Life-changing jazz albums: 'Sunday at the Village Vanguard' by the Bill Evans Trio


Bassist Miroslav Vitous talks about the album that changed his life, Sunday at the Village Vanguard, by the Bill Evans Trio. Interview by Brian Glasser

The one album for me goes back to when I was quite young. I was 14 or 15 when I heard it, very near the beginning of playing jazz. It would have been soon after it was released in America. I heard it through Willis Conover [disc jockey on the Voice of America Jazz Hour radio programme that was broadcast across Europe and other parts of the world from the mid-1950s] – thanks to him all of us in the East parts of Europe were introduced to jazz. Actually, we in a Communist country heard more of the music than Americans at the time! When I came to the Berklee school of music [on a scholarship in 1966], I asked my fellow students, ‘Do you know this album, do you know that album?’; and they didn’t. I realised that they came from various cities in the US where they used to buy records that they would find in the local shop, but wouldn’t have had access to everything that I had on the radio. We had the whole spectrum thanks to Willis Conover. It made a lot of players what they were and still are today.

The programme always used to be at midnight. I had a little Grundig tape recorder so I taped it. It was a little strange because the authorities used to jam the radio station so you would get kind of spooky noises – you could hear raaoow raaoow raaoow in the background, even when you’d found a little signal to hear the music.

 

‘Scott LaFaro was the biggest inspiration for me, the biggest icon in my life once I’d heard this – his talent was phenomenal’

 

But anyway: the album is Sunday at the Village Vanguard, Bill Evans. Two things grabbed me about it. Firstly, the bass playing, of course. Scott LaFaro was the biggest inspiration for me, the biggest icon in my life once I’d heard this – his talent was phenomenal. In the early days of jazz the bass took over from the tuba, of course. But at first people could not play the bass well – it took a while for the instrument to catch up.

But, just as important, it was the communication the group had – they had a conversation. And not the conversation you have in a normal jazz group, where you play the changes and have what I call a side-conversation via a distant point – these were the first ones who were actually holding a serious conversation. Not even Miles Davis at that time was doing that. They were really the first ones – thanks to LaFaro. He could be a voice next to Evans, and be an equal voice. Duke Ellington with Jimmy Blanton did that a little bit, but Blanton didn’t have the technique to execute it. After that, there was Miles Davis with the quintet with Tony Williams. It went in the same direction: change the changes, and if you get lost, let it happen, let it go. In Herbie Hancock’s biography, he said, ‘We couldn’t wait to get lost’! As soon as that happened, all this music could start to happen – once they were not locked in by the lines and the structure of the tune.

This leads to another thing to say about jazz – that it’s not as free as people think, because it has all those limits. Because you also have the roles: the bass role, the piano playing the harmony and so on, then the solo instruments go off on top of that. That was the model for jazz. But the Bill Evans Trio was having a direct conversation. Then Miles did that, and we continued it with Weather Report. The bass was not playing bass – the bass was like another equal instrument. That was the main reason why the sound was so new in Weather Report – the bass was playing like another saxophone or horn. So the other instruments had to answer: Zawinul had to answer me, I had to answer Shorter and so on. That’s possible because a bass has rhythm and harmony, so it can lead a band. All of a sudden we had this new music coming out – direct improvisation and direct communication. I don’t want to take all the credit for that, of course; but I do think the main reason for the sound being different was that the bass player did not play the bass role.

So for me it started with that trio, their attitude as much as the technique of LaFaro. Of course, when I first heard it, I tried to play like him – but I was such a bad copy, I played like Miroslav Vitous…!

The album

Bill EvansBill Evans Trio

Sunday at the Village Vanguard

Riverside (1961)

PERSONNEL :: Bill Evans (p), Scott LaFaro (b) and Paul Motian (d).

TRACKS :: ‘Gloria’s Step’, ‘My Man’s Gone Now’, ‘Solar’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘All Of You’ and ‘Jade Visions’.

 

 

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Jazzwise. To find out more about subscribing, please visit: www.jazzwisemagazine.com/subscribe

Life-changing jazz albums: 'Spiritual Unity' by the Albert Ayler Trio

Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings talks about the album that changed his life, Spiritual Unity, by the Albert Ayler Trio. Interview by Brian Glasser

It was really easy for me to decide: Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity. I got the copy I own at Ray’s Jazz shop, but I heard it first at Guildhall – I went to the Barbican library and took out the CD. I saw the cover and liked it – a man merging into a saxophone. Although I’d heard of Ayler before then, I hadn’t checked him out.

