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.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Art Farmer on Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman

A level-headed if largely unfavorable reaction to Ornette Coleman's Something Else!!!! LP, penned by fellow musician Art Farmer. Originally appeared in The Jazz Review (Vol. 2, No. 6, July 1959).

Ornette Coleman writes some very nice tunes, but after he plays the tune, I can't find too much of a link between his solo and the tune itself. From what I've heard though that's the way he looks at it. He apparently feels there shouldn't be too much concern about the tune and chord structure—they're prisons to him. He just goes on and plays what he feels from the tune.

There's Bird in spots in the timbre of his tone. Bird, however, wouldn't throw that particular timbre at you all night long. It's a real cry, a real shriek, a squawk. It doesn't seem valid to me somehow — to get back to what he does after he states the line — for a man to disregard his own tunes. It's a lack of respect. Maybe he'll eventually get to have more respect for his tunes.

Coleman doesn't know his instrument in the ordinary sense, but then, most of the alto players I know don't know their instruments in the way he does. He certainly plays in a different way and he makes combinations of notes I haven't heard.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

British Big Band Jazz: The Duke Ellington-Influenced Alan Cohen Band Plays Oracle (1968)

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Duke Ellington's Solo Piano at WWDC, 1946

Duke Ellington and Willis Conover

In the wee hours of April 21, 1946, Duke Ellington who was visiting Washington DC for a series of concerts at the Howard Theater, dropped in at WWDC station. 

The Duke's presence in his hometown was an auspicious event for Conover who recorded some shows and interviews with him for his radio station, celebrating Duke's homecoming. That day, at about two in the morning, Duke started tossing down some notes on the keys. Billy Strayhorn, Oscar Pettiford and some other members of his entourage were standing in the background. It was midnight music: heavy, messy, mysterious, rambling. Upon finishing the first piece, Willis Conover informed him that the whole thing was recorded on disc. Ellington sounded surprised but he kept playing while Conover and others chatted in the background. The chat died down, the music continued. When Ellington finished it was 2:35 AM. "Can I have a copy of that?," Ellington asked Conover.

Whether or not Ellington got a copy, we don't know. But we have a copy here to listen to:

Thursday, April 30, 2020

David Meeker's Ten Favourite Jazz Films

Duke Ellington behind the scene of NBC's What Is Jazz? (1958) episode#1 [Source: GettyImages]

David Meeker, the author of Jazz in the Movies (and its online, massively updated version, Jazz on the Screen, available on the website of the Library of Congress), has been kind enough to furnish me with the list of his favourite jazz films. I don't think anyone in the world has seen as many jazz films as David has and certainly no-one has bothered spending years retrieving information (including song lists and personnel) from these films, compiling the indispensable encyclopedia that he has given us. For that reason, I think this list should be cherished more than other similar listings — this is the work of a man who has almost seen everything! - EK

By my reckoning the first ever sound film of a jazz performance was produced in 1922, a short featuring pianist Eubie Blake. Therefore, faced with almost 100 years of world cinema and taking a degree of masochistic pleasure in sticking my neck out I have managed with considerable difficulty to reduce untold millions of feet of celluloid to a necessarily subjective choice of 10 favourite titles, undoubtedly quirky but hopefully not pretentious. Try and see them if you can - they all have much to offer both intellectually and emotionally.
David Meeker

Monday, April 27, 2020

Surprise Boogie (1956), a Short Jazz Film by Albert Pierru

Created by scratching the emulsion and painting on raw film, the fantastically joyous short Surprise Boogie (1956) is an homage to the 1949 Begone Dull Care (image by Norman McLaren, music by Oscar Peterson Trio), the latter known as the most famous example of abstract jazz animation. Conceived as an audiovisual jam session of colours, patterns, forms and volumes on celluloid stripe, Surprise Boogie is the work of filmmaker Albert Pierru who was known for his love for jazz music on which he made various shorts, all using the same method of "camera-less" filmmaking, painting directly on film.

View the film here, courtesy of the Cinémathèque française:

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

David Meeker's Ten Favourite Jazz Recordings

David Meeker, the author of world's most comprehensive jazz and film encyclopedia (regularly updated and available online at the website of the Library of Congress) and the former Head of Acquisitions in the National Film Archive (now British Film Institute's archive) has shared with me his list of ten favourite jazz recordings which I'm sharing with you here. They are sorted in chronological order.

Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra (1928)
There Ain't No Sweet Man That's Worth The Salt Of My Tears by Fred Fisher.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

4 Photographs of Jimmie Lunceford in the 1930s

Courtesy of University of North Texas, four raw negative scans of photographs by Byrd Moore, taken of Jimmy Lunceford and his orchestra in Fort Worth, Texas, possibly in the 1930s.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

"Earl Hines Celebrates 20 Years in Show Business"

Earl Hines
All-American News was a weekly newsreel produced for the African-American audiences, the first of its kind in the US. At the beginning, it served the war propaganda machine by encouraging the black Americans to join the war effort but in the process it managed to capture some other aspects of African-American life, including arts.

Some of these weekly items are available on the website of the Library of Congress. Surprisingly, jazz gets very little mention in them, even though the series ran until the 1950s. One exception is an episode from November 1944 which visits the legend of jazz piano, Earl "Fatha" Hines, catching up with him during his celebration of "twenty years in show business." There is a brief interview and scenes from cutting a cake. You can view this segment of All-American News#12 concerning Hines here:

VHS Diaries#1: Ellis Marsalis Trio

RIP Ellis Louis Marsalis Jr. (November 14, 1934 – April 1, 2020)

Syndrome, a composition by New Orleans pianist and father to Wynton and Brandford Marsalis, Mr. Ellis Marsalis,  first appeared in one of his early albums.

Here, with the assistance of a relaxed, grooving trio he performs the same song at Bern Jazz Festival, 1997. I couldn't identify the bassist and drummer. If you know their names, please leave a comment.