Robertson’s Debut CD “Bass’d on a True Story”

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BASS’D ON A TRUE STORY / BOWMAN: East of the Sun (and West of the Moon).4 ROBERTSON: The Next Thing to Come.3, 5 GOLSON: Stablemates.4 ROBERTSON: Majestic Nights.1,3,5 Mr. Lonious.4 Lullaby for Noelle.5 Peace by Midnight.5 Better Days Will Come.2,4 Phat Friday.1,3,5 Maven’s Arrival / Brandon Robertson, bs acc. by 1James Suggs, tpt; 2Adrian Crutchfield, s-sax; 2Avis Berry, voc; 3Lew Del Gatto, t-sax; 4Mason Margul, 5Zach Bartholomew, pno; 4Leon Anderson, 5Gerald Watkins Jr., dm / self-produced album

Bassist Brandon Robertson, originally from Tampa, Florida, presents here a collection of music that he realized all comes from “a time capsule of my beginnings as an artist” for his debut CD. In fact, Phat Friday was his first composition at age 18, written in New Orleans four months before Hurricane Katrina hit.

First up is Brooks Bowman’s classic 1936 song East of the Sun, with the leader playing the melody and its variants on bass to a simple piano-drums accompaniment. Nothing fancy here, but a great introduction to Robertson’s rich, strong sound and ability to swing. When pianist Mason Margul gets his chance, he contributes an outstanding chorus. Leon Anderson also acquits himself well in his drum breaks.

The first of several Robertson originals, The Next Thing to Come, sounds for all the world like an advanced cool jazz tune from the 1950s, complete with unusual chord changes. Lew Del Gatto’s laid-back tenor sax is added to the mix here, and he plays the opening chorus before Robertson enters. He has a fertile imagination, but tends to stay within certain boundaries when improvising. The rhythm section on this one is Zach Bartholomew on piano and Gerald Watkins Jr. on drums; Watkins is a smoother drummer than Anderson, which suits this piece well, and Del Gatto’s Stan Getz-like tenor solo is quite interesting.

Benny Golson’s Stablemates, an uptempo swinger, finds Robertson in fine form, again stating the melody before Margul contributes a tasteful solo. As a composition, I was especially impressed by Majestic Nights which has a sort of Night in Tunisia-style rhythm and an engaging melody—something you rarely hear in today’s jazz—played beautifully by trumpeter James Suggs with Del Gatto providing the harmony. Robertson develops his tune nicely above Watkins’ drumming, then Suggs returns to play a mellow but interesting solo that becomes more complex as he improvises further. Del Gatto also gets his Getz in.

Mr. Lonious also opens with the bass, this time playing a slow, quirky figure a cappella before picking up the tempo and launching into an interesting, minor-key tune. When the piano comes in, it’s obvious that this is a tribute to Monk, and a very fine one it is, too. Margul does a fine imitation of the master here.

Lullaby for Noelle opens with a bit of dialogue between Robertson and his daughter, saying goodnight. This is a ballad on which the leader plays bowed bass to start with, which emphasizes his rich, full tone (Robertson originally started as a cellist, and it shows up here.) On Peace by Midnight we again hear Del Gatto on tenor in an attractive but somewhat unusual medium-slow tune. The saxist plays an excellent solo here for a couple of choruses, leading into another fine one by the leader. Better Days Will Come is one of those hopeful ballads, sung in soul style by Avis Berry with backing by soprano saxist Adrian Crutchfield.

Phat Friday is a modern-New Orleans swinger in the style of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, only with just one trumpet and tenor sax, but it moves well and has a nice funky beat to it. Suggs and Del Gatto play a nice couple of chase choruses, followed by Bartholomew on piano with the leader’s bass pumping nicely in the background. He later takes his own solo, very rhythmic, which leads into the ensemble. The finale, Maven’s Arrival, is a bass solo for the leader, a slow piece with some interesting twists and turns.

