Friday, September 15, 2017

The Hazelrigg Brothers Take on the New American Songbook: "Songs We Like"

The Hazelrigg Brothers Songs We Like

For those who think that the Great American songbook is limited to the works of Porter, Berlin, Gershwin, Kahn, et al, then they are stuck in a time warp. While there is no denying the durability and constant source of inspiration that canon has produced, many of us grew up with our own Great American songbook, forged from the music and lyrics of rock, soul and pop music of the sixties and seventies. It is no surprise that contemporary jazz musicians are finding many of these gems, songs that still hold an appeal to younger audiences born years after they were first played, to be a news source of inspiration and interesting vehicles for improvisation. Songs We Like, a recent release from the Hazelrigg Brothers, is a case in point.

Following in the footsteps of artists like the Bad Plus or Brad Mehldau, and more ambitious outings like John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet, pianist George Hazelrigg and brother bassist Geoff Hazelrigg along with the intuitive drummer John O’Reilly, Jr. have offered a thoroughly entertaining set of nine contemporary readings of some songs that seem to lend themselves naturally to creative interpretation in the jazz trio format.  

The compositions are as interesting as they are challenging. People who know the music well, often come to the music with expectations of how it should sound, but for the most part the Hazelriggs have managed to re-imagine these songs with enough fealty to the originals to satisfy even the most rabid purist. I found myself gleefully singing along with many of the tracks.

The songs run the gamut; chamber-rock from Jethro Tull, electric blues from Jimi Hendrix, Reggae-tinged pop from Men at Work, rock-jazz fusion from Steely Dan and contemporary pop from Sting; two from hard-metal rockers Led Zeppelin and one each from the classical composers Bela Bartok and Johann Fischer, makeup the slections.
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The repertoire is fresh and played in an inspired impressionistic way. Jethro Tull’s “Living in The Past,” with Geoff’s dancing bass line introduction peppered with some rhythmically delicious tom work by drummer Reilly leads the way.

The Australian group “Men at Work,” whose reggae-inspired beats captivated the airways in the seventies, is represented by lead singer Colin Hay’s “Catch a Star.” The trio captures a stripped-down feel of the song, while carrying on a dynamic conversation amongst themselves. The only thing that is missing is the Australian’s haunting voice.

The music of Jimi Hendrix, long an inspiration to generations, is represented here by the psychedelia inspired “If 6 Was 9.” Who could expect to top the guitarist’s electronic wizardry or the sheer power of his dazzling virtuosity, but the Hazelrigg’s wisely do not attempt either. They strip the repeating bass line to its rhythmic, heart-throbbing core. The song is rendered as the three-chord blues it is, with some improvisational forays: an interesting off-to-the-races break, a featured drum solo of restrained polyphony and some weaving bass lines make for this interesting take on a Hendrix classic.

Bartok’s magisterial “Evening in the Country” features some animated, articulate pianowork by brother George, shimmering cymbal work by the understated Reilly and the buoyant bass of brother Geoff.

The piano opening on Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone,” is immediately recognizable and although the music cannot be expected to be as explosive as the metallic, heavy guitar-drum-centric original, the trio still pulls it off admirably with some excellent piano work by brother George building to a satisfying climax in a rumble of sound and fury.

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s music, the music of Steely Dan, is perhaps the music most easily adaptable to the jazz piano trio format and here on their “King of the World” it fits these guys like a glove. Isn’t this the way it was always played?

The trio returns to the classical realm with Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer’s “Passacaglia, from the Daughters of Zeus, Urania,” a pastoral composition that somehow gives the brothers a chance to show how classics can be modernly molded to fit the program without seeming at all out of place.

Sting’s “Spirit in the Material World” is played allegro with bassist Geoff adding some walking bass lines and some brief Arco accents.  O’Reilly has a sixth sense as to what works when these two intuitive brothers build a head of steam.

The set ends with another Led Zeppelin composition, “What Is and What Should Never Be.”  The trio treating this as a slow shuffle.


Songs We Like is an engaging recording that never strays too far away from the basic melodies that made these songs from the sixties and seventies so likeable and memorable in the first place. What the Hazelrigg Brothers and Mr. O’Reilly have shown is that they can also be the springboard for some inventive re-interpretation.   


