Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Arranger/composer special pt.1: Johnny Richards, Gigi Gryce, Quincy Jones

In the heyday of swing a lot of the bands had similar repertoire - the tunes the public wanted to hear. What made a band stand out was how they played it. It was not the star soloist that made the band, but the person who put the spotlight on the soloist: the composer and the arranger. Really? - you say, - the arranger? who cares about the arranger? Look at Ellington's orchestra. After going solo, none of his former stars - Johnny Hodges, Bubber Miley, Cootie Williams, - ever achieved artistic heights comparable to their work in the Duke's orchestra. Duke's (and Strayhorn's) writing highlighted their special talents and hid their shortcomings.
In the search for the ever-smoother, most commercial sound, a lot of swing music became completely scripted. That prompted the backlash of bop and the following styles that focused more on the improvised, spontaneous communal music creation. The pendulum swung back, and some say it went too far: the music industry found it easy to package and sell the myth of the dissipated genius (Bird), the lonely visionary (Trane), the jazz version of a rock star (Miles) - each image quite fascinating, but still incidental to the music itself. Of course, our celebrity-centered culture swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. The idea of superiority of improvisation over anything and everything else gradually spread from the recording company promos to the listening public to the musicians and jazz educators, and lead to the stagnation of the style. A million young musicians in a hundred thousand jazz classes play the same Real Book tunes in the same head-solo-solo-solo-trade fours-head format as they played forty years ago.

However, there was a time before jazz got run over by the thousand little Coltranes, a time when the pendulum stood just right, a time of bold experiments that fell through the cracks. Fifties were the time when that perfect balance between writing and improvisation was briefly found again. I would like to present today two artifacts from that era, two albums that put the improvising virtuoso's wild flights of fancy within a framework of carefully thought-out, painstakingly constructed arrangements, two collaborations between a writer and an interpreter, each greater than the sum of the parts.

The star soloist on the first one is Art Farmer, one of my favorite trumpet players. While writing this post, I realized that a lot of his best work were collaborations with master writers/arrangers - see his Jazztet LPs with Benny Golson or his Baroque Sketches album (+ +). As the name suggests, here he "Plays the Arrangements and Compositions of Gigi Gryce and Quincy Jones." From liners:
Quincy went on to fame and fortune in Hollywood while Gigi dropped out to anonymity of the Long Island education system before he died in his native Florida in 1983.

Art Farmer Plays the Arrangements and Compositions of Gigi Gryce and Quincy Jones [1954]
With Charlie Rouse, Quincy Jones, Horace Silver, Percy Heath, Art Taylor, and others.
320kbps, 84mb on depositfiles
1. Mau Mau
2. Work of Art
3. The Little Bandmaster
4. Up in Quincy's Room
5. Wildwood
6. Evening in Paris
7. Elephant Walk
8. Tiajuana
9. When Your Lover Has Gone

Another pairing of a brilliant soloist with a great writer is an album of Sonny Stitt playing Johnny Richards, profiled here before. The sound is a bit muddy, but the music is fascinating.

Sonny Stitt Playing Arrangements From The Pen Of Johnny Richards [1953]
With Kai Winding, Horace Silver, Charles Mingus, Jo Jones, Don Elliott, and others.
320kbps, 52mb on depositfiles
1. Sancho Panza
2. Sweet And Lovely
3. If I Could Be With You
4. Hooke's Tours
5. Loose Walk
6. Pink Satin
7. Shine On Harvest Moon
8. Opus 202

PS I am introducing two new tags.
composer+arranger is for albums that either are an original work of a single composer (Mary Lou Williams, Lalo Schifrin, Moacir Santos, Bob Graettinger) or bands focusing on the work of a certain composer (Pixinguinha, AR Rahman, Mancini, Carl Stalling).
I also realized I have Art Farmer on a few of the albums posted here, and a few more are coming up, so there's a label just for him.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Zé da Velha & Silvério Pontes - Só Pixinguinha (2006)

Choro is one of my favorite Brazilian music styles. The stuff I posted here before (1, 2) is all original, historical choro from the early XXth century. But the style - now over a century old - is still going strong. The modern performers have the same problem as the jazz musicians in US - how do you stay true to the spirit of the music without falling into cliches? There is a modern duo that does so successfully: Zé da Velha (trombone) and Silvério Pontes (trumpet/flugelhorn). They found the right balance between respect for tradition - after all, this album is all out of Pixinguinha's songbook - and bringing jazz and samba elements to the mix.

Zé da Velha & Silvério Pontes - Só Pixinguinha (2006)
ul.oz or zippyshare
1. Já te Digo
2. Carinhoso
3. Diplomata
4. Chorei
5. Sensível
6. Cascatinha
7. Desprezado
8. Ainda Me Recordo
9. Ingênuo
10. Trombone Atrevido
11. Os Oito Batutas
12. Sedutor

Thursday, December 2, 2010

QotD - Hesse on recorded music

And in fact, to my indescribable astonishment and horror, the devilish tin trumpet spat out, without more ado, a mixture of bronchial slime and chewed rubber; that noise that owners of gramophones and radios have agreed to call music. And behind the slime and the croaking there was, sure enough, like an old master beneath a layer of dirt, the noble outline of that divine music. [...] Observe how this crazy funnel apparently does the most stupid, the most useless and the most damnable thing in the world. It takes hold of some music played where you please, without distinction, stupid and coarse, lamentably distorted, to boot, and chucks it into space to land where it has no business to be; and yet after all this it cannot destroy the original spirit of the music; it can only demonstrate its own senseless mechanism, its inane meddling and marring. - Herman Hesse, Steppenwolf

Is that poetic or what? "Bronchial slime and chewed rubber," that's a great name for a music blog.

QotD - Sleazy on CDs

I would have thought that CDs were things that homeless people hang on their super market shopping carts to make them look less depressing but apparently some Americans still buy them for the data they contain. - The late Sleazy of Throbbing Gristle and Coil