Miles Davis & John Coltrane – The Final Tour (Bootleg Series, Vol. 6)

Davis & Coltrane
Title: The Final Tour (Bootleg Series, Vol. 6)

Artist: Miles Davis & John Coltrane

Label: Sony Legacy

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: March 23, 2018

 

Other reviewers have covered in great deal various levels of speculation about how much John Coltrane did not want to be touring Europe with Miles Davis in the spring of 1960, so this review will mostly stick to the music at hand.

No matter how much or how little Coltrane wanted to be playing that music with that band in those places, he showed up and PLAYED. And played, and played; blowing wild honking runs, “sheets of sound” as his style of the time was described, for many minutes at a time. In 1960, this was something new, and the audience in Paris on March 21st of that year was not entirely amused. The Paris concert covers the first and most of the second CDs in this 4-CD set, The Final Tour. Whistles and jeers can be heard from the audience during some of Coltrane’s playing, whereas the more traditional piano solos from Wynton Kelly garner warm applause.

Aside from both shows played at the Olympia in Paris, The Final Tour includes a short set from the Tivolis Koncertsal in Copenhagen, Denmark from March 24 and the two March 22 shows at the Konserhuset in Stockholm, Sweden. At the Scandinavian shows, Coltrane is a bit more concise but no less fierce.

The main dynamic on this tour, as described in Ashley Kahn’s liner notes, was a divergence of musical style which inevitably broke up the band Davis had put together to record the classic Kind of Blue album. Alto sax man Cannonball Adderley was already out on his own, about to be become very popular as he moved toward soul-jazz with his group. Coltrane had just recorded Giant Steps, which would go on to become a classic, but at the time was new, different and not fully accepted by jazz fans. According to various accounts, Davis was booked on an all-star tour of Europe arranged by impresario Norman Granz, and convinced Coltrane to come along for one last tour. Coltrane, who may have been suffering from dental problems and wanted to focus on his own music, reluctantly agreed to play one more round of concerts with the man who had plucked him from a B-list career and brought him into the spotlight (including connecting Coltrane with Davis’s lawyer and manager, who were subsequently able to get Coltrane signed to a deal with high-profile Atlantic Records after his contract with tiny Prestige ran out).

But Coltrane wasn’t interested in playing the same old tunes the same old way. He was exploring new ideas and new sounds, and was working out how to produce as notes on his saxophone what he was hearing in his head. He explains this to Swedish radio interviewer Carl-Erik Lindgren in the last cut on Disc 4 (a fine addition by Sony Legacy, which puts Coltrane’s mood and playing on this tour in contemporary first-person perspective).

The end result is a bit of a conundrum for a reviewer. This is four discs of live performances aimed more inward among the players than outward toward an audience. Hardcore Coltrane and Davis fans are going to eat it up, but it may be too much navel-gazing for other jazz fans. The rhythm section of Kelly, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums more than hold their own and hold it together, even during Coltrane’s most intense note-eruptions. When given some space to solo, the rhythm section members are uniformly fantastic. But the fact remains, there are minutes upon minutes of Coltrane work-shopping various sounds and note combinations, with Davis off-stage and not involved. This may be as tiresome to a modern-day jazz fan as it was to at least some audience members in Paris.

As for Davis’s playing, at times (especially in Stockholm) he is several degrees too laid back and cool. He’s seemingly unwilling sometimes to blow hard enough to produce viable and in-tune trumpet notes.

If you’re a fan of Kind of Blue, try on for size the following version of “So What.” If this way of playing the song suits you, then you’ll like the rest of the album. If it’s too fast, too drawn out and not cleanly enough played, it’s typical of these concerts and this particular group of performances won’t be to your liking.