All in all, a very fine debut disc for a jazz bassist who shows considerable promise. I give it five fish!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Rannou’s Landmark Couperin Set Reissued

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COUPERIN: PIÈCES POUR CLAVECIN / COUPERIN: L’art de toucher le clavecin: Préludes Nos. 1-8. Livre de Clavecin, excerpts from No. 1, 3éme ordre; No. 2, 6ème ordre/ 7éme; No. 3, 13éme ordre/15éme/17éme/18éme/19éme; No. 4, 21éme ordre/23éme/25éme /27éme / Blandine Rannou, hpd / Alpha 494

This 2-CD set is a less fancy reissue of Blandine Rannou’s 2003 recordings of a fairly hefty sampling of François Couperin’s dance suites and music. When it first came out, she was young, pretty and not at all well known on this side of the Atlantic. Sixteen years later, she is a frequent visitor at early music festivals around the world, has put on a little weight and now looks much more mature. But of course that is the business of the marketing people, who absolutely love to sell female classical artists in poses as close to cheesecake as they will permit, and not to those of us for whom the music and its performance always comes first.

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Rannou in 2004 (left) and 2016

Rannou’s Couperin performances were not noted for their energy, although she did play the fast pieces with some zest, so much as for their elegance, and elegance is what Couperin was all about. His music will never leave you wanting to hear more, as in the case of Buxtehude, J.S. Bach or even Handel, but it was atmospheric in a way that such early Baroque music seldom was. He was a favorite composer of both Nadia Boulanger and one of Boulanger’s star pupils, harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, and even American harpsichordist Sylvia Marlowe recorded some of his works.

cover 2This album was originally released on Zig Zag Territories 040401 in 2004 with a different cover. I don’t own the original discs so I can’t tell you if the liner notes were different or longer than the ones in this reissue, which consist of a mere three-page assessment of the composer and his works by the performer, but these are sufficient. Rannou tells us all we need to really know about Couperin and his music, at least verbally:

He takes pains to insist on the importance of the indications of character that he marks at the beginning of virtually all the pieces. By means of these musical “stage directions,” Couperin transports us, in quite literally poetic fashion, to distinctive worlds: languissamment, douloureusement, fièrement sans lenteur, grotesquement, vivement et dans un goût burlesque. He is perhaps never so touching as when presenting sad and sombre moods. One might surmise that the light pieces, sophisticated or pastoral, the very pieces often taken to define the composer, are only there the better to send us back into darkness, to the sound of Leçons de Ténèbres, commas framing the key word in the sentence.

Since it might be of interest for the reader to know all the pieces included in this set, in the order played, I’ve listed them below along with their timings.

1.  L’art de toucher le clavecin; Prélude no 4        1:48
2.  Livre de Clavecin No. 4, 23ème ordre; l’Audacieuse       3:29
3.  Livre de Clavecin No. 4, 23ème ordre: l’Arlequine          1:27
4.      “       les Satires Chèvre-pieds   4:37
5.  Livre de Clavecin No. 3, 18ème ordre: le Turbulent        1:41
6.  Livre de Clavecin No. 3, 18ème ordre: l’Atendrissante   4:25
7.      “      Le Tic-Toc-Choc ou Les Maillotins          2:58
8.  L’art de toucher le clavecin; Prélude no 7 2:46
9.  Livre de Clavecin No. 4, 25ème ordre: La Visionnaire    3:28
10. Livre de Clavecin No. 2, 6ème ordre: La Bersan 2:52
11.      “     les Baricades Mistérieuses 2:24
12. L’art de toucher le clavecin; Prélude no 3 1:11
13. Livre de Clavecin No. 2, 7ème ordre: La Chazé  4:05
14.      “     Les Amusemens    4:35
15.      “     La Ménetou           3:38
16. L’art de toucher le clavecin; Prélude no 1 1:34
17. Livre de Clavecin No. 1, 3ème ordre: La Ténébreuses – Allemande       4:35
18.      “     Les Regrets           4:25
19.      “     La Lugubre – Sarabande   2:59
20.      “     La Favorite – Chaconne à deux tems        4:27
21. Livre de Clavecin No. 4, 25ème ordre: Les Ombres Errantes      4:43
22. L’art de toucher le clavecin; Prélude no 8 1:29
23. Livre de Clavecin No. 4, 21ème ordre: La Reine de Coeurs        3:46
24.      “     La Bondissante     1:48
25.      “     La Couperin          4:03
26. Livre de Clavecin No. 3, 17ème ordre: La superbe ou la Forqueray        4:56
27. L’art de toucher le clavecin; Prélude no 6 2:16
28. Livre de Clavecin No. 4, 27ème ordre: L’exquise – Allemande  4:46
29.      “     Les Chinois           2:59
30.      “     Saillie         2:55
31. Livre de Clavecin No. 3, 13ème ordre: Les Folies Françoises ou les
Dominos    8:53
32. L’art de toucher le clavecin; Prélude no 2 1:30
33. Livre de Clavecin No. 3, 19ème ordre: Les Calotins et les Calotines      2:55
34.      “     L’artiste     3:19
35.      “     Les Culbutes jxcxbxnxs    2:59
36.      “     La Muse – Plantine           3:27
37. L’art de toucher le clavecin; Prélude no 5 2:54
38. Livre de Clavecin No. 3, 15ème ordre: La Régente ou la Minerve          5:04
39. Livre de Clavecin No. 4, 24ème ordre: L’Amphibie        5:50

