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December 24, 2009

"Closer" - Paul Bley

I had once seen the 1981 film Imagine the Sound. What I remember most about Paul Bley's appearance is his frustration with the role of the percussionist in free-improvised music. How he wanted to eliminate the drummer from his music because he felt it was too restricting. Well in this ESP-Disk date, you don't get that sense of restriction at all.

Recorded shortly after his album, Barrage, he provided ten trio tracks for us. The liner notes describe the album as a "languid reflection" of sort, and I couldn't agree more. The outcome is a unique sound and solid listening experience. All of the songs are composed by Carla Bley with the exception of Pigfoot by Paul himself, Cartoon by Annette Peacock, and Crossroads by Ornette Coleman (check out the Live at the Hillcrest Club album).

The production really contributes to a lot of the feeling. Some songs appear more free, while others appear more structured. The piano is soft yet vibrant, the drums at times can conflict with piano, and the bass is just in there enough to remain in the background as a support mechanism. Certain songs seem more straight ahead with rhythm, while others offer the downbeat we all love, with a few that appear to be loose and even lacking a rhythm.

The timings are really nice, and these short tracks almost feel like a hit and run assault on the listener -- ten tracks squeezed into less than 30 minutes. The solos are quick, but don't feel rushed or competitive. It all feels like a giant buld up to the closing title, Cartoon. The composition itself is tame, but Bley throws in a lot of dissonance and then the solos are free as can be with an attack on our ears. Seeming like an artillery even though it's a trio.
1965 - ESP Disk'.

Paul Bley - piano; Barry Altschul - percussion; Steve Swallow - bass

December 17, 2009

AACM on Do the Math

Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus recently posted on specific AACM recordings on his Do The Math blog. In 11 Canonical AACM Performances he mentions a handful of recordings I'm familiar with which was great to read his expert opinion/description of them. I still need to seek out some of the recordings he did mention, as well as a couple of Artists I'm not familiar with yet.

I particularly admire Iverson's down to earth approach by allowing his topics to be a forum in sense where he encourages readers to post and discuss further about the AACM. It's a great read (as are most of his posts), if you are not familiar with his blog, do yourself a favor and subscribe to its a feed.

When's The Bad Plus returning to Portland?
[UPDATE] Due to a slew of negative comments, the post was revised, and commenting was closed. Most comments were deleted with a handful remaining. The article is still worth checking out as well as the blog.

November 30, 2009

"Gigantomachia" - The Naked Future

ESP-Disk' brings us a great treat. From my city of Portland, OR, The Naked Future is a powerful quartet with a lot to say. The Naked Future first caught my attention when ESP-Disk' posted a feature on Arrington de Dionyso on their Facebook page. I recognized the photo of him playing bass clarinet from my experience with an exquisite player performing in front of Portland's Schnitzer Concert Hall. This was happening before Ornette Coleman took the stage in 2008. Whaling like Albert Ayler I am 89% sure it was Arrington de Dionyso.

The textured and vibrant compositions could fit right into the 60s. In fact, when the album ended, a record by The New York Art Quartet came up next in my iTunes and I barely noticed the subtle transition. Beautifully and delicately conducted by Arrington de Dionyso (of Old Time Relijun), we're provided with assaulting noise and physically mind blowing movements. The quartet gives the presence of a giant orchestra, and even the movements of the titles evolve much like classical compositions. There's a wonderful structure to all of the cuts, yet you get the sense of something being freely constructed at the same moment.

I'm not exactly sure they are from Portland, but definitely from the Pacific Northwest. The session was recorded here in Portland and I'm proud this sound is coming out of the NW. I get a lot of frustration with the Portland music scene and this record brings me great joy. Information is pretty limited on them on the web, I'd love to see a show though.

2008 - ESP Disk'.

Arrington de Dionyso - bass clarinet, contralto clarinet; Thollem McDonas - piano; John Niekrasz - drums; Greg Skloff - bass.

