The Reluctant Lister: A Confession

At this time of year, those who write about music, books, plays, motion pictures, sporting events, chili cookoffs, hog-calling contests and—for all I know—goldfish breeding, are expected to compile lists of the year's best. I have been complicit in this questionable activity, but I've been trying to quit. In the case of jazz recordings, the notion is absurd that anyone can name the best. You could listen for 12 months during all of your waking hours and not hear, much less evaluate, a … [Read more...]

Other Places: Preservation Haul

Oregon Music News has a line on its masthead listing the categories the online publication covers: CLASSICAL, JAZZ/BLUES, ROCK/ROOTS, ACOUSTIC, INDIE, DJ/ELECTRO, SOUL/HIP-HOP, MELTING POT, FAMILY, MUSICALS I don't spend much time with two-thirds of those genres and although I found it enlightening to rummage through the OMN sections about them, I doubt that I will be delving deeply into, say, DJ/Electro. I'm glad it's there for those who need it. The current lead story in the jazz section is … [Read more...]

Billy Taylor, 1921-2010

Billy Taylor, a pianist who became a television and radio spokesman for jazz and made the music familiar to millions, died last night in a New York City hospital after suffering heart failure at home. He was 89. In his work on National Public Radio and CBS-TV's Sunday Morning, Taylor's playing and relaxed explanations dispelled for many listeners and viewers the notion that jazz was remote, impenetrable and difficult. He earned a doctorate in music in 1975 and chose to be called Dr. Taylor, a … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Ciccolini Plays Satie

Many Rifftides readers may be familiar with Erik Satie's "Gymnopédie No. 1" because performers including Jessica Williams, Jacques Loussier, Ximo Tébar and Herbie Mann with Bill Evans have recorded jazz or near-jazz versions of that classic of French music. It has not become a jazz standard, but it has assumed a modest place in the repertoire. For those who have not heard the piece as Satie wrote it in 1888, here it is, played by the eminent Satie interpreter Aldo Ciccolini. The performance is … [Read more...]

A Sad Note: Jack Tracy Is Gone

Jack Tracy died on Tuesday, December 21. He was 84. Jack was editor of DownBeat magazine in the 1950s and went on to a second career producing fine jazz recordings. He was a frequent Rifftides commenter. We shall miss his knowledge, pointed observations, humor and friendship. … [Read more...]

CD: Alan Broadbent

Alan Broadbent Trio Live At Giannelli Square: Volume 1 (Chilly Bin). No outer space explorer, Broadbent finds in the song form all that he needs for freedom earned through discipline. The technique he has intensified in recent years is evident in the precision and relaxation of his counterpoint in "Lullaby of the Leaves," stunning parallel constructions, speed and independence of hands in "Solar" and in dozens of other demonstrations of his skill. Broadbent's music, however, is not about chops. … [Read more...]

CD: Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green

Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green, Apex (Pi). Mahanthappa, aged 39, is one of the most visible alto saxophonists of the 21st century; Green, aged 75 one of the least. As a result of this album, Green is gaining the prominence he might have achieved in the 1960s had he not left Charles Mingus for academia. Among the saxophonists he influenced through recordings was Mahanthappa. Together, they are formidable kindred spirits. Throughout, but notably on "Summit" and "Playing with Stones," their … [Read more...]

CD: Harold Danko, Dick Oatts, Rich Perry

Harold Danko, Oatts & Perry II (SteepleChase). Pianist Danko was a colleague of alto saxophonist Dick Oatts and tenor saxophonist Rich Perry in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band and never got over them—with good reason. This successor album to Oats & Perry (2006) again teams the three with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Jeff Hirshfield. It reemphasizes the reasons that Oatts and Perry are admired among musicians and serious listeners for their inventiveness, passion and tonal qualities. … [Read more...]

DVD: Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck, Brubeck Returns to Moscow (Koch Vision). This 2005 film about Brubeck's 1997 visit to Russia for a performance of his mass To Hope is a beautifully crafted documentary. It incorporates Brubeck's quartet with a symphony orchestra and chorus performing the mass and a rousing "Blue Rondo ala Turk." We see Brubeck's informal encounters with the Russians, including a spirited impromptu duet with a young violinist, and conductor Russell Gloyd amusingly overcoming the language difference … [Read more...]

Book: Laurie Verchomin On Bill Evans

Laurie Verchomin, The Big Love: Life & Death With Bill Evans (Verchomin). The "Laurie" of the pianist's song by that name spares nothing in her account of their romance or of the drug use that hastened Evans' death at 51. Love between the pianist and the young woman flared in the year-and-a-half before Evans died in late 1980. Her book is the story of the life-affirming brilliance of his music in the final months, a man resigned to the inevitability of his early mortality and the devotion of the … [Read more...]

New Picks, Delayed But Worth The Wait

A flurry of deadlines for other projects meant that it took a while to get the new batch of recommendations ready, but they are posted. In the center column under the legend Doug's Picks you will find suggestions of CDs by pianists and saxophonists, a DVD documentary about a momentous event in Moscow and a book about the last days and last love of Bill Evans. … [Read more...]

Christmas CDs: Matt Wilson, Matassa/Anderson

The other day a man who acted on last year's Rifftides recommendation of Carla Bley's Carla's Christmas Carols let me know that he was disappointed in the album. Indeed, he was offended by it. In the review, I described the "tenderness, wit, harmonic brilliance, wide dynamic range and wry sense of nostalgia" in Bley's arrangements of traditional holiday songs. My friend said that he likes his Christmas songs straight, without "all those minors." I refrained from a discussion of the importance of … [Read more...]

