Saturday, January 20, 2018

Pete (La Roca) Sims: Turkish Women at the Bath

The drummer Pete (La Roca) Sims has been a favorite of mine for many years, ever since I first listened to Basra, his sole album as a leader for Blue Note. Thanks to a review in Down Beat, I also knew that in the late 1960s he had recorded Turkish Women at the Bath for Alan Douglas’s eponymous Douglas label. Apparently, that label had spotty or even non-existent distribution; I don’t think I ever saw a copy or I would have snapped it up. Later, because it featured a young pianist named Chick Corea, Turkish Women was reissued by Muse as Bliss, a Corea album. By that time, La Roca (he picked up that part of his name while working in Latin bands) had abandoned jazz for law school. That made it easier for him to sue Muse successfully in re: failing to give him credit for the recording. Unfortunately, Muse never reissued it under its rightful name and leadership. It finally came out on CD thanks to Joel Dorn and 32 Jazz, a fine and much-missed reissue label.

Now that the history is out of the way, I can spend a little time praising Turkish Women as what I think is a neglected masterpiece. Inspired by the Jean Baptiste Ingres painting “The Turkish Bath,” La Roca composed some remarkable, Eastern-influenced compositions and brought Corea, John Gilmore (another neglected tenor player who spent most of his career with Sun Ra), and bassist Walter Booker together to play them. Collectively, they conjure up an Orientalist vision combined with post-Coltrane improvisation and coloring. The use of repeated piano figures in compositions like Bliss and Dancing Girls, supported by La Roca’s intricate percussion are incredibly absorbing. Gilmore’s thick-toned, original tenor playing (often mentioned as an influence on John Coltrane) adds another ambiguously cross-cultural tinge to the music, which ends with And So, a slightly funkier reprise of previous themes, with Corea sounding almost like Vince Guaraldi. It adds a touch of reality to the preceding gorgeous fantasy in a most satisfactory way.

Here are Bliss and Dancing Girls, but please listen to the whole album if you can.


Dancing Girls:

Monday, December 11, 2017

Bill Crider: We'll Always Have Murder

For years, checking out Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine has been part of my daily routine. It’s one of the most entertaining sites on the Internet, IMHO. Years ago, I even sent Bill a couple of items that he posted and kindly gave me credit for. I started reading his blog posts because I was already familiar with his work as a mystery writer and figured his posts would be just as good―and I was right. For the past year, he’s been posting about some serious health issues, which seem to have reached a critical point. A bunch of Bill’s friends have decided to dedicate the latest edition of Friday’s Forgotten Books, and this post is my contribution and tribute.

This book is really forgotten―even the author says so, according to this interview: “Thanks to my agent, who got me the job, I also got the chance to write a private-eye novel with Humphrey Bogart as a featured character. It’s one of my better books, though nobody has heard of it—We’ll Always Have Murder is the title.” Subtitled “A Humphrey Bogart Mystery,” the book’s protagonist is Terry Scott, a war veteran and low-rent PI who works for Jack Warner to keep his stars’ peccadilloes out of the limelight, if not out of trouble. In this case, the star is Bogart, who’s been accosted by a sleazier PI for blackmail purposes. Scott meets Bogie, begins investigating with his help, and runs into multiple murders. Crider puts in plenty of apt allusions to and quotations from The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and The Big Sleep, some of them from Bogart, as this odd couple travels through both the glittery and seamy pockets of late 1940s Hollywood. Both of them come off as real, fallible, but ultimately capable investigators as they deal with Mayo Methot, Bogart’s real life, pre-Bacall wife, and a motley collection of stars, studio execs, wannabes, stunt men, and other movie types.

I really liked this book. I’ve always enjoyed period stories about Tinseltown, like Stuart Kaminsky’s Toby Peters series and Edward Wright’s wonderful John Ray Horn novels. We’ll Always Have Murder provides ample wry humor without caricaturing his Hollywood characters, who were and are bizarre enough in real life; it also adds a few darker strokes that emphasize the seediness beneath that tinsel. My sense is that it was intended to be a series, but apparently that never happened―my only disappointment. I urge you to read We’ll Always Have Murder―there seem to be plenty of used copies to be had from the usual suspects.

As for Bill Crider, I’d like to think that, like his books, he may still have a few more surprises for us before the end, optimist that I am. Whatever happens, Bill, we’ll continue to treasure all of the work you’ve accomplished as a writer and a person―and thanks for the ride.   

Monday, October 23, 2017

Booker Ervin on Blue Note: Tex Book Tenor

I’ve been a Booker Ervin fan since the days I saw him with the Charles Mingus Jazz workshop at the Five Spot, but I’ve always thought of him as a Prestige artist, based on his series of “Book” recordings for that label. I only recently learned that he recorded two albums for Blue Note―The In Between, released in 1968, and Tex Book Tenor, which remained unreleased until 1990, when it was released as a twofer LP along with a Horace Parlan session. According to Michael Cuscuna’s liner notes, sales of the previous Blue Note album and his Pacific Jazz records (both bought out by Liberty Records around this time) may have been lackluster enough for the suits to keep it in the can. It eventually enjoyed a CD release as part of Blue Note’s lamented Connoisseur series―the version I’m writing about here.

“Lackluster” is the last word I’d apply to Tex Book Tenor. Ervin’s quintet, comprising Booker, Woody Shaw (tp), Kenny Barron (pno), Jan Arnet (bass), and Billy Higgins (dr) has that hard-driving hard bop sound, from the Middle Eastern undertones of Gichi to the debut recording of Shaw’s classic In a Capricornian Way to Ervin’s sprightly Lynn’s Tune, dedicated to his daughter. My own favorite is 204, featured below. When Booker Ervin died in 1970 at age 39 of a kidney ailment, we lost a unique voice on tenor, as you can hear on Tex Book Tenor. Note: I wasn’t familiar with Jan Arnet, the bassist on this recording. A Czech, he preceded George Mraz and Miroslav Vitous in making his mark on the U.S. jazz scene. After he left the music business, he forged a new career in finance. When I looked him up, it turns out that he died in May of this year, so this post is also a tribute to him.

Here’s 204.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Charles Earland: Cooking at the Key Club

In the 1960's and 1970's, Newark, New Jersey was a hotbed of organ trio goodness. I was around then but paid too much attention to the jazz critics and not enough to my ears, so I lost a big opportunity.  Charles Earland’s Living Black, live at Newark’s Key Club on September 17, 1970 is the closest I’ll ever get to that scene. Earland’s first Prestige album, Black Talk, included his original version of More Today Than Yesterday by the Spiral Staircase, which proved so popular that the album even charted on Billboard’s Top 100 pop album chart. Bob Porter, who produced Black Talk, decided to do a live album with Earland but ran into a last-minute snag when the band’s tenor player left unexpectedly the night before the recording date. No problem―the Mighty Burner knew a guy in Philadelphia who could make the gig: Grover Washington, Jr., who thus made his recording debut.

Washington, trumpeter Gary Chandler, guitarist Maynard Parker drummer Jesse Kilpatrick, and conga player Buddy Caldwell all came out charging hard that night: the opening Key Club Cookout, a nice workout on Westbound #9, a strong reprise of More Today Than Yesterday and a heartfelt and still relevant Message from a Black Man (the last two bonus tracks on the CD). I was especially impressed by Washington and Earland on Killer Joe and the whole band’s display of its jazz chops on Milestones.

Here are Killer Joe and Milestones―feel free to shout along with the audience! 

Killer Joe:


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.