Jul 5, 2015

Tenor Saxophonist Clifford Jordan's Glass Bead Games: A Desert Island Disc You Might have Missed

 Have you ever had a record that you just plain wear out right from the first listen? I mean an album so good you just keep pushing replay on?

Oddly enough, the last time I had that happen was with the progressive grunge metal band Mastodon's The Hunter, before that I think Guns N Roses Chinese Democracy from 2008.

You don't choose which album captures your imagination, it is such an organic thing. I can only think of a few Jazz albums that have done what Glass Bead Games has done.

Perhaps Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, and Oliver Nelson's Blues and the Abstract Truth come to mind.

A few fusion albums like Return to Forever's Return to the Seventh Galaxy and Mahavishnu Orchestra's The Inner Mounting Flame. For some reason those Bob James early CTI  albums drew me in with those funky mega-sampled beats. Glass Bad Games is the latest album to drive me to repeat listens.

Glass Bead Games, recorded in October of 1973 is a modern post bop jazz album from tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan.

The album is one of the real lost classics of modern jazz, with the album only being available sporadically over the years.

 Now both volumes 1 and 2 can be had on the stupendous Mosaic Records label: The Complete Clifford Jordan Strata-East Sessions. Thanks again Michael Cuscuna!

I had tried to acquire Glass Bead Games many years ago but the exorbitant auction prices made it a bridge to far to cross for me. Honestly I had forgotten about it for many years, at least 10 years if memory serves me.

I did have a misconception about the album though, I had thought it was going to be a tad more challenging, in a more experimental way.  I was thinking groundbreaking and perhaps mildly avant-garde. This is simply not the case. That's not a knock, believe me.

Jordan crafted an album that is modern yes, but not groundbreaking in a way you can easily understand. It is however, thoroughly enjoyable, and impeccably recorded; really well produced. The piano and bass are very rich and clean. The concept of allowing all the influences to shine through is what is so lasting for me. Jordan really allows for a total band effort too, with many compositions being contributed to the album by the various sidemen on the project.
"It should be noted that This Glass Bead Games owes its frame-work to the Book by author Herman Hess: "The Glass Bead Game". A book that describes a game being played using the knowledge of everything ever created in the universe. Jordan adapts this to modern jazz. However, the music never become pretentious or high-brow like the book, that book perhaps is just over my average I.Q. existence:/"
Right from the very start of the  "Powerful Paul Robeson" you get a strong John Coltrane vibe. "I always marvel at the original sounding contemporaries of Coltrane who were influenced by the North Carolinian. Art Pepper, Dexter Gordon, and Jordan all added the influence later in their careers after their style has seemingly been fully developed.  Gordon actually influenced Coltrane early in Trane's own development...

Not only does Jordan pay homage to John Coltrane, with a heavy A Love Supreme, and the circa 1960 Atlantic Giant Steps vibe, he also honors Eddie Harris with his own brand of funky soul-jazz . He honors Sonny Rollins' famous bridge meditation, and then he names a track after Coltrane as well, yeah "John Coltrane" is my favorite track on this album of stellar tracks.

"John Coltrane" the track composed by the father of director Spike Lee, Bassist Bill Lee manages to bring Coltrane's spiritual albums like Kulu Se Mama and Om to the forefront without ever overblowing or trying to out Trane Coltrane.

The chanting by Jordan and the ensemble of John's full name, bring back to mind the A Love Supreme chant by Coltrane; I also love the "Africa Brass" style bass line Lee offers.

The title track, "Eddie Harris" and "Biskit" are also memorable. The infectious nature of the music moves you. It's simply a great listen.


Glass Bead Games nearly recites the history of main stream modern jazz from 1955 up to 1973:

You might wonder how this isn't just mimicry? If indeed imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Coltrane in particular, along with Eddie Harris and Sonny Rollins secondarily should have, or would have been very pleased with the music.

Clifford Jordan on Tenor, Cedar Walton and the underrated Stanley Cowell on piano "check Cowell's solo work out". Bill Lee and Sam Jones on Bass, as well as Billy Higgins on drums and percussion, the band offers one the real lost classics of modern jazz. Check it out for yourself, and see if you don't find Glass Bead Games worthy of repeated listens.

Jul 3, 2015

The 2013 Mosaic Clifford Jordan Box Set Has a Fantastic Overlooked Album From Baritone Saxophonist Cecil Payne: ZODIAC

I have been absorbing modern jazz into my psyche for nearly 20 years. It always amazes me when I find something, or someone new to listen to.

 I Hadn't heard much from Clifford Jordan, other than his fine late 50's Blue Note Albums, Cliff Craft being his best of that lot.

Mosaic Records came out with a 6 CD Complete Clifford Jordan Strata East Sessions Box, I really wasn't all that interested in it.

Missing out on the box was a poor choice to say the least, I am immersed in it right now, giving the set its second run through. A wide range of styles, all very interesting. I had heard that the album Glass Bead Games from Jordan was a really well done session that was frankly as smooth as silk. Immediately upon listening to Glass Bead Games I was struck at how well "smooth as silk" described the session.

 It's not smooth jazz, but it really is an easy listen, with a very good sound production. Sort of a direct descendent to Coltrane's early 60's Atlantic period stuff to my ears, lots of "Cousin Mary" in it.  Damned good!

The set also has Pharoah Sanders' Izipho Zam, an album I've had on vinyl and CD for quite some time, I had no idea this was in that set. Charles Brackeen has a set, Bassist Wilbur Ware and Drummer Edward Blackwell do too.

For some reason when "The Dolphy Series" was mentioned, it went right over my head, it had not occurred to me that the Sanders album was a part of this Dolphy Series.

This Cecil Payne Album, Zodiac: The Music of Cecil Payne is very very good and it's the 3rd and final installment of the Dolphy series for Strata-East. Clifford Jordan does not appear on this album as a musician, but he is the producer on all of these Dolphy Series Albums.

Cecil Payne can be heard on baritone and alto sax, Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Wynton Kelly on piano, Wilbur Ware on bass, and Albert Kuumba Heath on Drums. For me the music has a Eddie Harris vibe going on, soul jazz, with an edge? But closer to bop and modal jazz in spots.

My favorite track easily is "Girl, You Got A Home". Some very subtle organ being played on this, almost providing a bizarre hint of psychedelia. Really though, this acid-rock vibe doesn't develop at all, the track does have that Eddie Harris vibe going on as mentioned, I like it.

I swear I am getting real serious Graham Bond thing going on at the beginning.  The theme that comes out of that psychedelic beginning has a killer Sonny Clark circa Cool Struttin' vibe too.

The rest of the album stays inside the post bop/hard bop styles: The lengthy "Follow Me" and "Flying Fish" are pretty good jams, with great work from Dorham and Payne.

 If you think Pharoah Sanders' is too far out for you, rest assured that Zodiac the Music of Cecil Payne does not even approach free-jazz, it is lightly funky hard bop with a touch of post bop.



Here's a more in depth review of the Clifford Jordan Mosaic box set I thought was well done.

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