Atypical of the era in which he worked, Couperin was among the very first, if not the first, composer to write out all the ornaments in the music that he wanted played. This is even different from Bach, who sometimes left a certain amount of improvising up to the performer.

One of the more interesting things about this recording, when you listen to it (especially through headphones), is that although Rannou made pauses between the works she seems to have played all of them in order without a break. I say this because the sound of the reverberation never completely dies away after any specific number. It almost sounds as if the recording company just started the tape and off she went, recording all 39 pieces in order with no second takes. If this is so, that in itself was a heck of an achievement. To have all that music under your fingers to play perfectly for the microphone is, to me, simply astonishing.

I must also point out that although Rannou may not be the most exciting performer of this music, she is never dull, and in fact most of the fast pieces (i.e., Le Turbulent from Livre de Clavecin No. 3, 18ème ordre, to cite but one example among many) are quite lively indeed. She is just a little more sedate in those slow numbers in order to present the composer’s darker side as she mentions in the notes. And I particularly liked the way her harpsichord was recorded: very forward, with minimal studio resonance around it, so that it almost sounds as if she were playing in your living room (for those of you who, like me, still listen to music through speakers). With all that being said, however, I still find that Couperin works best in small doses. One CD at a time, or perhaps even half a CD at a time, is enough to saturate your mind with the imprint of his aesthetic without overloading one. Remember that the composer never expected that someone would sit down at the keyboard and play two hours and eleven minutes’ worth of his music at one sitting. I’m not sure that he himself would have liked to be so oversaturated by it, yet Rannou programmed the works in a good order and provided effective contrasts between his jolly, sedate and somber pieces for these CDs.

One thing you pick up from this collection is that Rannou obviously loves what she does, and she conveys that love to the listener. If Couperin is a composer you relate to, these performances will satisfy you and then some.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Akiko Tsurga Wants Equal Time

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EQUAL TIME / TSURGA: Mag’s Groove. Osaka Samba. Lion’s Gate. DECHTER: Orange Coals. MOBLEY: A Baptist Beat. COLTRANE: Moment’s Notice. SCHERTZINGER-MERCER: I Remember You. ALLEN: This Could Be the Start of Something Beg / Akiko Tsurga, B3 org; Graham Dechter, gtr; Jeff Hamilton, dm / Capri Records 74160-2

I always feel a little leery reviewing jazz organ records for the simple reason that they tend to fall into the same pattern of fast blues-type numbers, but another reason is that so few modern-day organists can compare with Jimmy Smith or Barbara Dennerlein, surely the two greatest virtuoso jazz organists of the modern era.

Akiko Tsurga, who originally hails from Osaka, Japan, is clearly an outstanding keyboardist, and she certain can swing. She may lack the exuberant flair of Smith or Dennerlein, but she plays in much the same groove (well, she ought to, since she’s a jazz organist), and on this new release she is blessed to have as a bandmate guitarist Graham Dechter, who is one of the most exuberant of today’s jazz guitarists. Dechter, thank goodness, is not a shrinking violet on his instrument, as far too many modern jazz guitarists are; on the contrary, he plays with a zip and drive that I found very refreshing, and helps keep Tsurga on her toes.