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Matt Wilson's "Honey and Salt" : Music to the Poetry of Carl Sandburg

Matt Wilson's Honey and Salt


On his latest release Honey and Salt, the ebullient drummer Matt Wilson has created a suite of music that invigorates the bare, stoic verse of one of America’s great poets, Carl Sandburg. Wilson spells out his connections to this scribe in the liner notes; both are Mid-Westerners, both are of Swedish descent and Wilson was born just one town over from Sandburg’s birthplace of Galesburg, Illinois.  Besides the geographic ties, the eclectic drummer had a distant familial relationship with the poet that goes back three generations. Wilson has been fascinated by the poet’s work since his college days when he did a term paper on Sandburg and surprisingly discovered the man’s interest in jazz music.

But merging two artforms is always a tricky proposition. While jazz and poetry have always shared common ground, mixing the two can be problematic. Those wanting to hear the unvarnished words of the poet might be off-put by the intrusion of a musician’s interpretation; those more interested in the musician’s vision may miss the message within the poem.

Wilson has managed to walk the tightrope here. With Honey and Salt  he has created a masterful suite of music that both honors the verity within the poetry of Sandburg and at the same time enriches the experience of hearing the verse by pairing it with his wonderfully complimentary music.  

The Cd starts with Sandburg’s tome about a man eating a bowl of soup. The sixty-three-word poem, “Soup,” opens with a slow tempo blues beat. The unassuming voice of guitarist Dawn Thomson sings or speaks the poet’s words while tracing Wilson’s undulating melody-line. Wilson and bassist Martin Wind create an easy shuffle, with Wilson occasionally injecting a hint of frivolity into his playing, by adding  some kick-boom-bang accents at key points. Cornetist Ron Miles and multi-reed player Jeff Lederer weave a serpentine line in unison throughout, as Thomson plays some ragged guitar lines over the top.

As usual, Wilson’s energetic playing is the driving force behind the whole album. The man always exudes a sense of vibrancy and joy in every beat of his drum and every splash of his cymbal. He brings a range of emotions to all eighteen of the poems, each made musical here. The poems are all culled from “The Complete Works of Carl Sandburg” published in 1970, and the trap master counts two signed first edition copies of the book as prized possessions.

Wilson enlisted a coterie of jazzers to participate in this project, interestingly not as musicians, but as readers. Bassist Christian McBride bellows a reading of Sandburg’s “Anywhere and Everywhere People.”

I especially enjoyed Wilson’s sensuous music on “Night Stuff” which featured the deep-toned bass clarinet of Lederer and the Grace Slick-sounding voice of Thomson.

Guitarist John Scofield gives a coy reading to the playful “We Must Be Polite” which Wilson propels with a New Orleans’-style shuffle and features a honking, squeaking solo by the versatile Lederer. 

“Prairie Barn” is read by Lederer, which Wilson treats like the piece of Americana it is, with its solitary, softly played guitar lines strummed over the drummer’s percussive wind chime effect.

The comedic actor Jack Black, an honorary jazzer by virtue of his marriage to the late bassist Charlie Haden’s daughter, reads on “Snatch of Sliphorn Jazz,. The locked interplay between the soprano saxophone of Lederer and Wilson’s multi-timbered traps and toms are an album highlight.

“Paper II” is the poem Wilson treats in the most straight-ahead jazz manner. Guitarist Bill Frisell, somewhat tentatively without his gutisr in hand, reads the verse over Thomson’s comping guitar chords. Lederer and Miles offer a distinctively Blue Note-era sounding frontline treatment on this gritty blues. Wind’s walking bass line is like a bulkhead of stability and Lederer pours it on in an impressive display of raw tenor inventiveness.

The raspy baritone of bassist Rufus Reid is heard reading the lines of Sandburg’s “Trafficker,” a grim vision of a rather desperately unsuccessful woman of the night. Wilson uses his wispy brushes as Wind walks and a muted Miles sets the seamy night scene.

The short poem “Paper I” features the voice of saxophonist Joe Lovano, once again over the comping guitar chords of Thomson. Lovano’s  cool cadence and slick inflections lend a perfect hipster vibe to the verse “Are you a writer or a wrapper?”  One could almost substitute the word “rapper” for the poem’s “wrapper” and for modern day listeners there would be a whole new meaning.

Besides Wilson’s own reading of “As Wave Follows Wave,” the last reader is the composer Carla Bley, enlisted to read “To Know Silence Perfectly.” As a composer, Bley knows the effectiveness that silence-the space between the notes- can play in creating an effective musical statement. Wilson chooses his sparse sounds judiciously; Lederer on what sounds like a bass clarinet, Miles' nuanced open cornet, Thomson’s strummed guitar and Wind’s acoustic bass notes in an almost chamber-like arrangement. A perfectly complimentary musical message that coincide with the poet’s prescient words."To know silence perfectly is to know music."

