Monday, April 17, 2023

Nat Hentoff on Ahmad Jamal | RIP Ahmad Jamal (1930-2023)

Nat Hentoff Original Liner Notes: Ahmad Jamal's The Legendary Okeh & Epic Sessions,1951-55

A few years ago Miles Davis, Ahmad Jamal's most influential champion, reacted indignantly to my mumbled opinion that Ahmad Jamal was "mainly a cocktail pianist." Miles who had brought all the records Ahmad had made up to that time, began playing them, pointing out to this skeptical listener those elements of Jamal's playing that so intrigued him and that have since helped make Jamal a major force in the jazz record market and an increasingly powerful lure in personal appearances.

"Listen," Miles said then and later in an interview for The Jazz Review, "to the way Jamal uses space. He lets it go so that you can feel the rhythm section and the rhythm section can feel you. It's not crowded.

Ahmad Jamal Live 1999 | RIP Ahmad Jamal (1930-2023)

Photo © Daniel Sheehan. Source.
Let's start with an enlightening fact: do you know what ahmad jamal means? Obviously it is an Arabic name (long ago, in Pittsburgh, he was Fritz Russell Jones), but not just any name. Ahmad means highly praised "implying one who constantly thanks God" and jamal means beauty; In brief, Highly Praised Beauty. That is indeed the music of brother Ahmad Jamal.

You probably know that the new Ahmad Jamal album, Saturday Morning, is out. It's been described by Ahmad's website as an album "following on from Blue Moon...made up of the kind of ballads to which only he holds the key. Each one is a moment of grace, shining like a star in the sky of American Classical Music...with his light-fingered but rhythmic style, he sends us into a sensuous trance and leads us to a musical climax: a sound, which is pure groove." The album can be purchased here.

For this post, I have a 45 minute long video of an Ahmad Jamal concert to show you.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Duke Ellington in Isfahan

A shot from Duke Ellington in Isfahan

Duke Ellington in Isfahan is a short film that the author of this blog (Ehsan Khoshbakht) made in 2018 and slightly reworked in 2021 for festival release. Featuring jazz historian and musician Alyn Shipton, it's an archive-based documentary.

This short documentary by the Iranian filmmaker, writer and archivist Ehsan Khoshbakht tells the story of Duke Ellington's concert tour of the Middle East in 1963 and the development of one of the most beautiful jazz standards.  

The legendary composer and bandleader was seen as the ideal cultural ambassador for the United States at the height of the Cold War, when President Eisenhower's desired perception of the US as a moral force for good in the world was being undermined by an awareness of its treatment of African-Americans. 

Arriving in Iran with his band, Ellington was inspired by the historical city of Isfahan and especially its architectural riches. It would give its name to one of the pianist's most enduring compositions, and the tour as a whole helped to shape a Grammy Award-winning album, Far East Suite, which showed how much Ellington had absorbed from the sounds of his travels. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Chick Corea Quartet plays That Old Feeling

Chick Corea. Photo source.

RIP Armando Anthony "Chick" Corea (1941-2021)

The July 1992 German tour of Chick Corea and Friends was the concert series of which I've already posted one here. This video, also from the Stuttgart concert, features Bob Berg on tenor saxophone, Eddie Gomez on bass and Steve Gadd on drums, going through That (same) Old Feeling:

Chick Corea and Friends in Stuttgart, 1992

RIP Armando Anthony "Chick" Corea (1941-2021)

July 1992. Chick Corea plays a series of concerts in Germany with his quartet featuring Bob Berg (tenor saxophone), Eddie Gomez (bass), and Steve Gadd (drums). The video I'd draw your attention to is from the Stuttgart stop of the tour. The band plays Waltz for Dave, written for Dave Brubeck, first recorded for the 1978 LP, Friends, with a band whose line-up was almost identical to this touring band in Germany (all except tenor player who, in the original record, was Joe Farrell).