So I sat down and listened to it – and I didn’t understand anything! But it was kind of interesting. This would have been in 2005 – I was about 19 or 20. At that time, I was listening to ‘normal’ jazz – Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter, standard stuff. Modern-wise, everyone was into Mark Turner, Joe Lovano, Chris Cheek. Then all of a sudden there’s this guy just blowing the saxophone really hard. And it wasn’t about the harmony, or the specific notes, it was just sort of a texture. My brain couldn’t compute it. Before, I’d been listening for what I could take from something – what I could transcribe and use for my own solos. But this was untranscribable – it seemed like there was nothing to steal from it. It sounded like he was crying through the saxophone. You can hear vocalisation in Sidney Bechet and the older guys, but this was the first time I’d heard someone follow through on that and not try to mesh it with something more conventional.

Even at the start, there was something I liked in it. I can’t really put into words what it was; but something made me not want to turn it off. It might be that I liked the melodies, though there weren’t many of them. A piece might start off bluesy, then he’d just go off. And I really liked Sunny Murray’s drumming. I’d not heard any drumming like that – he was moving with the saxophonist, but in terms of intensity rather than rhythm. I could also hear the interaction was very deep – they’re all listening to each other, they’re not trying to follow each other in an orthodox way. I liked to concentrate on Gary Peacock and imagine I was him – soloing, but listening to everyone else.

 

‘Whatever Ayler does, it’s about the emotional intent behind it’

 

Back then I thought, ‘I’m just going to have to learn to listen to this music – in fascination and enjoyment’. The more I listened, the more I realised that it’s in what Anthony Braxton calls ‘an emotional zone’ – whatever Ayler does, it’s about the emotional intent behind it. I wanted to see whether I could get into that space where you’re free to do that. It’s all about the big picture – more like painting.

It made me listen more carefully to the other – ‘normal’ – stuff too. It’s easy to just learn the harmonics matrix and subconsciously you’re not listening properly any more. Everyone always says, ‘Listen [to your fellow musicians]’, but in the course of learning jazz – especially then, I think – you get preoccupied with trying to solve the equation. It’s very seldom you actually really listen. As a sax player, you play your stuff, try to make a good sound, try to get all the substitutions and the chord changes right – but you don’t let all that go and respond to what you’re hearing. Charlie Parker said, ‘You practice and practice; and when you get on stage, you forget it all’.

A couple of times in jam sessions, say playing ‘Giant Steps’ – at a reasonable tempo! – I tried to just listen to the bass-line and stay on every note he played and play things that sounded good on that, just as an experiment. And it worked! So from then, I tried to play stuff that I thought actually worked over what was happening, as opposed to listening and then playing stuff that I knew would work because it was ‘correct’. The conventional approach can get your mind in a tight place, where you have to prove what you’ve learned, otherwise you haven’t worked hard enough or whatever – even though you might not be fully committed to what’s happening. This other approach is all about integrity of intent. It makes everything simpler in a way, although it’s really hard! I only think I’m getting close to achieving it now.

With the classical music I was studying, I enjoyed the challenge of learning a piece and playing it without any mistakes. I like that split, that there was nothing connecting it to my jazz playing. Maybe by doing that training it made me not worry about playing free – because I knew I could play what people would term ‘properly’.

 

The album

Spiritual UnityAlbert Ayler Trio

Spiritual Unity

ESP-Disk' (1964)

Albert Ayler (ts), Gary Peacock (b) and Sunny Murray (perc).

Tracks: ‘Ghosts: First Variation’, ‘The Wizard’, ‘Spirits’, ‘Ghosts: Second Variation’.