The album ends with the joyous “Daybreak.” In Wilson’s typically upbeat manner, the drummer plays another New Orleans’ inspired shuffle, this one a Jambalaya of intertwining clarinet and cornet lines dancing to the infectious rhythm of a New Orleans march, as Thompson and backing vocals dance off into dawn.


Wilson’s lifelong admiration for the poet Carl Sandburg has now been codified with Honey And Salt, a genuine musical expression of appreciation. Carl Sandburg is an American treasure. With Honey and Salt Wilson has created a great new way for us to re-discover the poetry of this master of American verse. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Twenty-five + Great Jazz/Blues Organ Performances


The Hammond B3 is a beast of an instrument and the jazz-organ-trio format is a staple of the jazz idiom.

Tracings its origins back to a wind driven instrument-compressed air being pushed through multiple length tubes to sound various notes-the pipe-organ made its way into western religious ceremonies in the eighth century when Charlemagne installed one in his chapel in Aachen. For centuries since, the organ has been the musical instrument of choice in churches, temples and synagogues.
Laurens Hammond

Then came along came Laurens Hammond. Hammond was a mechanical engineer and he developed a patent in 1934 for an “electrical musical instrument” that was based on using tonewheel generators to produce sounds. His goal was to offer a cheaper alternative to the pipe organ for churches and places of worship and he succeeded with the introduction of his Hammond model A console organ in 1935. The low cost, much more compact electric organ was wildly successful and by the end of the nineteen thirty’s Hammond was producing two hundred of these organs a month. It wasn’t until 1954 that the B3, the prominent instrument used in jazz organ trios, was introduced by Hammond. The B3 added an additional percussive harmonic feature and its popularity with jazz and progressive rock artists was legendary, especially when paired with the rotating Leslie speaker system which produced a warbling, tremelo sound. The B3 model was modified in 1967 and has gone through numerous electronic iterations including a new XB3 that was made by Hammond-Suzuki and purportedly faithfully simulates the original tonewheel sound through electronics, but the original tonewheel generator B3 had a distinctive sound and feel and is the model most prized by aficionados.
The Hammon B3 Organ

It is speculation, but I suspect  that it wasn’t until organists, in predominantly Black churches, found themselves trying to musically simulate some of the fiery rhetoric and gospel sway of their preachers, that the instrument began to take on its powerfully soulful, danceable feel. The B3 would eventually be brought out of the church and into secular world and become a staple of the jazz tradition.

This list of twenty-five + great jazz/blues organ performances is an attempt to honor and celebrate some of the beautiful, soulful, swinging, adventurous music that has been made using the Hammond B3 organ. It is chronological staring with Waller and ending with Charette, but it easily could have been more inclusive given enough space and time. Some artists deserve more than one feature because of their exceptional body of work ( Jimmy Smith and Larry Young each have two selections), but space didn’t allow for additional selections. There will undoubtedly be some musicians who are missing entirely from the list and deserve to be included and for that I apologize.This is a very subjective list and lists by their nature are stupid ( as listmaker and jazz pianist/blogger Ethan Iverson has said), but somehow we are compelled to compile them, if only to ellicit some kind of response. and hopefully subsequent discussion.   subjective and I have limited space. Many thanks go to Mathew Kaminski the organist for the Atlanta Braves and a hullva fine jazzz organist himself, for his astute input. So for better or worse here is my list of twenty-five + great jazz/blues organ performances.

The organ tradition in jazz, is said to have started with Thomas “Fats” Waller, his playing steeped in gospel and intermingled with stride. The music had a certain bounce to it, a calliope sounding celebration. It was played on an Estey pipe organ, so it doesn't technically belong in a list of B3 performances, but it is the germ from which all subsequent jazz organ performances grew. So for historical reference, here is a sample from a 1927 recording of Waller at Trinity Church Studios in Camden, NJ.

Thomas “Fats” Waller: 1927 on the Estey Pipe Organ Camden, New Jersey “Stompin’ the Bug” 3min 39 secs
 

Using an organ was also seen by the club owners as a cheaper alternative  to the expense of hiring a seventeen-piece big band.

With its combined use of chorus and single line notes, the organ could create a bigger, broader sound. A deft technician could use creative positioning of his draw bars to mimic other instruments. It was like having a band in a box. Here Count Basie uses his organ technique to play his “KC Organ Blues” with his band reduced quintet.

