Jazz Thoughts #002 – Charles and Bill

Charles Lloyd begins his latest album with a fascinating  eight minute version of Bob Dylan’s “Masters Of War”. The veteran saxophonist has brought together a new line-up for the release on Blue Note records. The notable addition to the ranks is guitarist Bill Frisell, who also has a new album out, more of which later.  Lloyd has used the rhythm section of his New Quartet outfit, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harlan for this album but also regular Frisell collaborator, pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz. The album opener comes across more like a Frisell album track than a typical Lloyd performance, being reminiscent of something from the guitarists late 90s albums.

By the second track we are back in familiar Lloyd post bop territory, with parallels to Charles’ work with Gábor Szabó in the Chico Hamilton band in the 1960s, and indeed the tune  “Of Course, Of Course,” originally appeared on Lloyd’s 1965 Columbia album of the same name with Szabó, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Another previously recorded track the traditional lullaby “La Llorona” is back into Frisell territory and then again album flips back to the Lloyd sound with another folk song, the dreamy “Shenandoah”. It’s only by the time we get to a masterful reading of the Lloyd classic “Sombrero Sam” that we get to the best example of the new sound emerging from this collaboration. Frisell opens with one his typical song deconstructions, and moves into the riff organically as the rhythm section takes him into new terrorties as Leisz offers an almost theremin like second lead to this mix until Charles enters on flute.

It’s back to traditional folk song form with a leisurely reading of 60s protest staple “All My Trials” which edges into into country territory, giving a hint of what is to come. Again the band manages to balance the two main players styles. A straight reading of “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream” features Willie Nelson on vocals and is a bit too safe for my liking. Although the bands very short reading of “Abide With Me” is beautifully played I am not sure how it fits in the overall mix, it is followed immediately with a straight reading of “You Are Too Beautiful” with Norah Jones guesting on vocals. I don’t know if it’s the extremely slow pacing but, other than a delicately fractured lead line from Lloyd, it all feels too chocolate box/coffee table jazz/country to me.

The album closes with a 16 minute meditation called “Barche Lamsel” which is the strongest item in the set and to my mind should have been more the direction the collaboration should have moved in. The delicate interplay between Lloyd, Frisell and Leisz is worth the price of admission with the guitar tones mixing beautifully with Charles breathy flute explorations. Around five minutes in Frisell starts an understated riff and the whole thing drifts off into modal reverence with a feel that wouldn’t be out of place in the Radio Gnome Invisible Territory.

A strong, if somewhat schizophrenic start, a strangely disappointing and radio friendly middle, and a masterful closer make “I Long To See You” a curates egg of a release, on balance the stronger tracks outweigh the more mainstream offerings.

At more or less the same time Frisell releases his latest solo album “When You Wish Upon A Star”. Two years on from the disappointing “Guitar In The Space Age” this is a themed set with all of the music being derived from Film and Television Music. Viola player Eyvind Kang, bassist Thomas Morgan, drummer Rudy Royston, and singer Petra Haden are the band for a release which is back to Frisell at his best.  It’s not his first “covers” album of course, there have been a number over the years from “Have A Little Faith” onwards. Petra Haden is in fine voice and the song choices ensure that the music does not drift into easy listening territory,  you can’t really go wrong with John Barry, as evidenced by her first appearance, with a great reading of “You Only Live Twice”.

Kang has always worked well with Frisell and their partnership here delivers some of their best collaborations, a jaunty reading of the theme from “Psycho” is a manic tumble of klezmer inflicted fun.

Following Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald, amongst many others, with a version of “The Shadow of Your Smile” is a pretty daunting endeavour but Petra copes admirably with a great performance backed by some understated playing and a beautiful arrangement from Bill which feels very Gallic in places, and calls to mind cold war thrillers.

