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Showing posts from January, 2016

Miles Smiles Mono or Stereo: Which Pressing Sounds Best?

Other than Kind of Blue, Miles Smiles is probably Miles Davis' greatest acoustic jazz achievement. Think about it, what's better and more groundbreaking?

Quite simply a perfect modern jazz album, an enthralling blend of mildly avant-garde styles with post bop modal jazz.

I have always thought Miles Smiles was like Kind of Blue in how the music really opens up.

I also get this feeling of suspended time on tracks like "Circles," just some gorgeous Miles muted playing as well.

Over the the last 15 years I have grown to believe this was the greatest working jazz group ever assembled. When you consider the creativity of Ron Carter on bass, Tony Williams on Drums, and Herbie Hancock on Piano, can you think of any better on their instruments?

Even if I do have to concede Hancock not being the best, he sure fits like a glove with this group, Carter and Williams I don't believe have been surpassed on their instruments at all 45 years later.

Shorter is the heart and soul o…

Lonnie Liston Smith's Cosmic Funk and Quiet Storm

Underrated Lonnie Liston Smith One of the more underrated artists of the 1970's was jazz funk artist Lonnie Liston Smith.

 Smith was a fine jazz pianist who got his start playing straight ahead jazz with the likes of Roland Kirk, Betty Carter, and Pharoah Sanders.

Lonnie also contributed to a couple of Miles Davis albums, Big Fun and On the Corner before he went out on his own.

By this time the landscape had changed, and if you wanted to make any money you had to adapt. Popular sounds like soul, R&B, and funk permeated top 40 radio. So to be heard on a large level, you better fuse these element into your jazz.

Lonnie not only did that, he came up with his own brand of laid back funk jazz, that was bent toward the quiet storm genre. This came to a head on the Columbia label.

I could certainly seeVenus Flytrapspinning these Lonnie Liston Smith tunes on his late night radio show on WKRP in Cincinnati. Most of the 70's albums fused a solid jazz foundation. "This foundati…

A CTI Soul Jazz Classic: Salt Song From Stanley Turrentine 1971

Salt Song is One of the better CTI Jazz releases from the 1970's. It was given to us by the underrated tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine.

An album with a thoughtfully arranged orchestra from Eumir Deodato, that never seems over produced.

I love the bass grooves, and tasteful electric piano, that sets the tone for the soul drenched sax playing from Turrentine.

This is one of those records that demands a complete spin, a track here and there won't d0. It has the vibe of a concept album and needs to be appreciated in its entirety. The production on these better CTI classics,  do add something special, instead of taking away from the music, like so many over-produced records can.

Some may say over-production is the word, and there is indeed a fine line between taste and schmaltz, but this record is not one of them, a great tasteful record this is. "Gibraltar" below is a nice start the album, and sets the island mood throughout, the Ron Carter bass and Airto percussion…

Art Pepper's 1981 Lost Strings Classic Winter Moon

If anyone told you they hate strings albums, I bet they never heard this absolute masterpiece of the style.

Some how, not an ounce of pretense. Art Pepper experienced a career renaissance in the 1970's, he never played better in my opinion than he did during this stint.

Winter Moon was recorded in September of 1980, less than 2 years before Art's death at the age of 56.

Ironically the one format Art always dreamed of playing, strings, was one of his last, and as it turns out, pound for pound one of the best of his career.  The thing about Winter Moon other than Art's shimmering alto is indeed the perfect use of strings, subtle, yet there, but never in the way. That is a big deal for an album like this.

 The strings complement and perhaps enhance, but never feel like the star of the show, that mantle belongs to Art, he is the show here. Art even plays a  number, "Blues in the Night" on clarinet that just delight the ears.

Guess who's one of the arrangers on W…

Why is the Music of Miles Davis Important to Me?

The bottom line for me is this: I look at my music listening experience as before Miles and after Miles.

After I heardKind of Bluefor the first time, it completely changed the way I listened to music.

In Fact, I remember boasting how I hated instrumental music for the most part. I couldn't stand music without vocals.

 The problem was, I had not listened to modern jazz before. You see, there's good instrumental music and there's bad instrumental music.

Miles on the other hand really blew my mind, I had no idea the scope of the music he played. I had no concept Miles was as important as he was to contemporary music in the 20th and now 21st Century.

I began paying more attention to detail after I discovered Miles, the nuances of the music, what was in between the notes in some respects.

This awakening would have been in the mid-1990's, and before that, my listening repertoire would have consisted of 80's thrash and glam metal, which I still enjoy from time to time.

The Afro-Cuban Music of Mongo Santamaria

The Afro Cuban Music of Mongo Santamaria always delights, much the same way a Cuban pressed sandwich tantalizes the taste buds.