1.       William James “Count” Basie: “K C Organ Blues” from the 1954 release Count Basie Sextet with Paul Quinchette (tenor), Freddie Green (gtr), Gene Ramey (bass), Buddy Rich (drms).    2min 52 secs
       

The innovators of the jazz organ trio sound could be heard percolating by the nineteen fifties with the formation of an influential jazz organ trio under the keyboard artistry of William Starthem “Wild Bill “Davis as heard on his 1957 release “Wild Blues.”

2.       . “Wild Bill” Davis: “Wild Blues” originally released as a single in 1957 with Wally Richardson (gtr) and unknown drummer                                                      2min 16 secs
       

By the late nineteen fifties Hollywood was already being influenced by the alluring sound of the jazz organ and one of my first exposures to a jazz style organ was on Henry Mancini’s arrangements for the silky Blake Edwards TV series Mr. Lucky from 1959. While technically not a traditional jazz or even a B3 performance ( the organ used was a Wurlitzer Theater Organ,) Mancini did intorduce the organ's lush, jazzy possibilities to a wider audience. I know it had a lasting effect on me. Here we hear Mancini’s deft use of studio musician Buddy Cole on this unforgettable tune.

3.       Buddy Cole: Wurlitzer Theater Organ on “Mr. Lucky from the 1960 album” Music from Mr. Lucky by Henry Mancini and his Orchestra.  2 min 2secs

In the fifties, on a parallel course to Wild Bill Davis in pioneering the use of the organ in the jazz trio format, was Missouri born Milton Brent “Milt” Buckner. Buckner is credited with developing the parallel chords style. Here he is heard playing with guitarist Kenny Burrell. The use of a guitarist as the other voice in the jazz organ trio became a popular format for the form.

4.       Milt Buckner: “Mighty High” from his album from 1960 Mighty High with Kenny Burrell 9gtr) Joe Benjamin (bass), Maurice Sinclaire (drms)              2 min 48 secs


Undoubtedly one of the most influential of all the Hammond B3 practitioners was “The Monster,” James Oscar “Jimmy” Smith. He switched to organ after hearing Wild Bill Davis in 1954. By 1956 he was offered a recording contract with Alfred Lion’s Blue Note Label after the impresario heard him in a Philadelphia club. Smith developed his own distinctive setting on the pull bars and along his percussive attack, this technique became known as the Jimmy Smith signature sound. He was also a facile improviser and was adept as using his bass pedals to simulate the sound of a walking string bass. Here is an early example of Smith’s indelible sound.

5.       Jimmy “The Monster” Smith: “The Sermon” from the 1959 album The Sermon with Lee Morgan(trpt), Kenny Burrell (gtr), Art Blakey (drms), Lou Donaldson (alto), Tina Brooks (tenor)
 20m 12 secs.
      

"Organ Grinder Swing" from the 1965 album Organ Grinder Swing with Kenny Burell (gtr) and Grady Tate (drms) 2 min 10 secs features Smith in his prime.


Smith was touring in Europe when German guitarist Paulo Morello asked him what it was like to work with such famous guitarist like Wes Montgomery, George Benson and Pat Martino. Smith was quoted as telling Morello “Listen man-I teach guitar.”   In fact, Smith played with many of the most notable jazz guitarists of his time including the aforementioned, Montgomery, Benson, Morello and Martino as well as Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and other fine players. He also played with horn players like Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan and Tina Brooks.

After Jimmy Smith, there were whole legions of players who were undeniably influenced by his style on the B3. While many took on their own unique sound leaning more on soul, blues or funk, it wasn’t until Larry Young that the organ was taken into a completely different and more modern direction. Here are some of my remaining choices for most memorable performances on the instrument all the way into the modern day.

6.       James Harrell “Jimmy” McGriff: “All About My Girl” from MG Blues 1962    drummer unknown                                                                                           3min 54 secs
       

7.       “Brother” Jack McDuff :  “That’s A Goodun” from the 1963 album Live with George Benson (gtr),         Red Holloway (tenor). Joe Dukes (drms).   8min 16 sec
       

Don Patterson had arguably some of the most memorable performances on the B3, I choose this one.

8.       Don Patterson: “Hip Cake Walk” from the 1964 album Hip Cake Walk with Leonard Houston (tenor), Billy James (drms).                                                 16 min 40 sec
      

9.       Larry Young: aka Khalid Yasin “Luny Tune” on Grant Green’s 1964 Talkin’ About! With Grant Green (gtr), Elvin Jones (drms).     7 min 43 secs
       
Later on his brilliant 1966 album Unity with Elvin Jones (drms) "Monk's Dream."

