Gregory Porter (v), Chip Crawford (p), Aaron James (b), Emmanuel Harold (d), Yosuke Sato (as), Tivon Pennicott (ts), Keyon Harrold (t), and Kamau Kenyatta (ss). Rec. July-August, 2011
Music industry clichés are kicked into touch here by what is not so much the difficult second album as the dynamic successor to the first. Water, the 2011 debut that took most by surprise, is possibly bettered. Porter’s life experience and maturity – the years of gestation in musical theatre as well as small venues such as St. Nick’s in Harlem – are instantly felt in an offering that has something of the relaxed gravitas of a fully formed artist rather than the demonstrative ways of a callow youth who is a touch too eager to please. ‘Painted On Canvas’, ‘Be Good (Lion’s Song)’ and ‘On My Way To Harlem’ are brilliant, proof positive thereof, a superb opening run of tracks that veer from simmering ballads to stomping, Motown-inspired soul jazz that displays Porter’s populist touch without watering down his artistry.
Well served by a horn section that kicks and holds back in line with the push and pull of the voice, these pieces also highlight a gifted purveyor of melodies and lyrics who can make acute observations about both human nature and the changing face of African-American culture in these tryin’ times. As was the case with Water, Porter gives a reverential nod to the tradition by way of stirring takes on Nat Adderley’s ‘Work Song’ and Billie Holiday’s ‘God Bless The Child.’ Taken a cappella, the latter reveals the great glow of his priceless baritone. Given the impact he made last year, the singer should secure greater accolades with this set, as there is no slip of quality control. Most excitingly, there is a commercial appeal to Porter’s music that takes nothing away from his technique. It’s a reminder that jazz and soul can co-exist without a sacrifice of integrity.
Jeremy Pelt (t, flhn), JD Allen (ts), Danny Grissett (p), Dwayne Burno (b), Gerald Cleaver (d), and Joanne Pascal (v). Rec. September 2011
In the 2011 Jazzwise critics poll listings (December/ January issue) both Roy Carr and this writer voted Jeremy Pelt’s The Talented Mr. Pelt as our choice for best album. Here comes the follow-up, the fourth by a band of musicians that has achieved a sound, an identity, a closeness and an honesty that, in today’s market, is quite an exceptional achievement. Soul, despite being very different, is arguably the quintet’s best yet.
It’s a brilliant, brave album, built around extended contemporary jazz ballads, several of which can only be described as brooding, plus a vocal track (a Sarah Vaughan-like version of a little-known Sammy Cahn song, ‘Moondrift’) and an 11-minute very ‘live’ grooving mid-tempo burnout blues, as a total contrast to the rest. With the exception of a 3/4 veined George Cables tune (‘Sweet Rita Suite Pt 2: Her Soul’) all the compositions are by Pelt himself. Each have a different kind of low-burning restrained intensity, which continues in his every-note-counts solos, all blues-inflected. There are equally moving contributions from every member of what appears to be a totally self-less ego-free band. JD Allen breathes as one with Jeremy and his achingly soulful solos are again notable for a tone the average tenor player would die for and a series of melodic ideas that fit the various moods to perfection.
Listen to him on ‘The Tempest’, for instance, backed by Cleaver’s rumbling drums. Grissett is, again, a major contributor to the group’s overall concept and particularly makes his mark on ‘The Ballad of Ichabod Crane’, Sleepy Hollow’s lovelorn school teacher, with a masterful blues-driven solo. The lengthy swinging 12-bar, ‘What’s Wrong is Right’ allows everyone to let their hair down after all the slow tempos, with Grissett laying out during the extended trumpet and tenor solos, before taking his own. This track gives us the chance to marvel at the completely irrepressible swing generated by Dwayne Burno’s gloriously un-politically correct driving bass combined with Cleaver’s beautifully busy, constantly creative drumming. The Joe Marciano-engineered Systems Two sound is a big improvement. So here is the group’s collective ‘Soul’. It would be foolish to deny that this isn’t a logical extension of what the Davis-Shorter group started, but this band for me is the most satisfying in jazz today. Long may they stay together and continue to grow.
Charles Mingus (b, p) with Richard Williams, Rolf Ericson/Eddie Preston (t), Quentin Jackson/Britt Woodman (tb), Don Butterfield (tu), Charlie Mariano/ Eric Dolphy (as), Dick Hafer/Booker Ervin (ts), Jerome Richardson (bs, ss), Jaki Byard (p), Jay Berliner (g) and Dannie Richmond/Walter Perkins (d). Rec. 20 Jan and 20 Sep 1963
The Black Saint is widely acknowledged as a Mingus masterpiece, and nothing about this reissue changes that. The bargain of two LPs on one CD is also an intelligent coupling in that 14 minutes of Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus was done at the same nine-hour session as the basic Saint recordings. I mention the basic recordings, because part of Mingus’ compositional plan involved hidden repeats of various taped sections and covert (i.e. unadmitted) overdubbing, largely consisting of bringing back Mariano to add a further improvised line to roughly one-third of the album. The overall achievement, however, combined some of Mingus’ most distinctive preoccupations (Ellington, Afro-Spanish music, improv and collective improv) into a set unlike anything else he ever achieved. Of course, it relied hugely on contributions from the sidemen – Richmond, Mariano (who perhaps never played better), Jackson (with plunger mute) and the surprise choice of finger-style session man Berliner.
