JAZZ DAY

Although quite a lot of jazz is played at Vinyl Connection headquarters, I rarely write about it. There are a couple of reasons. Firstly, I am less confident writing about America’s contribution to world music; it somehow seems harder to capture in words than rock. Perhaps the language of jazz is less comfortable, less familiar. The other doubt concerns the general level of interest in jazz. Are folk curious? Bemused? Suffice to say, it’s often easier to skip over the Chick Corea records or Horace Silver CDs (there’s a bias towards pianists in these parts) and stick to what is more familiar. But enough of such wimpy writing. Begone timorous typing! Join me on a journey from dawn to dusk on a Vinyl Connection day of modal scales, improvisations and experimentations.

All That Jazz… Abercrombie to Methany

There are some, I know, who will happily spin metal for breakfast. I am not one of those who greets the day with a roar, so my first visit to the VC jazz shelves was in search of something gently rousing to accompany the corn flakes. Eyes being somewhat bleary, I reached for the solidly packed Bill Evans section. Trio 64 snuck into my hand, a set from (you guessed it) 1964 featuring the pianist with Gary Peacock on bass and Paul Motion on drums. It’s fascinating to hear this inventive and ‘modern’ rhythm section under Bill’s meticulous playing. 

During the jaunty opening number, “Little Lulu”, I begin to wake up. After the unexpected arrival of “Santa Claus is coming to town” (it is July, after all) I’m smiling and ready for a typically lyrical interpretation of the old standard “I’ll see you again”. Is this a favourite Bill Evans album? Probably not a podium finish, but very enjoyable none-the-less, augmented by the sparkling sound of the Verve Master Edition.

A morning ritual is checking the weather forecast—how many layers will be required today?—and this particular a.m. I’m doing so accompanied by Weather Report: their first, self-titled LP from 1971. I love the abstract expressionism of this record, captured beautifully in the cover art. Opening with the spacey sounds of Joe Zawinul’s treated Fender Rhodes, it moves into the jazz-rock territory pioneered by several of these players with Miles Davis during the sessions for In A Silent Way (covered here). Often jazz-rock (or fusion, if you like) is characterised by dense interplay and busy charts. Weather Report has plenty of space for Wayne Shorter’s soprano sax to pierce the stratosphere while Alphonse Mouzon (drums) and Miroslav Vitous (bass) manage to be both economical and fiery. It’s great stuff, especially if you already like turn-of-the-decade Miles.

Having spent forty minutes with the Weather, I need to crack on. Some high octane fusion to kick start the program, that’s what is needed. Often I return to Return To Forever and today is no exception. Their 1975 album No Mystery showcases a band that could truly be described as the fruitful fathers of fusion. Chick Corea on keyboards, Al Di Meola on guitar, Stanley Clarke on bass (and some keyboards) and the fabulous Lenny White on drums and percussion. 

Opening piece “Dayride” is a bright, tuneful Stanley Clarke composition; lots of energy and a fine introduction to this band of virtuosos. “Sophistifunk”, Lenny White’s contribution, is probably the funkiest thing here and offers a step up after the delicate, almost romantic funk of Al Di Meola’s “Flight of the newborn”. Corea’s skills are at the forefront of the tongue-in-cheek “Excerpt from the first movement of Heavy Metal”, where a neo-classical piano introduction gives way to a brief Di Meola solo then echoed by Chick’s synths. It’s short, punchy, and good cheeky fun.

There are many progressive flourishes on No Mystery—largely from Corea’s synthesisers—along with searing jazz runs and lots of funky bottom end. In fact, fusion is too small a word for the variety on this terrific LP. It’s a mystery why more people didn’t get into it at the time.

Isn’t it annoying how life gets in the way of listening to music? It is late in the day, dappled sky tinged with orange above sullen grey clouds, before I get to spin the last album of this minor jazz odyssey. Over a glass of Sauvignon Blanc I sink onto the couch to reflect on the day. Who better for company than John Surman, veteran innovator of the UK jazz scene and respected ECM artist?

His 1979 album Upon Reflection is an entirely solo effort. Mr Surman plays soprano and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet, and synthesisers. These last are what makes this luminous LP memorable. On several pieces Surman paints impressionistic pictures with his various woodwinds over pre-recorded sequencer patterns, creating a mesmerising canvas of colour and melody. Sometimes it gets moody, often lilting. There is even a charming folk dance. This is avant-garde jazz at its most accessible. Ms Connection walks in from a hard day’s night and says, “John Surman?”. I nod and pour her a glass of wine.

The previous ‘Jazz Day’ post is here

 

39 comments

  1. That ’64 Bill Evans is a great album. The intuitive interaction fascinates from the first to the last sound.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well said, Herr Hotfox!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanxs! The ’65 trio release by Evans is also a great choice.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I will give this stuff a spin later on. But over and above any discomfort you may feel in writing about jazz, my thought is by all means write about it. You may not get the same number of comments/audience as you might for a rock band but we are definitely out there. I’ve clung to the philosophy of writing about whatever strikes my fancy. If there are zero comments – which rarely happens these days – so be it. As one of my readers said (paraphrasing) – the right person will find it. There’s my high moral lecture for the day.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Cheers Jim. You are absolutely correct. The whole point of blogging is to write about what we enjoy, what entertains or excites or challenges us. And you know, just the other week I posted on an obscure ‘krautrock’ band, Embryo, and the response was fantastic. So thanks for the reminder! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There you go. And I misssed your krautrock one and will have to check that out.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Big kudos for sticking your hand in the (inner mounting?) flame and writing about jazz. I find it difficult too but always enjoy the challenge; although I will gladly take some metal with my morning cereal.

