Archives for posts with tag: Wayne Shorter

Feature: 20 Albums 

A friend of mine nominated me on facebook to post 20 album covers in 20 days of albums that really had an impact on me. While I’m not big on facebook chain letters, I do find the idea inviting so I thought I’d explore it here instead.

Here we go in no particular order…

Live at the Bijou, Grover Washington Jr. (Kudu, 1977)

First heard in the late 80’s on Paul E. Lopez and Mike Tull’s excellent radio program, Vibes & Stuff on CIUT 89.5FM, the track “Funkfoot” immediately struck me as a perfect combination of jazz and funk. It took years for me to find the record and it remains in high rotation for me to this day.

 

Arias & Symphonies, The Spoons (Ready, 1982)

This album was released in 1982 as I was just awakening to my own musical consciousness and taste. I became a faithful fan of this local band for a good part of 40 years. This album in particular set the bar for me when it came to 80’s new wave. In an older post, I dare to argue that it was the best album of the 80’s.

 

My Ever Changing Moods (Cafe Bleu), The Style Council (Polydor, 1984)

In adolescence, we all look for “our thing.” In the 80’s, cliques formed around musical taste. There was the Duran Duran bunch, the Pink Floyd bunch, The Cure bunch and so on. Like many teenagers, I fancied myself an original and adopted this enigmatic and short-lived group that sprung out of The Jam and the rise of Brit soul. The Style Council was my gateway to jazz, a genre that influences virtually all music I listen to today.

 

Places and Spaces, Donald Byrd (Blue Note, 1975)

I just love the sound Donald Byrd cultivated in his long partnership with producers Fonce and Larry Mizell (a.k.a. the Mizell Brothers). They created a body of work in the 70’s that bridged jazz and popular music. This album is the apex of that sound and is definitely on my desert island list.

 

Headhunters, Herbie Hancock (Columbia, 1973)

I first heard the opening riff of “Chameleon” when i was in my 8th grade brass band at school. The 9th grade stage band (the cool kids) were warming up and the bassist started playing the iconic clavinet line from this seminal album. Herbie Hancock is one of my musical heroes and I’ve been fortunate to see him live on a couple of occasions.

 

 

Togethering, Kenny Burrell & Grover Washington Jr. (Blue Note, 1985)

This is one of those records I owned on cassette and listened to so much, it wore out. By the time the CD revolution came around, the album was out of print. Years later, I bought the vinyl on Discogs and digitized it. It still appears to be out of print at Blue Note and maybe was never highly regarded but Burrell’s and Washington’s virtuosity and chemistry sealed it as one of my all-time favourite jazz records.

Minute by Minute, The Doobie Brothers (Warner Bros., 1978)

I was never a rocker and was generally unaware of country and folk rock growing up. This album was in my sister’s collection and was The Doobie Brothers’ foray into an R&B sound. I still love the lush keyboards, Michael McDonald’s vocals, and the songwriting.

 

 

Brown Sugar, D’Angelo (EMI, 1995)

This album was my introduction to R&B and more specifically neo soul. It opened a new appreciation for me for R&B from every decade prior and since.

 

 

Baduizm, Erykah Badu (Kedar, 1997)

If D’Angelo introduced me to R&B, Erykah Badu locked me in as an eternal fan. This album has become my yardstick for songwriting, style, and performance for an R&B record.

 

 

Lover’s Rock, Sade (Epic, 2000)

Sade was huge in the 1980’s but I was too preoccupied with new wave to take them seriously. By the time this album dropped, I was all in. It was also a treat seeing them live in 2011.

 

 

Brother Sister, The Brand New Heavies  (Delicious Vinyl, 1994)

This group introduced me to “Acid Jazz.” As a genre, it is still illusive to define but The Brand New Heavies merged pop, jazz, and soul to form what would be coined as Acid Jazz. Ambitious multi-instrument arrangements and dance-influenced beats won me over. It wasn’t until later in life that I came to appreciate Earth, Wind, and Fire as the pioneers and all-time masters of this sound.

 

The Renaissance, Q-Tip (Motown, 2008)

This is the album that developed my taste in hip hop. Q-Tip remains one of my favourite hip hop artists. I loved the merger of R&B and hip hop on this record. Because of this record, I devoured A Tribe Called Quest’s back catalogue. Incidentally, this album is produced by the late, great J Dilla, another artist I discovered much later in life.

 

Tribes, Vibes, and Scribes, Incognito (Talkin’ Loud, 1992)

I think I heard the instrumental track, “Colibri” from this album used in a TV show and I sought it out. Incognito has a knack for songwriting and jazz performances that draw the best from R&B, Funk, and Dance genres. They are my favourite band today and this album was what brought me to them.

 

Return of the Space Cowboy, Jamiroquai (Sony, 1994)

Probably my favourite group in the 90’s (after Incognito). I think this is still their best album.

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi Trio (Fantasy, 1965)

I think one of the most perfect recordings I’ve heard to this day is the instrumental version of “Christmas Time Is Here.” The tune and the simple but enchanting treatment by this talented trio never gets old for me.

 

 

The Music Man Original Soundtrack, Meredith Willson (Warner Bros., 1962)

A guilty pleasure, yes but also a remarkable musical book. Not only are the show tunes among the most playful and enduring from that era, Willson weaves a clever consistency among the songs. The interplay during “Lida Rose / Will I Ever Tell You” is a wonderful example.

 

 

Reggae Hits, Volume 24, Various Artists (Jet Star, 1999)

In the mid 90’s, a friend of mine introduced me to the expanse of reggae music. Before then, Bob Marley was all I knew. This compilation, random though it seems, was a perfect sampling and I grew my reggae collection prodigiously from what inspired me on this record.

 

 

Heavy Weather, Weather Report (Columbia, 1977)

I was a band nerd in high school, so yeah, this album. Still holds up today as one of the finest jazz fusion albums ever. Wayne Shorter and Josef Zawinul are both disciples of Miles Davis.

 

 

 

Glengarry Glen Ross, Music From and Inspired by The Motion Picture, James Newton Howard (Elektra, 1992)

One of my favourite films and one of my favourite albums. Wayne Shorter’s genius permeates the soundscape of the film. This was another album that I wore out on cassette. It was hard to find on CD but I found a Japanese version and it is one the most coveted in my collection.

 

 

Blade Runner Soundtrack, Vangelis (Atlantic, 1994)

This is my favourite film and one of the reasons is the music. I don’t think there has ever been a film that so effectively melds music, mood, and story.

 

 

 

 

Terrace Martin Presents the Pollyseeds: Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1 (Ropeadope, 2017)

Terrace Martin’s last album, Velvet Portraits (Ropeadope, 2016) remains one of my favourite albums from the last few years. I wasn’t expecting a follow-up this soon but it has arrived with the Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1. I already can’t wait for Vol. 2. 

Like Portraits, this project offers a wide range of collaborations that are distinct enough to stand up to repeated listening but similar enough to underpin a stylistic theme to the album. In Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1, Martin delivers a classy homage to slow jams and quiet storm while keeping jazz at its core.

“Wake Up,” in particular is a bluesy jazz ballad, apparently performed by Kamasi Washington (channelling Wayne Shorter I might add). According to Rolling Stone (link below), Martin’s sax is only credited on the cover of Janet Jackson’s “Funny How Time Flies.” Other tracks with a heavier jazz pedigree are “Believe” and “Mamma D/Liemert Park.” “Believe” sounds like an instrumental reprise of “Think of You” from Portraits. It’s a simple example of how great musicians can innovate variations on basic structures and create something entirely fresh.

Stronger R&B treatment can be found on slow jams like “Don’t Trip” and “You and Me,” the latter featuring the return of Rose Gold, who had delivered a memorable performance in “Think of You.”

Martin also serves up more electronically influenced downtempo numbers. “Your Space” features Wyann Vaughn, daughter of Wanda and Wayne Vaughn, who by association with Maurice White, is R&B royalty. In “Up Up and Away,” we hear a helium voice effect, perhaps an ode to the late Prince who used it, as only he could at the time, on Breakfast Can Wait (NPG Records, 2014).

Martin and his collaborators reveal a rich depth in the space between jazz and R&B. They are not the first to traverse these genres but they are among the best in the world right now.

