Tuesdays on Mixcloud 5:00-6:30 pm eastern

Livestreams every Tuesday from 5 to 6:30pm on Mixcloud featuring DJ Kendo, plus 11 years of playlists and audio from the show "Jazz Greats" on WFCF St. Augustine!
Showing posts with label retro review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label retro review. Show all posts

Friday, April 3, 2020

Retro Review - Johnny Hodges & Wild Bill Davis "Mess of Blues"

Some abstract business for a straight ahead album!

Johnny Hodges & Wild Bill Davis - Mess of Blues (1963)

rating: 6.5/10

This somewhat unusual pairing was a thing for much of the 60's until Hodges died. If you've spent any time listening to Duke Ellington, your aware of Johnny Hodge's alto sound and style. As for Wild Bill Davis - think somewhere between Shirley Scott and the dude outside the Wurlitzer store in the mall. So yeah, if you're a jazz purist or a Jimmy Smith fan, his sound takes getting used to.

This is not a "heavy" album by any means. By all accounts you could consider this a "light" jazz album; something you might put on in say, a pandemic? After a bad day at work?

First off, despite the title, most of the album has a feel-good quality to it. It might seem somewhat obvious to say, but there is something wonderfully Ellington-ian to it. Aside from three compositions of Duke's and his lead alto man, that feeling is there throughout the album: the easy swing feel that still has a deep pocket; the relaxed manner of approach that still has wonderful dynamics, keeping it afloat. Elegance with sophistication.

Then there's the addition of guitarist Kenny Burrell, a huge Ellington admirer. He keeps his solos cool and choice but still impressive and of course, will killer soul. Ed Shaughnessy on drums is all pro as you might expect from a future Tonight Show drummer (with Doc Severinsen); achieving everything that's needed at any given time, and always swingin'.

Side one is solid through and through. Side two has the aptly titled Bill Davis original "Stolen Sweets" which is a bit overly poppy; as is the version of Ellington's "Lost in Meditation" (it's a Verve release, after all). The best cuts on the album are "Jones", "Love You Madly" and Hodges "A & R Blues".

At 30 minutes it ain't gonna hurt ya, and it might even cure what ails ya. - Kendo

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Retro Review - Freddie Hubbard "Ride Like the Wind"

Freddie Hubbard "Ride Like the Wind" (recorded 1981)

Score: 2/5
It may appear I'm shooting fish in a barrel for this one, but in my defense I approve of albums others disdain, and I'm frequently at odds with the chaps over at Allmusic, whose occasionally scary opinions seem to hold much weight in jazzlandia.

First, let it briefly be said that there will never be another trumpet player as good as Freddie Hubbard in his prime. There is no adjective to describe just how impossibly good he was, from tone to technique. Secondly, this album was recorded live to two tracks. For that, it sounds really good, and the performances are exceptionally tight from the orchestra and brass sections.

Track by Track (briefly):

"Hubbard's Cupboard" is one of three originals by the album's arranger and conductor Allyn Ferguson. All three are largely mediocre. At times, Ferguson seems to be trying to channel the ghost of Isaac Hayes' writing on the "Shaft" soundtrack. Overall not bad, not great, just kinda fun.

"This Is It" (yes the Kenny Loggins hit) suffers from a tepid arrangement, odd register choices for (or by) Hubbard and a faster tempo. Without the motivational lyrics, it is not a well suited instrumental and is the album's clinker.

Ferguson's soul ballad "Condition Alpha" is the best of his three. No memorable melody here, but the vibe is quite nice and Freddie throws in an exceptional and extended acrobatic solo. Again, the strings during this solo hearken of "Shaft"; in a good way.

"Ride Like the Wind" starts out rather tamely, but Freddie digs in from his solo onward. Ferguson oddly makes us wait for that killer refrain ("bah-dah-dah-dup...) and I kind of like that he did that. That said, the orchestra is strangely laid back on them; and even more sadly, Freddie's obvious inspiration during the last refrain gets faded out immediately. Still, his fire makes this the stand out track.

Side two opens with "Birdland", a composition that many arrangers have difficulty pulling away from every note of the original Weather Report version. Ferguson also succumbs, but he at least tries to alter here and there. Another good solo from Hubbard and some decent energy from the brass lift this track up a bit; but it's still not something you're gonna share with friends or post on social media.

Then we are confronted with yet another version of Hubbard's ballad "Brigitte". Even he sounds a bit tired of it (the best version can be found on the 1973 album "Keep Your Soul Together"). Ferguson choice to make the "hook" into an awkward fusion samba literally takes all the punch out of it. The ending sounds like a justifiably exasperated sigh.

Ferguson's "Two Moods For Freddie" borrows so much from "I Remember Clifford" that it's disappointing when you discover that it isn't. Things do get cooking a bit (another fusion samba) with Freddie's improvisation, and thankfully trombonist Bill Watrous gets a brief solo as well.

So all in all, if you spot a good copy for $1 (I got mine for $3) and you're either curious or just love every note Freddie plays, then pick it up. Otherwise, forget about this one guilt free.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Retro Review - Jimmy McGriff The Main Squeeze

Jimmy McGriff - "The Main Squeeze"

You can't go into this album expecting meaningfulness, compositional substance or depth of emotion. That's what Coltrane is for. Jimmy McGriff is strictly for easy vibes and a good time. He's in great form and playing excellently, as always. There is definitely a certain lack of meat and melody, not unusual for the mid 70's or McGriff; a now overlooked unique voice in jazz organ.