October 22, 2009

"Conference of the Birds" - Dave Holland

I can easily feel comfortable saying this is my absolute favorite album released in the early 70s. I discovered Conference of the Birds late winter of this year and I have been consistently listening to it at least three times a week. I really cannot get sick of it. It's perfect that I have gotten addicted to this second release by Holland on the ECM label and now he is coming to Portland for the 2010 PDX Jazz Festival.

Conference of the Birds came from a 12th century Persian poem of the same title, Farid ud-Din Attar. Before I listened, I was thinking maybe that Anthony Braxton's and Same Rivers' individual sounds would compete with one another, but this rare personnel meshed perfectly and I can't think of a better front line for this quartet session.

What stands out for me is the opening tune, Four Winds. I wish every composition could be like this song. Wildly delicious string of notes and chords before exploding into a free ensemble and solos by the band. Q & A is fractured tune of heavy percussion and physical movements, like a Cecil Taylor inspired tune less the piano.

The title cut, which is the third tune, steps back from the rest of the more progressive, avant garde and free tracks. A folkish, contemplative tune, with light percussion and a smooth, catchy melody. Interception is another intense blowing session by Braxton and Rivers before Holland delights in a mind blowing solo. The actual composition itself is simple and just a handful of bars. Throughout all of these track, Barry Altschul performs percussion just ever so delicately to back the band. He really knows when to step back and let them shine, and when to balance their playing with heavier, complex fills and backings. Altschul then closes all of the breaks on Interception with an incredible solo which subliminally mimicked movements of the song.

Now Here (Nowhere) is the perfect name for this tune. At times it reminds me of a band rehearsing and warming up. The production on the track sounds a little different, with a little more reverb on the horns it really feels like the band is right in my apartment. See-Saw concludes the albumand reminds me of something that would be released on a Braxton album. The fast tempo and great rhythmic backing fabricates a playground for Rivers and Braxton to perform over.

Conference of the Birds is the only album including this rare lineup. At times, Braxton, Holland, and Altschul appear together on Braxton's own releases as well, as the Circle band with Chick Corea.
1973 - ECM.
Dave Holland – bass; Sam Riversreeds, flute; Anthony Braxton – reeds, flute; Barry Altschulpercussion, marimba
Check out this high school band killing it with Four Winds!

October 15, 2009

PDX Jazz Fest 2010 Lineup

Received a notice in my inbox yesterday about the lineup for the Alaskan Airlines/Horizon Air PDX Jazz Festival. WOW! Every year they always get a handful of headliners that blow me away.

I'm looking forward to Pharoah Sanders and the Dave Holland Quintet for the upcoming festivities. Both heavy hitters in the avant-garde scene. I'll try to report more news and updates of the PDX Jazz Festival as they come to me.

Other headliners are the Mingus Big Band under the artistic direction of Sue Mingus, Grammy nominated Dave Douglas' ensemble Brass Ecstasy, as well as a focus or Norwegian artists Trygve Seim & Frode Haltli, the Christian Wallumrod Ensemble, and In The Country. In the theme of British jazz writer Stuart Nichcolson's book, Is Jazz Dead (Or Has It Moved to a New Address)? - New Music from Norway.
"The showcase features three North American premieres that exemplify what Nicholson calls the "Nordic Tone", as a counterpoint to contemporary American jazz masters who push the boundaries of jazz."
Tickets are available on October 27th and are currently available to PDX Jazz Members now.

September 28, 2009

Béla, Edgar, and Friends

A little off topic here, I had the chance to attend the Oregon Symphony at the Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday conducted by Carlos Kalmar. Along with a couple compositions by Dvorák and Suppé, Chris Thile sat with the symphony to perform his Mandolin Concerto. This was followed by Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer, and Zakir Hussain performing two movements of their The Melody of Rhythm.

Along with jazz, I'm a huge bluegrass fan. I pick the 5-string to the best of my abilities quite often. I believe the two genres have more in common than many would think. So when I had the chance to see
Béla pick his banjo in person -- even though this was no bluegrass show -- I was happy to jump right on it. The handful of hours seemed to go by in mere minutes as we were entranced with both the spectacle of these intricate compositions and the technical awe that the symphony, conductor Carlos Kalmar, and these four head lining musicians possess.

