Michael White – Spirit Dance / Pneuma (1972)

Michael White

SPIRIT DANCE
Impulse! – AS-9215  1972

A1 Spirit Dance
A2 The Tenth Pyramid
A3 John Coltrane Was Here
A4 Ballad For Mother Frankie White
B1 Samba  
B2 Unlocking The Twelfth House
B3 Praise Innocence

   Bass – Ray Drummond
   Percussion, Flute [Bamboo], Vocals – Baba Omson
   Piano – Ed Kelly
   Producer, Photography – Ed Michel
   Violin, Vocals – Michael White
   Vocals – Makeda , Wanika King

   Engineers – Ken Hopkins, Rick Stanley
   Mixed By – Baker Bigsby  
   Artwork and Photography – Philip Melnick

 

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PNEUMA
Impulse! AS-9221

Pneuma (Part 1) 5:16
Pneuma (Part 2) 4:57
Pneuma (Part 3) 4:11
Pneuma (Part 4) 4:13
Pneuma (Part 5) 1:52
Ebony Plaza 9:18
Journey Of The Black Star 2:53
The Blessing Song 6:25

   Bass – Ray Drummond
Engineer – Baker Bigsby
Percussion – Kenneth Nash
Piano – Edwin Kelly
Producer – Ed Michel
Violin – Michael White (2)
Vocals – D. Jean Skinner, Faye Kelly, Joyce Walker, Leola Sharp

If you are a person for whom jazz violin is an acquired taste, then the notion of “free jazz violin” will probably send you running or at least reaching for the earplugs.  I confess that I am personally still grappling with the finer nuances of Leroy Jenkins and occasionally undergo a self-imposed “music appreciation course” at my house featuring his recordings.  So you could say I appreciate the fact that Michael White’s music is not nearly as abrasive as Jenkins and in fact often crosses over into the downright accessible and melodic.  White has a lengthy resume that includes sideman gigs with people as diverse as John Handy and Sun Ra, but it was his electric proto-jazz-rock band The Fourth Way that led me to seek out these two albums.   Well neither “Spirit Dance” or “Pneuma” sound anything like The Fourth Way but if I felt any disappointment at that discovery, it didn’t last long.  These are both excellent records.

Initially the listener is likely to be struck by what the records lack as opposed to what they offer – the absence of any horns whatsoever, as well as a traditional trap drum kit.  The versatile percussionists  (Baba Omsun for “Spirit Dance,” Ken Nash for “Pneuma”) manage to let you hardly miss the drums, and as for lack of reed or brass instruments.. well you’ll just have to deal with it, because the tonal palette is a bit thin in the upper register at times.  The upside is that when he lost the horn charts, White gained not only a unique sound but also the flexibility that makes his avant-garde and free jazz flourishes more focused.  Considering the technical designation of the piano as a percussion instrument, Michael White is often the only voice here that isn’t in the rhythm section, which liberates him to switch between riffing on melodies and freaking out at will.  The stuff stays grounded, though – there are quite a few shortish compositions with audible roots in blues and gospel, and the group often leans more towards modal jazz than free jazz.  Note the very brief use of an overdubbed violin at the end of the first track “Spirit Dance” here, too.  The turgid tabla of The Tenth Pyramid reminds me of the few months that I took tabla lessons – is this in tintal? – but it only lasts for four minutes so if sloppy faux-Indian jazz annoys you then at least your suffering will be brief.  “John Coltrane Was Here,” besides having a great smile-inducing title for a tribute to the late deity, is a lovely modal piece with the almost requisite quotations from ‘A Love Supreme.’ It satisfies your nagging curiosity about what a violin-jazz invocation of Coltrane’s spiritual vision would sound like.  Now that you know, you can finally sleep at night.  Again there is judicious use of overdubbing – is this cheating?  I’m not keeping score so I’ll let it slide.  Another interesting piece here is the unimaginatively titled “Samba,” which may leave you scratching your head until you hear the congas and the electric bass guitar whose notes accent the downbeat where the surdo drum would be.  The abstract  sandbox of “Unlocking The Twelth House” is a great closer for the album.  Unfortunately it doesn’t actually end the record, but since I usually just skip over the last track, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it – this is a great way to end the record.   However if atonal wordless vocals sung by children are your thing, by all means crank up “Praise Innocence.”  After all you may have been hoping to annoy your neighbors with this album, and up until now you may have not succeeded.  This ought to do it.