Correspondence, With Music: Moody Concerned

The Norwegian pianist, composer and bandleader Per Husby writes: I'd like to share a little remembrance of mine of James Moody - from Oslo, Norway somewhere around 1990: I had been playing piano with Moody on some gigs at the Molde jazz festival in 1979, and had met him sporadically here and there after that. On this occasion in 1990 he had done a gig in Oslo with a Swedish rhythm section - and Moody had played fantastically as usual. I spoke to him in the interval, and he enthusiastically … [Read more...]

Clark Terry Is 90

Today is Clark Terry's 90th birthday. Admired for his trumpet, flugelhorn, singing and blues mumbling, Terry has been an idol of trumpet players since the teenaged Miles Davis took him for a role model in St. Louis in the 1940s. From his days with Charlie Barnet, Count Basie and Duke Ellington through his national prominence in the Tonight Show band and his long career as a leader and soloist, CT has been an inspiration to generations of musicians. It is a rare set in which Terry doesn't include … [Read more...]

Correspondence, Illustrated: Leap Frog II

Jeremiah McDonald writes: Years ago you featured my Jazz Dispute video on your blog, and I just wanted to let you know that I recently a second version for the French theater that I now work for. It's the same recording of "Leap Frog," but performed a little differently... Yes, a little differently. The music was by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Curley Russell and Buddy Rich, recorded June 6, 1950. Thanks to Mr. McDonald for the alert to his new version. To see his original … [Read more...]

How Moody Became Famous

I thought that we had come to the end of the current Rifftides series of James Moody entries until I heard from a reader who wondered why she had never heard Moody's "I'm in the Mood for Love." That is a puzzle, given the record's ubiquity, but if even one person has the pleasure of hearing it for the first time, how can we refuse? Here is Moody's 1949 recording with the Swedish All-Stars, followed by King Pleasure (Clarence Beeks) in 1952 singing Eddie Jefferson's lyric set to Moody's solo. … [Read more...]

James Moody, 1925-2010

We knew it was coming. That doesn't make it easier. James Moody died this afternoon of the pancreatic cancer he had known about for nearly a year but did not make public until November. He was 85. Moody was in hospice in San Diego, his hometown for many years. His wife Linda was by his side, as she was almost every moment since they met. Moody became famous for his solo on "I'm In The Mood For Love," a record he made when he was 24. His friend Eddie Jefferson put a lyric to it and it became … [Read more...]

Don’t Let It Bother You

Extracurricular assignments will keep me busy for a while. The Rifftides staff will supply items to inform or entertain you. There's not much information in this one, but it may lift your spirits if, say, snow collapsed your roof or Julian Assange leaked one of your cables. Fats Waller in 1934 with Gene Sedric, tenor saxophone; Herman Autrey, trumpet; Harry Dial, drums; Billy Taylor, Sr., bass. I've always been impressed with Autrey's ability to insert lovely little obligato licks among phrases … [Read more...]

Take 90: Brubeck At The Blackhawk

Dave Brubeck is spending his 90th birthday in the midst of his sizeable family and many close friends. Chances are that they will take time out to watch the documentary about his life. As they reminisce, it's almost certain that Dave will tell a Blackhawk story or two. The club in San Francisco's Tenderloin district was his quartet's headquarters for years before and after they became famous. It was the location of a pilot for a television series that never get off the ground. Mort Sahl, a … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: “Blue In Green” In Blue And Green

Someone went overboard matching the color scheme of this video to the name of the tune, and the sound is distorted, but here is an exquisite 1962 version of "Blue in Green" by Bill Evans with Chuck Israels and Paul Motian. Be patient while the YouTube poster gets his commercial out of the way. There was a time when the big three television networks had programs that presented music of quality. CBS-TV's Camera 3, the original source of this clip, went out of business in 1980. Thanks to Evans … [Read more...]

The New Brubeck Documentary

Dave Brubeck is getting a lot of attention. With his 90th birthday three days away, he is the subject of performance reviews, articles and editorials in dozens of newspapers from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times and Britain's Guardian. His music is being played over the air to a degree unprecedented since the early 1960s, when "Take Five" was a popular hit. On National Public Radio, Terry Gross replays her 1999 Fresh Air interview with Brubeck. Viewers of … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Randy Weston, McNeil/McHenry Quartet

Randy Weston, The Storyteller (Motéma). This is the latest chapter in the 84-year-old pianist's long-running love story about Africa. Weston's African Rhythms Sextet includes the great trombonist Benny Powell in one of his last recordings, alto saxophonist T.K. Blue, bassist Alex Blake, drummer Lewis Nash and conga specialist Neil Clarke. He made the album almost exactly a year ago in performance at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola in New York. With the rhythm section generating heat near combustion … [Read more...]

Dave Brubeck At 90: Was He Cool Or What?

With Dave Brubeck's 90th birthday five days away, anticipation of the event is materializing in news stories, interviews, radio airplay, web tributes and accolades from colleagues and admirers. Marc Myers' piece in The Wall Street Journal includes this paragraph: Clean living, a happy marriage and global popularity have made Mr. Brubeck a media darling--and a target of envy. "Even in the '50s I'd hear critics and musicians say, 'Oh, Brubeck, he's different'--meaning separate from the rest," Mr. … [Read more...]