The Pollyseeds Collective

Terrace Martin (saxophone), Robert Glasper (keyboards), Kamasi Washington (saxophone), Wyann Vaughan (vocals), Rose Gold (vocals), Trevor Lawrence Jr. (drums), Marlon Williams (guitar), Brandon Eugene Owens (bass), Taber Gable (piano), Jonathan Barber (drums), Curlee Martin (drums), Robert Searlight (percussion), Chachi (vocals), Preston Harris (vocals)

There may be other members of the Pollyseeds collective. The above is the most comprehensive list I could compile based on various online sources. There does not appear to be an official listing from the label.

Further Reading

Must Listen

  • This studio performance of the track, “Think of You” from the Velvet Portraits album is a master class in sublime

Album Review: The Epic, Kamasi Washington (Brainfeeder, May 2015)

kwKamasi Washington is a jazz saxophonist that joins the vanguard of musicians bridging jazz with contemporary music from the many genres in its orbit. Listening to his album, The Epic, I wonder if Washington is this generation’s Herbie Hancock – someone who pushes the boundaries of jazz but does so from a place of legitimacy.

You might say the same of Robert Glasper and jazz innovators before him like Guru and Ronny Jordan. But there is something different about Washington’s brand of innovation. Perhaps it is his pedigree, having played with legends like Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Harvey MasonKenny Burrell, and George Duke.

The Epic is an incredibly immersive listening experience. I would liken it to a concept album by a band like Pink Floyd or an opus like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. It’s not the ethereality or electronic treatment that inspires this comparison. Rather, it is the ambition, the grandioseness of this album. It is truly the epic jazz album of the year, if not this decade.

The Epic’s ambience is established through a combination of Washington’s improvisation, a steady and pervasive baseline from Miles Mosley’s acoustic bass, and 20-person choir that evokes a blend of 60’s spiritual jazz and sci-fi cinematic scores. This sound emerges as Washington’s signature while being subdued enough to support, not displace, the profound range and depth of performances and compositions on the album.

With nearly 3 hours of music, the musicians are well showcased. I can’t recall the last time I heard so many generous and wonderful trombone solos, as played by Ryan Porter on tracks like “Leroy and Lanisha” and “Re-Run Home.” Igmar Thomas’ trumpet is another capable foil to Washington’s tenor sax. Stephen Bruner (a.k.a. Thundercat) brings his unique electric bass sound to “Askim,” interplaying fantastically with the majestic choir conducted by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. Atwood-Ferguson, incidentally, worked on another recent spiritual jazz revival of sorts, my personal pick for 2014 album of the year, Church, by Mark de Clive Lowe.

Washington himself is a remarkable talent on the saxophone. His range is broad, from hard blowing dissonance reminiscent of Pharoah Sanders to the easy swing of a popular saxophonist like Grover Washington Jr. Kamasi Washington is comfortable and capable at both extremes and this album sees him traverse the expanse.

The Epic’s more conventional arrangements include “Cherokee,” a lovely tune sung by Patrice Quinn in the best tradition of lounge jazz and a version of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” arranged in 3/4 time while maintaining the composition’s lilting beauty.

To me, this album’s appeal is peculiar because I find it simultaneously exhilarating and comforting. I’m excited by its newness – but also comforted that we have a new and credible steward to lead jazz forward. With The Epic, Kamasi Washington sets forth.

 

The Players: Kamasi Washington – Tenor Saxophone; Thundercat – Electric Bass; Miles Mosley – Acoustic Bass; Ronald Bruner Jr. – Drums; Tony Austin – Drums; Leon Mobley – Percussion; Cameron Graves – Piano; Brandon Coleman – Keyboards; Ryan Porter – Trombone; Igmar Thomas – Trumpet; Patrice Quinn – Lead Vocal; Dwight Tribble – Lead Vocal

Book Review: The History of Jazz – Second Edition, Ted Gioia (Oxford University Press, 2011)

It is perhaps hubris to use “The” in this book’s title. There are numerous accounts of how “America’s music” germinated and flowered all around the world. But if a handful of people are to be given some latitude, Ted Gioia is one of them. As the founder of the Jazz studies program at Stanford and a former editor of Jazz.com, Gioia has the credentials to speak authoritatively about the jazz form and its beginnings.