The meat of the Cuban folk music melding perfectly with the tartness of the jazzy brass sounds.

Mongo's latin funk is music that always leaves you satisfied.

Cuban born Mongo Santamaria (1917-2003) is probably best known for the jazz standards "Watermelon Man" and "Afro Blue", the former penned by pianist Herbie Hancock, the latter was even given the royal treatment by jazz saxophone legend John Coltrane.

Here's a list of the most purchased Mongo Santamaria albums.

"Afro Blue"

This rendition of Afro Blue is really faithful to the Cuban tradition, certainly has an authentic Cuban folk vibe, and really doesn't feel like jazz proper at all to me. Mongo's original is done in 12/8 time, with a softer edge.

John Coltrane's version below is done in 3/4 "waltz" time, and really is one my personal favorite Co…

Nick Brignola's On a Different Level is Indeed on a Different Level

Nothing in the world of jazz gets my hair standing on end more than a killer baritone sax player.

Gerry Mulligan don't do that either, I like the baritone players that have a deep husky tone.

Pepper Adams, Ronnie Cuber, and the subject of this review Nick Brignola (1936-2002) are what I have in mind.

This album, On a Different Level from 1989, at the risk of hyperbole, kicks ass!

I found this CD at a local Dayton Ohio Goodwill for $1.99 and let me tell you it was forth 10 times the price.

A typical straight ahead pop date in  material, but not so typical is the high-quality playing from Brignola and his rhythm section.

Oh yeah ever heard of these guys: Dave Holland on Bass, Jack Dejohnette on drums and Kenny Barron on piano, yeah pretty damn good huh... they and Brignola offer one of the best bari showcase albums I ever heard period.

Standards like "Hot House", "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love", "Sophisticated Lady"and "Softly, As in a Morni…

Out of the Cool: A 1961 Masterwork of Progressive Orchestral Jazz By Gil Evans

Undoubtedly, Gil Evans is best known for his breathtakingly wonderful Miles Davis collaborations.

Hyperbole? Perhaps... but one listen to 1958's reading of the Gershwin Classic Porgy & Bess would prove the point.

After all, isn't the Davis/Evans reading considered the definitive rendition?

There's omething about that album: I don't think Miles' vulnerable unpretentious sound ever sounded more inviting. Miles actually gaining rapport with the lonely as he plays.

Is this album, Out of the Cool, a 1961 Impulse Records release as good as Porgy, Miles Ahead, and Sketches of Spain? I think it fits comfortably with those masterworks even without Miles. I would only choose Porgy over Out of the Cool myself. The albums centerpiece is "La Nevada", a track recorded 2 years earlier for Pacific Jazz, a shorter version with thinner sound in my opinion than this release.

 That whole Great Jazz Standards record is pretty good, but the production is light years from …

Charles Mingus' The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady: Emotional Large Band Masterpiece

Charles Mingus and his masterpiece The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady should easily be considered one of the 10 greatest recordings in Modern Jazz history.

 Recorded in 1963 by an eleven piece band, "Black Saint" is Mingus' crowning achievement, It's also more than any other of his works, the most gracious example of Ellington flattery.

 If ever there was ever a doubt about the influence of Duke Ellington upon Charles Mingus, Black Saint and the Sinner Lady should put any arguments to rest.

 The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is a microcosm of the entire Mingus discography, almost like a jazz history lesson of sorts. One of the things about Mingus and his best music has a feeling of recklessness, as if the music is a runaway train that could derail at any second, yet somehow manages to always make it back to the station.

The train might be beat up a bit, but somehow it arrived in one piece. I will spare you any track by track analysis, or bore you with any music …

Sketches of Greatness: The Miles Davis and Gil Evans Collaboration

Miles Davis and Gil Evans, or was it Gil Evans and Miles Davis, does it Matter?

I think history has been kind to Gil Evans actually. I do believe most people give Gil the credit he deserves regarding these collaborations.

One thing is certain: Miles was the perfect foil for these lush Gil Evans arrangements, his cracked and vulnerable tone is like a beacon calling out to the lonely people.

Whether it was Porgy and Bess,or Miles Ahead, Miles' romantic trumpet playing and Evans' arrangements meld together seamlessly. Hauntingly beautiful is the music, especially Sketches of Spain. Miles Davis actually met Gil Evans in 1948.

Davis and other like minded musicians, including Gerry Mulligan were meeting in Gil's basement/apartment. They began experimenting with new styles, similar to the work Evan's had done for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra.

The "Cool" recordings were not released until 1957 as Birth of the Cool on Capitol Records. It angered Miles that these se…