Named after a Roland Kirk album, Rip, Rig + Panic were one of the most interesting bands from the 1980’s.
For some reason, they remind me of Public Enemy. Not just in their revolution discourse, but their frantic collage style that somehow manages to groove. You put it all through the grater and it will come out unruly: that’s the easy part. Making it edible is near impossible in these conditions though, but every one of RR&P’s albums tastes right.
You’ll find RR&P records in the post-punk section, but that’s a major oversimplification. I hear funk, I hear punk, I hear dub, I definitely hear free jazz. I’m not sure fellow Bristolians, Portishead and Massive Attack, would have had the cojones to mix it up in the way they did, had RR&P not mapped it all out a decade before.
Neneh Cherry sounds especially raw on this, their first record. She sang back-up for ‘The Slits’ when she was just 14, and trumpeter Don Cherry - who features on ‘God' - is her stepfather, so i'm guessing she knew the deal. Good to see her back in this sort of terrain with her recent collab with punk-influenced Scandanavian jazz trio The Thing.
I had a problem with Archie Shepp before discovering ‘Looking at Bird’: something to do with him never playing straight lines in a convincing way. On these recordings of compositions written by, or associated with Charlie Parker though, Shepp is more lyrical than on any other record and sounds all the better for it.
Only rarely do you pine for a drummer, which makes sense when you consider NHOP pulse-driven (albeit a bloody quick pulse) approach to bass.
For me, Lee Konitz’ late-sixties ‘Duets’ album is still the champion for this sort of setup but 1981 threw up three excellent duet records (of the three,`Mal Waldron & Johnny Dyani’s ‘Some Jive Ass Boer’ narrowly misses the list) and 'Looking at Bird' is arguably the pick of them.
3. John Surman - The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon (ECM Records)
John Surman (Baritone & Soprano Saxophone, Electric Piano, Bass Clarinet), Jack DeJohnette (Drums, Congas, Electric Piano)
Another duet album and this one has aged particularly well. British saxophonist/composer Surman and ex-Miles 5tet drummer, DeJohnette, used to jam together at Ronnie Scott’s in the late sixties, though It wasn’t until Surman 2nd release on ECM that they got together in the studio.
“Simon Simon” is made up of eight originals and one folk tune, and is best remembered for Surman’s use of synthesisers and signal processing in extending the scope and range of his and JDJs sounds. Even armed with this knowledge, it seems inconceivable that Surman and De Johnette between them play every instrument on the album.
“Nestor's Saga”, with its delicate and haunting melody, will stay with you.
4. Rainer Pusch Quartet – Journey Agent (Sowa)
Rainer Pusch (saxophones)
Klaus Wagenleiter (piano)
Thomas Stabenow (bass)
Mickey Kersting (drums)
His first record. His best record. Sax man Rainer Pusch didn’t scale anywhere near these heights again until his trio recorded with John Betsch in the late eighties, but he was always unlikely to recapture the sheer burn and energy of this record.
Includes a highly potent version of Hermeto Pascoal’s “Misturada” ("Mixing"). Scandalously good bass line on that one.
5. Billy Bang Sextet - Rainbow Gladiator (Soul Note)
Billy Bang (violin)
Charles Tyler (alto saxophone, baritone saxophone)
Michele Rosewoman (piano)
Wilber Morris (bass)
Dennis Charles (drums)
My introduction to jazz violin was Ornette Coleman. It sounded terrible. I hated it, and that was me done with jazz violin. Years later, I heard Michael White and Billy Bang, and concluded that Ornette Coleman was just a really poor violinist.
Bang’s records on Black Saint/Soul Note are of a consistently high quality and ‘Rainbow Gladiator’ – his first as a leader - is the best of the lot. Bang has a really advanced harmonic sense throughout and his interplay with pianist Michele Rosewoman (one of the best-kept secrets in Jazz) make for some of the richest sounds of the decade.
Bang played in the Arkestra briefly, and it’s worth knowing that Sun Ra performed on Bang’s ‘Tribute to Stuff Smith’, and you know Sun Ra didn’t show up on just anyone’s session…
6. Pharoah Sanders – Rejoice (Theresa Records)
Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax, bells, voc), Danny Moore (trumpet), Steve Turre (trombone), Lois Colin (harp), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), John Hicks & Joe Bonner (piano), Peter Fujii (guitar, voc), Art Davis & Jorge Pomar (bass), Big Black (congas, voc), Baba Lea (perc, voc), G Johnson (voc), B. Kazuko Ishida (voice), Elvin Jones (drums), Billy Higgins (drums)
I’ll repeat what I wrote on the ‘Journey to the One’ post: the Theresa records are of the same high quality as the Impulse releases.