I usually don’t listen to the two records included on this disc back to back, in order to “maximize their efficacy” or something like that.  While “Spirit Dance” manages to keep things fun, “Pneuma” actually ranks a bit higher for me.  It may be a bit more sombre but it also seems more fully-realized, like he went into the studio with a more single-minded approach to make a statement, as opposed to recording a collection of pieces.  The original first side of the LP is comprised entirely of the “Pneuma” suite.  For a spiritual jazz homage to the breath of life, it actually boasts a pretty traditional jazz arrangement, with each instrument getting equal time to lead the group after the primordial swells and slow, sustained crescendos of the opening. First White’s violin, then the bass (acoustic this time, which is a welcome choice), then piano, and finally percussion before wrapping the whole thing up.  It’s pretty brilliant and if you are only going to listen to one “side” of this two-on-one release, I would pick this one.  The second half of “Pneuma” is just as impressive, with the additional textures of vocal arrangements on “Journey of the Black Star” and “The Blessing Song.”  The latter is just downright catchy and merits a place on a compilation of that ill-defined ‘genre’ referred to as “spiritual jazz.”  It’s a beautiful and sweet resolution to the little musical journey Mr. White takes us on, which is one where his intensity is balanced by warmth that is often missing from these styles of jazz.  Solid stuff.  And check out The Fourth Way if you don’t know them.

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Paulinho da Costa – Agora (1977)

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Paulinho da Costa
AGORA
Released 1977 on Pablo (2310-785)
OJC Reissue 1991

A1         Simbora     8:44    
A2         Terra     4:23    
A3         Toledo Bagel     5:50    
B1         Berimbau Variations     3:50    
B2         Belisco     6:54    
B3         Ritmo Number One 8:27

Digitally remastered by Phil De Lancie (1991, Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California).

Recorded at Kendun Studios, Burbank, California (August 6 through 16, 1976). Includes liner notes by David Griffin and Paulinho Da Costa.

Recording information: Kendun Studios, Burbank, CA (08/06/1976-08/16/1976).
Arrangers: Erich Bulling; Claudio Slon ; Paulinho Da Costa; Steve Huffsteter .

Personnel:
Paulinho da Costa (vocals, whistling, berimbau, tamboura, ocarina, congas, bongos, cuica, guiro, pandeiro, reco-reco, shaker, surdo, triangle, wood block, percussion, waterphone);
Octavio Bailly, Jr. (vocals, bass);
Claudio Slon (vocals, synthesizer, drums, water drum, timabales, percussion);
Larry Williams (saxophone, flute);
Steve Huffsteter,
Gene Goe (trumpet, flugelhorn);
Mike Julian, Frank Rosolino (trombone);
Greg Phillinganes (acoustic and electric pianos); Lee Ritenour (guitar).

——————–

Nothing mind-blowing here but this is a solid record from a guy with a lot more album credits than he has records as a bandleader.  Having played with Brazilian greats like Elza Soares and Martinha da Vila, by this time Paulinho da Costa was well entrenched in the slick LA jazz studio-musician scene.  That slickness threatens to over saturate this entry on the Pablo label but Paulinho’s energy on percussion manages to pull it back from the brink more often than not.  The opening “S’imbora” may not hook you immediately with its crystalline jazz-funk fusion but by the end of it you would be hard-pressed not to admit they are cooking something savory.  “Terra” is one of two percussion-centric cuts here, this one consisting of a dinner-party Santeria or Candomblé groove; the other, “Ritmo Number One” is a samba freakout and easily the most energetic thing on the album.  “Toledo Bagel” lets Paulinho prove his mettle as a salsero.  “Berimbau Variations” is more than what its title implies. It opens up with an otherworldly swell of notes and features an interesting flute riff in a pretty tightly-composed piece clocking in a three and a half minutes.  The band here are all more than capable but somewhat lifeless and restrained for the material, perhaps due to their California studio habitus they just can’t manage to break out.  Keys player Greg Phillinganes (who has some sweet credits with Roy Ayers, Syreeta, Harvey Mason and others) gets some good runs on the electric piano but doesn’t really cut it playing salsa on the acoustic piano.  Larry Williams (Seawind, Shiela E., Michael Jackson) has a nice solo on “Belisco” but elsewhere his playing tends towards nondescript. Steve Huffsteter (Willie Bobo, Shorty Rogers, Moacir Santos and many more) is under-utilized here in my opinion although he gets to employ his arranging skills to great effect on “Belisco.”  Lee Ritanour is still Lee Ritanour.  Drummer Cláudio Slon is a fine drummer and also played with Paulinho in Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’77 group, so it is kind of surprising that they don’t sound more ‘in the pocket’ here.  I think the issue is the mix:  Cláudio’s drum kit is tucked away under the other instruments, foregrounding Paulinho – it is his session, after all – but I think if they had pushed him forward a few decibels it would have given the tracks more impact.  

