Speaking of Carla Bley, her ex-husband, Paul Bley, has a new CD, Solo in Mondsee (ECM), and it’s quietly stunning. I’m a bit late with this—the album came out last summer—but then again, it was recorded in 2001, so who’s counting? Paul Bley has been one of the piano giants in jazz for over a half-century. He may be more famous for those he’s introduced to the jazz scene. He led, I think, the first jazz trio that featured Charles Mingus on bass. While house pianist at the Hillcrest Club in Los Angeles in 1958, he hired Ornette Coleman to play with him (when nobody else would); in fact, what became, a few months later, the first Ornette Coleman Quartet started out as the Paul Bley Quintet, minus Bley. Over the years, he’s frequently played with Ornette’s bassist, Charlie Haden, most recently in a night of riveting duets at the Blue Note in New York. (A couple decades ago, the Montreal Jazz Festival held a weeklong celebration in which Haden led a variety of ensembles; all the sessions were eventually released on CD by Verve; the best of the bunch was a trio session with Bley and Paul Motian.)
It’s a mystery how Carla Bley’s new CD, The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu (ECM), achieves its greatness. Even the word seems too freighted for music so minimal. A scale segues into a simple melody, followed by a straight harmony, some swishes on snare and hi-hat, a bass line that follows an equally simple counterpoint. Yet some quirky gravity holds these strands in magical equipoise, like a Calder mobile.
Music Matters Jazz, a new audiophile label, starts up this month, reissuing classic Blue Note albums on 180-gram virgin-vinyl LPs pressed at 45 rpm. The test pressings I’ve heard sound extremely promising. The people involved in the company certainly know what they’re doing (Joe Harley of AudioQuest, Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray of AcousTech, Michael Cuscuna of Mosaic Records, who is more familiar with the Blue Note vaults than anybody).
Audiophiles well know the glories of a 12-inch slab of 180-gram virgin vinyl cut for 45-rpm playback. Compared with a normal LP’s 33-1/3 revolutions per minute, the grooves on a 45 are stretched out over a wider space, allowing the stylus to track them more accurately and to give voice to the music’s minutest details. The non-‘philes among you may be shaking your heads (Oh, no, Is this guy a nutball?) but, believe me, it’s true. A few years back, Classic Records, Mike Hobson’s L.A.-based audiophile label, put out a series of limited-edition single-sided 45 rpm LPs, one album stretched out on four slabs of vinyl, each of which had grooves on one side but nothing, just plain black vinyl, on the other. The theory was that a perfectly flat bottom surface would couple more firmly to the turntable’s mat, eliminating the distortion of vinyl resonances. That may sound nuttier still, but, believe me, it’s true, too. (I’ve compared single-sided and double-sided 45 rpms of several albums that Hobson released in both formats—especially Sonny Rollins’ Our Man in Jazz and the Chicago Symphony’s performance of Prokofiev’s Lt. Kije, conducted by Fritz Reiner. The differences were not subtle. I value those albums as much as any in my collection, for musical and sonic reasons.)
The first thing that strikes you about A Life in Time: The Roy Haynes Story—a 3-CD (plus a bonus DVD) box-set that spans the career of drummer Roy Haynes—is just how wide and varied a span it is. It opens in 1949, with Haynes as a sideman to Lester Young, proceeds to sessions with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Sarah Vaughan, and Nat Adderley; moves into ‘60s avant-modernism with John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Jackie McLean, Andrew Hill, and Chick Corea; and cruises into the ‘70s and beyond (he is still very active at age 82) with bands under his own leadership.
I’ve listened to Herbie Hancock’s new CD, River: The Joni Letters (on Verve), three times now, and it gets better with each spin. This is a Joni Mitchell tribute album, with Hancock on acoustic piano heading a straight-ahead jazz quintet (including Wayne Shorter on soprano sax and Dave Holland on bass), fronted on six of the 10 tracks by various singers.
I forgot to note Thelonious Monk’s 90th birthday on Oct. 10. Some advice for a lifetime: If you come across people who doubt his mastery as not only a composer but also a pianist, don’t trust their judgment on anything. Linked below, from the early-to-mid ‘60s, is an especially Monkish clip.
Martial Solal’s early set at the Village Vanguard tonight was as exuberant as expected. The ghost of Tatum was riding high, as the French pianist, celebrating his 80th birthday with only his third appearance in New York City in the past 44 years, mad-dashed through a dozen or so standards—including “Caravan,” “I Can’t Get Started,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” even “Body & Soul”—in ways that no one has ever heard them, carving up the scores like a Cubist (more Braque than Picasso, with shards of Duchamp tossed in for wit), stretching and squeezing bars, yet somehow sustaining the tempo and the melody with tenuous but seamless aplomb. His music might be a mere virtuosic lark, were it not for his harmonies—brooding, bristling, caramel-rich chords, clusters of them, alternately embellishing, paring down, or playing against the conventional changes.
Martial Solal starts a week of solo piano at the Village Vanguard tonight, and that’s a double eye-opener. It’s only the second time in its 72-year history that the club has featured a pianist playing solo. (The first, Fred Hersch, was in 2006.) More striking, it marks just the third time since 1963 that Martial Solal has played in New York City under any circumstances. The last time was four years ago at the Iridium, with his trio and saxophonist Lee Konitz, and it was a marvel, the fleetest and most lyrical I’d seen Konitz play in years. The time before that, just with his trio, was at the Vanguard—but the shows were in mid-September 2001, a couple weeks after the attacks of 9/11; few ventured into lower Manhattan for anything, much less to see an obscure French jazz pianist. Luckily, the sessions were recorded; Blue Note put out a CD of highlights called NY-1; finally, we could all hear the music behind the legend.