Zakir Hussain plays the tabla with ease and pizazz as he is able to mimic and appropriate melodies that Edgar or Béla Fleck throw out. The three if them would often seem like they were competing in a playful way as you could tell the each them were enjoying every moment on stage. The blending of the symphony created an overall sublime experience. The only thing better would be Ornette Coleman playing with the 1972 London Symphony Orchestra.

After the main concert performance the four men rejoined on stage for about 45 minutes of improved tunes. To me that was the best part as I always dig smaller groups. Edgar Meyer is sick on that bass. There's no other way to describe his playing. I wish I could see him sit in on one of Ornette's groups.

A great steak dinner, some of the best live music I've seen all year, a couple signed CDs, a hand shake with Béla Fleck, and a few whiskeys later, I ended the night one happy camper.

September 15, 2009

More Blue Note on NBC... Again.

Someone over at NBC loves old jazz record covers, especially Blue Note -- with good reason of course. This caught my eye on the Tonight Show last Friday night.

August 27, 2009

New Releases

Just wanted to go over some newer albums I have taken a liken to and wanted to share.

I received word in my inbox by the great publication, Wax Poetics, of their debut album release as a label of the group 9dw. Self Titled is due to be released 09/09/09 but pre-orders for limited (1,500 pressings), hand numbered, clear color vinyl are now being taken. If you're like me, and obsess over the collectibility of rare, unique vinyl and dig talented musicians and chill backbeats, you may want to snag a copy. I would compare these guys to Tortoise like grooves colliding with the eclecticism of Aphex Twin, but definitely more funky.

Also, I've recently discovered a contemporary jazz group called Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. A wonderfully technical yet free flowing ensemble of piano, drums, bass, and slide guitar or lap steel. They often infuse the likes of traditional jazz stylings with modern math or noise rock and even as far as hip hop. You can download their entire current release, Winterwood, for free from their site. Fans of The Bad Plus and technical, progressive, melodic instrumental rock should give these guys a try.

I am going to do write up of Dave Hollands, Conference of the Birds coming soon.

August 14, 2009

Rashied Ali (1935-2009)

Rashied Ali sadly left us Tuesday the 12th after suffering from a heart attack. As I type this now I am being entranced by his swaying rhythms and dynamic accenting behind Coltrane on the amazing Impulse release of Interstellar Space. You can here him perform on the Coltrane cut, Leo, in the player above.

So much is being said that I couldn't do justice by repeating. Yesterday and today there have been a number of great posts in memory of Rashied Ali:

Howard Mandel posted an interview he conducted with Ali in 1990 for a Coltrane documentary.

Pianist, Ethan Iverson, of The Bad Plus, despite being on blog posting hiatus, created a quick blurb on his Do The Math blog. He even had the privilege of selling a piano to Rashied Ali 15 years ago. What a trip that must have been.

And if you haven't checked out AccuJazz yet do yourself a favor and got on it. They will be highlighting Coltrane and Ali recordings on their Avant-Garde Channel in the coming future. They wrote a brief post (alongside honoring the great Les Paul) on their blog as well.

Being a drummer and avant-garde jazz fan alongside Rashied Ali's passing has reminded me how unfortunate I am. I have never, nor will I ever, have the chance to truly experience this generation of outstanding musicians as others before me may have.

July 30, 2009

"Energy Control Center" - The Lightmen Plus One

I was so happy to see Energy Control Center make it to digital reissue. Thanks to Now-Again Records we can grab this album from iTunes or Amazon. I've been searching for an out of print copy since 2007, but having it in iTunes does a perfect job.

I don't know too much about these guys. The album was original issued in 1972 and has been available as a Japanese import for a quite awhile now. They do an amazing job of meshing sounds that remind us of CTI recordings with the cosmic, funky and free qualities of Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders. I guess it would be like taking the best stuff from CTI and the best stuff from Impulse and you have Energy Control Center. You can also hear how this stuff could fit in well with hip-hop or acid jazz samples

The first few cuts have more of the repetitive funk and rehearsed qualities. The best of the album is the title track. An out in space, free for all that's bold and fresh, requiring multiple re-listens. I also wonder if Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction album influenced these guys.

