb Geller, on the scene since the 1950s, is fiery, with a bit of Johnny Hodges lyricism mixed in. John Marshall, like Geller an American expatriate, is excellent on trumpet. De Graaff solos and comps beautifully throughout, and Marius Beets and Eric Ineke on bass and drums furnish solid support.

Tadd Dameron once said, “There’s enough ugliness in the world. I’m interested in beauty,” and Blue Lights delivers. Here’s Minority.