101 Miracles of Eighties Jazz: Pt 10(1989)

1. David Murray - Deep River (DIW)

David Murray (tenor sax)

Dave Burrell (piano)

Fred Hopkins (double bass)

Ralph Peterson Jr. (drums)

An extraordinary saxophonist. I had to get one David Murray in the 101. He’s recorded over 90 albums as a leader and even more as a sideman, and this one is part of a quartet project which begun with “Spirituals”. The Japanese DIW label ended up releasing five albums from the 1 week long session!

The opening theme ends up as a bit of a misfire – in fact, I rarely listen to Side A because Side B has all the straight from the gut stuff that Murray excels on. Still, the strong rhythm section (including Ralph Peterson again) enables Murray to stretch out like never before, and the ease in which he moves between tightly structured pieces and more free oriented ones, is impressive.

The music is bold and unflinching - particularly a harrowing original titled “Dakar’s Dance” on which you can really hear the Albert Ayler influence on Murray’s playing. There is a gorgeous release of tension on the next piece – a becalming version of Coltrane’s “Mr P.C” – before Murray finally checks out with the melodically unsettling title track. In all, another stellar effort by Murray's quartet.

2 Randy Weston-Portraits of Duke Ellington (Verve)

Randy Weston (piano) Jamil Nasser (double bass) Idris Muhammad (drums, percussion) Eric Asante (percussion)

“The caravans would travel from Africa below the Sahara to Africa north of the Sahara. Many things took place in caravans, the transport of gold, salt, silver, even human beings; even slavery took place in caravans.” Randy Weston

With good reason, there are more Duke Ellington tributes out there than you can keep up with, and for me, this is the strongest of them all. It is part of a trilogy of portraits (Ellington, Monk and self-portrait) by Weston, released within a few short years of each other.

Ellington wrote several songs about Africa, the Caribbean and the early black experience, though his writing and arrangements were so deceptively simple that this isn’t instantly detectable. It is mainly this material that pianist Randy Weston, who had become close to the Ellington family in the 70s, focuses on.

Who better to undertake such a task? The name Randy Weston is synonymous with Africa, for he has long been an advocate of African music and its role in jazz. Ever since a visit to Lagos in the 60s, Weston's incorporation of Africa into everything from his compositions and improvisations to his attire – he rocked the kente long before ‘Black Power’- has been among the most convincing examples of Black American artists forging a bond with the continent of their heritage.

Weston and Ellington’s music highlight that most jazz musical facets – call and response, accents, syncopation, ostinato – are essentially derived from Africa; both compositional form and the emphasis here on West African rhythms and percussion reveal this like nothing else previously. Jamil Nasser’s talking bass lines on the blues “Sepia Panorama”, Ghanaian drummer Eric Asante’s calls on “Caravan” and Idris Muhammed’s blending of New Orleans’ second line drumming with calypso rhythms on “Limbo Jazz” all appear internalised and fundamental to these pieces, rather than as a tacked-on style.

3. Jerry Gonzalez - Rumba Para Monk (Sunnyside Records)

Jerry Gonzalez (trumpet, flgl, perc)

Steve Berrios (drums, perc)

Andy Gonzalez (double bass)

Carter Jefferson (tenor sax)

Larry Willis (piano)

A very different approach to Monk’s material. Quite unlike the Carmen McRae record from the previous playlist, and not much like any other re-imagined Monk.

Gonzales is often mentioned as one of the great conga players, and his Fort Apache band had been dropping these sorts of high Latin-rooted jazz records for years. It took the Monk project to bring them jazz plaudits though, and it’s difficult to begrudge them the acclaim, as not only does it take a certain conceptual courage to record Monk standards as Latin jazz, but the band’s execution is exceptional.

Like the Weston record, Gonzales hasn’t just peppered Monk originals with (Latin, in this instance) tropes. He’s looked at Monk through a Latin perspective, chosen compositions with Latin rhythmic features and accentuated those aspects in each of them. He also manages to leave plenty of leg room for individuality and improvisation, which can often be the biggest challenge on pulse-driven covers projects.

Larry Willis - cast in the unenviable role of pianist on a Monk covers project - boxes clever, contributing some deft playing but rarely attempting to mimic Monk. To capture the overall essence of Monk’s music in a band this big, the pianist couldn’t really cut through the rhythm section the way Monk would, and Willis leaves plenty of meat on the bone for the rest. Jerry doubles up on trumpet on the two strong ballads, “Ugly Beauty” and “Monk’s Mood”, but it’s his percussion interplay with trap drummer Steve Berrios on classics like “Bye-Ya” , “Misterioso” and “Nutty” (performed as a cha-cha) that will linger in the memory.