Leo has a huge McCoy Tyner styling. You can definitely hear Tyner's Passion Dance from his Blue Note album The Real McCoy as the base of this tune. It's an energetic blast that keeps the album just as exciting through to the final cuts. Jupiter is another cosmic-like tune containing a collective free improvisation. Providing us with heavy percussion and ambient tones before breaking into a swinging funk rhythm and melody.

Besides Bubbha Thomas as the front man, I'm having trouble finding a personnel -- and even the original label that issued this. This is the downside of digital downloads, no liner notes. If anyone has any info to share about these guys please contact me!
1972/2009 - Now-Again Records.

June 22, 2009

"Sonny Boy" - Sonny Rollins

I picked up a copy of this at the county library a ways back and had just finally got a chance to sit down with it. What an incredible set! Rollins plays hard on this superb bop classic released in 1960, the disc contains a combination of two different recording dates from 1956, the first three cuts were already previously released. Recorded shortly after the devastating car accident that took Clifford Brown and Richie Powell... Max Roach, Sonny Rollins and George Morrow still played powerfully as Kenny Drew filled in nicely.

The album starts off with a medium tempo, straight blues called Ee-Ah to set the flavor of what's to come. It is soon followed by what makes the disc truly amazing -- the super fast tempo and insane improvisations of B. Quik and B. Swift. As much as John Coltrane was an innovator, I can't help but wonder how be-bop tunes like these influenced him, especially to record such a great cut like Countdown from Giant Steps.

Max Roach equally stands as strong as Rollins, showing why he was one of the greatest drummers to have existed. Drummers like myself owe so much to him.

Things slow down for the ballad, The House I Live In. Trumpeter, Kenny Dorham, joins Rollins and Wade Legge replaces Kenny Drew on keys. This is a straight ahead tune, and even though it is strong, it stands out the least for me on the set. The fifth and final is the title track, Sonny Boy, which displays Sonny Rollins as we know and love him. Perfectly exemplifying his sound as we can recognize in so many of his great albums.

This album screams modernity. Prestige even precariously choose a hip Abstract Expressionist-esq album cover which generates the tone contained inside the packaging. Fans of free jazz and bop should not neglect this album.
1960 - Prestige.

Sonny Rollins - Tenor Saxophone; Kenny Dorham - Trumpet; Kenny Drew, Wade Legge - Piano; George Morrow - Bass; Max Roach - Drums.

June 10, 2009

"Chops" by Bruce Broder

I just got this sent to my inbox. A new documentary by Bruce Broder called Chops is out.

Click here for a list of scheduled screenings. Also a DVD is in the works.

Here's the synopsis taken from their site:

CHOPS tells the story of a group of kids with extraordinary musical ability who learn to make the most of their gifts in an acclaimed public school jazz program in Jacksonville, FL.

From their early, squeaky scales to soaring, improvisational solos, we have a front row seat for their fascinating transformation. We’re with them as they stick together and as they fall apart. And we see up close how the events of their daily lives are expressed in their music. We follow their musical journey from Florida to New York City, where they compete against the top high school jazz bands in the nation at the prestigious Essentially Ellington Festival.

Win or lose, the Essentially Ellington experience puts them at the threshold of their dream, and reveals the incredible growth they’ve experienced personally and musically.

I'm looking forward to this one. It'll be interesting to see young talents like these school kids fully enthralled in jazz. Something I'm envious of as I missed the opportunity when i was younger.

Chops Trailer from B-Side Entertainment on Vimeo.

May 13, 2009

"Fate in a Pleasant Mood/When Sun Comes Out" - Sun Ra

Originally released as two separate LPs under Sun Ray’s Saturn label, Fate in a Pleasant Mood (1961)/When Sun Comes Out (1963) really allows the Myth Science Arkestra and the Astro-Infinity Arkestra breath and offers listeners a chance to really hear and understand each musician -- whether they are playing within in their own mode, or if Sun Ra is directing them.