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Criticism circa 2018, or 1960, be damned. It didn’t matter in the long run. The tour made Davis an international star and he toured Europe as a headliner after that. As for Coltrane, he went on to much bigger things too. The kind of “un-pretty” note-heavy percussive solos he was sending out into the European nights on that tour became the foundation of a new style—free-jazz—and Coltrane continued to innovate and follow his unique muse where it led him until his premature death.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

 

Hear in Now – Not Living in Fear

HiN
Title: Not Living in Fear

Artist: Hear in Now (Mazz Swift, Tomeka Reid & Silvia Bolognesi)

Label: International Anthem; dist. Redeye

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 2, 2017

 

Formed in 2009 through a commission from WomaJazz, the string trio Hear in Now features New York violinist Mazz Swift, Chicago cellist Tomeka Reid, and Italian double bass player Silvia Bolognesi. Individually the three women have performed and recorded with artists ranging from jazz musicians Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, and Butch Morris to rappers Common, Jay-Z and Kanye West.

On their second studio album, Not Living in Fear, the trio displays their affinity for free jazz and the avant-garde across 13 tracks of original music composed variously by members of the group. The project is a natural fit for the International Anthem label, dedicated to promoting boundary-defying recordings and occurrences of creative music in Chicago and beyond. Through the label’s sponsorship, we’re now able to appreciate these works, recorded by HiN in 2012 and 2014.

Rather than easing into the album with a more accessible work, the trio fearlessly opens with “Impro 3.” The track builds slowly over long, sustained harmonies punctuated by a flurry of glissandos that provide a sense of foreboding as they lead to a freely improvised and frenzied climax. This is followed by “Leaving Livorno,” a more melodic work with a yearning quality that features a jazzy interplay between cello and violin. “Requiem for Charlie Haden,” composed by Bolognesi, is dedicated the late jazz bass player who died two months prior to this recording session. Bolognesi adds a touch of free jazz to the bass line and takes an extended solo, but otherwise incorporates Haden’s penchant for blending simple melodies with classical harmonies.

Chicago jazz vocalist Dee Alexander is featured on the title track. Reid frequently performs with Alexander, so it’s fitting that they collaborated on this composition. To say this song is a highlight feels like a bit of a cop out, given its broader appeal, but I make no apologies. Clearly it was sequenced at the album’s midpoint to provide a bit of breathing room, and displays the trio’s extensive background in jazz (all have various jazz side projects).

Throughout the album, the three musicians employ extended playing techniques. For example, col legno and other percussive effects are used in “Transiti” to emulate the chugging rhythm of a train, and the opening of “Terrortoma” is punctuated by an ominous thumping reminiscent of the sound of advancing soldiers. But these techniques are never overused; each composition offers multiple sections and thematic complexity.

Not Living in Fear is a courageous album, brilliantly performed by three very accomplished women. They may frequently present concerts in museums, but the museum analogy often applied to classical music is certainly not relevant. Instead, HiN challenges us to hear the music of the present, defined in their own terms.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Gregory Lewis – Organ Monk, The Breathe Suite

gregorylewis
Title: Organ Monk, The Breathe Suite

Artist: Gregory Lewis

Label: Self released

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 5, 2017

 

A virtuoso on the Hammond B3, Gregory Lewis (aka Organ Monk) wowed the Chamber Music America conference last year when his group performed Thelonious Monk and a few of Lewis’s own chamber jazz compositions in their signature funky, Monk-inspired contrapuntally intricate style. One of those original works, The Breathe Suite, is featured on this newly released album, performed by Lewis with members of his regular quintet: tenor saxophonist Reggie Woods, trumpeter Riley Mullins, guitarist Ron Jackson, and drummer Jeremy “Bean” Clemons. Supplementing this line-up is drummer Nasheet Waits and guitarist Mark Ribot, who replace Clemons and Jackson on the first and third movements.

Four of the five movements of The Breathe Suite are dedicated to an African American killed during confrontations with police officers or vigilantes. With this project Lewis joins the ever growing rank of composers and musicians who write and perform as a personal form of protest: “I can’t protest, because if I protest I go to jail. And if I go to jail I can’t feed my five kids. So what I can do is what I do – I write music . . . Even if it brings joy for just a minute to these families, that’s what I can do.”

