Keith Jarrett – Rio ★★★★★

Keith Jarrett(ECM)

Keith Jarrett (p). Rec. 9 April 2011

Is this Keith Jarrett’s finest solo recording to date? It could well be. Recorded in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year, it has been rush released by ECM simply because Jarrett and ECM (Manfred Eicher) believe it to be, and having lived with this music for a few weeks now, it gets harder to disagree with every listening. This is Jarrett spinning spontaneously conceived melodies effortlessly and actually weaving them into forms that sound like a well known standard whose title you can’t quite remember. This remarkable feat is achieved a few times on the recording, although it doesn’t start off like that. Beginning with a stark, bi-tonal improvisation that’s rather like a cold plunge after a sauna, this bracing opening gives way to some of Jarrett’s most magic music making on record. On it, he assumes the storyteller’s mantle. There is an arc to each of this two-CD set, representing the first and second half of the concert, and on it something of the Brazilian culture seems to creep into the second CD as it progresses, the crowd love it, it is compulsive listening, and you just have to keep returning to it, not one track in isolation but a whole CD at a time. Marvellous stuff.

– Stuart Nicholson

John Coltrane Quartet – The Complete November 19, 1962 Stockholm Concerts ★★★★★

ColtraneDomino Records

John Coltrane (ts; ss), McCoy Tyner (p), Jimmy Garrison (b), and Elvin Jones (d). Rec. 1962

Jazz history in general has been constructed around a finite number of iconic recordings and in the case of John Coltrane in particular, through his work for the Impulse label. Academics and students alike pour over these recordings as if they were Grail itself. This close scrutiny, in the hope that it will unlock the secrets of his improvisatory process, is, by its very nature, selective since these recordings reflect no more than a snapshot of the artist at a given moment of his career. Thus our impressions of Coltrane at the peak in1962-3 are shaped by our perception of just a handful of Impulse! recordings. Yet as this four CD set of two concerts in Stockholm from 1962 show, Coltrane was perhaps more expansive, more creative and more dynamic than was revealed by the Impulse albums of the period.

Recorded during his mid-November 1962 European tour, bootlegs of variable quality – mostly poor – have surfaced from time to time, taken from local radio stations from concerts at Helsinki, Copenhagen, Graz and Milan. However, on 19 November Coltrane gave two concerts at the Stockholm Konserthuset, which are released in their entirety for the first time ever and in good quality audio. They do add considerably to our knowledge of Coltrane, even though his repertoire reflected what Coltrane was performing during this period with originals such as ‘Mr. P.C.’ and ‘Impressions’ and standards such as ‘Inchworm” (which he never commercially recorded), ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’, ‘My Favourite Things’ and ‘I Want to Talk About You’. Of interest is his performance of ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, which he played with the Miles Davis Quintet, but revisited for this European tour and would only remain in his repertoire for four months.

Throughout these albums it is Coltrane’s daring and his probing intensity that makes each of his solos appear on the edge. With the exception of Michael Brecker, no other saxophonist came close to achieving his creative intensity, although rather too many have tried. It remains a fact that what was good for John Coltrane is not necessarily the universal balm that is good for every saxophonist.

– Stuart Nicholson

Ornette Coleman Original Album Series ★★★★★

Ornette Coleman Original Album SeriesIncluding: The Shape Of Jazz To Come/Change Of The Century/This Is Our Music/Free Jazz/ Ornette!

Atlantic/Rhino

Ornette Coleman (as), Eric Dolphy (b clt), Don Cherry, Freddie Hubbard (t), Charlie Haden, Scott LaFaro (b), Billy Higgins, and Ed Blackwell (d). Rec. 1959–62

Although his work for Impulse, Blue Note, Columbia, Flying Dutchman and his own Harmolodic label should by no means be discounted – after all they yielded nuggets such as Skies Of America, Friends And Neighbours and In All Languages – the Atlantic recordings are arguably the backbone of the saxophonist’s oeuvre. Taken together, the five sets that start with 1959’s The Shape Of Jazz To Come and conclude with 1962’s Ornette! still make for something of a shock to the system decades later for two simple reasons: the cast iron strength of character of Coleman as a soloist, which also holds true for his accompanists, who are actually more like co-pilots; and the absolute boldness of the writing which both confirms the vitality of the “avant-garde” or “new music” and makes the crucial point that its central development away from bebop’s clearly mapped chords and set meters took it “back” to early blues and country as well as forward to an undefined idiomatic space. Ultimately, Coleman’s talent is for making music that is as complex as it is primal. And not affected.

Certainly, the more joyous, almost “stomp and buck” implications of pieces such as ‘Ramblin’, ‘Kaleidoscope’ or ‘T&T’, which is possibly the strangest, most lopsided spin on New Orleans marching band traditions one could hope to hear, are like dance numbers for moving terrain. The mercurial nature of Coleman’s thinking led him to reshape structures more daringly than the average musician could imagine and his conception of harmony and tempo as a kind of modelling clay rather than rigid building blocks upon which to graft layers of sound still provides an invaluable lesson for contemporary players. Alternatively, one might argue that the immense appeal of his songs is their mesh of polyrhythm with a form of polymelody so that the whole ensemble acts as a contrapuntal choir singing from different hymn sheets without falling into discord. Given the abundance of his ideas, Coleman would inevitably expand beyond his favoured quartet setting, and the Free Jazz album by the double quartet is striking for the increased sonic range provided by such as Eric Dolphy and Freddie Hubbard as well as the sheer drama of its collective whoop and holler, though the performance arguably has less appeal than the music by the smaller groups. If Coleman the high energy player is well represented there, then Coleman the lyricist, the sensitive soul, is supreme elsewhere: the opener on disc one is ‘Lonely Woman’. It can move anybody to tears. In that respect, it is blues, soul, raga, and jazz rolled into sounds that somehow stand beyond all these genres. That is something else!!!

– Kevin Le Gendre

Buck Clayton – Complete Legendary Jam Sessions: Master Takes ★★★★★

Buck ClaytonSolar

Buck Clayton, Joe Newman, Joe Thomas, Billy Butterfield (t), Ruby Braff (cnt), Urbie Green, Benny Powell, Henderson Chambers, Trummy Young, Bennie Green, Dicky Harris, JC Higginbotham (tb), Tyree Glenn (tb, vib), Woody Herman (clt), Lem Davis (as), Julian Dash, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Tate (ts), Charlie Fowlkes (bar s), Sir Charles Thompson, Jimmy Jones, Billy Kyle (p, cel), Al Waslohn, Kenny Kersey (p), Freddie Green, Steve Jordan (g), Walter Page, Milt Hinton (b), Jo Jones, Bobby Donaldson (d), Jack Ackerman (tap dance) and Jimmy Rushing (v). Rec. 14 Dec 1953, 16 Dec 1953, 31 Mar 1954, 13 Aug 1954, 15 Mar 1955 and 5 Mar 1956

Three CDs in a cardboard slip-case, just another public domain release by an Andorra-based label and largely lifted from the definitive Mosaic box set at a guess, even down to the un-credited re-use of session photographs mostly from the Frank Driggs Collection. Oh well, and that said, it’s still magic music and finger-licking good at that. Take a glance at the collective personnel listed above and what you’ll see is a kind of buyer’s guide to the best swing soloists of the day, their skills honed in pre-bop big bands, albeit with something of a bias towards the Basie manner, viz the rhythm section.

Largely the idea of entrepreneur John Hammond and producer George Avakian and designed to exploit the stretched-out potential of the newly popular long-playing record, these sessions were conceived as a homage to the jam sessions of yore, the personnel choices and skeletal arrangements assigned to leader Clayton. I well remember the first of the Columbia LPs appearing c.1954 and marvelling at ‘Robbins Nest’ which occupied the entire first side and ‘The Huckle-Buck’ on the other and playing them to destruction. Aside from the terse yet swingy pianisms of Sir Charles, one loved the way each player locked in and ran with the theme, riffs behind them, and of course, at the emergence of the previouslyunheralded soloists like Urbie Green, Fowlkes and Dash who flowered in this congenial situation. And that’s how it goes through some three-and-a-half hours of near-perfect mainstream. Add to these, the equally potent Vanguard sessions that also appeared around this time (again at Hammond’s instigation) and you have the well-spring for the world-wide mainstream revival. More to the point, you have Clayton, a major Basie stylist, in his element with likeminded companions. A certainty for the best-of-the year reissue category.

– Peter Vacher

Phil Seamen – Seamen’s Mission ★★★★★

Phil SeamenProperbox

Phil Seamen (d), Jimmy Deuchar, Albert Hall, Jo Hunter, Terry Lewis, Hank Shaw, Ronnie Simmonds, Dizzy Reece, Shake Keane, Stan Palmer, Dave Usden, Jimmy Watson, Bobby Pratt (t), Ken Wray, Mac Minshull, Bobby Lamb, Robin Kaye, Jimmy Tobbett, Jackie Armstrong, Laddie Busby, George Chisholm, Jack Botterill, (tb), John Burden (Fr-h), Jimmy Powell (tu), Derek Humble (as, ts), Joe Harriott, Dougie Robinson, Bob Burns, Jimmy Phillips (as), Tubby Hayes (ts, vbs, fl), Ronnie Scott, Pete King, Don Rendell, Kenny Graham, Ronnie Keene, Joe Temperley, Sammy Walker, Eddie Mordue, Wally Moffatt (ts), Harry Klein, Benny Green, Don Honeywell, Oscar Bird, Cliff Townsend (bar s), Stan Tracey (p, vbs), Victor Feldman (p, vbs, d, cgas), Eddie Harvey, Harry South, Ralph Dollimore, Max Harris, Dill Jones, Pat Smythe, Johnny Weed, Norman Stenfalt, Tommy Pollard, Terry Shannon, Tony Crombie (p) Sammy Stokes, Kenny Napper, Lennie Bush, Jack Fallon, Major Holley, Coleridge Goode, Eric Peter, Pete Blannin, Lloyd Thompson, Jeff Clyne (b), Jack Parnell (d), Billy Olu Shoanke, Jack McHardie (cga), Donalso (bgo), and Judy Johnson (v). Rec. 1952-1959

Over half the material contained in this indispensible four-CD box was originally created for the Tempo label under the keen-eared supervision of Jazzwise’s esteemed contributor Tony Hall and represents some of the finest modern jazz ever recorded locally.

Tony has made no secret that the major problem he encountered when producing many of the UK’s top guns was what he perceived to be their lack of self-confidence. Seems many musicians felt themselves inferior to their American counterparts. Tosh. This is music of the highest order.

With hindsight one can hear that some remarkable sessions took place in the 1950s resulting in numerous performances to truly be proud of. Nobody here disgraces themselves or offers up below par accounts of their talent. Often, as the Victor Feldman big band sides confirm (‘Maenya’) plus those Jazz Courier romps (‘If This Isn’t Love’) they’re of Olympian stature.

Nevertheless, with so much US product then available, domestic jazz releases often sold in such small numbers that a second pressing was seldom called for. Sure, familiar influences might well be detected, but these never amounted to slavish copies or parodies. For instance, traces of Hank Mobley rather than Coltrane informed Tubby’s phenomenal mid-1950s work, while if Jimmy Deuchar had been black and American as opposed to white and a Scotsman then perhaps he would have been acknowledged as the world class musician he was. That said, both Victor Feldman and Dizzy Reece successfully relocated their careers Stateside.

And what are we to make of madcap Phil Seamen who drums on every selection? Over the years, tales of his often-hilarious eccentricities have overshadowed the fact that Phil was one of the finest drummers of his generation, genuinely respected by Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Art Taylor, Philly Joe Jones and Elvin Jones as an equal – no argument.

A likeable, and humorous individual, bizarrely, the unpredictable nature of Phil’s drug dependent lifestyle may have enabled him to momentarily hold down a demanding job as the pit drummer for the West End production of West Side Story (on the recommendation of Leonard Bernstein) but it seldom stretched to Phil running his own group. When briefly he did, it was a corker and included Joe Harriott and Dave Goldberg.

Phil’s enduring talent was his unmistakable contribution to the success of those numerous recording dates he invigorated by his presence. It has to be remembered that the London scene was somewhat incestuous with the bulk of the finest players emanating from the Ronnie Scott camp where steel-wristed Phil was frequently the drummer of choice. Quite often there appeared to be an almost telepathic kinship that existed when the likes of Jimmy Deuchar, Ken Wray, Derek Humble, Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes and Victor Feldman convened in a studio. Same applied when Phil recorded independently with either Joe Harriott or Dizzy Reece. Again he helped create a genuinely original tapestry which, when propelled and prodded by Phil, proved a formidable force blessed with an abundance of often bold innovations.

Out on the road, Phil gave Ronnie’s original nine-handed unit, his shortlived big band plus a tenure with the Jazz Couriers a unique energy no other drummer could quite match. The facts can’t be denied, the majority of these recordings appear to sound even fresher today than when they were first released, thereby being testament to their enduring quality. Listen and marvel. Trebles all round!

– Roy Carr

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