The opening track,
The Others in Their World, is a mellow theme to set the course for the album before being followed by Space Mates, offering warm sounds of percussion and bass under a flute arrangement before Sun Ra himself closes the track with a short, yet intrinsic solo. One thing I love about Sun Ra is that his recordings sometimes come off almost like instrumental concept albums, if such things exists. Even though I am unaware of the continuing narrative being conveyed, the songs suggest a visual plot without needed verbal connotations. They contain ups, downs, climaxes, and resolutions. This is especially perceived in the third track Lights of a Satellite.

The climax clearly begins with
We Travel the Spaceways (now on the When Sun Comes Out half of the album). It’s a cosmic struggle between each player of the Arkestra; being the core of the aesthetics of the group. It’s almost like the first two thirds of the record were a build up to this culmination. It is brief, and we are left in a state of uncertainty as the loose, unbound stylings continue with Calling Planet Earth. I particularly enjoy the tenor solo over the eruption of bass and drums.Dancing Shadows is a pretty straight ahead post-bop rendering of sorts. The tonality of the bass is spot on. Not over bearing but noticeably enough to complement the drums and generate the environment for the front line to improvise over.

The plot’s struggle still continues with
The Rainmaker. This is terrific free playing that deserves multiple plays. The group collectively supports each other while knowing when to aid or stray away at the right moments. Dimensions in Time gives you the needed conclusion to allow this story to rest until another moment in the future.
1961/1963 - Saturn.

April 12, 2009

"Uhuru Na Umoja" - Frank Wright

Frank Wright is one of the avant-garde sax players I have only just been jumping into in the last year and a half or so, and man can he swing. Uhuru Na Umoja is a really heavy and powerful album that even though it's a baseless quartet, it assaults the listener as if it were Coleman's Free Jazz or Coltrane's Ascension. Originally part of the American Records catalog, the series is now reissued under the Verve label under the series Free America and is definitely worth diving into with other artist like Mal Waldron, Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp, Paul Bley and others. The album showcases Art Taylor in rare form as he strays away from his usual bop performances. And Bobby Few lays another amazing session on the ivory keys.

The opening cut,
Oriental Moods, starts off with a subtle, melodic theme that sets the tone for the rest of the album. It is beautiful yet striking with layers and textures of piano and percussion. You can definitely here the influence Albert Ayler has had on Frank Wright and it's hard to imagine him blowing sessions with B.B. King and other blues and R&B artists earlier in his career. Aurora Borealis is the second tune which starts off with a cloud of slowly building free playing that's reminiscent of some Pharoah Sanders material from Impulse.

My favorite is the closing track,
Pluto, which starts off with a quick written part that reminds us of the chords in Oriental Moods with more variations on the notes within them and a faster tempo. It's so catchy that even my girlfriend (who can't stand free improvised jazz) over heard me listening to it and was like, 'wow I can dig this.' Within 30 seconds of the cut it further erupts into an Ayler-esq montage and far out free improvisation before it ends up back to the original compositional theme to ultimately close out the album. I could listen to it 10 times a day and never get bored of it.
1970 - America Records/Verve.
Arthur Taylor - Drums; Frank Wright - Tenor Sax ; Bobby Few - Piano; Noah Howard - Alto Sax.

March 28, 2009


Sorry posts have been slow lately. I have been having a lot of projects going which has been pulling myself away from the blog. I just wanted to drop in and posts some interesting tidbits.

Howard Mandel made a great post about Cecil Taylor in honor of his 80th birthday.
Taylor belongs to no school but his own yet has influenced and generated a legion of followers on piano and every other instrument, too. He identifies with the jazz tradition, many of whose most ardent adherents have regarded him since his 1950s debut insultingly, incredulously, quizzically, disdainfully, reluctantly, regretfully or not at all. But he does not limit himself, or his defininition of the jazz tradition: he draws from all music's history and partakes of the whole world's culture.
Part two of Mandel's Cecil Taylor at 80 can be found here.

