Small Group Jazz Performances: Part V

Small Group Jazz Performances: Part V

Read Part IV here 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.

Jimmy Giuffre: Spasmodic (Columbia, 1962) Jimmy Giuffre: clarinet, Paul Bley: piano, Steve Swallow: bass. Recorded: January 7, 1962 At Columbia Studios, NY, NY. Produced by Teo Macero.

Jimmy Giuffre’s previous entry in this series found him exploring West Coast Jazz in a very personal manner with “Scintilla II”, a piece quite fresh and unique in 1956 when hard bop was the stylistic norm of the 1950’s. 1962’s recording Free Fall with bassist Steve Swallow and pianist Paul Bley is important because it’s brought a different grammar to the still expanding free jazz genre pioneered by Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Eric Dolphy. Ornette Coleman’s ground breaking Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1960) explored a double quartet, with thematic material setting up spaces for collective improvisation, though the free jazz vocabulary is still very much in utero on that recording, with blues and bebop solo lines being sprinkled throughout the dissonant melodic material. Coleman, Coltrane and Dolphy had utilized unusual tonalities found in African, and Asian music, still with a connection to the blues, and the intensity of their performances at some level reflected their experiences as African Americans in American society at the time. “Spasmodic” from Giuffre takes on a considerably different complexion, drawing on influences of the 20th century classical movement with techniques that could be found in the music of Stravinsky, Copeland, Ives, Stockhausen and others. Bley’s thought provoking interjections under the clarinetist at 1:25 in the tune sounds unique, very unlike much of what had been going on in jazz prior, and the thrilling three way improvisatory content between clarinet, piano and bass, before the off kilter theme returns, foreshadows the European free improvisation scene in the late 1960’s. The European free improvisation scene had more in common with 20th century avant garde classical music than the blues, and vocabularies that came before it, which were the basis for Coltrane, Coleman, and Dolphy’s free jazz. Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson’s albums Dialogue and Components ( both Blue Note, 1965) the free improvisation “The Egg” from Herbie Hancock’s Emyprean Isles (Blue Note, 1964) also predate European free improv by a few years.

Andrew Hill: Refuge (Blue Note, 1964) Eric Dolphy: alto saxophone, Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone, Kenny Dorham: trumpet, Richard Davis: bass, Tony Williams: drums. Recorded March 21, 1964 at the Van Gelder Studio. Recording engineer: Rudy Van Gelder. Produced by Alfred Lion.

Pianist Andrew Hill’s music brought something vital and unique to the Blue Note stable. The label had always taken chances on talent that offered something unique, in addition to their catalog of genre defining traditional jazz and hard bop albums. Particularly, founders Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff, between the two year period of 1964-66 recorded a series of avant garde jazz records that struck a perfect balance between “inside-outside” playing. In the liner notes to Point of Departure Hill discussed the unusual structure: “it’s built like a blues– two twelve bar sections– but harmonically it’s much different. And the harmony is such that one scale can fit the entire tune so each musician can pick a tonal center for his solo within that scale”. The concept makes for intriguing listening: Eric Dolphy’s entrance is startling, and Joe Henderson’s harmonics playing the notes G and C to open his solo, are just as memorable. The seasoned player or listener can enjoy the vague hints of a blues progression that pop up in the tune from time to time. A great introduction to the multi layered music of Andrew Hill.

Cecil Taylor: Bemsha Swing (Transition, 1956) Cecil Taylor: piano, Buell Neidlinger: bass, Denis Charles: drums. Recorded: September 14, 1956, Boston, MA.

In 1956 Cecil Taylor’s rendition of “Bemsha Swing” a Thelonious Monk composition, must have sounded completely shocking to ears that were used to the more conventional sounds of hard bop on Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside and the West Coast sounds issued by Fantasy, Pacific Jazz and Capitol. Cecil Taylor’s influences range from Bud Powell, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, and while those influences are heard on Jazz Advance, there is so much new going on. While the Neidlinger’s bass walks and Charles comps like Max Roach and Art Blakey, Taylor’s percussive left hand figures at 2:05 sound unlike anything in the jazz piano lexicon up to that time, and Taylor’s signature tone clusters herald what would follow a few short years later. An unforgettable performance.

Booker Little: Moods in Free Time (Candid, 1961) Booker Little: trumpet, Eric Dolphy: alto saxophone, Julian Priester: trombone, Don Friedman: piano, Art Davis, Ron Carter: bass, Max Roach: drums. Recorded at Nola Sound Studios, May 4, 1961.

Booker Little was one of the brightest shining stars in jazz during a brief three year career. Before his death of uremia at the age of 23, Booker was one of the most important post Clifford Brown trumpeters and his warm tone featured prominently on a number of recordings; most famously with Eric Dolphy and Max Roach. Moods in Free Time is haunting with the combination of alto sax, trumpet and trombone creating a dark hue. The theme is stated in 3/4 time, but for the solos. Over a rubato foundation Booker trumpets his mournful intonation behind an ominous 2 note horn figure. Both Little and Dolphy’s solos (the latter entering with a chilling tremolo shake) are rife with the emotional turmoil felt by black Americans during the burgeoning civil rights movement. An eight bar drum solo by Roach at 4:32 brings the listener a taste of familiar bop vocabulary after the free time and bent tonalities of the improvisations. The tune briefly goes into 4/4 swing, a series of unison cymbal splashes by Roach bring the band to close the tune in 3/4 as it began. Little was part of the ensemble for Roach’s important artistic and social statement We Insist (Candid, 1960) and also in the trumpet section alongside Freddie Hubbard for John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass (Impulse! , 1961).

Eric Dolphy: Out To Lunch (Blue Note, 1964) Eric Dolphy: alto saxophone, flute, bass clarinet, Freddie Hubbard: trumpet, Bobby Hutcherson: vibraphone, Richard Davis: bass, Tony Williams: drums. Recorded February 25, 1964 at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Recording engineer: Rudy Van Gelder. Produced by Alfred Lion.

Dolphy sums up the angular, unusual title tune: “This is a recurring figure around an improvised chorus. This figure in 5/4, sets up the rhythm section with a definite solo feeling. In the improvised sections, the rhythms overlap. The bass follows no bar line at all. Notice Tony. He doesn’t play time, he plays. Even though the rhythm section breaks the time up, there’s a basic pulse coming from inside the tune. That’s the pulse the musicians have to play.” An 18 year old Tony Williams, plays some provocative rhythms all through the piece, notice as Hubbard begins his solo, Williams is playing a shuffle rhythm. The drummer seamlessly transitions quickly into swing time with many other cool rhythmic asides, including a straight eighth feel. On the entire album, not just the title track, rhythm and meter are looked at in such a startling manner; the varying feels come as a complete surprise, revealing new facets during each listening. A recent reissue from Blue Note in Japan adds further depth to the session adding two previously unissued alternates. The music on this album like that of Giuffre’s Free Fall is also a harbinger of the European free improv movement.