Rifftides has been unable to post for many days because of computer problems. Its proprietor, Doug Ramsey, has asked us to assure Rifftides readers that the blog will resume as soon as difficulties are resolved.
Sometimes it takes a while to catch up. Case in point: Carla Bley’s, Andy Sheppard’s and Steve Swallow’s Life Goes On. ECM released the album on Valentine’s Day. But the Rifftides staff (blame me) somehow managed to overlook what would ordinarily have been a quick and enthusiastic response to a nifty album. Swallow is all but certifiably one of the leading bassists alive, Bley has been at the apex of jazz composition and arranging for much of her life, and the British tenor saxophonist Sheppard is one of the most hamonically gifted of contemporary soloists. The album’s title blues is as comforting and reassuring as its name.
Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow and Carla Bley together in a splendid trio album that we should have called to your attention six months ago.
Several Rifftides readers have expressed concern that this blog has appeared infrequently of late and asked if the staff are all right.
We are fine. Thank you for asking.
Back to business: John Scofield brings together a pair longtime colleagues for a new collection reminding us that his range and flexibility are among the greatest of any guitarist. With drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Steve Swallow (Swallow, left, and Scofield pictured) the repertoire of Scofield’s new all-star trio draws on several admired Swallow compositions. They Â include some of his best-known pieces, among them “Hullo Bolinas,” which long ago became a jazz standard. It is good to hear Swallow’s classic in this new configuration.
If you’re wondering about Bolinas, it’s a small place on the northern California coast not far from Mill Valley, one of my favorite former hometowns.
Rifftides will be back. Soon, we hope.
Michelle Lordi,’sÂ Break Up With The Sound Â (Cabinet Of Wonder) runs an eclectic course from HankÂ Williams’s heart-tugging country classic “I’m So Lonesome” to songs by Ms. Lordi herself, Â plus pieces by Cole Porter and members of The Beatles. It is popular, mostly American, music that maintains C&W earnestness without sliding into the heart-on-the-sleeve sentimentaility that constricts so many of today’s mainstream country performances. Lebowsky and Newman’s “The Wayward Wind” kept Gogi Grant at the top of the charts half a century ago. Tex Ritter then made his country version nearly as big a hit as Grant’s. The band that backs Lordi includes enervating, often gritty, tenor saxophone solos by Donny McCaslin, the penetrating, atmospheric, guitar work of Tim Motzer, brilliant drumming by Rudy Royston and the muscular bass work of Lordi’s fellow Philadelphian Matthew Parish.
To come: Further recent listening in brief.
Comments from readers are always welcome on Rifftides.
Every Memorial Day, I think of someone who became a friend under demanding circumstances. Some years, I share that thought with Rifftides readers.
First posted May 30, 2011
There is someone I think of every Memorial Day, and many other days. Cornelius Ram and I were among a collection of young men who accepted the United States Marine Corpsâ€™ bet that we werenâ€™t tough or smart enough to wrestle commissions from it. It quickly became apparent to everyone, including the drill instructors charged with pounding us into the shape of Marines, that Corky Ram would have no problem. He was a standout in the grueling weeks of officer candidate competition and then in the months of physical and mental rigor designed to make us worthy of those little gold bars on the collars of our fatigues. After high school in Jersey City, New Jersey, he served a hitch as a Navy enlisted man, and then got a college degree before he chose the Corps. He was two or three years older than most of us, and a natural leader. He could tell when the pressure was about to cave a green lieutenant exhausted from a 20-mile forced march with full field pack or demoralized after a classroom test he was sure he had flunked. Corky knew how to use encouragement or cajolery to restore flagging determination. He helped a lot of us make it through. The picture on the right is how I remember him from that period.
Unlike most of us who served our few years and got out, Corky made the Marine Corps his career. He served two tours in Viet Nam. Here is the official 5th Marinesâ€™ Command Chronology of what happened to him and another officer on his second tour in January of 1971, as the war was slogging to its demoralizing conclusion:
â€œOn 10 January Major Ram (2/5 XO) and Captain Ford (E Co., CO), while attempting to aid two wounded Marines, were killed by a 60mm surprise firing device.â€
Thereâ€™s a bit more to the story. Major Ram, Executive Officer of 2/5 Marines, and Captain Ford (of Glen Rock, NJ), Commanding Officer of Echo Company, were overhead in a command helicopter when they spotted the wounded Marines in the open and in the path of oncoming enemy troops. The helicopter pilot, convinced that the open area was mined, refused to land in the vicinity of the wounded Marines and instead put down at a distance. Major Ram and Captain Ford exited the helicopter and began to cross the open area toward the wounded men. The pilot was right â€“ the area was mined, and both Major Ram and Captain Ford died as a result. At least one of the two wounded Marines survived; he visited the Ram family several years later and described the circumstances.
Corky Ram was one of 13,085 Marines who died in hostile action in Viet Nam. I knew others, but he was the one I knew best. More than once, I have stood gazing at his name on the wall at the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, DC. When Memorial Day comes around, he symbolizes for me the American service men and women who have died in the nationâ€™s wars. What we and all of the free world owe them is beyond calculation.
Some time ago, I wrote on Rifftides, “The Czech Frantisek UhliÅ™ is one of the greatest bassists in the world. He works frequently in the trio of his countryman pianist Emil Viklicky, another great European player about whom most Americans know little. I just ran across a brief note I made when I was in Prague twelve years ago (now, more like 25 years ago), helping American economists teach market economics to Czech journalists newly released from communism.”