All in all this is a strong record.  His Pablo release “Muito Bem!” with Joe Pass gets a “pass” from me in spite of seeming like it might be a promising record.  His second record as a bandleader, “Happy People” (not to be confused with the Brazilian-themed Cannonball Adderley album) is also pretty good.

Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker – The Carnegie Hall Concert Vol. 1 (1975)

Gerry Mulligan & Chet Baker
The Carnegie Hall Concert – Volume 1
CTI Records 1975 (6054 S1)

A1         Line For Lyons     8:17
A2         (Song) For An Unfinished Woman     8:53
B1         My Funny Valentine        8:38
B2         Song For Strayhorn    9:35

Recorded At – Carnegie Hall
Distributed By – Motown Record Corporation
Design – Bob Ciano
Liner Notes – Doug Ramsey
Producer – Creed Taylor
Remix – Rudy Van Gelder
Photography  – Carl Roodman

Bass – Ron Carter (tracks: A1 to B2)
Drums – Harvey Mason (tracks: A1 to B2)
Electric Piano – Bob James (tracks: A1, A2, B2)
Engineer – Dave Hewitt, John Venable
Guitar – John Scofield (tracks: A1 to B1)
Percussion – Dave Samuels (tracks: A2 to B2)
Piano – Bob James (tracks: B1)
Saxophone – Gerry Mulligan (tracks: A1 to B2)
Trumpet – Chet Baker (tracks: A1, B1)
Vibraphone – Dave Samuels (tracks: A1, A2)
Written-By – Gerry Mulligan (tracks: A1, A2, B2), Rodgers & Hart (tracks: B1)

Vinyl -> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply, cork ringmat); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 2496 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; Click Repair light settings; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced (for 16-bit). Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

Two of the giants of West Coast jazz were brought together again for the high profile concert documented here.  While ostensibly given equal billing on the marquee, this is really Mulligan’s show, who wrote all the material here except for My Funny Valentine and whose playing is top-notch throughout.  Gerry Mulligan went through a career comeback of sorts in the early 70s, putting out fantastic records like Age of Steam, while Chet Baker on the other hand, well… was pretty into smack at this point.  He is barely even there on most of this record.  He plays well enough I guess, when he plays at all, but mostly he’s just phoning it in.   Mulligan more than picks up the slack, however, and these guys in the CTI stable are no slouches.  While the band still has the shimmering gloss common to all CTI material, it is refreshing to hear these guys outside of the funk-lite context of majority of those records and know they can play “straight” bop and cool jazz when needed.  Harvey Mason plays with a subtlety I didn’t think he had in him, while Bob James lays down the velvet carpet of electric piano texture you would expect from him.  John Scofield’s performance depends on what you think of John Scofield: he’s never done much for me personally but his presence here is innocuous.  This ‘new’ batch of West Coast session vets may not lend the same immediacy to Mulligan and Baker that they had in their Pacific Jazz heyday, but it’s a satisfying listen nonetheless.  Oddly enough after years and years of owning this LP, I only recently picked up Volume 2 at a local shop, dirt cheap.  It needs to be cleaned and hasn’t even been listened to yet, so I’m not sure if it is in good enough shape to justify a blog post.  But stumbling on it reminded me that I did this needledrop last year, at least.

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Shirley Scott – Blue Seven (1961)

Shirley Scott
BLUE SEVEN
with Oliver Nelson and Joe Newman
1961 Prestige  PR 7376
OJC Reissue OJCCD 1050-2, 2001

1. Blue Seven
2. How Sweet
3. Don’t Worry ‘Bout It Baby, Here I Am
4. Nancy (With The Laughing Face)
5. Wagon Wheels
6. Give Me The Simple Life

Recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on August 22, 1961.