 

 

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Jazzwise. To find out more about subscribing, please visit: www.jazzwisemagazine.com/subscribe

Life-changing jazz albums: Miles Davis' 'In A Silent Way'

Clarinettist Arun Ghosh talks about the album that changed his life, In A Silent Way, by Miles Davis. Interview by Brian Glasser

I first heard this when I was 20 or 21. I was concentrating more on my classical playing at the time; but I was working out what I wanted to do, and really getting into jazz. Miles Davis was my main listening. I’d kept pretty much in line with his chronology, starting with Kind of Blue, and 1958 Miles – so lots of standards, as well as his modal stuff. But at the same time, in that late 1990s period, I was really into bands like Spiritualized, Primal Scream, The Verve, The Boo Radleys – very dense electronic textures. When I finally heard In A Silent Way I suddenly thought: ‘This is the sound! This is exactly the sound I want to make.’ I was a long way from making it, but it felt like it meant something very strong to me. I think I needed the background in the earlier Miles work to understand what he was doing; and I also needed the other music to appreciate the electronic textures.

What also went hand-in-hand with that was an increasing love and appreciation of Indian music – Ravi Shankar and all those other classical Indian dudes. In A Silent Way felt extremely Indian in a number of ways – that sense of space and time just stretching by, over these drones where people solo and stretch out melodically rather than grandstanding. So suddenly I’d found the right jazz sound for me – far more than bebop, far more than the cool stuff, far more than standards. It shaped how I think about sounds, drones and texture – both on stage and in my compositions for theatre.

 

“I bought In A Silent Way as a present for someone and then liked it so much that I couldn’t bring myself to give it to them”

 

It’s fascinating rhythmically – it’s so restrained. After listening so much to the 1960s quintet, where Tony Williams’ virtuosity made it sound like he’d created a new instrument, the way he just marks time on the whole of the first side was such a radical and unexpected move. Then you get to the second side, and he does the same thing. But then the magic happens, when that Dave Holland bassline comes in – it’s one of the all-time great basslines – and people are soloing over it and Miles waits till his turn at the end. And suddenly Tony just explodes. He’s held himself back for the whole album. It’s astounding; and the hit that gives me whenever I listen to it is pure joy. It takes me back to the raves I was going to then.

This album really lends itself to being an LP, with one long piece on each side. I bought it on vinyl from Decoy Records in Manchester, which I think Mike Chadwick used to run back then. I also bought Kind of Blue, which I already had on CD. In fact, I bought In A Silent Way as a present for someone and then liked it so much that I couldn’t bring myself to give it to them. They don’t know that! I feel guilty every time I think about it. In fact, you can still see the inscription on the back of my copy: ‘To someone... – who I’m not going to name – ‘Happy birthday, from Arun’. I still know this person… Actually, it’s my brother! It was for his 18th birthday. He’s going to read about this now!

Another family connection: I’ve always loved the cover. The expression Miles has on his face, his skin tone, has always reminded me of my dad. There’s something warm I feel about that, which in turn influences the way I feel about the music. The character of the playing is so gentle and tranquil, but with real strength behind it – which also reminds me of my father.

Finally – I could go on! – the texture that John McLaughlin brings to this really makes the album. Of course, he was into the Indian stuff by then. His open tuning on the first side and the E tuning on the second side shapes the sound of jazz for the next 10-15 years.

I met Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter last year when we shared a press conference, which was pretty amazing. I told Mr Shorter – Wayne – about listening to him in my flat in Manchester when I was young and had no money and how great it was to actually meet him, and he said: ‘Sometimes life is a fairy tale; and sometimes a fairy tale is life!’ These guys, man…

The Album

Miles Davis In A Silent WayMiles Davis

In A Silent Way

Columbia (1969)

Miles Davis (t), Wayne Shorter (ss), John McLaughlin (g), Joe Zawinul (org), Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock (el p), Dave Holland (b) and Tony Williams (d).

 

 

 

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Jazzwise. To find out more about subscribing to Jazzwise, please visit: www.jazzwisemagazine.com/subscribe

Binker & Moses: twin peaks

Binker and Moses

The debut long-player, Dem Ones, from young-gun sax and drums duo Binker & Moses, garnered the prodigious pair some serious critical heat. Their forthright improv-heavy, beat-fuelled approach has also resonated with a youthful fanbase currently engaging with jazz. Kevin Le Gendre spoke to the award-wining Londoners and former Tomorrow’s Warriors alumni about their ambitious double-album follow-up, Journey To The Mountain Of Forever, which features cameos from Evan Parker, Byron Wallen and tabla-player Sarathy Korwar