The first movement and by far the largest portion of the suite is “Chronicles of Michael Brown.” Clocking in at nearly 19 minutes, the track begins in an instrumental fog of distortion, over which the organ sounds an elegy. As the work progresses, one can’t help but reflect on the events of August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, where Brown’s body lay on the pavement for hours on end. Likewise, the music seems to portray an alternate reality, where straight ahead solos are sharply punctuated at odd moments by organ or guitar, oftentimes shifting between free jazz and funk rock like a collision of cultures. As the movement builds to a climax, it becomes more atonal, gradually fading out on a cymbal roll like a spirit rising up to heaven.

The second movement, “Trayvon,” is of course dedicated to young Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Scored for organ, guitar and drums, this track is more of a fast paced interlude, with Lewis freely riffing on the B3 and Jackson taking a brief guitar solo near the end. The trio continues in similar style on “Aiyana’s Jones Song,” referencing the seven-year-old girl shot and killed in 2010 during a Detroit Police raid. As the movement concludes, the instruments fall into a repetitive pattern, suggesting a never ending cycle.

“Eric Garner” is eulogized in the fourth movement by the full quintet. On this slow, haunting track, Lewis provides sustained chords on the B3 while the other instruments improvise, with special effects creating a discordant soundscape that has us floating through time and space. The suite concludes with “Ausar and the Race Soldiers” (reprised in the 6th track), a more straight ahead movement that still offers ample room for free improvisation and solos.

Gregory Lewis Quintet’s stated mission is “to expand upon the interpretation of jazz and create a catalogue of 21st century American originals.” In this they have surely succeeded, creating a highly original, socially conscious work inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the cycle of violence and deadly oppression which led to its creation.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

Tomeka Reid Quartet – Tomeka Reid Quartet

tomeka reid quartet

Title: Tomeka Reid Quartet

Artist: Tomeka Reid Quartet

Label: Thirsty Ear

Format: CD, MP3

Release date: September 25, 2015

 

 

 

Chicago-based cellist Tomeka Reid has been a fixture in the city’s jazz scene for some 15 years now, but the quartet she leads only released its eponymous debut album in September of 2015.  Having seen this group perform at the 2014 Chicago jazz festival, I can attest to this record’s ability to capture her quartet’s spirit, weaving between pre-composed and improvised music.  While the Tomeka Reid Quartet’s music may perhaps be best situated within the avant garde of Chicago’s AACM tradition, this album has a sense of texture and melody that may heighten the group’s appeal to less-cerebral jazz fans as well as those who are interested in more experimental music.

Tomeka Reid Quartet leads with “17 West,” the only cut on the album that is neither an original composition nor totally improvised, an excellent reading of the Eric Dolphy tune that featured the great bassist Ron Carter on cello.  This cut allows Reid to situate herself firmly within the lineage of mainstream avant-garde jazz (which may not be such a contradiction in terms as it may suggest), despite her seemingly unusual instrument of choice.  To accompany her in this effort, Reid assembled an excellent team of musicians who are able to stretch out to the extent demanded by the group’s music, which lies somewhere between chamber music, jazz, and free improvisation.  She is joined by Brooklyn-based guitarist Mary Halvorson, New York drummer Tomas Fujiwara, and Chicago bassist Jason Roebke.

This quartet explores this album’s musical territories with energy and a sense of adventure.  “Billy Bang’s Bounce”—a tribute to the free jazz violinist—features a texture that gradually builds, taking on a hypnotic quality before opening up into a generous swing section for the group’s solos.  “Etoile” is a more conventional composition, loosely based upon the jazz musicians’ standard “Cry Me a River” lick, but expanding to feature remarkable solos by Reid, Roebke, and Halvorson, whose pitch-shifting guitar solos push the group further into less consonant territory while still remaining melodious.