Joe Newman (tp) Oliver Nelson (ts) Shirley Scott (org) George Tucker (b) Roy Brooks (d)

So I was listening to one of James Brown’s early instrumental records from the 60s a few days ago, and it left me wanting to listen to somebody who could actually play the organ.  I ended up reaching for this record, a mellow little number from Shirley Scott.  Usually she played with a leaner ensemble, and this has a nice, fleshed-out sound to it with warm trumpet and sax work from Joe Newman and Oliver Nelson.  Newman’s long muted trumpet solo on Wagon Wheels is an excellent companion on a rainy day like I am having today.  The title track, a Sonny Rollins tune, sets the relaxed blues tone for the rest of the set.  I like Roy Brooks but on this session his touch seems a little indelicate at times: even his hi-hat somehow sounds “heavy” and plodding, even on the ballad Nancy (With The Laughing Face).  On this tune Shirley’s organ sounds so wonderful I feel like I am sitting right next to it watching the tubes glow; it’s redundant to compliment Van Gelder on his recording prowess, but there it is.

A short and sweet blog post for a short and sweet album.

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Charles McPherson – Siku Ya Bibi (Day of the Lady) 1972

 
Charles McPherson
Siku Ya Bibi (Day Of The Lady)


Mainstream Records – MSL 1004, 1972


1         Don’t Explain        
2         Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)        
3         God Bless The Child        
4         Miss Brown To You        
5         Good Morning Heartache        
6         For Heaven’s Sake        
7         I’m A Fool To Want You        
8         Lover Come Back To Me        


    Alto Saxophone – Charles McPherson
    Bass – Sam Jones
    Drums – Leroy Williams
    Guitar – Earl Dunbar
    Piano – Barry Harris


String arrangements by Ernie Wilkins

———————–

This record is a tribute to Billie Holiday, and if it falls a bit short of commemorating her splendor it is really no fault of saxophonist Charles McPherson, a member of Charles Mingus’ ensemble of the time and soon to play on the incredible Charles Tolliver album “Impact.”   There just isn’t any instrument besides the human voice that is capable of emoting at the same level as Lady Day.  And to state the obvious, we’re talking about a very singular voice indeed.  He plays it pretty safe on this record, sometimes overly so, and McPherson is no Lester Young, but it’s still a pleasant and understated homage.

One delight is that the album opens with one of Billie’s own rare compositions, “Don’t Explain.” Some warning bells went off when I first noticed the album has a full string section, seeing as so much instrumental jazz with strings ala Don Sebesky leaves me cold if not actually annoyed.  But Wilkins is up to his task here and gives us more than pop gloss or window dressing, with charts that interact well with the core ensemble, and probably to most stunning effect on this opening cut.  I braced myself for the worst with “God Bless The Child,” as this often-mangled tune is better off left to the original recording for my ears, but McPherson manages to break out of the cliches long enough to even give us a few bars of straight bop.  At the very end of the stately “I’m A Fool To Love You,” the band swings it hard for about thirty seconds before a fade out complete with strings holding their own.  Sam Jones and Barry Harris put in an appearance on this blog a while back on a Sonny Stitt record from this same year, and while they don’t get to shine much here, they do manage to cut loose a little on the two uptempo numbers that close out both sides, “Miss Brown To You” and “Lover Come Back To Me.”  Guitarist Earl Dunbar (any relation to Ted Dunbar? I’m not sure), is kind of a non-entity here and when he takes the occasional solo it’s like he just strolled in from the studio corridor and then fades into the 1970s wallpaper right afterward.  But Barry Harris, who employed McPherson a few times in his own ensemble in the 60s, has  good rapport with the tenor man.  McPherson has a nice way of pushing the melodies up into the soprano range too, without his tone taking on a harsh timbre.   This is not an essential album, but it’s a solid enough one, and seems not to have made it onto compact disc.

Vinyl -> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply, cork ringmat); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 2496 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; Click Repair light settings; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced (for 16-bit). Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag&Rename

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Sonny Stitt – Constellation (1972) Cobblestone Records

Sonny Stitt
Constellation

1972, Cobblestone – CST 9021

A1         Constellation     5:00
A2         Ghost Of A Chance     4:46
A3         Webb City     3:30
A4         By Accident     6:42
B1         Ray’s Idea     3:53
B2         Casbah     5:02
B3         It’s Magic     5:11
B4         Topsy     5:35

    Bass – Sam Jones
Drums – Roy Brooks
Piano – Barry Harris
Tenor and alto saxophone – Sonny Stitt

Vinyl -> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair light settings; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – resampled (and dithered for 16-bit) using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag&Rename.

Ira Gitler’s original liner notes say of this music that it is “aeration for the brain and tonic for the spirit.”  And also that “It is the residual harmonic deposit left in the ear which makes you aware of the contour of the sculpted line.”  Ira should really see a doctor about that.

Glancing at the date and album title of this selection, you might be forgiven for assuming this would be a funky soul jazz date.  Far from it, this is a return to Sonny Stitt’s bop roots when he carried the torch for Charlie Parker, from whose composition the album takes its name.  Stitt had made one previous record for the short-lived Cobblestone imprint, “Tune Up”, which is in the same vein and also very good.  But I prefer this one, perhaps largely due to the interplay between Stitt and drummer Roy Brooks, who has a very melodic approach to his instrument.  Stitt retains Sam Jones (bass) and Barry Harris (piano) from the rhythm section of the previous album, with Brooks replacing Alan Dawson.  He made yet another amazing bop record, The Champ for Muse Records (who took over the Cobblestone catalog), adding Duke Jordan and trumpeter Joe Newman, who provided some lively interplay between the horns that this album lacks. But the lean sound of this quartet is instantly charming and every track is a winner (It’s Magic is kind of drippy, but still good).  While the album revisits works from seminal composers like Bud Powell and Tad Dameron, the one original composition on the album is a revelation.  “By Accident” is the proverbial “song written in a cab on the way to the studio”, sort of – I believe the liner notes refer to it as a nameless composition Stitt had been working on that day when a traffic accident delayed his arrival to the studio.  The longest cut on the record, it allows time for some extended solos.  Interestingly, Brooks doesn’t take a solo on the entire record until trading fours with Sonny on the last track, “Topsy.”

Unlike rock and pop music criticism (which is, alas, mostly “people who can’t write, talking to people who can’t speak, for an audience that can’t read”), jazz music criticism has a lot of writers I respect.  I don’t actually know the work of Samuel Chell (below) however, nor do I agree with his dismissal of pretty much all of Stitt’s 60s work, of soul jazz in general, and the typical musically xenophobic attitude common to many jazz fans.  But if you can put that aside his review of this album for its only CD release, paired with Tune Up! and released only in Europe, is pretty accurate.

Tune Up! + Constellation
Gambit
2007

For the better part of the new milennium these two 1972 dates have been the most sought-after Stitt recordings, bringing premium collector’ prices for the out-of-print single-CD compilation of both sessions, Endgame Brilliance (it’s more economical if not practical to locate the two separate LPs on Cobblestone). Though still not available domestically, this latest compilation can be ordered directly from the Spanish distributor (freshsoundrecords.com), with liner notes (in English) written for this new 2007 edition. These were the recordings that opened the eyes of many critics and jazz followers who didn’t know what some of us apparently did: that Stitt had been Bird and more in the mid to late ’40s—the complete saxophonist, formidable pyrotechnician, master of the vocabulary of bebop on all three horns— and that he was still capable of playing that way if not better. The only thing different about these two sessions is that Stitt decided to stop wallowing in the sounds of the late 1960s and beyond: he stripped his horns of the Selmer Varitone attachment, an electronic gadget that had been disguising his majestic sound; he closed the book on his days as a tenor “soul and funk artist”; he bid farewell to the Hammond B3 organ, his primary source of accompaniment throughout the ’60s. In other words, he simply “got mad,” went into the studio, and played glorious bebop—even using both horns played at different tempos on the same tune (“I Got Rhythm”). Contrary to some views, these two sessions are not Stitt’s “best” recordings, but they’re close enough. Most importantly, they inspired others to keep the faith during the long years of funk and fusion, Motown and disco that were to follow.  – Samuel Chell (allabout jazz dot com)

 

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