10.   Richard “Groove” Holmes: “Misty” from the 1965 release Soul Message with George Randall (gtr) and Jimmie Smith (drms).  6min 1 sec 
      

11.   Shirley Scott : “Rapid Shave” from Queen of the Organ  live at the Front Room, Newark, NJ 1965.  with Stanley Turrentine (tenor), Bob Cranshaw (bs), Otis Finch (drms).   8 min 23 secs
       

12.   Charles “The Mighty Burner” Earland: “More Today Than Yesterday” from Black Talk  1969 with Melvin Sparks (gtr), Idris Muhammad (drms), Buddy Caldwell (congas), Houston Person ( tenor), Virgil Jones (trmpt).                             11 min 12sec 

The next selection is my tip of the hat to the whole generation of prog rockers that took up the mantle of the B3. While not truly jazz players, they did make the organ a memorable part of the music of the sixties, seventies and beyond. Lee Michaels played one of the best, most animated Blues organ solos I have ever heard “live.” He just rocked the house on that B3 and his playing was more traditionally rooted in the B3 jazz /blues sound, so I have used him as a surrogate for all those guys who rocked the B3. That list includes Keith Emerson, Jon Lord, Rod Argent, Brian Auger, Stevie Winwood, Greg Allman, Greg Rolei, Rick Wakeman, Booker T. Jones, Billy Preston, Mark Stien, Ray Manzarek, Garth Hudson, Mathew Fisher and Al Kooper.

13.   Lee Michaels “Stormy Monday” Blues from Lee Michaels 1969 with “Frosty” Bartholomew                     Eugene Frost-Smith   5 min 15secs
       

For many United States B3 followers the French organist Eddie Louiss will be a new name and many thanks to Noah Baerman at http://blog.noahjazz.com for pointing this fine artist out to me.

14.   Eddy Louiss: “Bohemia After Dark” from the 1972 album Bohemia After Dark with Jimmy Gourley (gtr), Guy Pederson (bass), Kenny Clarke (drms).   5min 53 secs


15.   Joey DeFrancesco: “Work Songfrom the 1993 Live at the Five Spot with Robert Landham (alto),  Paul Bollenback (gtr), Byron “Wookie” Landham (drms), Grover Washington Jr. (tenor), Jim Henry (trmpt). 9 min 33 secs
      

16.   Larry Goldings: “The Acrobat” from Peter Bernstein’s 1998 Earthtones with Peter Berntstein (gtr) and Bill Stewart (drms).     9 min 59 secs
       

17.   Barbara Dennerlein and Rhoda “Barefoot Lady” Scott : “Nova” from a live performance in Switzerland in 2002 with Felix Simtaine (drms).  8min 22 secs
       

18.   Sam Yahel: “Truth and Beauty” from his 2005 album Truth and Beauty with Joshua Redman (tenor) and Brian Blade (drms.)       7min 59 secs
       

19.   Pat Bianchi: “Theme for Ernie” from his 2006 album East Coast Roots with Mark Whitfield (grt), Bryon Landham (drms)
       

20.   Vince “The Prince” Seneri: “Overdrive” from the 2007 album The Prince’s Groove with Randy Brecker (trpt), Paul Bollenback (gtr), Gary Fritz (perc), Buddy Williams (drms).   4 min 33 secs
       

21.   Tony Monaco: “S’About” from his 2008 album Tony Monaco Live at the Orbit Room  with Ted Quinlan (gtr), Vito Rezza (drms).    11 min 49 secs
       

22.   Dr. Lonnie Smith: “A Matterapat” from his Up!  from 2009 with Peter Bernstein (gtr), Donald Harrison (alto), Herlin Riley (drms).                             6min 47 secs 

23.   Mike LeDonne: “Bopsolete” from his 2010 release The Groover with Eric Alexander (tenor), Peter Bernstein (gtr), Joe Farnsworth (drms).   6 min 5 secs
       

24.    Jared Gold: “Shadowboxing” from his 2013 release Intuition with Dave Stryker (gtr) and McCLenty    Hunter (drms).                   5 min 5 secs
      

25.   Brian Charette: “Aiight!!” from 2014 release Square_One with Yotam Silberstein (gtr) and Mark Ferber (drms).      3 min 23 secs
       

Lest we forget anyone not mentioned above. honorable mentions go out to John Medeski, Will Blades, Big John Patton, Greg Allman, Clare Fischer, Peter Levin, Radam Schwartz,  Hank Marr, Reuben Wilson, Leon Spencer Jr., Lou Bennett, Johnny Hammond Smith, T. Lavitz, Dave Seibel, Robert Walter, Neal Evans, Gary Versace, Don Pullen and Booker T. Jones and all the other  prog rock B3 players that were mentioned above.