Bowing and arrows. I rather like writer Alan Kurtz's posts at Jazz.com. He's consistently controversial and always manages to keep his balance when out on a revisionist limb. He also likes to develop a new spin on a topic, which is refreshing in jazz criticism. This past week, Alan bravely took on the jazz bass and all those who play it with a post that featured this opening line: "Bass solos suck."
Alan went on to develop his thesis by saying that while jazz bass players have long known their place as accompanists, Scott LaFaro's domineering musical personality as a member of the Bill Evans Trio set a regressive standard for lengthy, imposing bass solos. Alan argues that thanks to LaFaro, yammering bass solos have become par and are about as interesting as listening to a metronome sing.
Ordinarily, I'd read Alan as a spectator. But for some reason I wound up among the chariots and lions. Hence my response here. In his essay, Alan said that my JazzWax post on Bill Evans back on December 9, 2007, was off the mark. In that post, I wrote that Lennie Tristano's abrupt walkout during a Bill Evans Trio performance was a result of Tristano's inability to cope with Bill's emerging genius. To the contrary, argued Alan, Lennie was more likely fed up with LaFaro's long solos.
Actually, I wasn't the one who concluded that Lennie had a Bill complex. That honor belongs to Lee Konitz [pictured], who was there that night and said the following in a 1990 interview in an issue of the now-defunct newsletter Letter from Evans:
"I think [Lennie] had a problem listening to some musicians...There was something about Tristano [pictured] that he was so strong in his opinions that everything compared with his standards fell into special places...I heard Bill Evans as a talented piano player, but still growing and not there yet in comparison with Tristano at the time. Anyway, it's obvious that the music Bill played reached very many people and the music Tristano played didn't."
Oh, and the reason there's so much Scott LaFaro on Sunday at the Village Vanguard? It has less to do with LaFaro's overbearing nature, as Alan claims. Orrin Keepnews [pictured below] told me in an interview in December 2007 that Bill was the one who personally selected the tracks for the first Vanguard album and chose to showcase LaFaro after the bassist's tragic death. Said Orrin: "Bill wanted the first album [from the 1961 live session], Sunday at the Village Vanguard, to place as much emphasis as possible on Scott. So both of the LaFaro originals we had recorded were on there—Gloria's Step and Jade Visions—as well as most of his solo work."
All in all, the jazz bass is an instrument of subtleties and grace. Not only are bass players charged with the challenging task of keeping impeccable time and laying down the rhythmic spine of any composition, they also have the impossible task of presenting ideas after the graceful piano and before the charismatic drums. No wonder most bass solos are forgotten or thought of as overstated. As for the part in Alan's post about overreaching, I couldn't agree more.
Art Tatum. I received quite a few emails last week from readers on the June 3d release of Art Tatum: Piano Starts Here. (Sony BMG Masterworks). The CD features a re-performance of Tatum's live Shrine Auditorium performance (1949). Tatum's notes from the sandy master were captured on special software, fed back clean through a mechanized concert grand piano and recorded by Sony. In my post, I reported that the result is rather startling and intriguing, and worth a listen given how warm and life-like the result is.
The voting was rather split between "the upcoming CD sounds interesting" to "how could they do something so outrageous?" Reader Jon Foley had this to say:
"A couple of thoughts: Any recording is only an approximation of the live performance. When you hear the original recording of Art Tatum at the Shrine Auditorium, you're not hearing Tatum but Tatum poorly recorded then poorly reproduced. Do you think that people sitting in the audience that day in 1949 heard a distant piano sound, accompanied by hiss, crackles and pops? Of course not. So when you listen to this new Piano Starts Here recording, the thought that you're not really hearing Art Tatum live should certainly cross your mind. But then, think which recording is closest to what Tatum must have sounded like that day. Both recordings are Art Tatum's live playing, modified by many electronic devices. The new one from Sony, I'm sure, comes closest to what the audience heard that night in 1949. That's about all that should count, in my opinion."