More than a week after this performance, there's another TV footage of the song circulating online, this from Philharmonie Am Gasteig, Munich, which you can view here. 🔺

Monday, November 23, 2020

Record Review: The Invisible Child by Andrea Marcelli (2019)

The Invisible Child, an album of unreleased and live recordings by Italian jazz drummer Andrea Marcelli arrived at the right moment: listened to during the second lockdown, it's an album about spaces and distances, about solitude and togetherness.

Distances, a track in the album, offers some explanation, both in the choice of title and the story it tells of our lives during the time of physical distancing. It acknowledges the gloom but remains hopeful, moves forward and adds colour to the grey moments.

The "invisible child" in Marcelli hasn't ceased to wonder since he became the first Italian to record a solo album for the Verve back in 1989. (The resulted LP, Silent Will, featuring Wayne Shorter, was successful enough to lead to a second recording and Marcelli's subsequent move to the US where he lived for 12 years before moving back to Europe and this time settling in Berlin.) The album covers the last two decades of his musical life, confirming that it has been worthwhile in every sense.

The majority of compositions are by Marcelli or written in collaboration with his band-mates. Yet, those which are not his (Bach, Verdi and Duke Ellington) should tell as much about Marcelli as the originals.

In spite of a certain air of solitude that the album established with its opening track, the elegantly melancholic Siciliano in which Marcelli plays a lilting clarinet, the album is a victory against "distances" in its internationalist nature as musicians of at least seven different nationalities are involved.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Record Review: Pictures in Sounds by Ekkehard Wölk Trio (2020)

An album of jazz compositions performed by the Berlin-based Ekkehard Wölk Trio, Pictures in Sounds is played like a collection of short stories told in the language of music in which the 17th century Italian minstrels are followed by the 19th century American drifters, each song depicting a scene in the history of western culture.

Ekkehard Wölk's musical adventures take him to places. At the end he returns where he has started first. Home? Maybe. It's a place only he knows. No wonder the opening track is called Circulus Vitiosus which is a piece in Thelonious Monk's spirit: spiral and downward whose bipolar bop sounds emotionally restrained. Nonetheless, like the best of Monk, repetition leads to a liberation of emotions.

Recorded in May 2019, Wölk brings together thirteen of his composition from the past two decades, tunes which explain and define where he is standing now, musically and artistically. The album is also a documentation of search for new possibilities in improvisation. It draws influences from literary sources; searches the vast heritage of fine arts and even includes the seventh art which the album's composer passionately loves. (Wölk  lives a parallel life as a silent film accompanist and has acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of German and American cinemas.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Stars of Bethlehem: A Pictorial Discography of the 1000 Series

The birth of Bethlehem Records is one of those rather inexplicable moments in the history of jazz. Its founder, Gus Wildi, wasn't particularly interested in jazz, as for instance Norman Granz was. Nevertheless he produced one of the most coherent and significant catalogues in the history of recorded jazz. He gave his musicians and technicians enough freedom in recording which undoubtedly manifest itself on what we hear on the records today.

Bethlehem was also the house of stylist vocalists and, in a rare instance, the house of the bass, an instrument which was hardly the feature instrument of jazz combos. It's a fact that some of the best early small combo sessions led by bassists were recorded by the label, among which albums with Oscar Pettiford, Milt Hinton, Charles Mingus and Red Mitchell stand out. This is of course way before the arrival of experimental labels such as ECM and one should raise hat to the sheer audacity of the Bethlehem owner whose projects turned out to be a financially ruinous one.

The company originally started in 1953 as a pop music venture, but the failure in promoting its records forced Wildi to retreat to the less competitive field of jazz. They released thirty eight 10-inch LP records and then in 1955 changed over to 12-inch format. Bethlehem enjoyed presenting many great names in their catalogue, none of whom had a long term contract with the label which in the process made it difficult for the financial survival of the label. In 1962, the company was sold to King Records whose owners didn't care much for Bethlehem's back-catalogue and because of that, for years the Bethlehem jazz albums remained scarce items to get hold of.