Gioia’s research and depth of coverage in this 400 page tome are quite simply awesome. From the root of the African drum, to its evolution in New Orleans during the Slave Trade, to the jazz artists who top the charts today, this account is remarkable for its thoroughness. What Gioia does particularly well is take the reader on a mostly chronological journey through jazz’ family tree without forcing a linear structure. Instead, he takes us along a branch over the course of a decade or so, then pulls back and describes an adjacent branch, explaining its similarities and differences to the former.

I picked up this book simply because I wanted to understand just that – the complex pedigree of today’s jazz music and the great musicians that shaped it over the years. Much of the music I write about has its ancestry in jazz and I enjoy exploring those connections.

In the end, I was delightfully edified by the answers to all the questions I had before I read it: Where did bebop come from? How was it different from hard bop? Why is Ellington so important? Was Bird more influencial than Coltrane? And so on.

What’s more, Gioia cites generous examples of key players, compositions, and recordings. I found it fascinating to read a passage about Ahmad Jamal, for example, and quickly look up the tracks referenced on youtube or iTunes so I could listen along while I read.

At times, The History of Jazz comes across as professorial and academic but Gioia also captures the very human element of jazz with rich biographies of key figures. Generous (and welcome) length is given to Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis among others. Their personal history, influences, and choices are explored in good depth and give us an understanding of what made these musicians unique and how they shaped jazz.

Being a relatively recent Second Edition, the references are up-to-date and on the mark. The book comes full circle with the final sections exploring the “new traditionalists” who have recently reached back to the swing era of the 30s and 40s and the modern jazz era of the 50s and 60s. Reading about Diana Krall or Herbie Hancock in this context and then listening to their current works enriches our appreciation for what their music is today and where it came from.

Although it is a dense and lengthy book, those of you interested in jazz and its many subgenres will find it a valuable resource. For me personally, this book went even further. I hadn’t set out to read it cover to cover but once Gioia started connecting the dots for me, I wanted more. This, for any historian, is a job well done.

Favourite insights I gleaned from Ted Gioia’s The History of Jazz:

  • Louis Armstrong was influenced and mentored by Joe ‘King’ Oliver, one of the first great players of the cornet. But Armstrong was a better virtuoso and heralded the beginning of the age of the soloist.
  • Benny Goodman was the first media celebrity. As radios made their way into American living rooms, band leaders would be among the first household names.
  • Duke Ellington brought a classical approach to jazz, making ‘art’ music instead of popular music. Although not as commercially successful as some of the more dance-oriented bands of the time (e.g. Benny Goodman), his work would later be recognized as some of the most ingenious musical compositions in the genre.
  • Charlie Parker is the father of Bebop, a form of jazz less concerned with the swing rhythm and simple melodies. He and Dizzy Gillespie characterized the form with their super-fast and complex melodies. When challenged about the seemingly off notes he played in his solos, Parker famously said, “there are no wrong notes if you play them in the right context.”
  • The relationships between band leaders and sidemen are numerous and intertwined. All the greats started as sidemen, ascended as leaders, took on new sidemen, who then ascended as the next generation of leaders. Miles Davis is a great example. In the late 40’s Davis at 19 years of age, was one of Dizzy Gillespie’s sidemen. In the 50s and 60s, Davis fostered talents under him like Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Bill Evans. Each of them went on to be giants of jazz in later years.
  • As with any art form, jazz was shaped not only by its players but by its environment. The advent of the railway, racism, WWII, the rise of television, and the 60s protest ethos all had a significant impact on what kinds of jazz proliferated and diminished through the years. “Free Jazz,” for example, emerged in the 60s when conformity to the norms of the 50s was viewed as artistic compromise.
  • As the big band era gave way to the modern jazz era, some big bands carried on into the 70s. One of the most long-lived was lead by a Japanese-American woman named Toshiko Akiyoshi who, to date, has garnered 14 Grammy nominations. Akiyoshi was discovered in 1952 by Oscar Peterson. She was the first Japanese student at Berklee. Her daughter is Monday Michiru, a well known vocalist in contemporary House and Dance music.
  • Miles Davis’ 1969 release, Bitches Brew, is the progenitor of jazz fusion, most remarkably, the construction of jazz compositions around electronic instruments.