Still, small word of warning; if you’re expecting the sort of tenor screeches that swarm all over Pharaoh’s Impulse stuff, then you might be a little disappointed. This is much more colourful and exuberant - the writing and playing on both ‘Origin’ and ‘Ntjilo Ntjilo' especially - but don’t let that put you off: It's always the right side of schmaltzy.
On the final track, Pharoah, accompanied by pianist Joe Bonner, adds his two- penneth to the 1981 duet revival, ending the album in contemplative fashion.
7. Chick Corea - Three quartets(Stretch Records)
Chick Corea (Piano), Michael Brecker (Tenor saxophone) Eddie Gómez (Double Bass) Steve Gadd (Drums)
Recorded in his own Mad Hatter studio, ‘Three Quartets’ was the record that got me believing the Chick Corea hype. Previously, all I could hear was technique, technique, technique…..just feats of athleticism that left me penguin cold. Whenever I’d ask folk where the soul was, I’d always get the same “but he utilizes quartal structures underneath right major triads” jargon.
Interestingly enough (or not), there are plenty of quartal structures underneath right major triads on ‘Three Quartets’, but that’s just a comping technique and totally meaningless if the rest of the piece is prosaic or the performance lacks energy. Well, the pieces are as dynamic as the players here.
If you care for solos then Brecker’s on “No 1”, Gomez’ on “No 3” and Gadd’s on “No 2” are where it’s at. Ultimately though, the reason the record works so well is the collective.
8.Andrew Cyrille – Special People (Soul Note)
Andrew Cyrille (Drums, Percussion), David S. Ware (Tenor sax) Ted Daniels (trumpet , flugelhorn) Nick De Geronimo (Double Bass)
Cyrille drummed with a lot of my favourite musicians: Mary Lou Williams, Sun Ra and the Arkestra, Coleman Hawkins, Jeanne Lee, Illinois Jacquet, Olatunji…He’s one of those drummers that I make a conscious effort to listen to on absolutely everything though. He could do ‘Elegaic Italo Disco Bhangra 4-part Suite’ and I’m there.
‘Special People’ is one of the best releases on the generally excellent Soul Note (sister to Black Saint Records) label, established in Italy at the turn of the seventies. If you like you some rhythm in your ‘free jazz’, then ‘Special People’ is the only game in town. That’s Cyrille’s calling card: no matter how far out the music, he’ll make it swing. Even when he’s improvising a small thing with his sticks resting on the kit, he’ll work the ass off the main rhythm on his kick drum and hi-hat.
Need to mention saxophonist David Ware, a musician so dedicated that he worked as a taxi driver for 14 years in order to fund and focus on his own music thing. He is superb on every piece.
9. Hamiet Bluiett – Dangerously Suite (Soul Note)
Hamiet Bluiett (Sax, Clarinet),
Chief Bey (African Percussion)
Bob Neloms (Piano)
Buster Williams (Bass)
Irene Datcher (Vocal)
Billy Hart (Drums)
Bluiett is a hell of a player but it’s an unwritten rule in jazz conversation that once Baritone Saxophone is mentioned, everyone should start talking about their favourite series of The Wire or why vegans are deficient in many important nutrients. Sometimes you’ll hear “Gerry Mulligan was great”, “Fela had a couple of Baritones in his band” or ‘what about that guy who played Baritone on Mingus’ Moanin?’’. Sometimes. But usually everyone just talks about The Wire and vegans.
Actually, Bluiett played in Mingus’ band in 69 before co-founding the World Saxophone Quartet along with Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and David Murray. I can only take so much World Saxophone Quartet, and It’s a shame Bluiett has so few records with a colour palette as wide as ‘Dangerously Suite’.
Chief Bey’s percussion gives it an African spine that you rarely hear outside of maybe Randy Weston’s records, but the album has that ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ quality, so at different points, it’s also his bluesiest, his funkiest, his most sentimental.
10. Art Pepper - Roadgame(Galaxy/OJC)
Art Pepper (Alto Sax)
George Cables (Piano)
David Williams (Double Bass)
Carl Burnett (Drums).
He managed to record only twice between 1960 and 1975, yet for one whose life was coloured with drink, crime, larceny and incarceration, Art Pepper was incredibly consistent on his recordings; there is no such thing as a bad Pepper album.
‘Roadgame’ was recorded at Maiden Voyage, L.A on a full moon night and is one of his most profound and emotional performances on record. If you want to see a grown man cry then play “Everything Happens to Me” to a grown man. It’ll work.
That title is an apt one: this was one of Pepper’s last recordings and at times it feels as though he’s channelling a whole lifetimes worth of experiences through that horn. That is not a neat but whimsical way of ending this article: it really does.