Some under appreciated moments
in jazz and creative music
by Fabio Rojas (July 1998)People hate critics because they recommend films or music that no one except other critics have heard of. So what? Why should anyone read articles about something that they already know about? I proudly continue the tradition by offering a small selection of music which the reader may have overlooked or just never heard about. There is no pattern. Some moments will be from well known albums and some will be from musicians known only in the local "scene." Most are in jazz but a few are from the genre of "creative music".
I hope that the reader will find that these albums contain music that will make their life happier. They have enriched mine.
- Miya Masaoka Crepuscular Music (Rastascan)
This album is about an hour's worth of free improvisation with Gino Robair (pecussion), Miya Masaoka (koto) and Tom Nunn (bugs). I think the really interesting aspect of this album is the use of the koto. In other recordings, Masaoka performs jazz standards and improvisations but on this disk the goal is different. Along with Nunn and Robair, Masaoka successfully creates a continuous sculpture of sound that reminds one of insects buzzing. Since Masaoaka is not constrained by standard jazz form, she is free to use the entire range of her instrument from harsh, primitive percussive twangs to the beautiful and delicate lines that the koto is so well known for. This is also a good place to listen to Gino Robair, a improvisor that is well known in the Bay Area free scene.
- Carlos Ward Faces (PM)
I find this album truly dull. Most of it is mildly funky beats with uninspiring tunes and solos. I was sorely disappointed since it features Pheeroan Aklaff on drums who is relegated to playing rather conventional funk beats and fills. When I first played it, I regreted paying full price for it until I reached the last four tracks (out of fourteen). These comprise a solo concert on flute and it is just spectacular. The first section is called "Nubian Stomp" and is a text-book example of good composition and improvisation: clear rhythmic ideas, good pulse and beautiful melodies and phrases. It is also notable as one of the few recorded examples of an extended solo flute performance in jazz.
- James Spaulding Soungs of Courage (Muse)
Spaulding is one of those figures in jazz that is always in the shadows. Always making great music, but with some one else's name on the marquee. He has played with some of the jazz greats: Sun Ra and Bobby Hutcherson. Unfortunately, he is not that well known. Songs of Courage is an album of typical hard-bop. But it is very good hard-bop. The title track was written in the 1960's and when I listen to it, especially the head, I feel courageous! Some tracks are corny, like "Black Market" which sounds like something that Herbie Mann might have played in order to please a record producer in the early '60's, but others like "Cabu" and "Uhuru Sasa," which features Spaulding on flute, definitely are worth the listen. A lot of modern jazz artists are mining the bop of the fifties and sixties for material. I hear something in Spaulding that is missing in some of these contemporary musicians. An honesty in the playing, perhaps. Spaulding is not playing a homage to anyone nor is he engaged in a mere recontrustruction. When he plays the 1952 bop tune "Wee", I feel like he really means it and that's more than I can say for a lot of modern bop units.
- John Coltrane Live in Seattle (Impulse)
How could any recording by Coltrane have any under appreciated moments? Trane's records are adored by fans and relentlessly studied by musicians and scholars. Remarkably, there are some aspects of Trane's recordings that get ignored. One example is the bass playing of Jimmy Garrison. It is easy to overlook. Between the piercing wail of mid-60's Trane and the crashing thunder of McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, Garrison's playing can be missed. "Tapestry of Sound" which is the fifth track on this album is certainly an under appreciated moment in jazz. Even if one hates free jazz and ignores the rest of the album, "Tapestry" can be enjoyed by anyone with an open ear for good music. While most bass players can play excellent solos in typical jazz, blues or funk style, Garrison was really able to evoke a sense of mystery in his playing that transcended any particular style. He was able to conjure up a wide range of emotions and the five minutes of "Tapestry" that we have (the music did not stop, the tape did) are a testament to this talent.