4. Shirley Horn - Close Enough For Love (Verve)

Shirley Horn (vocals, piano)

Buck Hill (tenor sax)

Charles Ables (double bass)

Steve Williams (drums)

I love Antonio Carlos Jobim, but does the world really need any more versions of “Girl From Ipanema”, “A Felicidade” or “Corcovado”? How long until the first Death by Desafinado ? The answers are most likely ‘no’ and ‘soon’.

“Once I Loved” is a little less recorded, however, and Shirley Horn’s striking version is notable for the complete absence of its usual bossa elements and for quite…how..slow…she…sings…it… When Joni Mitchell called Bob Dylan a “fake” in an interview a few years back, one of her many issues with Dylan was that his singing voice bore no resemblance to his spoken one. If that (and maybe it does) constitutes fraud then Shirley Horn is one Christ-fearing, law-abiding citizen.

Shirley Horn spoke….ever…so…slowly….and Toots Thielemans had it right when he said "They're going to have to invent a new turntable at a slower speed for Shirley's ballads." Her whispers are so evocative here; she’s not ‘singing’, more telling stories musically. "Close Enough to Love" and "So I Love You" are comprised as much of silence as music, yet it’s astonishing how much drama is contained between just two distant Shirley Horn notes.

Horn is also an impressive pianist (her instrumental only version of “The Gentle Rain” on “Lazy Afternoon” is essential) and her playing is beautiful on this record. She appears with her familiar group -Charles Ables on bass and Steve Williams on drums- as well as Buck Hill, who guests on tenor sax. Hill plays a great solo on "Beautiful Friendship", one of the swingin’est tracks on the album.

5. Mal Waldron 4tet + Jim Pepper ‎– Vol. I Quadrologue At Utopia (Tutu)

Mal Waldron (piano)

Jim Pepper (tenor sax)

John Betsch (drums)

Ed Schuller (double bass)

A largely forgotten gem. This is taken from a two-night stint at the Utopia Club in Innsbruck and is definitely one to add to my long 'wish i was there' list.

Something transcendental was going down that night, because I’ve never heard Waldron play with so much spirit, it’s the last magical John Betsch performance, and the best exhibit of Jim Pepper’s talents on record, period. The communication between the musicians is strong - It’s not necessarily unusual to hear highly virtuosicmusicians playing so well, but it’s rare to hear them playing so well together - and the music remains inventive and interesting throughout.

The album’s slant towards post-bop and its detours into free form or experimental sounds is most evident during the20-minute opener, on which Jim plays as though his life depends on it. Man versus Saxophone. Its titled ”Ticket To Utopia” and is frankly off-the-chain. Unsurprisingly, the entire date is anchored on “Ticket To Utopia”; it sets an almost unattainable standard, though the group’s attempts at bettering it keep the listener engaged.

I can’t recall ever listening to Volume 2 of this record, but if it’s anything like this then I need to get back on the case.

6. Henry Threadgill - Rag, Bush & All (Arista Novus)

Henry Threadgill (alto saxophone, bass flute)

Ted Daniels (trumpet, flugelhorn)

Bill Lowe bass trombone

Fred Hopkins (bass)

Newman Baker (drums, percussion)

7. Branford Marsalis - Trio Jeepy (Sony Music)

Branford Marsalis (saxophones)

Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums)

Milt Hinton (bass on tracks 1-6, 8)

Delbert Felix (bass on tracks 7, 9, 10)

I can't imagine wanting to do anything with Sting, much less go on tour with him, but I’m an older brother, so I automatically sided with Branford when I read about THAT fall out with younger brother Wynton. Nobody really discusses the feud these days but back then, when folks would say that Wynton was the better player, I’d just side-step the debate by playing the ‘they play different instruments so it’s impossible to compare’ card.

A stronger argument would have been “Trio Jeepy”; the most satisfying Marsalis album of all: great up-tempo tracks, strong blues core, wondrous solos, Milt ‘don’t call it a comeback” Hinton (“Three Little Words” - the sax & bass duo track - shows Hinton’s chops hadn’t deserted him), and a modern production sound that at the time left all others trailing and hasn’t dated in any way since.

Jeff “Tain” Watts and Branford’s exchanges on the last track “Tain’s Rampage” might be the final strikes, but It’s the sheer sound of “Trio Jeepy” that strikes loudest and longest. Consider this a promise: the engineering and production will sit Hinton’s bass right there in the room beside you, no matter how lousy your speaker set-up. How? I’m not an engineer, so I’m not entirely sure. One thing though; there is no piano on the album and much like in the Shepp and NHOP Bird tribute (see the 1981 list) on Steeplechase, it’s absence makes for an earthier soundscape.