What I've gathered here is the cover artworks of the 1000 series which was released on 10-inch LPs. The number ends in 40, but in reality only 38 records were released and numbers 38 and 39 were never issued.

© Katherine Holzman
What is so fascinating about these covers is their design, mostly the result of the relentless creativity of Burt Goldblatt [pic on the right] whose graphic concepts helped to revolutionize the jazz covers of the 50s.

On why Goldblatt was hired by the company, Wildi told Tyler Alpern

"We recognized from our first 10 inch album release on, that the importance of the quality of the cover was underrated by the other companies. I believe then that Bethlehem was the first company to create covers with some artistic merit as opposed to use them akin to soap or soup advertisements. The covers were heavily laminated, wrapped around, and minimal type was used, giving off a feeling of quality and substance."

Burt Goldblatt used photography, painting and drawing to achieve certain graphic effects that he was aiming for, supporting the moods that were evoked by listening to the album itself and even being present at the recording session with his Hasselblad camera. His visual motives and themes were deserted streets, instruments in still life compositions, ultra-large colour typefaces, noirish images, low-angle shots, nature, solitude and animals with a special attention to the owls. He also "eliminated long lists of song titles, one of the medium’s more obtrusive conventions," as he told the New York Time.

Goldblatt was constantly innovative and bound to try new methods of creating character for the record, as for Charlie Mariano Sextet he X-rayed a saxophone and used it for the cover art.

This gallery, in order of release, is only composed of 1000 series (10'' LP). Some of them are from the UK editions, released by London Records, but the cover artwork is the same as the original US release.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Dizzy Gillespie in Berlin

Dizzy Gillespie Quintet live at the Berlin Philharmonie
November 1980

Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), James Moody (tenor sax, flute), Ed Cherry (guitar), Michael Howell (electric bass), Tommy Campbell (drums).

Never been released before.

  1. St. Louis Blues
  2. Con Alma
  3. A Night in Tunisia
  4. Unidentified tune
  5. Tanga
  6. Tin Tin Deo
  7. Unidentified tune
Total Time: 1:17:20

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Chris Marker Picks His Favourite Bill Evans Songs

Chris Marker in Telluride, 1987. Courtesy of Tom Luddy.

Until midnight music is a job, until four o’clock it’s a pleasure, and after that it’s a rite.” – Chris Marker

There are only indirect hints as to what Chris Marker liked and did beyond his films. In studying the world of this elusive director, every sign invites us to scrutinize it carefully. Marker appears in small details, such as the mix CD which one day arrived on my doorstep. If the address on the parcel hadn’t confirmed the sender as Tom Luddy, co-director of Telluride Film Festival and a close friend of Marker’s, I could have taken it to be Marker’s personal gift from the beyond.

The CD cover gave little away: Sandwiching a photo of pianist Bill Evans was his name and the words "joue pour Guillaume" [plays for Guillaume], along with an illustrated image of the Markerian animal familiar Guillaume, a wise if mischievous-looking cat, holding sheet music. A lyrical filmmaker, who could also compose and play the piano, had compiled his favorite tunes performed by the lyrical jazz pianist and composer Evans (1929-80). The fascination with compilation is also evident in the films. Marker would often juxtapose material from various sources—news footage, computer games, photographs and songs—to remarkable effect.

Tom Luddy recalls conversations about jazz with the filmmaker, who used to tune in to KJAZ whenever he was in the Bay Area. One of his favorite satellite TV channels was Mezzo, playing classical and jazz around the clock. While the genre didn't feature much in his films, one could argue that jazz for Marker, like cinema, was something both personal and political. His jazz-related writings for Esprit (“Du Jazz considere comme une prophetie”) and Le Journal des Allumés du Jazz seem to bear this out. Marker even made a small contribution to jazz literature by writing the narration for a documentary about Django Reinhardt directed by Paul Paviot, who'd previously produced Marker’s Sunday in Peking.