From the first selection to last, Tsurga plays with a nice feel for swing, and if her playing may lack that final “oomph” factor that made Smith and Dennerlein superstars of the instrument, she clearly can improvise interestingly at times. Dechter’s opening lick on the second piece in this collection, his own composition Orange Coals, swings more all by itself than many guitarists do in their full-chorus solos, and his later solo is brimming with ideas. He also plays an excellent chase chorus with Tsurga while drummer Jeff Hamilton propels them in the background (just listen to Dechter’s double-time licks at the two-minute mark!). The two of them make a splendid duo, with Tsurga doing her best to keep up with Dechter’s scintillating improvisations.

Osaka Samba, the second Tsurga original on this disc, is a cute little number perfect for summertime jazz listening. Dechter once again dazzles with his guitar playing—I’ve got to keep this guy in mind for future reference!—while Tsurga contributes her own tasteful, delicate organ commentary. Hamilton has a nice solo on this one, too, splitting up the beat in interesting ways. Both Dechter and Tsurga show that they can get a little soul in their playing in their rendition of Hank Mobley’s A Baptist Beat, with Tsurga accompanying the guitarist through the first half before getting her own licks in. This one’s a real toe-tapper!

I was especially impressed by Tsurga’s playing on John Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice, particularly the nice, rather complex introduction, and once again Dechter comes smoking out of the gate. Akiko’s solo on this one also swings very well. Lion’s Gate is a ballad, but the band really kicks up Arthur Schertzinger’s and Johnny Mercer’s I Remember You, with Hamilton playing a nice, rapid shuffle beat behind the soloists. Tsurga really swings well on this track.

The finale is Steve Allen’s classic This Could Be the Start of Something Big, and the trio digs into it pretty well, with both Tsurga and Dechter particularly inventive and both swinging hard. It’s a nice finale to a very good disc, and thank goodness we didn’t get a chunky tenor sax!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Fabrizio Sciacca is Gettin’ it There

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GETTIN’ IT THERE / S. JONES: One for Amos. DOMENICI: Lullaby in Central Park. S. CLARK: Zellmar’s Delight.* SCIACCA: For Sir Ron. MASCHWITZ-SHERWIN: A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. J. LEVY: Lonely Goddess.* HOPE: One Second Please* / Donald Vega, pno; Fabrizio Sciacca, bs; Billy Drummond, dm; *Jed Levy, t-sax / Self-produced CD, no number

Italian-born bassist Fabrizio Sciacca, who has been playing in New York since 2015, presents us with this debut CD due for release September 1. The album art contains words of praise from bass legend Ron Carter, who was “delightfully surprised…very crisp snare drum sound, and nice ride cymbal feel…great piano chord voicings and swing solos…very interesting sax solos…and a wonderful bassist.”

Carter’s words pretty much sum up this disc. Those looking for something cutting-edge or in the “Zeitgeist” (a word I’ve always detested, though to some people it means a lot) will have to look elsewhere. This is just a really fine set of pieces played, perhaps, in lounge-jazz style, but really top-drawer lounge jazz.

It’s not really surprising that Carter was impressed by the drumming. Billy Drummond, now 60 years old, has been around a long time and worked with many of the greats, including Horace Silver, Sonny Rollins, Sheila Jordan (one of the very few drummers to play with her) and the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin big band. As for Sciaccia, his playing is beautifully articulated and swinging if not always at the highest end of imagination. That is left to pianist Donald Vega, a very young (25-year-old) American pianist who was born in Venezuela when it was still a really nice country and not a Socialist hellhole. Vega’s playing is of the subtle lounge kind, but he has a nice sense of construction and uses a lot of chords in his solos which give them a nice, rich feeling. I particularly liked his solo on Lullaby in Central Park.

We first hear tenor saxist Jed Levy on the third piece, Zellmar’s Delight by Sonny Clark. A nice, straightahead bop-swing piece, it showcases Vega in a really fine solo. As for the leader, I must say that, judging by this disc at least, his playing is indeed tasteful and swinging but not particularly standout in any way. I certainly wouldn’t walk out if I heard him in person, but I wouldn’t rave about him either. Perhaps he is more of a motivator than an inspiration. His solo on this piece is so delicately plucked that I wonder if he realizes he wouldn’t break the strings if he played with more gusto and energy.

For Sir Ron is Sciacca’s tribute to his mentor Ron Carter, thus he opens the track with a bass solo, again tasteful and, if you listen closely, interesting without giving a strong impression. Vega’s solo spins out the melodic line and works through it with marvelous taste and invention. The well-known ballad A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square is nice but nothing to write home about.

Levy returns on Lonely Goddess, an original written by the saxist. It’s a pleasant tune with a quasi-Latin beat, and both the composer-saxist and pianist provide excellent solos. The closer is the bracing, uptempo One Second Please by Elmo Hope, again with Levy on tenor, and here the entire band plays well, with Sciacca’s moving bass lines quite good if again under-volume.

A very nice disc of straightahead music, then, which will please fans of this type of jazz.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Jeff Pearring Has “Nothing But Time”

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NOTHING BUT TIME / PEARRING: Plugin Heavy. Gather and Go. Through Step. The March of the Aggressive Pedestrian. Sweet Sci-Fi Suite. Talking Outside Time. Sunday. Effective Translation. Plugin Light. ELLINGTON: Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues) / Pearring Sound: Jeff Pearring, a-sax; Adam Lane, bs/el-bs; Tim Ford, dm / Independent release, no number

Due for release October 4, this new album by alto saxist Jeff Pearring and his talented trio  pushes the envelope in 12 selections, most of them originals, but to my ears one of them goes much too far in the direction of electronic/rock/hip hop/whatever the hell you want to call it. It don’t quite ruin the album for me because most of the material here is so good, but you have to wonder who this track was aimed at. Certainly no one with the ears to hear and appreciate the rest of the music!

Thus I will leave the opener, Plugin Heavy, to those who like noisy electronic rock crap and start instead with the second track, Gather and Go. On this one, the bass opens playing edgy tremolos against out-of-rhythm drum licks as Pearring plays abstract figures in the foreground. The bass switches from tremolos to bowed playing behind the alto sax as the music progresses, with Pearring later moving into double-time figures as the drums become more agitated behind him. This almost sounds like the kind of music played by the Art Ensemble of Chicago back in the late 1960s and ‘70s. We then move into the one non-original on this set, Duke Ellington’s Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues), taken at a loping pace and rhythm and almost completely revamped by Pearring and his trio. It ends on a fade-out.

Through Step is a slow-paced number but clearly not a ballad; the music is too edgy and modern for that. Adam Lane plays electric bass on this one, moving it forward with an almost “walking” bass like the old-time jazz pianists; drummer Tim Ford plays a modified shuffle beat while Pearring plays both melodic and abstract figures in the foreground. The March of the Aggressive Pedestrian begins with ominous-sounding bass drum and electric bass, with Pearring coming in to play a series of repeated Fs before moving into the simple-but-edgy melodic line, then developing it through snaky, insinuous lines.

Sweet Sci-Fi Suite consists of three pieces, “To the Stars,” “Parallel Engines Grind” and “Interstellar Dust.” The music begins in an ambient sort of way with Pearring playing his alto into an echo chamber, but it’s the second piece that is more interesting and innovative, using distorted electronics in a truly creative manner. So too is “Interstellar Dust,” although this track is less musical that the previous two. On Talking Outside Time, Ford opens with muffled drums, followed by Pearring playing soft abstract figures that seem to have little relationship to one another. Eventually, however, the music coalesces as Pearring pulls the pieces together, then returns to abstract ruminations. A very odd but effective piece.