A quick gallop through the theme from “Bonanza” is a bit of fun before we get into the serious business of Ennio Morricone  and a trilogy of tunes starting with a magnificent version of “Once Upon A Time In The West” which has been featured by everyone from Zorn to Springsteen over the years. This is Bill at his best, golden notes cascading over of a rich backing with Petra floating over the tune.   “As A Judgement” is another Morricone classic from the same film with Bill going all Tex-Mex and Kang providing ethereal notes before moving into the stately core of the tune. The trio is completed by “A Farewell To Cheyenne” which mixes Caribbean rhythms with 60s French Cinema elements to create a delightful piece of music.

A quick slip into Disney territory is perhaps the least satisfying point in the set but is soon redeemed with Bills own “Tales From The Far Side”, originally debuted on the 1996 Frisell album “Quartet”, a de-constructed “Moon River” and a mammoth reading of “The Godfather”.

Overall we have the best of Frisell on display here, consummate playing, a great tone, and great arrangements of classic tunes blending jazz and americana to create a very pleasurable listening experience.

Here’s the whole gig from the Lincoln Centre that launched the album and as the announcer says at the beginning, if you like it go and get the CD.


Fear of Karaoke quelled by Chamber Jazz

So i’m listening to the new Bill Frisell album “Guitar In The Space Age”.

I’ve always liked Bill, a great guitarist with a great self-effacing demeanour, but i’ve got a problem with this album because most of the material on it is covers.

Bill is a talented guy, I have around thirty albums by him and for the most part they are cutting edge, hairs on the back of the neck, listens.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see him live a couple of times, and on both occasions he has been mesmerising. On a particular occasion at the Band on the Wall in the mid 80s he did some things on the fretboard which were simply amazing.

So if he is capable producing such amazing new music why is he doing such bland covers? I’ll admit he plays them well, there’s nothing offensive about the overall sound, but the arrangements are a bit safe and it’s all a bit “coffee table” lite jazz.

Which is confusing as I saw Bill with the rhythm section on this album, Tony Scherr and Kenny Wolleson,  and they were incredible. It was a gig at the Royal Northern College of Music which amply demonstrated how to mix guitar electronics, downtown jazz and acoustic weirdness. The duo’s work with Sex Mob has always proved to be challenging and inventive so I am surprised by the playing on this release.

When Bill does covers and adds a touch of irony, and weirdness, his deconstruction of a Dylan tune, or the oddly off-kilter version of “When I Fall In Love” from the “Have A Little Faith” album , and his unique interpretations of Lennon’s songs on “All We Are Saying” , he demonstrates that  he can do something new and interesting with extant material. His work with Paul Motian on Broadway show tunes is also memorable. And of course jazz has a long tradition of taking older material and re-inventing it.

So why is this new album not chiming with me?

Perhaps because overall I’ve got a dreadful feeling that the nostalgia/karaoke/cabaret fiends have taken over the world of music?

So it gets played once and then filed away and i’ll go back to the other great album with Scherr and Wolleson “East West” or that excellent “Quartet” album  with Curtis Fowlkes, Eyvind Kang and Ron Miles.

Talking of Ron, and conversely, his new album “Circuit Rider”,  which also features Bill Frisell, along with great drummer Brian Blade,  is something that gets played more than once.  Ron Miles has an excellent broad tone and his interaction with Frisell and Blade is breathtaking at times.  The two leads trade lines and colours as Blade provides a bed of percussion to maintain the flow. The music moves from ambient jazz through high-life chords to chamber ensemble  angularity.  Impressively lyrical, very relaxed and, at the same time, inventive,  of the two recent releases featuring Frisell this is the one to opt for.


World of Jazz Radio Show – 11th October 2012

You can stream the show here

and this is what I played….

1 Wynton Kelly June Night Kelly Great
2 Sam Rivers Elusive Melange The Complete Blue Note Sam Rivers Sessions
3 Bill Frisell Friend of Mine Sign of Life
4 George Duke Sister Serene I Love The Blues, She Heard My Cry
5 Hidden Orchestra Spoken Archipelago
6 Kurt Rosenwinkel The Enemies of Energy The Enemies of Energy
7 Marc Johnson The Adventures of Max and Ben Sound of Summer Running
8 Paul Chambers Mopp Shop Blues First Bassman
9 Philly Joe Jones Minor Mode ShowcaseM

World of Jazz – 23rd February 2012 – Four Sonny’s

On this show the focus is on four great Sonny’s of Jazz – Stitt, Clarke, Rollins, and Criss ……

To listen click this link

1 Sonny Stitt Yardbird Suite Stitt Plays Bird
2 Sonny Clark Minor Meeting (Second Version) My Conception
3 Sonny Criss Black Coffee This is Criss
4 Sonny Rollins In A Sentimental Mood Sonny Rollins with the MJQ
5 John Zorn, George Lewis, Bill Frisell Sonny’s Crib News for Lulu
6 Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins I Know That You Know Sonny Side Up
7 Sonny Rollins My Reverie Tenor Madness
8 Hank Mobley Getting’ Into Something Poppin’
9 Lee Morgan Since I Feel For You Candy
10 Sonny Criss Ballad for Samuel Sonny’s Dream (The Birth of the New Cool)
11 Sonny Rollins Round Midnight All The Things You Are

World of Jazz – 10th February 2011

A mix of old and new on this show …….

Bill Frisell & Vinicius Cantuaria – a couple of cuts from the new album “Lagrima Mexicales” – tunes that that evoke hispanic life in and around New York. Bill and Vinicius have worked together a lot – most notably on the Internationals album. What you get is the usuall Frisell wild mix of blues, country and electronic but this time with more of a latino feel.

Jadid Ensemble – the new album “Sigh of the Moor” is out on March 10th and you can see them at a free concert at the Royal Exchange in Manchester at 6pm on 11th February. Follows on nicely from the Frisell with a mix of hispanic and turkish idioms.

Stan Getz –  Getz was known as “The Sound” because of his warm, lyrical tone, his prime influence being the wispy, mellow tone of his idol, Lester Young. He recorded continually between the 1940s and the 1990s  “West Coast Jazz” – was recorded in Los Angeles in August 1955 with trumpeter Conte Candoli, pianist Lou Levy, bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Shelly Manne.  In 1955 the stylistic differences between East and West Coast jazz was the topic of some debate, with critics and fans arguing vehemently over the two camps . The title of the album was a joke,  all musicians involved were originally from the East Coast and did not play in the laid-back, commercially profitable, cool style, as pigeonholed by some. Getz just happened to be in LA filming the Benny Goodman story.

Jaga Jazzist have moved from their modernist exploration of jazz into a more progressive/post rock style since their long lay off but there are still elements of jazz in their frenetic and repetitive playing. The new latest album “One Armed Bandit” could easily find itself tucked away in a rock collection and there are definate elements of Zappa type composition in the music.

Duke Ellington was the most important composer in the history of jazz as well as being a bandleader who fronted his large group continuously for almost 50 years. There is a great box set called “Masterpieces” which contains three CDs of his earlier compositions which is well worth checking out.

Dennis Gonzalez is a talented trumpeter who has recorded a consistently rewarding string of lesser-known dates, his playing is somewhere in-between advanced hard bop and free jazz. The 2009 album “A Matter of Blood”  is full of marvellous brooding work from  Gonzalez – easily one of the darkest, most powerful albums he’s ever recorded – thanks in part to an excellent lineup that features Curtis Clark on piano, Reggie Workman on bass, and Michael TA Thompson on percussion.

Led Bib – as featured on the last show another track from the new album from the young lions of the British Jazz Scene.

Bill Evans – the “Conversations With Myself” album was deemed as  controversial for no good reason other than the usual jazz purists getting hot under the collar because the pianist utilised the sound-on-sound technique of reel-to-reel tape recording available in the 1960s to play simultaneous twin pianos. N.Y.C.s No Lark is the sole Evans composition on the album.

Listen to the show here