David Murray doesn’t play with a big band much these days, but he’s got one at Birdland in midtown Manhattan through Saturday, so if you’re in the area, check it out.
In the mid-1990s, Murray fronted a big band every Monday night at the Knitting Factory in TriBeCa (in addition to the various quartets and octet he played with all over the city). Then he moved to Paris and experimented with African and Caribbean music, but when he comes back to New York, he usually returns to his distinctive style of jazz.
He started Wednesday night’s early set with an original, “Hong Kong Nights,” and the band unleashed that special Murray sound from the first downbeat: the reeds blowing a lush harmony, the horns a clipped counterpoint, while Murray tapped into some hidden rhythm of the universe with a Ben Webster tone, a Sonny Rollins cadence, capped occasionally by an Albert Ayler outer-orbit flurrylyrical and frenzied all at once.
The magic unfolded again, later in the set, with his arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge,” proving once again that Murray is one of the era’s great modern balladeers.
If you’re in New York City and don’t mind the snow (which resumed Friday), go to Birdland in midtown and see the Overtone Quartet, which features Jason Moran, Chris Potter, Larry Grenadier, and Eric Harland. They’re as good as you might expect, better even. They play through Sunday night.
The folks at Rhino Records have just released a 180-gram vinyl reissue of The Shape of Jazz to Come, Ornette Coleman’s groundbreaking (and still riveting) album of 1959, mastered at RTI from the original stereo tapes. It sounds in every way better than the original pressing, which itself sounds quite good.
Everything is clearer, highs are extended, bass is more defined, dynamics are wider. Ornette’s white plastic alto sax has more of that palpable whoosh through the reed and horn. Don Cherry’s pocket trumpet has an airier mouthpiece. Charlie Haden’s bass—you can hear the wood vibrate. And Billy Higgins’ drum set has more sizzle and snap.
Attention, last-minute Christmas shoppers: No gift could be more welcome to a jazz lover than a copy of Herman Leonard’s last book of photographs, titled, simply, Jazz (Bloomsbury, 320pp., $40 retail).
Leonard was the consummate jazz photographer, a true artist as well as a chronicler, whose black-and-white pictures—most of them taken between the late 1940s and the early ’60s (though with a remarkable reprise in the late ’80s and ’90s)—captured, even visually defined, the passion of the music, the intimacy between the musicians and the moment, the spirit of the times.
My column on the best jazz albums of 2010 is in today’s edition of
Slate, replete with strategically selected 30-second sound clips, illustrating my points (to the extent—very limited—that 30-second clips can do that). Here’s the list, minus the mini-essays and the sound clips, but I’ve written about all of these albums over the past year in this blog.
Music Matters Jazz—the L.A.-based audiophile label that reissues classic Blue Note titles, each on twin slabs of thick, quiet vinyl, mastered at 45 rpm and eased into gorgeous gatefold packages—keeps churning them out.
One of their latest, and greatest, is Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure, a jaw-dropper from 1964 that sounds as fresh as tomorrow.
Hill, 33 at the time (he died in 2007, active till the end), was a precisely adventurous pianist and one of the most inventive composers of that transition era, pushing metric rhythms and chord-based harmonies right up to the edge dividing structure from freedom (he received informal lessons from Hindemith in his youth). Every player in his band—Eric Dolphy on reeds, Joe Henderson on tenor sax, Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Richard Davis on bass, Tony Williams on drums—was top-notch and hitting their peaks.
Those who follow this space know of my enthusiasm for the music of trumpeter Dave Douglas: his plangent tone, his spine-tingling way with minor-chord intervals, his knack for evoking joy, melancholy, romance, and a host of other emotions—sometimes all at once—without dipping so much as a toe into sentimentalism.
Henry Threadgill should be better known than he is. A topnotch musician on alto sax and flute, one of the more innovative composers in jazz, a veteran of the Chicago avant-garde and a revivalist of ragtime improvisational styles (the two are not so contradictory, as he was the first to demonstrate), Threadgill started out on small labels, briefly landed contracts at RCA Novus and Columbia during their brief flirtations with experimentalists (in the late ‘80s and mid ‘90s, respectively), then went back to the indies—all the while retaining, even advancing, his spirit of adventure and his restless but disciplined innovation.
The Israeli pianist Anat Fort’s second CD, And If (on the ECM label), is an album that I like a lot, though it’s hard to explain why or even to describe. Her music is rhapsodic but spare, tender but propulsive, flush with melodic hooks that loop in sinuous, unpredictable shapes.
The latest 3-CD box in Mosaic Records’ Select series, John Carter & Bobby Bradford, is something of a revelation. I’ve heard several albums over the years by the two musicians separately, but never their collaborations of 1969 (as the New Art Jazz Ensemble) and ’71 (as John Carter & Bobby Bradford, though playing with much the same quartet), both recorded on the obscure Revelation label. Now here they are, reissued with unreleased takes and a whole unissued (unknown) duet session that was laid down in ’79.
Sony/Legacy’s 40th anniversary, deluxe reissue of Bitches Brew, Miles Davis’ landmark fusion double-album, is everything that the company’s 50th anniversary reissue of Kind of Blue tried to be but wasn’t: a fitting commemoration, handsomely packaged, with liner notes by a scribe (Greg Tate) who fully grasps the music and its cultural significance, and—a remarkable achievement—a boxed set that warrants tossing the original out.
A few thousand jazz fans are feeling lightheaded this morning. They saw Sonny Rollins’ 80th-birthday concert at the Beacon Theater in New York City last night, and they’re still marveling (especially those too young to have witnessed giants walking the earth in great number) that, finally, they’ve seen a concert that made them tremble and that people will be talking about years from now.