8. Rebirth Brass Band - I Feel Like Funkin' It Up (Rounder Records)

Kermit Ruffins (lead vocal, trumpet,perc)

Keith "Wolf" Anderson (tromb, voc, perc)

etc

Founded by trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and tuba man Philip Fazier, Rebirth’s part in New Orleans music lore has been lionized on HBO series Treme, yet if anything it’s a slightly restrained appraisal. Rebirth Brass Band are one of THE musical institutions in New Orleans history; the living embodiment of the cities transition between traditional and contemporary.

As teenagers, these guys started playing on the streets of the French Quarter at a point when the practice was verging on an old wives tale. Only The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and one of Danny Barker’s groups were doing it; Barker kept his repertoire traditional, Dirty Dozen stretched theirs to bebop. Rebirth’s leanings were towards funk; just as likely to be a Prince or Parliament adaptation as a funeral dirge, and sometimes Prince or Parliament AS a funeral dirge. The old school weren’t especially comfortable with the approach initially, but as brass-band grew in popularity among the younger generation, minds began to open.

By the end of the decade Rebirth had honed their new take on the tradition and possessed a strong repertoire of originals. They signed to Rounder Records and immediately dropped “Feel Like Funkin’ It Up”. Both the title track and “Do Watcha Wanna” were monster hits and can now be considered modern New Orleans classics; the first port of call for aspiring young brass players today.

9. Ralph Peterson 5tet - V (Blue Note)

Ralph Peterson (drums)

Steve Wilson (alto & soprano sax)

Terrence Blanchard (trumpet)

Geri Allen (piano)

Phil Bowler (double bass)

I have a complicated relationship with time. Like a lot of these records, it seems only a few short years ago since “V” was recorded, yet ponder on this for a second; the years between then and now is the same passage of time that separates “V” from Mingus’ “The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady”.

Ralph Peterson is a former trumpeter who, after switching instruments, went on to play second drummer in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He later became a member of the Donald Harrison-Terrence Blanchard Group, where he developed a rep as one of the loudest drummers on the scene. It’s a label that stuck, but listening to this again, there is a lot more variation in his game than that suggests.

He’s certainly great with shifting tempos; as evidenced on “Enemy Within”. “Monief” and “Soweto 6” are the sort of pieces you never crave but are always pleased to hear, and both showcase Peterson's deft compositional skills. The rest of the group are strong: Terence Blanchard and Steve Wilson are both players who I used to undervalue but they are particularly inventive here; Geri Allen’s technique is phenomenal and bassist Phil Bowler is a solid contributor as well.

Blue Note destroyed a lot of their catalogue from this period, so I have no idea how hard it is to find "V" now, but it’s an intense and urgent record that’s well worth a listen.

10. Sun Ra - Purple Night (A&M)

Sun Ra (piano, synth, vocal)

Don Cherry (pocket trumpet)

John Gilmore (tenor sax, perc, voice)

June Tyson (violin, vocals)

Fred Adams & Mike Ray (trumpet)

Ahmed Abdullah (trumpet)

Tyrone Hill (trombone)

Julian Priester (trombone)

James Spaulding (alto sax, flute)

Marshall Allen (alto sax, flute, perc)

This is it. The Last Miracle. Don Cherry on pocket trumpet shooting the breeze with the Arkestra. No better way to sign-off. It’s also the fifth Sun Ra album in these ten lists, which for his ‘fallow stage’ isn’t bad at all. Don’t believe the trend makers.

This was his second album for A&M, and it’s certainly more robust than the earlier “Blue Delight”. These tracks were recorded in the same epic New York session that the music from “Somewhere Else” - released three years later, a few months before Sun Ra’s death - was extracted from. It was never officially released on vinyl, though there is a phenomenally rare (even by Sun Ra’s standards) test pressing doing the rounds.

The audio quality of Sun Ra’s voluminous discography can vary dramatically from record to record; after all he taped everything from rehearsals to public performances. “Purple Night” possesses a sound so superior that i'm not sure i've ever heard Cherry's true tone captured as accurately as here.

Sun Ra and former Monk sideman John Ore play a beautiful duet on "Purple Night Blues" but if you like your Ra rowdy then look no further than “Friendly Galaxy” and the 19-minute "Of Invisible Them". The 1970 vocal recording of “Love In Outer Space” is a strong contender for a place in my top few favourite songs of all. The version here is almost as good, so it can’t be far off either.

George Nelson

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