Equipped with eye-catching paraphernalia, from a vinyl-cutting lathe to an all-tube mastering board, the office of Gearbox records in Kings Cross, north London, is vintage to the core, or rather wax cylinder. The fact that Binker & Moses, as in saxophonist Golding and drummer Boyd, have noticed that their 2015 album Dem Ones, one of the label’s most critically acclaimed releases in recent years, has been removed from a shelf graced by the works of legends Michael Garrick and Dexter Gordon simply emphasises the importance of artifact, as in sleeves and the black plastic they contain, in the label’s retro-nouveau raison d'être. It is also a cue for a bout of humour. “See how we’ve been replaced by bigger people,” quips Binker to a hearty chuckle from Moses.” Yeah, one minute you’re up there and the next minute you’re not, literally.”

For two 20-something musicians who are mandatorily called members of the download generation the question of formats in which music is available is an interesting one. Gearbox presciently carved its niche as a vinyl-only imprint before the recent resurgence of the LP, and Binker & Moses both have strong opinions on the cultural currency of an album, a tangible object, as opposed to a file, a digital unit.

“I’m all into hard copy,” says Binker. “Most things that I like I collect in some way. I’ve got small and large collections of CDs, vinyl, VHS, DVDs, dead animals… butterflies in boxes. Anything that I’m into I buy a lot of. I like possessions. The most irritating line that John Lennon ever wrote was ‘imagine no possessions’. It really pissed me off. I like stuff around me, I believe in people owning a physical hard copy of what they pay for. I think it changes the perception of the music. It can’t change the music, but Dark Side Of The Moon is not the same album if you just have it on download. A Love Supreme… it’s just not the same thing without the artwork. So yeah, I judge books by their covers, I even judge albums by their covers sometimes too.”

With a touch of irony, given this lionisation of ‘old media’, we glance at a computer screen to see the artwork of Journey To The Mountain Of Forever and behold a striking depiction of a fantasy world by Jim Burns in which mythical beasts are juxtaposed with illustrations of Golding, Boyd and several new collaborators ‘in character’, as befits a work that has a thought-provoking narrative spread over its lengthy duration.

A double album where one record is a duo session and the second an augmentation of the band to include saxophonist Evan Parker, harpist Tori Handsley, tabla player Sarathy Korwar, trumpeter Byron Wallen and drummer Youssef Dayes, Journey To The Mountain Of Forever is nothing if not ambitious. The music draws a coherent line between composition and improvisation, time and no time, rhythmic ingenuity and freedom of pulse and tonality. Above all the conceptual palette is multi-faceted. The flighty swing of calypso on the first disc is a point of cogent contrast to the earthy ‘sound painting’ on the second.

As graduates of the Tomorrow’s Warriors development school who came to prominence in the millennium and have distinguished themselves in different ways – Golding as an arranger for the Nu Civilization Orchestra and Boyd as the drummer for the trio of another TW alumnus, Peter Edwards – the Londoners embody a progressive slant in British jazz. They are as comfortable in a soulful, blues-based setting with the likes of singer Zara McFarlane, with whom both have played extensively, as they are in a more avant-garde context, and this new set sees them expand both the ideas and timbres presented on their debut.

There was a vague prelude to Journey To The Mountain Of Forever last year insofar as Binker & Moses jammed with tabla player-producer Korwar, whose own 2016 album Day To Day was very well received, but for the most part the gathering of guests on the second record was a high risk strategy as no music was prepared in advance for players who were unfamiliar with each other. Binker & Moses asked their collaborators to pitch up at the studio on the back of a desire to bring to fruition what they’d been hearing during ‘visioning’ periods.

Moses: “We already had a strong idea of the soundworld. Every single one of the collaborators we picked for it. So it wasn’t particularly difficult getting all the people into a room to generate that because they’re all great people and great improvisers. They were comfortable with what we were doing. It wasn’t a stress situation at all; I’ve been in a few of those. We hadn’t played with Evan until he’d turned up, but we learned a lot just having him in the room, and it changed the way I played completely because he has his own language, it brings something else out of you. There is a certain magic in that. Youssef had never played with Tori, who’d never played with Sarathy.