Thelonious Monk. Bret Primack—video documentarian extraordinaire—posted another brilliant interview with Riverside producer Orrin Keepnews, this time on the making of Thelonious Monk's Brilliant Corners. Concord Records released the album in March as part of its remastered Keepnews Collection series. Go here to view the video clip—and learn what bassist Oscar Pettiford did to get back at Monk during the recording session.
Bill Evans. Musician and blogger Darcy James Argue had a fabulous post this week at Secret Society on Bill Evans' early period, late period and East Coasting, with Charles Mingus. Darcy, when not blogging, directs an 18-piece big band called Secret Society. To learn more about Darcy and sample Secret Society, go here.
Jazz discography. Imagine being able to access the personnel for virtually any jazz recording with just a few clicks. Actually, such an online resource already exists. For $150 a year, you get unlimited access to Tom Lord's Jazz Discography, one of the web's most convenient jazz resources and databases. I love it, especially when I want to see how many times a song was recorded or who played on which recordings. To learn more about The Jazz Discography, go here (click on the red "Pricing and Ordering" button in the upper left-hand corner of the page and then the "Single User" link). I find it indispensable, especially in the age of note-less downloads.
Saxophone Summit. Bret Primack has just posted the first in a series of video podcasts on the Saxophone Summit. The podcast supports the group's June 3d release, Seraphic Light. Saxophone Summit includes Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano and Ravi Coltrane [pictured]. Go here to view the first installment.
Here's the release schedule for Bret's seven-part Saxophone Summit interview series on YouTube and ITunes:
May 22: Message to Mike—Michael Brecker
June 5: Cosmic Saxman—David Liebman
June 19: Our Daily Joe—Joe Lovano
July 3: Into the Light—Ravi Coltrane
July 17: That's Phil Markowitz—Phil Markowitz
July 31: All About Cecil—Cecil McBee
August 14: Jabali—Billy Hart
New CDs worth digging. Over the past week, I managed to get through a stack of new CDs that were piling up. Here are two worth checking out:
James Carter—Present Tense (EmArcy). Produced by Michael Cuscuna, this CD showcases James Carter on flute, bass clarinet, soprano sax, tenor sax and baritone sax. Carter is joined by Dwight Adams on trumpet and flugelhorn, D.D. Jackson on piano, Rodney Jones on guitar, James Genus on bass and Victor Lewis on drums. Four tunes that stand out are Dodo Marmarosa's plucky Dodo's Bounce (on which Carter plays a Frank Wess-inspired flute), Jimmy Jones' Shadowy Sands (featuring Carter on a stunning bass clarinet), Bossa J.C. (an original with Carter on tenor sax) and Tenderly (Carter smartly plays a Leo Parker-esque baritone sax up against Adams' muted trumpet). Carter is most impressive when he uses unexpected reeds and woodwinds on evenly paced tunes that show off his rich tone and technique. Go here or to iTunes.
Nicolas Bearde—Live at Yoshi's: A Salute to Lou (Right Groove). You don't hear albums like this anymore—live recordings by singers who can shrink a room with their personalities. The "Lou" in question here is Lou Rawls, who died in January 2006. Singer Nicolas Bearde doesn't mimic Rawls as much as he interprets the singer's creamy interpretations and seductive spirit. Rawls remains an underappreciated soul pioneer, successfully combining the crisp clarity of Nat King Cole and groovy gospel of Ray Charles. Rawls inspired a generation of soul seducers ranging from Barry White to Luther Vandross. Bearde here uses his baritone and charm to great effect, making you feel as if he's singing only to you. He's joined by Charles McNeal on tenor saxophone, Glenn Pearson on piano, Jason Lewis on drums and Nelson Braxton on bass. If you want a taste, sample The Girl From Ipanema or Lady Love. I'm not quite sure why You'll Never Know, Rawls biggest hit, wasn't broken out. But it's here—buried inside Lou's Medley. Bearde turns in a heart-felt tribute to a nearly forgotten godfather of soul. Go here or to iTunes.