Ken Burns Jazz (2000) by Fletcher Henderson

Categories: 2000 and Music.

This is a decent one-disc compilation of Fletcher Henderson’s big bands, which are more notable for the featured performers than for anything Henderson did (with an exception or two). Like all single disc compilations of a productive artist, it doesn’t give us the greatest picture of his work. But what it does function as is an interesting little introduction to the changes that large jazz ensembles went through between the early ’20s and 1940. And that’s pretty cool to hear with a band led by the same guy. That’s probably the main reason for picking this up over the separate Read More

Emergence (2009) by Roy Hargrove Big Band

Categories: 2009 and Music.

So Hargrove tackles big band and the results aren’t that different from early in his career, when he was way too in love with tradition. (You might say he was drowning in it.) Well here we are again: Hargrove’s big band touches on numerous previous jazz big bands. And the whole thing is really conventional. And just when you think this is how it will play out, he throws in the Latin thing. And maybe you think “Aha!” something different, only Gillespie did this stuff 60 years ago…And obviously Hargrove is no Gillespie (though he does an okay Miles impersonation). Read More

Treme (2010)

Categories: 2010 and TV.

This contains some spoilers I wanted to love Treme, I really, really did. I consider The Wire to be the greatest thing in TV drama history, and Generation Kill was pretty good too. But something got lost in the execution here. The characters are interesting, the sense of place is incredible – at least, as someone who has never been to New Orleans, I assume it is incredible – the music is great (though I could rant about the portrayal of modern jazz) and there are moments of greatness. But this is a show that has no plot. I mean, Read More

Birks Works: the Verve Big Band Sessions (1956, 1957, 1993) by Dizzy Gillespie

Categories: 1993 and Music.

I recently listened to this band’s performance at Newport and was underwhelmed. It just goes to show you the power of mood. I guess just wasn’t in the mood and I imagined the Newport show as some kind of semi-modernist response to Ellington’s Newport show of the year before. I think I was over-thinking. Here we get that music plus lots of other music. And in theory I should like the live concert better because, um, you know, it’s jazz. Live jazz is supposed to be better than recorded jazz. And I generally agree with that. But I find myself Read More

Dizzy Gillespie at Newport (1957)

Categories: 1957 and Music.

There is something in me that wants to see this as some kind of newish generation response to Ellington at Newport the year before but I guess that’s me just trying to impose some narrative on this. I wasn’t expecting to like this, as I am not a huge fan of ’50s big band arrangements that aren’t by Mingus (at least so far). But this is great stuff: Gillespie is awesome and his band does an excellent job of amazing you with their playing but also joking around, even though the music is pretty conventional (albeit a lot more Afro-Cuban Read More

The Complete RCA Victor Recordings 1937-1949 (1995) by Dizzy Gillespie

Categories: 1995 and Music.

Gillespie is probably the greatest trumpet player ever, but this is the first time I’ve really gotten into his discography, a major oversight on my part. These sides cover both Gillespie’s band and some session work he did over slightly more than a decade, when he was literally changing the nature of jazz. They don’t include the most revolutionary stuff he made in the early ’40s – that must have been for another label – but they do show off how he helped transition jazz from big band / swing to bop. Gillespie’s solos are like nothing else anyone had Read More

Basie [aka The Aomtic Mr. Basie] (1958) by Count Basie and His Orchestra

Categories: 1958 and Music.

I get why lots of people love this, I do. And, even without knowing Basie’s catalogue, I think I can see why it surprised a lot of people at the time. The arrangements are good, Basie’s playing is nothing if not note perfect for those arrangements, and some of the soloists really show off (within these confines). But that being said, I can’t help but hear the conservatism in this band, even in something that seemed – to some contemporaries anyway – to be something radical. Certainly Ellington was already reviving big band as something vital at this time, I’m Read More

The Great Paris Concert (1963, 1973, 2005) by Duke Ellington

Categories: 1963 and Music.

This is a solid performance of a solid selection of songs by Duke and his orchestra. But what can I say? I like my jazz radical, and as much as this is an enjoyable set, I’d frankly rather listen to 1963 Mingus or 1963 Trane. I’m not trying to put it down. The whole thing is mostly stellar. Ellington is a little idiosyncratic – do I care where the soloists are from during the actual song? – but I guess that was part of his charm. If you like big band – especially big band that honours jazz traditions – Read More

Far East Suite (1967, 2003) by Duke Ellington

Categories: 1967 and Music.

This is a great piece: it’s fun, it’s engaging, it’s remarkably varied and it does sort of feel like a grand statement. But I can’t help but feel like it’s a statement made 3/4s of a decade too late. Though Ellington’s ability to make himself relevant again and to build upon people who built upon him – there is a definite Mingus influence here – is remarkable, there is also the fact that jazz musicians had been flirting with far more radical “eastern” influences for some time. I am thinking specifically of Trane but also the severely under-appreciated Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Read More

Brooklyn Babylon (2012) by Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

Categories: 2012 and Music.

FYI, I haven’t seen the accompanying visuals, so this is a bit like judging a soundtrack without seeing the film. Alas…I don’t believe this is actually jazz, though it is clearly heavily influenced by jazz (I figure much if not all of it is written out ahead of time) but that really doesn’t matter. This is a great album, even without whatever narrative is supposed to be conveyed by the visuals, especially for lovers of big bands. There is a lot going on here, almost too much to take in after only a few listens. There are numerous ideas and Read More

Ellington at Newport 1956 (1956, 2009)

Categories: 1956 and Music.

Though Ellington is one of the most famous leaders in jazz, and probably the greatest composer in the music’s history, this is the first set I have ever heard (deliberately) by his band. The reason for that is simply because I got into jazz through Miles Davis, whose entire career has been played in the post-Big Band world. The little inquiry I’ve made into earlier jazz has been into Dixieland. In 1956, Big Band was definitely passe: Bop and Afro Cuban had existed for about a decade each and Cool for more than half a decade. Moreover, Hard Bop was Read More

Women in Jazz (1998, Retro Music) by Various Artists

Categories: 1998 and Music.

The cheapie box set is an interesting phenomenon: Gather some recordings from major artists where the copyright has lapsed (or never existed), Put the recordings in any arbitrary order you choose, Use more discs than are necessary to convince the buyer they are getting a great bargain, Give it a catchy title. I have a Scott Joplin compilation with no credits (funnily enough, from a Quebec label, just like this set) but you can clearly hear differences in piano and recording quality. I have a Muddy Waters box set which is all demos, but nowhere on the outside does it Read More

The Genius of the Electric Guitar (Lecagy Box Set 2002)

Categories: 2002 and Music.

Christian may not be the first electric guitarist, or the first jazz electric guitarist, but he was the first important one on both counts. Though ostensibly a swing player, his influence on bop guitarists is beyond profound. I mean I absolutely love Wes Montgomery, but wow does Wes ever owe a lot to this guy. The only drawback about this set is the sheer number of alternate takes. It is complete as far as I know, and that’s great, but the thing can get exhausting listening to it all at once. Christian reguarly preduces totally different solos and fills, but Read More

The Music Master by Benny Carter (Proper 2004)

Categories: 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1948, 1952, 2004, and Music.

First, a disclaimer: my library only has the last three discs so I am not reviewing the first disc. Though this music (at least the music on the second and third discs) is not really my thing, I find myself becoming a big admirer of Mr. Carter. He appears to have mastered three separate instruments as whether he is playing sax, trumpet or clarinet one beli3ves they are hearing a definitive soloist of his era. The music on the final disc is slightly more my style and here Carter is more middle of the road as there were so many Read More