Recent Listening: Carey, Mingus, Ellington

CDsIt’s time to catch up with a few of the CDs that make their way into my house from what is often described, puzzlingly, as the dying jazz scene. If jazz is dying, the people recording and distributing all this music haven’t noticed. Hey, at least I got the piles of recordings off the floor. Now they’re in cardboard boxes and a wicker basket crowding one another off the coffee table in the music room, and there’s no room for a coffee cup.

Carey Roads & CodesIan Carey Quintet + 1, Roads & Codes (Kabocha)

Carey writes lines that flow on astringent harmonies. His trumpet and flugelhorn keep the listener’s attention not through volume, velocity and extended sorties into the stratosphere, but with story telling and a burnished tone. Kasey Knudsen, the +1 of the band’s new name, spells Evan Francis on alto saxophone, leaving Francis to concentrate on tenor sax and flute. With the audacity of her conception and sound, Knudsen is a stimulant. The series of blues choruses and phrases that she and Francis exchange on “Nemuri Kyoshirō” is an album high point. The three-horn front line expands Carey’s arranging palette beyond that of his 2010 CD Contextualizin’, allowing richer ensembles and deeper voicings in figures behind soloists. Pianist Adam Shulman, bassist Fred Randolph and drummer Jon Arkin constitute one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s finest rhythm sections. Carey acknowledges that nearly half of his compositions are under the influence of his heroes Charles Ives (“West London”), Igor Stravinksy (“Andante”), John Coltrane (“Count Up”) and Neil Young (“Dead Man [Theme]”). The influences are points of departure for the individualism of Carey’s writing.

Carey is a commercial artist whose graphics company shares the name of his record label, Kabocha. He created the CD’s package. The digipak features comic strip art that wryly describes the frustration in sending yet another album into the flood of new releases. Here is one panel.
Cary Comic panel
I don’t know what it means, either. I’ll take the CD with me on my next trip to New York and see if the music sounds as good there as it does in the west.

Charles Mingus: The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65 (Mosaic)

Mingus MosaicFor half a century, remnants of the electrifying music that Mingus made with his mid-1960s quintet and sextet have shown up in a jumble of LPs, CDs, cassettes and DVDs. The music is sublime, but the quality of reproduction was often abysmal, and many of the recordings quickly became impossible to find. Now, Mosaic, the National Archives of jazz record companies, brings together 38 performances by the bassist and a collection of sidemen that included some whose power and influence were as nearly great as their leader’s.

Four of the discs have trumpeter Johnny Coles, alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy, tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan and the rhythm section of Mingus, pianist Jaki Byard and drummer Dannie Richmond. They present the April 4, 1964 Town Hall concert in New York that preceded the sextet’s European tour and a concert six days later at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. As I wrote in a 2007 Rifftides piece about this band, “Dolphy the incredible flutist (and saxophonist and bass clarinetist) was a primary source of Mingus’s satisfaction, but far from the only one. This was a unit attuned and interlocked, every soloist in his creative prime, the band’s power and responsiveness at a peak.”

The set begins with relative calm, Byard’s stunning solo tribute to Art Tatum and Fats Waller, then a Mingus bass solo on “Sophisticated Lady” before the sextet uncorks its power in “So Long Eric.” The piece was titled in recognition of Dolphy’s plan to stay in Europe at the end of tour. That power, even in theEric Dolphy flute ballads, rarely subsides through nearly four hours of concert performances.

Dolphy (pictured right) did leave the the band at the end of the tour and within weeks was dead in Germany following an episode of diabetic shock. Mingus went into depression. He recovered, and although his career had further periods of distinction through the sixties and seventies, none of his bands, large or small, reached the heights of this sextet.

Nonetheless, the reorganized sextet with trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer and saxophonists Charles McPherson and John Handy in for Coles, Dolphy and Jordan, was formidable by comparison with nearly any other small band of the day. Their performances at the Monterey Jazz Festival and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis are top flight. When Mingus doubles the size of the group at Monterey with the addition of six premier west coast musicians for “Meditations on Integration,” the band reaches a level of excitement that inspires an extended ovation from the festival audience.

Even without its five tracks of previously unissued music, this set would have been important. With them, it is indispensable.

Duke Ellington: Newport 1958 (Mosaic Singles)

Columbia Records’ LP, and its later CD allegedly of Ellington’s ’58 Newport appearance, was a deception. Eight of the ten tracks were not recorded at the festival but later in a studio. Columbia tacked on real Ellington Newport 58introductions from Peabody Park and mixed in festival applause and crowd noise. Such foolery was not uncommon in the ’50s and ‘60s. The results were nearly always obvious. In this case, the music was so good that generations of listeners put up with the fakery. Mosaic reissues the studio tracks identified, unadulterated and with sound improved through remastering. To those eight pieces, plus “Just Scratchin’ the Surface” and “Happy Reunion” they add four other tracks recorded at the festival but never before issued.

So much for the backstory. The late-period Ellington band is in fine shape, sounding happy. There are superior solos by Johnny Hodges, Clark Terry, Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves, Shorty Baker, Ray Nance, Russell Procope, Cat Anderson and Sam Woodyard. This version of “El Gato” has one of the most gripping four-trumpet chase sequences ever recorded, Hodges’ work on “Multicolored Blue” can inspire deep sighs, and the stylistic spoofery in “Jazz Festival Jazz” is great fun. It’s good to have this album cleaned up, expanded and reclaimed.

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