The other album, by contrast, was conceived as a greatest-hits remake and largely succeeds. Nothing could maintain the same level as Saint, and Bob Hammer’s arrangements of three tracks try to codify Mingus’ style and fall a bit short. The composer’s bass gets a better look-in, especially on ‘Mood Indigo’, with Ervin largely to the fore but Dolphy under wraps, perhaps for contractual reasons. ‘Better Get Hit In Yo’ Soul’ (whose ensemble is, I now believe, an edit from both sessions) has a unique 90-second coda. Be warned that ‘Freedom’, which was added to the previous CD reissue, is not included in this generous 80-minute running-time. The prolific notes to the two original albums are here, totally illegible without a magnifying glass – but there is a certain book [Brian is too modest to mention his fine book Mingus: A Critical Biography] that tells what you need to know, although timings on the Black Saint breakdown were done before the LP era when the album (like Kind Of Blue) was restored to its correct pitch.
Albert Ayler (ts), Donald Ayler (t), Michel Samson (vn), William Folwell (b), and Beaver Harris (d). Rec. 1966
Recorded during Albert Ayler’s two-week tour of Europe in 1966, this astonishing document gives the listener front row access to a set of concerts that has, until now, remained officially unreleased. Recorded on 10 November by Swedish Radio Ltd at Konserthuset, Stockholm, and on 3 November by WDR at Philharmonie in the Berlin Jazz Festival, both performances feature Ayler and his group at the peak of their collective powers. Already legendary among free jazz enthusiasts, they were greeted in Europe with the kind of enthusiasm that was usually reserved for groups like The Beatles. This was an exciting and productive time for Ayler who, after spending several years developing his sound live and on record, was now ready to share it with the world and make his mark.
The music played here is a selection of his more famous compositions such as ‘Truth Is Marching In’, ‘Our Prayer’, ‘Bells’ and ‘Ghosts’, spiritual anthems that have their roots in the New Orleans jazz tradition, but are also teetering on the brink of abandoning jazz altogether – sounding at times like contemporary classical scores. Of particular importance here is Ayler’s choice of musicians to get his spiritual and creative message across, the most interesting addition being Dutch violinist Michel Samson whose finely tuned fingering is the perfect foil for Ayler to bounce his complex tenor honks and howls around as he searches for his own musical nirvana. Also impressive is Beaver Harris’ almost painterly drum technique that, together with William Fowell’s equally meditative bass bowing, provides the perfect platform for Ayler and his brother Donald on trumpet to fully communicate with each other. A magnificent example of this can be heard on the Berlin version of ‘Truth Is Marching In’ where the main theme is stretched out to its very limit, before ricocheting back into a boiling bout of improvisation that is jaw dropping in its intensity and beauty.
Pat Martino (g), Eric Alexander (ts), Tony Monaco (org), and Jeff “Tain” Watts (d). Rec. 26-28 June 2009
Fifty years ago, when he was a skinny, hollow-cheeked 17-year-old newcomer in Willis “Gator Tail” Jackson’s Harlem-based combo, Pat Martino was nicknamed “The Kid”. Today he’s an elder statesman with the distinguished grey locks of a fine-art dealer or diplomat, but still very much the kiddy as far as funky, hard-swinging neo-bop guitar is concerned. (It just dawned on me that Jackson’s own nickname must have described how hard that big-toned tenorman and his band were known to swing.) Martino is also a remarkable survivor, still keeping top company after a long life, a busy career and a frightening brush with death from a brain aneurysm, after which he reportedly had to relearn the guitar from scratch.
Recorded live with a brilliant all-star group, this is one of his best recordings for years. Eric Alexander, my favourite straightahead tenorist, makes a fine choice for his group, as does drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, a deep-seated groover for whom the swing is always the thing. Monaco comps urgently and solos with all the laidback heat of the great soul organists, and all are team players, Alexander packing his solos with interesting ideas yet never outmuscling the boss, who leads from the front. Even now, Martino has no rivals for maintaining a soulful and consistently flowing line, fast and furious when he wants to be, rock-steady and repetitive when he hits a particularly meaty phrase and senses the chance to draw some appreciative yells from the crowd. The soulful, boppish originals are all his, and all sound a joy to play. Martino fans considering this purchase should not hesitate.