June 10, 1993: Went to Agartha last night to hear Frantisek Uhlir, the wonderful bassist. Earlier in the day one of his fans told me he is better than George Mraz. Maybe, maybe not, but he is superb, world class. Uhlir is a short, powerful, chubby man with a pleasant round face. His tone is round, too, and centered, and he is fast, agile and swinging.
There is nothing about UhliÅ™’s new album, Story of my life, to alter that assessment. Leading his septet, he is as powerful as when I first heard him in Prague with Viklicky at the storied club called Agartha. In a recent video, we are treated to UhliÅ™ leading his seven-piece ensemble at another fine Prague club, Reduta. At the end of the long clip, we’ll give you the names of the players.
FrantiÅ¡ek TomÅ¡ÃÄek, trumpet; PÅ™emek TomÅ¡ÃÄek, trombone; Andy Schofield, alto saxophone (UK); Suzanne Higins, tenor saxophone (UK); Standa MÃ¡cha, piano; Marek UrbÃ¡nek, drums; Frantisek UhliÅ™, bassist and leader.
Mosaic Records reports that the first release of Paul Desmond–The Complete 1975 Toronto Recordings has sold out. The seven-CD set features the former Dave Brueck Quartet alto saxophonist Â with his prized Canadian rhythm section of guitarist Ed Bickert, bassist Don Thompson and drummer Jerry Fuller. Mosaic’s Michael Cuscuna says that he expects the next batch of pressings to be available by the end of May.
When after 17 years together the Brubeck Quartet disbanded, Desmond vacationed in the Caribbean, then retired to enjoy New York City, his home since, and long before, the Brubeck group disbanded. A notable exception was when he teamed with Bickert, Thompson and Fuller for a bit of touring that included engagements at Bourbon Street, the Toronto club whose congenial atmosphere was perfect for Desmond’s relaxed approach and the ingenious variations he lavished on standard songs and original compositions including his own “Take Five” and “Wendy.” Bassist Thompson applied his audio engineering skills to recording the group at Bourbon Street. As I mention in the album notes, Desmond accepted the Canterino family’s offer to play at the Half Note in New York Â because, as he put it, the club was so near his apartment that he could practically fall out of bed and onto the bandstand. Toronto wasn’t so conveniently nearby, but he loved playing Bourbon Street. From an earlier release of some of the tracks, here are Desmond, Bickert, Thompson and Fuller with “Wendy.”
When the seven CDs of the Mosaic Bourbon Street set are again available, they will be found at:Â http://www.mosaicrecords.com/prodinfo.asp?number=269-MD-CD. It’s good to have them back.
Matthew Shipp: The Piano Equation (Tao Forms)
The dictionary defines equation as “the act of making equal.” In his engrossing new solo album, pianist Matthew Shipp creates eleven new pieces of music in which the equality of his powerful hands is important to the venture’s success, but not as important as the fertile imagination that guides his music-making.Â For the past three decades, Shipp has been a formidable collaborator on recordings with Joe McPhee, Whit Dickey, Marshall Allen, David S. Ware, Michael Bisio and other prominent members of the jazz avant garde. In his new album for a new label, Shipp goes it alone. Collaboration is only between the hands that he long ago disciplined to be independent and mutually supportive.
Tao Forms Records seem not to have issued video of Shipp playing music from his new album, but we located a prime example of his exploration of the chordal and rhythmic possibilities that Jerome Kern embedded in his 1933 classic “Yesterdays.” The Michiko Rehearsal Studios in New York captured the performance last fall.
In his sixtieth year, the former enfant terible of the far-out demonstrates no diminishment of his formidable technique, assimilation of the styles of several jazz eras, or of his often-rambunctious creativity. Which of the notes in Shipp’s “Swing Note from Deep Space” is the one the title refers to? It could be the high b-natural that gives the piece its unexpected ending, or one of the multitude of notes that preceeds it. The songs’ titles, for instance “Radio Signals Equation” and “Cosmic Juice,” may offer clues to the content of the music. But, as always with Shipp, his unreeling of the improvisation is where the stoies lie. This collection of unaccompanied performances portrays Shipp in all of his kaleidoscopic variety.
Lee Konitz died today in a New York City hospital. He was 92. Known primarily for the individualism of his Â alto saxophone work, Konitz in his later years also played soprano saxophone. Using aspects of phrasing, rhythm and tonal quality adapted from the great tenor saxophonist Lester Young, Konitz in the 1940s developed into one of the most distinctive soloists in jazz. His mid-forties recordings with pianist and composer Lennie Tristano influenced dozens of musicians who wanted to develop apart from the pervasive bebop influence of another giant alto saxophonist, Charlie Parker. Among them was Paul Desmond, who himself became one of the music’s great individualists. Here is Konitz with Tristano and tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh in one of their most celebrated recordings.
Lee Konitz, RIP
Perhaps a good way to buoy spirits in this dispiriting time is to call your attention to music that gives the Rifftides staff a lift…in hopes that it may do the same for you. Pianist and composer Ethan Iverson’s recent collectionÂ Common Practice has moments that are helpful in that regard. Iverson put together a quartet that includes himself, bassist Ben Street, drummer Eric McPherson, and Â guest artist Tom Harrell at a peak of imagination and inventiveness that is stunning even by that remarkable trumpeter’s high standards. Here they are, playing George and Ira Gershwin’s imperishable classic “The Man I Love.”
Ethan Iverson, from his albumÂ Common Practice, featuring tumpeter Tom Harrell in live performance with the quartet. In addition to the delights of a handful of standards and jazz classics including “Wee,” “I Remember You,” and “Sentimental Journey,” Iverson and company offer a pair of his witty original blues.
Jim Wilke sent us a weekend listening tip, illustrated: