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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.

February 3, 2009

"Bap-Tizum" - Art Ensemble of Chicago

Rolling off the needle of my turntable, this disc delivers a live performance by the group during the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. Unedited and exhibited in its entirety, the set showcases an adrenaline rush of tunes that leave the audience (as well as myself, the listener) begging for more.

The band here is appearing for the first time shortly after returning from a four year stay in Europe and also introduces Don Moye -- to America -- on drums (who provides the outstanding drum ensemble composition, Nfamoudou-Boudougou to start the set). Particularly, I love Roscoe Mitchell's Unanka, allowing a simplistic, slow tempo bass line while allowing Mitchell freely distort the tune.

Things remain timid with Ooufnoon while the two reedist and Bowie produce sounds hardly imaginable on their instruments. For the climax, the group erupts with Ohnedaruth, a fast tempo, 15 minute free for all track that displays the group's stamina and devotion to their intentions. Odwalla contains a more conventional approach as the tune closes out the set. It show Mitchell's universal abilities as a composer which further demonstrates the ensembles ability to reach so many dimensions of jazz, allowing it to truly be "great black music."
1972 - Koch Records.
Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman - Reeds; Lester Bowie - Trumpet; Malachi Favors - Bass; Don Moye - Drums.