The album takes more impressionistic turns as well, with Reid and Halverson freely improvising on “Improvisation #1” and the rest of the group joining this exercise on “Improvisation #2.”  While apparently composed, “The Lone Wait” is also abstract and atmospheric, pulling heavily from free-jazz influences.

All in all, Tomeka Reid Quartet is a fascinating statement from a group that is musically diverse and experimental.  The Tomeka Reid Quartet blurs the line between “conventional” and “avant garde” approaches to jazz and is to not be missed by serious jazz fans.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

Making Love to the Dark Ages

Title: Making Love to the Dark Ages

Artist: Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber

Label: Livewired Music

Release Date: March 2009

Making Love to the Dark Ages is a unique cornucopia of music.  Bandleader Greg Tate has taken elements from the entire history of black music and fused them together in interesting ways.  The album is such a complete work  of art that a track by track dissection would do it an injustice.  A complete rundown would also be like giving away the ending to noteworthy book.  However, a topical description could allow one to understand what the albums aim is.

There are more timbral nuances heard in this album than in any ten you could pull from nearly any shelf in a record shop, and an excellent combination of sonic possibilities that range from electronically enhanced violins to gutteral vocals.  Saxophone sounds range from Charlie Parker quotes to Coletrane modality, to the free shrieking and blues balling of Ornette Coleman.  The versatility of the saxophonist is truly amazing because while reminding the listener of all these milestones of the past he always has his own voice and melds the three styles masterfully.  The other instrument that has standout quality is the guitar.  Vernon Reid (perhaps best known as the guitarist for Living Colour) is a presence to be acknowledged.  His guitar playing is soulful but not cliche.  The tone he gets evokes the “ghosts of slavery ships” while his deft agility on the instrument places him a cut above many other players.  (If only he got the recognition he deserves!)

Loops are an important part of this album and they serve a true purpose.  With the majority of the works being improvised, these stagnant loops provide a great contrast and cast a wonderful backdrop for the sinewy lines played by the lead instruments.  There are unique juxtapositions of such things as 1920s salon piano with laptop beeping, swampy grooves with soprano vocalise, and overdriven violins against static ambience.  Following is a sample track, “Chains and Water”:

The elements of delta blues are found from the start.  The riff like droning of the guitar against the repetitive vocal line that starts the album are reminiscent of work songs.  Jazz influences are pervasive in the drums, bass and saxophone.  The use of upright bass adds to the depth of sonic qualities and the historical impact.  One can trace the music from jazz to (that horrible word) fusion.  But this is fusion of the highest class.  It could even simply be called black rock.  Hip hop is present in the use of modern technology.  There are over 150 years of influence found in this CD and they are all  incredibly distinct without sounding like a messy hodgepodge of poorly developed ideas.  Tate clearly had a vision for this project.

The length of the tracks may be a deterrent to some buyers but that is truly a shame.  In an age of singles and reverting back to the radio edit formula, Making Love to the Dark Ages is a gem.  The pieces here truly breathe and expand in an organic way and though some are fifteen minutes in length, they tell such a story that one doesn’t notice.  The album is a strong composition as a whole and the length of it’s pieces or their individual shortcomings shouldn’t be a reason for judgement. In fact, the album is meant to be listened to as one work.  Even with the inclusion of a Ron Carter/Miles Davis piece (“Eighty-One”), the common thread running through the recording is very strong.    Anyone that likes concept albums, strong over-arching ideas, or the black aesthetic in general would appreciate the diversified focus found in this album.  Anyone with respect for jazz would definitely enjoy the improvisational aspects found in Making Love to the Dark Ages.  However, it may be too deep or long for some to give it the thorough listening that it deserves.

Posted by Ben Rice

Editor’s note:  Greg Tate, a founding member of the Black Rock Coalition, will be one of the featured speakers at the forthcoming conference Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music.”