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.
It's been a while since I've had a classic amplifier in my system, and McIntosh Laboratory's MC275 is as classic as they come. Introduced in 1961 as the "powerhouse" of that era's newfangled stereo tube amps (two 75W amplifiers in one chassis!), the MC275 retained its position as the amplifier to ownchallenged only, perhaps, by Marantz and a few othersuntil 1970, when it fell prey to the widespread wisdom that transistors were king and tubes were dead, and the model was discontinued. The MC275 briefly returned in 1993, in a limited "Commemorative" edition to honor the late Gordon Gow, longtime president and chief designer of McIntosh Labs. To everyone's surprise, that edition sold well, and McIntosh, gingerly at first, crept back into the tube business.