    I know some of the folk here but not the albums, all apart from the John Surman which I have dabbled in a little bit and I agree is a very good one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s cool you know Surman, Joe. His albums with sequencers are so interesting. I much prefer John to Jan G these days.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. … and cool Mahavishnu reference, too. 😊

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Via my dad, I claim no knowledge really as my own.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Do you like Joe Zawinul’s debut – I’m not super well-versed in jazz but I like that one. I’ve never tried writing about jazz, but it seems trickier as you can’t resort to talking lyrics.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Zawinul’s self-titled debut is a cracker, and very similar in feel to the first Weather Report LP featured above. And both, of course were a direct byproduct of Miles’ In A Silent Way, an all time Top 10-er for me!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah In A Silent Way is amazing. Don’t know if I’ll ever cover Davis on my site, partly because it seems lame to wax lyrical about Kind of Blue without being acquainted with his other early work. Might tackle the fusion stuff sometime though and Weather Report.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Know what you mean. I wrote on Kind of Blue for Discrepancy Records not long ago. Was quite a challenge. A bit like trying to find something new/interesting to say about Dark Side of the Moon or Revolver!

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Also don’t like taking the party line that it’s the one that deserves all the attention from that period without taking a whole lot more from the 1950s and early 1960s.

          Liked by 2 people

        3. Well it was a game changer, a pivot point in jazz. Lot of other great music preceded and followed of course.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Great theme and execution, Bruce. You put some fine music on parade and have to say, so glad you included Fusion and Return to Forever’s NO MYSTERY LP in this spin. My favorite of theirs, and gave that title track an appreciation a while back. Wonderful post, my friend. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Gee thanks Marty. I get a thrill when jazz-rock fans pop up! No Mystery was my first Return To Forever LP (after Chick Corea’s Return To Forever album!) and it’s still a favourite. Though I really love Romantic Warrior too.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I plan on using the term ‘timorous’ at the earliest possible convenience – and lovely closing scene to the post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There have been slanderous rumours that the writer deploys interesting words either because (a) he is a wanker; or, conversely, (b) they bring pleasure to a much valued Northern Hemisphere blogeague. (That’s a blog colleague, of course).

      Liked by 2 people

  7. That is one impressive rack. Very curious on the titles it holds. I can spot a couple, J J Johnson (take coming up) and Coleman Hawkins. Writing about this kinda of music “what we enjoy, entertains, excites or challenges us ” is why I do this and why I tune into folks like Bruce.

    Great titles. I have so much Evans and just scored ‘Live at Montreux ll’ the other day (an actual album). Surman is someone i know in passing (not anymore after your take. I’ll give it a go today). The other two i know well and love that ‘No Mystery’ line up. Weather Report are my type of listening. We certainly cross paths with this stuff Bruce. What a wealth of great sound. I’m like a pig at the jazz trough today.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’ve several Bill Evan’s CDs but fear of accidental unseasonal exposure to Santa … means I don’t own a copy of Bill’s ’64 trio album. Maybe I should just go ahead and put it on the Christmas hint list?
    Some Weather Report (including Miroslav’s Music of Weather Report) will definitely get an airing over the weekend. But the highest priority has to be searching out some Surman.

    Thanks

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Portrait in Jazz is my favourite BE. Do you have a fave of the ones you know?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. A bit more digging is needed to access ‘Upon reflection’ but John Surman’s ‘Tales of the Algonquin’ is playing now (on Y’tube) and side one will go well with the Cab Sav I’m going to dig out. If I’m honest, the freer style of side two will require the addition of a whack of peppery Shiraz too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sounds like and excellent program, DD. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your post has inspired. Everybody Digs Bill Evans is excellent breakfast material.
        Thanks.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Outstanding. I played ‘You Must Believe In Spring’ for breakfast. Later, but still scintillating.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. The physio has given me some stretches to do, so it’s a good opportunity to listen to ‘Upon reflection’ (found on a Russian You Tube site). I’m not that fond of repetitious electronic noodling but let it wash over me. Highlights of my purely personal response to the music, include enjoying the Klezmer-like sound of the opening track, the Celtic type drone with sea shanty type melody midway through the album and later again a background warble that I found reminiscent of Percy Grainger’s experimental ‘Hills and Dales’ washing machine instrument and a nod to the free jazz great reed players in the lead.
        Thanks Bruce. Rewarding.
        PS re Bill Evans, ‘A waltz with Debbie’ remains a favourite, probably because I have not gone that deep into the catalogue.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s Waltz for Debby I believe!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Yet again I’m reminded by your good self that I really need to listen to more Grainger, particularly the experimental stuff.
          Glad you found something stretchy in Surman DD.
          Waltz for Debbie is a good ‘un. As is Moon Beams.

          Like

        3. Moon Beams CD ‘in the post’ for <$10.
          NB
          Bill Evans often on Radio Caprice stations that I listen to but I tend to let the Internet radio burble along in the background while reading etc.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. I’m up to weather report. (1971). And will be buying some soon! That might just mean that I’ve entered the seventies. Oh shoot (as we riding the wake of the Cool might say).

          Thanks.

          Liked by 1 person

        5. Well that is cool. I’ve grown to love and admire that WR debut over the years and wish the same enjoyment for you.

          Like

        6. Moon beams arrived today. One test of whether or not an album is good is when it finishes and your ears remain tuned in, waiting for it to go on.

          Thanks.

          Liked by 1 person

        7. Excellent get.
          Bonus Factoid: Did you know that the woman on the cover is Nico pre Velvet Underground?

          Like

  10. Thanks for introducing me to John Surman. Very refreshing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s great Phil. Delighted.

      Like

  11. I know none of this music but am curious about all of it. Great post. Will check some out later on when it’s wine time

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Way to go. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

Comments and responses welcome for all posts: present or past. Please join in!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: