Small Group Jazz Performances: Part III

Small Group Jazz Performances: Part III

Read Part II.  The time period of 1945-1965 contains four distinct stylistic shifts– bebop, cool jazz, hard bop and the free jazz styles that include literally hundreds of noteworthy performances. Choosing prime examples from what has been recorded is always a difficult task, but here are five as we continue in our series of essential recordings in jazz. Timings in the recordings are provided as a guideline for musically interesting passages.

Bud Powell: Tempus Fugit (Mercury/Norgran, 1949)  Bud Powell: piano, Ray Brown, bass: Max Roach: drums.  Recorded January-February 1949, New York, NY.

One of Bud Powell’s most creative, intense, originals follows the 32 bar AABA form he often favored.  A beautiful example of making a grand statement in a brief amount of time, Powell charges immediately out of the gate with a lengthy horn like line, with his left hand providing spiky comping, consisting of an octave played as an open harmony with the use of flatted fifths.  Brown keeps a solid walking line, while Roach interjects explosions between Bud’s lines swinging hard with brushes. The pianist uses repetition at several points which creates an unbelievable tension between his left hand and Roach’s timekeeping. An uncertain passage at 1:32 into the tune confuses Bud into a premature entry into the “B” section, however he realizes he is still in the “A” section and takes the tune out a few measures.  Mistakes aside, Powell’s invention is at its absolute best, in a thrilling, exciting performance.

Sonny Rollins: St. Thomas (Prestige, 1956) Sonny Rollins: tenor saxophone, Tommy Flanagan: piano, Doug Watkins: bass, Max Roach: drums.  Recorded: June 22, 1956 at the Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ. Recording engineer: Rudy Van Gelder, Produced by Bob Weinstock.

Sonny Rollins broke the mold of hard bop, where up tempo originals, bop standards, a blues and a ballad became the norm on many records.  Sonny investigated his Carribbean roots, and employed a calypso rhythm from Max Roach.  While the form is typical of what is found in jazz of that period, the structure of the solos is not.  Rollins deep, rich tone sets the spirit with a melodically rich improvisation behind Roach’s calypso rhythm.  Rollins hands the baton to Roach, taking a lengthy solo, building motifs between the Calypso groove before turning on the snare, branching off into further motivic development.  Tommy Flanagan solos next, and then Rollins returns for a few more choruses with Roach launching into full bore swing time, the calypso rhythm returning at the last “A” of the final theme chorus.  The tune set a precedent for future Rollins calypsos including “Don’t Stop the Carnvival”, “Nice Lady” (released in 2007 on the album of previously unissued live performances Road Shows, Vol. 1, Doxy/Emarcy), many other musicians tried their hand at this style; an undisputed, timeless, classic.

Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet: Joy Spring (Emarcy, 1954) Clifford Brown: trumpet, Harold Land: tenor saxophone, Richie Powell: piano, George Morrow: bass, Max Roach: drums. Recorded: August 6, 1954 at Capitol Studios, Los Angeles, California.

Clifford Brown, the trumpet innovator following Dizzy Gillespie, was a great supernova in the universe who passed away at his peak.  During his brief three year recorded career, “Brownie’s” precise playing set a new precedent for trumpeters to follow along with his clean, drug free life style in a time where drug use was rampant among jazz musicians.  Brown and drummer Max Roach co led an excellent quintet with the wonderful West coast tenor saxophonist Harold Land, Richie Powell on piano (younger brother of Bud) and bassist George Morrow.  “Joy Spring” is an intriguing 32 bar AABA form Brown original, which is required knowledge for serious jazz musicians. Among some of its key features, is a half step modulation in the second “A” section.  What is also worth discussing about this tune is the way it successfully balances the cool jazz aesthetic, with the more aggressive New York sensibility that hard bop offered. It can be heard in Harold Land’s laid back phrasing in his solo, contrasting with a double timed passage at 1:24– additionally  Powell comps in the manner of his brother at 1:32 behind Land as well.  Brown takes a lengthy solo that is a prime example of taste and note choice, with a baroque inspired nod at 2:09.  Brown and Land trade four bar phrases with Roach, leading into a showcase for Roach’s legendary melodic phrase building.

Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker Quartet: Freeway  Gerry Mulligan: baritone saxophone, Chet Baker: trumpet、Bob Whitlock: bass, Chico Hamilton: drums.  Recorded: October 16, 1952 at Gold Star Studios, Los Angeles, CA.

The title of this composition is literal, conjuring the image of a busy California freeway.  Gerry Mulligan, one of the most individual stylists, and soloists on the baritone sax since Duke Ellington’s star, Harry Carney, and trumpeter Chet Baker co-led a pianoless quartet.  The virtue of a pianoless group is that there is much more harmonic freedom; the soloists aren’t as reigned in by blowing over a set of chords that repeat ad infinitum, a sound  exploited quite well by Sonny Rollins in November, 1957 at the Village Vanguard for his classic A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note).  Here, for this composition, the swift melody line sets up Baker for an agile improvisation of his Miles Davis inspired tone, effortlessly reeling off swinging eighth and sixteenth note passages, a reminder of just how good a trumpeter he was.  Baker’s tragic story is well known to jazz fans. His tender vocals and Hollywood good looks popularized him with non jazz audiences, but bouts of serious drug abuse impaired his playing. His addictions culminated in an early 70’s incident where he was mercilessly beaten by drug dealers, who knocked out his teeth, resulting in the trumpeter retraining his embouchure prior to his comeback on CTI Records in 1973. Baker eventually was found dead in the Netherlands in 1988 with drugs found in his system. “Freeway” represents Baker in prime form, with Mulligan providing beautiful counterpoint behind his solo.  Mulligan’s boppish solo features bassist Whitlock deviating from his walking pattern at 2:04, returning to the pedal point he uses during the head of the tune.  Chico Hamilton, the innovative drummer in his own right keeps steady time with brushes throughout, lightly accenting the rhythm with soft bass drum bombs.

Herbie Nichols Trio: House Party Starting Herbie Nichols: piano, Al McKibbon: bass, Max Roach: drums.  Recorded at the Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ on August 1, 1955.  Recording engineer: Rudy Van Gelder, Produced by Alfred Lion.

Blue Note records, a label with countless important contributions to the history of jazz. It’s founder, German immigrant Alfred Lion (who fled Nazi Germany, and founded the label in NY, in 1939) took chances recording talent that no one would have otherwise have touched: pianist Thelonious Monk, organist Jimmy Smith, and tenor saxophonist Tina Brooks, among others.  Herbie Nichols was an enigmatic musician, while his music has been compared to Monk’s because of its angularity; they really aren’t the same thing at all.  Nichols was heavily influenced by 20th century modern composers the likes of Shostakovich and Bartok, and characterized himself more as a composer.  He recorded only four sessions in his lifetime– three for Blue Note and one for the much smaller Bethlehem label, remaining largely unrecognized for music with startling originality.  “House Party Starting” is beautifully representative of  Nichols’ creativity.   A long winding melody gives way to an asymmetric improvisation, with the pianist’s left hand particularly provocative with octave harmonies, and devices that almost foreshadow McCoy Tyner’s comping a few years later.  Max Roach quintessentially swings at a mid tempo boil, with high hat syncopations, and 5 bars of double time beginning at 2:54.  Thankfully Nichols unusual music has received much wider recognition and critical reappraisal over the past 30 years.