Sunday is another slow piece but effectively moody, with soft, slow notes played by the alto over irregular drum and bass punctuation. This, however, eventually moves into a sinuous slow piece, simple in construction but quite effective musically. Effective Translation is one of those funky groove kind of things that don’t usually impress me, but in this case the group plays it softly and with a sense of humor. The biggest problem with it is that it’s monotonous.

We end with Plugin Light which, fortunately, is an uptempo free jazz piece and not the heavy-metal-sounding junk in the first track. Pearring and company almost sound, for a few bars, like the old Ornette Coleman Quartet until they move into a funk groove, again held back in volume and aggressiveness and well-developed as a piece. The rhythm becomes more like dance music as it moves along, but Pearring’s improvisations go more “outside” as well.

An outstanding album, then, if you just ignore the opener.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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The Bennewitz Quartet Plays “Entrarte Musik”

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ULLMANN: String Quartet No. 3. KRÁSA: Theme and Variations for String Quartet. SCHULHOFF: 5 Pieces for String Quartet. HAAS: String Quartet No. 2 / Bennewitz Quartet / Supraphon SU 4265-2

Once again we have a collection of music by Jewish composers who were sent to the concentration camps by the Nazis, and once again, although I applaud the music therein, I have serious reservations about this type of marketing ploy. It has become a “thing” for modern classical musicians to record a group of works by composers who were persecuted by the Nazis, and I for one am appalled by their insensitivity in this sort of promotion.

But the Bennewitz Quartet, a relatively young group of musicians which has been around since the early 2000s, is a fine group of musicians and the pieces they’ve selected for this recital are relatively rare ones for each composer—at least, I didn’t have any recordings in my collection of any of the four. We begin with Viktor Ullmann, one of the most famous and (nowadays) celebrated of those Jewish composers who died in Auschwitz and whose opera The Emperor of Atlantis was a parting shot across the bow of the Nazi regime. Ullmann’s music is among the most modern and, too my ears, the most strikingly original of any of those who died in the concentration camps, and this late string quartet is no exception. The first movement is surprisingly tonal for him, with a lovely theme developed well, but the music soon takes a darker turn, moving into some unusual harmonic territory, particularly as it moves into the second-movement “Presto” with its skittering string tremolos and serrated melodic line. I must applaud the engineers for recording the quartet so well: there’s just enough ambience around the strings to give them a nice sheen without swamping them in reverb. I was also struck by the fact that, although the quartet is in four distinct movements, Ullmann blends one into the next to produce a continuous flow. There are some pauses in the “Largo” movement as well as some slightly edgy rhythmic passages, but for the most part he continues his lyrical bent. It is only in the final movement, “Allegro vivace e ritmico,” that he becomes a bit edgier in tonality while still maintaining an excellent sense of structure.

Hans Krása’s Theme and Variations was written much earlier, in 1935-36, long before he was sent to Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz. This, too, is a very lyrical work combining Czech, German and Jewish elements; the opening theme could almost be sung by a child, simple and attractive, and even when he moves into the variations he does not overdo the modern harmonies. I’m actually surprised that this work hasn’t become a staple of the string quartet repertoire; it could easily appeal to a broad audience. Although the music does become quite complex as we move through the variants, we always return to tonality and catchy melodic lines.

It is only with the 1923 Five Pieces for String Quartet by Erwin Schulhoff that we reach music that is more consistently modern in harmony, although this piece is not nearly as edgy as Schulhoff’s later work from the late 1920s onward. Nonetheless, even in the opening piece, “Alla Vales Viennese,” Schulhoff pulls the rug out from under our expectations, giving us a waltz with almost Stravinskian harmonies, and the following “Serenata” is also unusual and quirky. So, too, are his milonga and Tarantella, which sounds about as Italian as a glass of vodka.

Pavel Haas’ String Quartet No. 2 is very strangely subtitled “From the Monkey Mountains,” which (it turns out) was the local nickname for the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands. It’s a very Czech-sounding piece, not too far from the contemporary music of Janačék. In the first movement, there also seemed to me to be a suggestion of American Indian music, some of which bears a resemblance to the music of that region.

If I have any complaint at all, it is that the Bennewitz Quartet tends to lean a bit too much in the direction of producing a lovely tone over getting into the dramatic heart of the music. Even in the Haas quartet, clearly the edgiest piece on this record, there’s just a little too much of sweetness and not enough vinegar in their interpretation. Nonetheless, this is an interesting mix of pieces, all of which are interesting.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Grits, Beans and Mexican Greens

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GRITS, BEANS AND GREENS / COLEMAN: Where Am I Going? (5 tks). HAYES: Grits, Beans and Greens (4 tks). For Members Only (2 tks). Rumpus (4 tks). DUKE PEARSON: You Know I Care (2 tks) / Tubby Hayes Quartet: Hayes, t-sax; Mike Pyne, pno; Ron Matthewson, bs; Spike Wells, dm; add Louis Stewart, gtr on first 3 tks of Where Am I Going / Decca 7756964 (CD version)

Well, here it is, folks: the Holy Grail of British ‘60s jazz, the album that one critic claimed was more important to jazz history than finding the lost Buddy Bolden cylinder. Yes, claims this ridiculous are being made for this album which, though certainly a very good one, actually tells us nothing about Ernest “Tubby” Hayes that we don’t already know.

But first, a bit of background. These master tapes, begun on May 27, 1969 with three takes of Cy Coleman’s Where Am I Going? on which the Hayes quartet was bolstered by guitarist Louis Stewart, was then completed on June 24, 1969 without Stewart, comprising five selections. The tapes were then “lost,” in the sort of way that only the blundering idiots at Polygram (as the mega-corporation was then called) could do. In the early 2000s, jazz writer and Polygram catalogue manager Richard Cook saw entries in Hayes’ diary that detailed a number of recording sessions. Cook trawled through the Polygram archives and, in one of the great “finds” in jazz history, unearthed the 1969 tapes.

But they weren’t issued at that time. Why not? More corporate incompetence, this time under the name of Universal Music Group, which by then owned them. Cook actually retired from Polygram, and then died a few years before someone at Universal “found” them again.

Hayes recording sheet

Bear in mind, we’re talking about a mega-corp that hired the Three Stooges’ Roof Repair Company in 2008 to fix the roof of a building in Hollywood that, it turned out, housed thousands of master tapes of all music genres. The Three Stooges used a BLOWTORCH (no, I’m not making this up!) to repair the roof. They then “waited for the shingles they worked on to cool” before leaving, but apparently never heard of squirting them with FOAM to make sure that no fire would start in the wiring. About two hours after they left, the still-hot shingles burst into flames and thousands of recording masters went up in flames. Firefighters were powerless to salvage much of anything in the blazing inferno. I’m guessing that the antiquated sprinkler system didn’t work either.

On top of this, Universal then lied to the press and public and said that the damage was minimal. It was only due to investigative reporting, years later, than the true story came out. Not only did they lose a goldmine in pop masters ranging from Chuck Berry to Elton John and Nirvana, but jazz as well. Everything ever recorded by Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Jordan, Jimmy Dorsey, the Jay McShann band with Charlie Parker, early Count Basie and everyone else for Decca Records was gone; so too the entire Impulse! catalog, which Universal apparently also acquired along the way, which included masters by John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Pee Wee Russell and other jazz greats. Barely mentioned in the New York Times story was the classical hoard, which included a rare 1950 album for Decca by Nadia Boulanger in addition to all the New York Pro Musica, Russell Oberlin, Cincinnati Symphony, Ruggero Ricci and Andrés Segovia catalogs. All gone forever.

Thus I’m not surprised that the clowns at Universal lost these Tubby Hayes tapes after they were rediscovered. I would be surprised if they know where their brains are before they go to bed at night. Using the longest takes available, we then get an “album” of less than 40 minutes’ worth of music, unacceptable today but fairly normal for jazz LPs of the 1960s. Universal Music has thus issued this album three different ways: as an LP and a CD containing that less-than-40-minutes’ worth for $25.99, and as a 2-CD set containing all outtakes and studio talk for $28.99.

But why bother giving your hard-earned money to Universal when they’re allowing the full shebang to be streamed for free on Spotify? Here is the link: https://open.spotify.com/album/1Ypm2DUueuqLeVt3Y2A9Ax

As for the music, as I mentioned earlier, it is indeed excellent but no more unique or special than the kind of music Hayes had been playing for at least two years before this. In fact, if you go to YouTube you can find not only the master take of the title track from this album but also a live 1968 performance of For Members Only that is even better than the takes in this Fontana set. Of course, since Hayes was a jazz improviser and in fact one of the best of his time, the solos herein are considerably different from these other takes, so of course you’ll want to hear the whole thing. But in 1967, two years earlier, he made another album which was released, titled Mexican Green, which in my view is even more varied in the material therein. Every track is a gem and, in my opinion, the compositions on this album are more varied in style. The music on Grits, Beans and Greens is all uptempo except for the single complete take of Duke Pearson’s You Know I Care, a fine ballad played exceptionally well but scarcely a Holy Grail sort of piece. When John Coltrane’s “Lost Album” was released last year, Sonny Rollins said it was like “finding a new room in the great pyramid,” but even critic Geoff Dyer in The Guardian admitted that “the room turns out to be rather like a few of the surrounding ones, even containing versions of some of the same artifacts.” Such is the case with Grits, Beans and Greens.

Mexican GreenThe only personnel change between Grits, Beans and Greens and Mexican Green is the substitution of Spike Wells on drums for Tony Levin. Both drummers were excellent, although I admit that Wells was a bit more inventive than Levin. If anything, I’d say that Hayes’ playing is even fierier on Mexican Green. On the opener, Dear Johnny B, he comes charging out of the gate sounding so much like John Coltrane that even Coltrane fans would be taken aback, and he maintained this invention from first track to last—even in the relaxed, medium-tempo Off the Wagon, where he sounds like a cross between Sonny Rollins and Bird.

The May 27 takes of Where Am I Going?, particularly the first two, are very interesting, in part because they are played at different tempi and in part because of the inclusion of Stewart, an excellent jazz guitarist who gives the group a little more “body” to their sound (and who plays some excellent solos). It’s possible that Stewart was unavailable for the June 24 session, which is a shame because I miss his sound in the ensemble. Hayes is his usual interesting self throughout, as is Pyne on piano, and as mentioned earlier Wells is a very interesting drummer. One of the joys of listening to Hayes in his solo work is his logical sense of construction. Unlike Coltrane, who could go off on tangents, Hayes kept a clear view of where he wanted his solos to go and what he wanted them to say, and he does so. Those familiar with the Hayes group of this time already know that Mathewson was a terrific bassist, easily the equal of Charlie Haden or Jimmy Garrison.

The title track is a catchy-but-quirky original line by Hayes with a “jumpy” bass line that quickly turns into a swinger at a more conventional 4/4 rhythm, but again the solos are brilliant and there is quite some variety between takes 1, 3, and 4 (the latter being the one chosen as the master). Pyne, inspired by the leader’s playing, contributes some superb solos as well. Richardson is simply astounding in his solos as well, particularly in take 3.

For Members Only is played very well, but—as I mentioned earlier—not quite at the white heat of Hayes’ 1968 live version. Actually, I preferred take 1 to the “complete” take 2. It’s just as complete, really, and to my ears a bit more inspired. There’s really only one take of You Know I Care that could have been used, the first breaking down after about 40 seconds with Hayes exclaiming, “Ahh, f**k!” It’s a nice ballad, not too simpering, and played with just the right amount of rhythmic lift. For Rumpus, four takes were made but, in the end, the first was the one chosen to be the master anyway. It’s a splendid

Hayes LP labelSome “vinyl” collectors have complained online that Decca should have released the full version of this set in that format, but I don’t see that being a very sizeable portion of their market. I’ve already complained, loudly and long, about the idiotic “vinyl revival”; the music sounds, to the naked ear, absolutely no different in either format when mastered from the exact same tapes, and of course LPs, even when taken good care of, are subject to crackle, ticks and pops whereas CDs are not.

Not, then, a real revelation of hitherto unsuspected abilities by Hayes and Co., but clearly an excellent jazz album, well worth adding to your collection.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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