“We never hire somebody or an instrument because it’s a novelty,” says Binker firmly. “Hire it because you need that sound, as that’s where the sound is going. I think some people see the harp as a sort of semi-novelty instrument because there aren’t that many harpists around in jazz and they think that the musician is just gonna play glissando all the time. Well, there’s not one glissando on our record. It’s not about getting an instrument because it’s quirky. We sat down and listened to the voices in our heads and we thought the only instrument that can convey this is the harp. A harp, piano and guitar can all do similar things depending on how they’re played, but the sound we needed was the harp. You hear the music in your head first and then work back from there, rather than saying we want a tabla or we want harp. You might end up with something interesting depending on how skilled the musicians are, but it’s better to do it the other way round. You end up with a richer result. It’s like orchestrating for symphony orchestra or big band; you work backwards. You don’t say I’ve got eight French horns and I’ve got to find something for them to do. Even if they’ve only got one note in 45 minutes I have to work that way round. In the case of Evan Parker it was his sound, what he brings. It wasn’t like we need another saxophone. He’s an instrument in himself. You don’t think Evan Parker on saxophone, you just think Evan Parker.”

The resulting blend of sounds and personalities, or rather the characters as Binker & Moses see them, is refreshingly original. At the core is the saxophone-drums duo, a conjunction whose long line of precedents, from Coltrane-Ali to McLean-Carvin and Murray-El Zabar, is upheld by the sharp interactivity as well as individuality of the two Londoners. Playing together for many years in a variety of different contexts has consolidated the creative chemistry between Binker and Moses, and, as was the case with Dem Ones, Journey To The Mountain Of Forever has some thrilling exchanges between them, whether they are bringing a raw edge to music that is danceable or submerging into a much more serene, abstract, meditative space. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the two-disc set is that the second album featuring the various guests, all the while marking a significant sonic departure, sees no slip of the high standard of performance that defines the first.

Interestingly, something that becomes clear about the duo in interview is the marked difference between their personalities. Moses is genial, Binker forthright, if not intense, and by his own admission he is the one who might call for revisions when they are recording jointly composed material. He might be the one to crease his brow rather than crack a smile. “Of the two of us, I’m the worrier,” says Binker with a steely glance, as Moses beams in the background. “He’s like ‘oh yeah, it’ll be fine. It’ll be fine’, and I’m like ‘no, how do you know?’ I’ll say we need eight bars of this here and we’ll do it; and he’ll be ‘that’s good too’. Moses is like the final editor in a way. I mean we can both just balance things up.”

“I used to be a perfectionist for recording,” adds Moses. “But from just doing it so much – not with this band but with other people – I’m now at that point where it will be what it’ll be. I want it as good as it can be but there are so many factors that can affect a recording that I just accept that the day of a session will be a document of the day. By the time I’ve done a take I know what it is, I don’t need to listen and scrutinise. I know where I’ve missed a cymbal crash, if I can live with that then I will.”

“I tend to get more vexed,” says Binker pointedly. Another spontaneous chuckle breaks out. Those who attended last year’s Parliamentary and Jazz FM award shows will be able to recall the mirth of the duo as they picked up their statuettes, and the general consensus was that they had brought much freshness to the improvised music scene, challenging themselves in a format, the sax-drums duo, that is a demanding prospect for players old and young.

The musical resolve that binds the two is paralleled by what appears to be a deep empathy, and this is highlighted in a brief but nonetheless meaningful exchange triggered by an observation on their garms. Both are dressed casually, in jeans and plain-coloured tops, but Binker’s white t-shirt bears a headturner of a slogan: Reagan Bush ’84. Strangers might take him for a roadrage Republican but the ready cynicism he evinces, a characteristic that is useful in an age of spin, is not to be scoffed at. Moses is keen to debate the point in any case.

“So what’s the t-shirt saying then?”

“It’s about Trump right now. Things are so bad that people are wishing for 1984, which was obviously bad… it’s a sign of where we are.”

“You could have had Obama?”

“It wouldn’t have been enough. Reagan is Babylon-lite compared to what’s going on now. Just goes to show how bad things are.”

“I see what you’re saying.”

“It’s just the Charles Mingus in me.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Jazzwise. To find out more about subscribing to the UK's biggest selling jazz magazine, please visit: www.jazzwisemagazine.com/subscribe

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