- The Complete Recordings of Fats Navarro/Tadd Dameron (Blue Note)
Fats Navarro is receiving a good bit of publicity these days but fans of '40's bebop and jazz trumpet have always appreciated him. In case that the reader is unaware of his talents, let me point to the first take of "Lady Bird". First off, "Lady Bird" is a beautiful composition by Tadd Dameron, perhaps the first lyrical composer in the bebop idiom. Second, Navarro displays some fine soloing on this tune. Navarro's style was an extension of Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie. He was the direct predecessor to Clifford Brown and anyone who enjoys any of these trumpeters will enjoy Navarro. The track is also interesting because Half-Nelson, the Miles Davis tune, is a rearrangment of bits and pieces of Navarro's solo superimposed on the chord changes from Lady Bird.
- Miles Davis (Blue Note)
The album Round about Midnight has the most famous version of "Dear Old Stockholm" that Miles Davis ever played, but it isn't the best. On Miles Davis, vol. 1, Miles Davis, JJ Johnson and a young Jackie McClean recoded a gorgeous version of the tune which far exceeds the one recorded for Columbia. Unlike that version, the Blue Note version is played in a medium tempo with no double time sections. Miles takes his time and patiently plays those simple lines that made him famous. Johnson and McLean each get half a chorus, which is more than enough since the tunes have a long form, and they bring out the best that the song has to offer. This version of the tune seems not to even register on the mental radar of many Miles fans. Even a jazz trumpet instructor from whom I once took a music theory course didn't know about this version.* This incident has led me to think that Miles' Blue Note albums are vastly underrated by the jazz audience. This version really conveys a sense of melancholy which I find absent in the peppier Columbia version. More people should listen to it. When I close my eyes and listen, I imagine the sun setting over Stockholm and I know that it will be many hours before I see it again.
- Wynton Marsalis Black Codes (from the underground) (Columbia)
How could Marsalis be under appreciated? Simple. Most people blindly worship albums like Standard Time or his recent opera and ignore some of his fine small group work like Black Codes. It is overall a good album but the title track is exceptional. It displays an emotion that I find lacking in most of his others works: anxiety. When I first heard Black Codes, I felt mildly discomforted. It was because "Black Codes" was a hectic tune that wasn't in the straight-ahead/60's Miles/ballads continuum. It is more like "Riot" and some of the jittery 60's Herbie Hancock tunes that Miles and co. would occasionally play. But I liked it. It had an edge that I really enjoyed.
- Imperial Household Orchestra Climax Golden Twins (Scratch)
This release is about 70 minutes of sampled sounds remixed into a fascinating stream of "music". It is always hard to describe such music, but it has one feature that sets it apart from the rest of its siblings in the noise genre: humor. The Orchestra has a real knack for just startling the listener with truly funny sounds and samples of radio/tv adds which just made me laugh. If you ever wondered what AMM might sound like if they lightened up and tried to get a sense of humor, this might be the result. Of course, one can never tell if the humor was intentional but I like to think it was. I hope that they release more and I hope it is just as funny.
- Charlie Mingus Cumbia and Jazz Fusion (Atlantic)
Amongst Mingus fanatics, this album elicits mixed reactions but I give it a strong thumbs-up. It is a twenty-seven minute long composition which is a combination of jazz and cumbia (a Colombian dance music). It is played by about eight musicians but like all Mingus groups, it sounds like a big band. This first section is a Mingusized version of some cumbias. To some it sounds corny but to me it sounds light-hearted. The following section is jazz but with constant reminders of cumbia. There is one hysterical section where Mingus and others start screaming about Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. Overall, I found it quite creative and I doubt there are many other albums like it.
- John Tchicai The Real Tchicai (Steeplechase)
This trio date stands out from the rest of the trio crowd. Its line up is spectacular: Tchicai on alto, Pierre Dorge on guitar and NHOP (Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen) on bass. The tunes are mostly originals and are inspired from Danish folk tunes and popular music. Tchicai has a very sharp timbre on the alto and it helps put the song into relief. In contrasts brilliantly against NHOP's fat tone and Dorge's full sound on the electric guitar. Thus, the group has a rich sound and yet at the same time a very thin sound that emerges from Tchicai. In the end, it is simply a beautiful album. We are very lucky that Steeplechase has chosen to re-issue this album from the early 70's.
* She was a disciple of Clifford Brown which may explain why she didn't have the entire ouvre of Miles Davis memorized note for note.
|MAIN PAGE||ARTICLES||STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC||LINKS||WRITE US|