The latest Wax Poetics is a Jazz issue. I haven't picked a copy up yet but I'm sure it will be nice treat once I do.

Otherwise things have been down for me and I haven't been able to grab some new albums lately. I did have a great listen to Muhal Richard Abram's 1989
Hearinga Suite. I'm normally not attracted to the stylings of big bands or orchestras, but I decided to investigate this one and it was quite enjoyable. Maybe I'll do a full post on it soon. I particularly liked the compositions "Oldfotalk" and "Find It Now."

February 26, 2009

Lou Donaldson / Bobby Hutcerson - LIVE!!!

Definitely the most exciting event (for me) of the festival was the chance to see Lou Donaldson and Bobby Hutcherson live at the Crystal Ballroom. This double billed event (with the exception of McCoy Tyner on the previous weekend) was the biggest highlight of earlier generation Blue Note artists.
Artistic Director of PDX Jazz, Bill Royston, introduced Lou Donaldson as he entered the stage with his organ quartet. A fine establishment of musicians consisting of Lou, the organ, drums and guitar. This was as close as one is going to get as to seeing a band with the same nature as say Grant Green or Jimmy Smith. Before playing their initial theme Lou introduced the band and started again with his humorous rants. "Today you are going to see jazz, not fusion, not confusion, but jazz," he would say, "not snoop doggie dog or 50 Cent who aint worth a quarter."

For me the highlight of his set was when he played Ray Noble's composition
Cherokee. While Donaldson played the melody and every harmonizing note around it, the group vamped the chords in support. I never quite heard it that way and it was one of the best interpretations of the tune that I have listened to. He also sang a couple blues pieces. One about a woman who drank a lot of whiskey and the other -- if I'm remembering the lyrics corectly -- about dreams and then reality having an ironic twist in opposition to the dreams. Both with clever puns and silly rhymes to match Lou's personality.

Before Bobby Hutcherson took the stage Howard Mandel came up to introduce him. Hutcherson didn't look too hot as he has been suffering from emphysema. Regardless of that, after a couple of compositions he certainly had gotten into the mode. Rather than the more technical, bebop and soul jazz stylings of Lou's set (and there wasn't anything non-technical about Hutcherson's), his was more physical and throught provoking. Definitely allowing the audience to have a more transcendent experience. The highlight for me was when Hutcherson played Coltrane's
Spiritual. Seeing a legend who had recording amazing albums for Blue Note play one of my favorite Coltrane compositions was an exceptional delight. And he played it good, really good.

It was a great festival this year. It's hard to say if it was better than last years giving my awesome experience with my favorite, Ornette Coleman; but I guess you can't compare the two. Alls I know is that festivals with headliners like this are going to become more and more rare. I also have to give a shout out to the Operations Director of PDX Jazz, Brad Nelson, who was gracious enough to supply me with a couple of tickets to this event.

February 24, 2009

Conversation with Lou Donaldson

The second talk I attended for the 2009 Portland Jazz Festival was a conversation with Lou Donaldson at the PCPA Art Bar. It was moderated by Larry Appelbaum of JazzTimes for a piece called "Before and After." Appelbaum described this to the audience as a blind fold test where tracks were played and Lou was meant to discuss them and share his wealth of knowledge. Out of the 11 songs displayed, he was able to identify, I'd say at least nine of the horn players on them. Being 82 years old and the oldest living Blue Note artist, he had quite the opinion to share about each tune -- old and new, positive and negative.

Rather than talk about each song played and Donaldson's input I'll just share his personality and some of his knowledge (I'll let the article in JazzTimes elaborate further about the tracks). First of all, Donaldson doesn't look anything like 82 years old, he could pass for an early 70s, perhaps even late, late 60s. He's been on the scene since his military days playing clarinet for the Navy Band in Chicago during the 1940s. That's when he first heard Bird and was inspired to toss his clarinet into the water and stick to alto. "I'm a Parker man, everything else is just sax playing," he said as he further discussed Parker's tone and how he would move around the chords. I was surprised to hear some of Donaldson's opinions on a lot of other musicians of his era. Most of them quite low, but you couldn't help to not judge him -- even though he was trashing some of my favorites like Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Eric Dolphy -- This man has been around and his expressions of these artists are more authentic and sincere than mine or any jazz critic.
For example, Lou stated you can't play jazz unless you can play the blues. I'd say that's a fair assessment. However, when asked about Coltrane he said Coltrane could never play the blues. Right there he just proclaimed Coltrane couldn't play jazz. But who cares! It's Lou Donaldson and his thoughts were absolutely brilliant. Another example is he said Monk was a terrible performer. That he was a genius bop composer but couldn't play greatly -- another pretty wild fact to state. Again, if this was a random local at the pub telling me this I would argue them into the ground, but Lou Donaldson was there. He knew these guys. He recorded hit records on Blue Note. So one has to take these words with sheer credibility.

I did get some homework from this talk. When talking about Hank Crawford, Donaldson noted his favorite album of his was Misty. And when asked what his top five all time favorite records were, Lou was hesitant to list them, but did mention Flying Home by Illinois Jacquet as the greatest he had ever heard, but not in his top five. These are added to my list of records to get.

Post about the concert next.

February 23, 2009

2009 Portland Jazz Festival

2009 Portland Jazz Festival rapped up last night. With the theme celebrating 70 years of Blue Note Records, and featuring artists both past and present, there was bound to have a little something for nearly every jazz fan. I was only able to see one concert this year, but--in my opinion--it was probably the most, must see performance.

Before I talk about seeing Lou Donaldson and Bobby Hutcherson live I'm going to talk about some educational talks I attended. Last Sunday I went to a Panel Discussion about Blue Note cover art. You can't be a fan of Blue Note records and besides the recordings themselves, not instantly be drawn to the cover art. I remember purchasing my first Blue Note album, Genius of Modern Music Vol. 1 by Thelonious Monk (the LP reissue from 10" that was Red Miles' first design for Blue Note). I was certainly a jazz novice then and I new the name on the record jacket, but it was that displayed cover that instantly drove me to purchase it. Upon listening, the recordings themselves were no joke and at that point I wanted everything and anything Blue Note; the terrific album artwork is just an added bonus.

The panel discussion was narrated by Portland's Tim DuRoche and consisted of four other individuals. Of great surprise to me it included author Ashley Kahn, and producer, jazz historian, writer, archivist -- however you want to label this great man -- Michael Cuscuna. To hear these two talk in person was a great honor. They primarily talked about the golden age of Blue Note Records when Reid Miles was designing covers from 1956 to 1967. But I learned about Martin Craig creating the unique "Pac Man" look on the record circular labels. The artwork Craig designed were surrealist in nature which fit into the Modern aesthetic fully endorsed by Alfred Lion. These early album covers were defying the standards by using the artists themselves on the covers to market the recordings. This as a whole was a major turning point in jazz record artwork from the mid 1950s onwards.

In the mid 1950s Reid Miles entered the picture, and from reading the Blue Note: The Biography book by Richard Cook, I already understood that Miles actually did not like jazz but was a classical music listener. As a result, all of the free promo copies he acquired from Blue Note were traded in for classical records. Michael Cuscuna elaborated on how Miles relied on Lion to convey the mood, feeling, and stylings of these recordings to complete a design that communicated the audio in which it enclosed.

Miles' last album was for Hank Mobley's Hi Voltage. At this point the label was already sold to Liberty Records and a new direction for the company was already being distinguished. Reid Miles went on to do photography which would later be included in a lot of 1970s rock covers. I was contacted by a rep from Capitol Records and was supplied with this link of a Blue Note album artwork slideshow. Even after seeing these covers for years, they still appear great and inspiring. There's nothing like seeing one of these Reid Miles designs and instantly wanting to hear the music underneath the artwork.

More posts to follow about the Festival.