In all likelihood planning for the album happened on the cab ride to the studio, if not during the session. The first 3 tracks lack melody completely; the band jamming on grooves and riffs (Jimmy Smith's "The Sermon" not famous for it's head, made up of a repeated 2 bar phrase; the swing original "GMI" is similarly constructed). "The Blues Train to Georgia" simmers nice and slow, built off a pleasant if innocuous keyboard chord progression. Once you get past the primal screams that open the title cut you are treated to what McGriff did best in the late 60's and 70's - funky grooves with high engagement.Not without their hitches, the strongest cuts are the standards. "Misty" comes off the most professionally and swings with fine solos from all. McGriff is obviously elated to play their uptempo version of "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)" but apparently nobody knew the bridge, so it's replaced with a much simpler chord progression. Either they ran out of tape or the performance fell apart, since it fades out early in the last head. It's nonetheless the album's highlight. The set closes with "Stella by Starlight", played well but McGriff seems uneasy,
uncharacteristically hugging the melody throughout his two (still killer) choruses.

The normally impressive guitarist Jimmy Ponder rarely wows here, he's just relentlessly very good throughout, particularly on "These Foolish Things". More engaged and the real surprise is tenor saxophonist Connie Lester (from New Jersey) who plays his back-side off; swinging hard with a good sound and plenty of ideas. Drummer Eddie Gladden is supportive and solid, he and McGriff are clearly comfortable together and provide ample groove throughout the album.

You won't be sorry you put this album on, nor will you be pondering the meaning of life while it spins. Boasting a fun mix of small club jazz and greasy funk - repeated listens (it's short enough) bring out the better qualities of this release.


Saturday, December 15, 2018

Retro Review - Gil Mellé "Primitive Modern"

Gil Mellé - "Primitive Modern" (1956)

Gil Mellé is an endlessly fascinating character not only in jazz but life in general: baritone saxophonist, artist, scientist, inventor, composer of soundtracks (The Andromeda Strain, Starship Invasions, Kolchek The Night Stalker). His focus was not jazz from the 60's onward, so his recordings are relatively few for a man who lived til 2004.

I re-visited this album for a recent show and discovered it was way above par. Arguably Mellé's best jazz release; the melodies are memorable and there is a marked enthusiasm in the band that includes frequent collaborator Joe Cinderella (another fascinating fellow) and the ever-creative drummer Ed Thigpen with Billy Phillips on bass The leader called his unique blend of classical, jazz and avant garde "Primitive Modern Jazz" - hence the title. The album is his first for the Prestige label and falls snugly between the Blue Note release "Patterns in Jazz" and "Gil's Guests".

Gil Mellé & Joe Cinderella
The set opens rather unusually with "Dominica"; a 'jazz dirge' for a recently deceased friend that is both dreamy and gripping in it's starkness, Slow modern classical sections alternate with brief swing reprieves. Mellé reveals in the liner notes that Bartok was a big influence and we get a taste of that here. The uptempo frolics of "Ironworks" dispel all gloom with triangle solos and an insanely fraught and jaw-dropping solo from Cinderella. Virtuosity wonderfully abounds from all. After an enigmatic guitar opening, "Ballet Time" reveals a catchy, almost Monk-ish tune over a carefree medium swing, with Mellé at the top of his improvising game.

Side 2 begins with an aptly titled "Adventure Swing"; forward thinking harmony paired with a complex but catchy theme. A certain ambiguity of emotion throughout makes room for thoughtfulness for both the artists and listener. Another contagious theme and happy-go-lucky feel comes with the curiously titled "Dedicatory Piece to the Geophysical Year of 1957" written on a formula of Mellé's. Another interesting element of the album is mutual improvising - while Cinderella is giving it all, Mellé is also improvising at a lower volume to great effect. Finishing the album is "Mark One" which wanders from a similar 'easy' feel to intriguing uncertainty during the bridge, with more fine interplay and smooth brushwork from Thigpen.

Mellé definitely appears to feel liberty and release moving from Blue Note to his new label, since he manages to pull of his fairly heady concepts with both aplomb and a certain amount of glee. The Prestige re-release includes Mellé's in depth liner notes, as well as an entire second album "Quadrama" - a mix of more quirky originals and two Ellington standards. Highly recommended for something different! - Kendo

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Retro Review - Freddie Hubbard "Straight Life"!

Freddie Hubbard - "Straight Life" CTI (Nov 11, 1970)

Pretty much everybody seems to know about "Red Clay"; but just in case you don't know about it's heavier, harder, funkier follow-up...this is "Straight Life". Switching out the CTI stable cats with tougher outsiders Joe Henderson and Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard reaches out further than Red Clay with 2 very long, very funky cuts along with an atmospheric closing cover of "Here's That Rainy Day". The title cut spans 17 minutes that you wish would never end: from the uplifting melodic head, to the soaring solos from Henderson, Hubbard, Hancock and Benson

over a simmering, relentless groove from Jack DeJohnette and Ron Carter. Weldon Irvine's "Mr. Clean" is darker, slightly slower and grooves just as hard; clocking in over 13 minutes with the composer driving the group on tambourine. Essential listening from the beginnings of a burgeoning era with all the right players. The cd issues from 1997 is one of the few CTI digital releases that gets it right form the original Rudy Van Gelder tapes, and there is also a 40th anniversary edition true to the original!