CDs: Bley And Silver

While probing the mysteries of the Macintosh universe and meeting with frustrations, roadblocks and delights (man, this thing is FAST), I have continued to listen. Here are impressions of two of the CDs that have kept me company during my slam-bang self-tutorial and late-night iMac school. 


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Carla Bley And Her Remarkable Big Band: Appearing Nightly (Watt/ECM). Somehow, this album got by me when it came out in late summer. Since it arrived a few days ago, I’ve listened to it repeatedly, chuckling, occasionally laughing out loud and shaking my head at Bley’s ingenuity and the skill and good humor of her soloists. It had been too long since my last Carla Bley fix.  
Briefly, then, the premise of these pieces seems to be that nostalgia is what it used to be, only more fun. The title composition, “Appearing Nightly at the Black Orchid,” was a commission from the 2005 Monterey Jazz Festival. It begins with Bley unaccompanied at the piano. She synthesizes a set that she might have played at the Monterey bar where she worked as a teenaged cocktail pianist in the 1950s. In one minute and twenty-seven seconds, she melds into a coherent whole, phrases from “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “My Foolish Heart,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Night and Day,” “Here’s That Rainy Day,” “Stella By Starlight” and “Sweet and Lovely.” Then the suite begins. Whether or not it fufills the CD booklet’s tongue-in-cheek claim that it is “A Carla Bley Masterpiece in Four Parts,” it is serious jazz orchestration at a high level. The leader’s usual array of superior soloists has a field day with it. 
Bley was commissioned by a band on the Italian island of Sardinia to write the CD’s first two pieces, “Greasy Gravy” and “Awful Coffee,” around the theme of food. There are plenty of allusions to support the proposition…”Salt Peanuts,” “Watermelon Man,” “Tea for Two,” “You’re the Cream in My Coffee, ” “Chopsticks,” “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” and “Hey, Pete, Let’s Eat Mo’ Meat.” Bley’s “Someone to Watch,” also loaded with quotes, and Ray Noble’s “I Hadn’t Anyone ‘Til You” wrap up the album. The recording took place before an audience at a night club in Paris, so, naturally, Bley felt obligated to work in an orchestrated quote from “April in Paris.” 
Lest I leave you with the impression that the CD is a variety of musical vaudeville, I assure you that there is a master arranger at work here. For all the fun and games, Bley’s canny use of voicings often makes thirteen horns sound like at least four more. She builds dramatic contrast between the horn sections one moment and achieves tight integration among them the next. There is a surprise of one kind or another around nearly every corner.
Bley’s settings for soloists inspire their creativity and swing. Trumpeter Lew Soloff, trombonist Gary Valente, drummer Billy Drummond and saxophonists Andy Sheppard, Wolfgang Puschnig and Julian Arguelles stand out. Steve Swallow drives the band and provides much of its texture and color. Playing electric bass, he retains the sound, soul and propulsiveness he had on the acoustic instrument he left behind decades ago, while gaining a guitar-like fluency in the upper register. He is a remarkable musician. 
I don’t know whether this CD is a masterpiece. I do know that it’s an hour of superbly written and performed music that can lift spirits. 

Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers (Blue Note). Horace Silver made a stir with Stan

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Getz and with his own trio album in the first half of the 1950s. But this is the set that sent him into the consciousness of listeners around the world when it was released in 1955. Silver’s infectious piano playing, the brilliance and directness of his compositions and the chemistry of the quintet he co-led with drummer Art Blakey propelled him into a successful career that has lasted more than half a century. 
The album is one of the pillars of the hard bop movement and a de riguer item in any halfway serious collection. Trumpeter Kenny Dorham and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, iconic soloists, constituted one of the great horn partnerships of the fifties; Silver, Blakey and bassist Doug Watkins a rhythm section that inspired musicians everywhere. Silver’s eight compositions, including “The Preacher,” “Doodlin’,” “Creepin’ In,” and “Room 608,” are classics, basic repertoire items for serious jazz players and listeners. If you are one of the thousands of travelers stranded by the Northern Hemisphere’s dreadful holiday weather, I wish you the good luck of having Horace Silver and Jazz Messengers on your iPod.
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Comments

  1. Alan Reische says

    The Silver album is classic. Dorham and Mobley were an incomparable front line. In fact, Mobley (IMO anyway) ranks up there with any of the pre-Coltrane hard bop tenors. He had a distinctive tone, full, almost smokey, and great harmonic and rhythmic sense.
    I read somewhere (don’t remember where) that he was subjected to increasing ridicule when many reed players developed an almost-fanatical dedication to modal harmony following A Love Supreme, to the point where he once left the bandstand in tears. After that, his playing changed substantially – and not for the better.
    Still, if you want to hear him in his prime, listen to his first 16 bars or so on “Everything Happens To Me” with Donald Byrd on “Byrd’s Eye View”, an early Transition session now widely available again.
    There’s some interesting biographical material here:
    http://www.starpulse.com/Music/Mobley,_Hank/Biography/