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Art Blakey Chuck Anderson Debashish Bhattacharya Jim Ridl Kosi Mississippi John Hurt Steve Giordano Vishwa Mohan Bhatt Various Artists
Moanin’, by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, 1958. Blue Note, 95324
On October 30, 1958 Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers recorded the album Moanin’ at Van Gelder Studio in New Jersey for the Blue Note label. Moanin’ is one of the most influential and important hard bop albums due to its outstanding compositions, arrangements, and personnel. The quintet at this time consisted of Pittsburgh native Art Blakey on drums, and trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, bassist Jymie Merritt, and pianist Bobby Timmons, all from Philadelphia. Benny Golson wrote the arrangements and contributed four of the album’s six tracks. The title track, “Moanin’,” composed by pianist Bobby Timmons, became the greatest hit of Art Blakey’s lengthy career.
Lee Morgan’s improvisational contributions are indispensable to the sound of the album. He and Benny Golson carry the melodic and solo responsibilities as the only horns in the band. Clifford Brown strongly influenced Morgan’s style, characterized by an aggressive rhythmic attack, long melodic phrases, and a brassy timbre.
Benny Golson’s tunes “Are You Real?,” “Along Came Betty,” “The Drum Thunder Suite,” and “Blues March” lend a variety and versatility to Moanin’ by utilizing various song forms and musical styles. As an improviser, Golson’s smooth tone and fluid lines contrast with and complement the aggressive playing of Lee Morgan.
Morgan and Golson provide a solid frontline, but the Jazz Messengers rhythm section drives the band and propels the soloists to ever higher levels. Pianist Bobby Timmons composed the title track and consistently makes his presence heard through his tasteful comping and solos. Bassist Jymie Merritt provides the bass lines and rhythmic punctuation depending on the style of the song and is featured as a soloist several times throughout the album.
Drummer and bandleader Art Blakey provides the aggressive, driving pulse that propels the Jazz Messengers and is so characteristic of the hard bop style. Blakey was 39 at the time of this recording, though he chose to surround himself with young talent. By the time of Moanin’ the Jazz Messengers had progressed through several incarnations, with Blakey being the only constant. Despite the changing personnel the Jazz Messengers remained the archetypal hard bop group, characterized by an emphasis on the blues roots of the music. Blakey is notable for his aggressive drumming, use of polyrhythm, musical interactions with his soloists, and his personality. Blakey felt strongly that jazz was underappreciated in America and he sought to bring it to a broader audience. As a musician he provided his musicians with ample space for solos and encouraged them to contribute compositions and arrangements.
This combination of Pennsylvania born musicians collaborated to record one of hard bop’s most influential albums. The track listing includes Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’;” Benny Golson’s “Are You Real?,” “Along Came Betty,” “The Drum Thunder Suite,” and “Blues March;” and a single standard, Arlen and Mercer’s “Come Rain or Come Shine.” The selection of songs for Moanin’ demonstrates the variety of styles in which the Jazz Messengers comfortably perform. The album features aspects of blues, funky jazz, Latin-American music, and New Orleans style marching bands.
The song “Moanin’” is one of the tunes that helped to generate the “soul jazz” style of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Influenced by gospel, “Moanin’” makes use of call-and-response technique between the piano and horns. Instead of a walking bass Merritt plays a rhythmically driving bassline while Blakey plays a swing rhythm with emphasis on beats two and four.
Benny Golson’s “Drum Thunder Suite” was composed due to Blakey’s desire to record a song using mallets extensively. The suite consists of three contrasting themes. The first theme, “Drum Thunder,” is primarily a drum solo with horns playing short melodic ideas in unison (soli writing). The second theme, “Cry a Blue Tear,” utilizes a strongly Latin rhythm in the drums. It features a lyrical melody with trumpet and saxophone playing complementary lines. The final theme, “Harlem’s Disciples,” begins with a funky melody, and then a piano solo sets the stage for the concluding drum solo. “The Drum Thunder Suite” makes an interesting use of different stylistic approaches and arranging techniques.
“Blues March”, also composed by Benny Golson, is intended to invoke the spirit of a marching band, with the drums clearly marking all four beats of the measure. The rhythm section is minimally invasive in this tune, and all of the listener’s attention is drawn to the soloist. Morgan and Golson play typically bluesy choruses, though Bobby Timmons’ solo is the highlight of the track. His solo begins with a simple line which is developed into an exciting, chordal conclusion.
“Are You Real?,” composed by Golson, is a more straightforward hard bop tune featuring a 32-bar chorus and a faster tempo. The standard “Come Rain or Come Shine” is performed with the attention to melody and arrangement not typically associated with hard bop, but is convincingly and faithfully represented by the Jazz Messengers.
Moanin’ is one of hard bop’s seminal albums due to the extremely high quality of the personnel and compositions featured. The mastery with which Lee Morgan and Benny Golson provide the frontline is further elevated by the solidarity of Timmons, Merritt, and Blakey. It is a testament to the great quality of the performers, compositions, and the hard bop genre. The accessibility of the album is surely a result of Art Blakey’s desire to promote jazz as an art in a time where public interest in the music was waning and musical styles such as doo-wop and rock and roll began to gain popularity.
Freefall, by The Chuck Anderson Trio, 2010. Dreambox Media, DMJ-1121.
Freefall is guitarist/composer Chuck Anderson’s first release after an extended hiatus from performance due to ill health. However, it is a triumphant and welcome return to the contemporary straight-ahead jazz scene for Anderson and his newly assembled trio featuring bassist Eric Schreiber and drummer Ed Rick. Freefall consists of twelve original tracks, ten of which feature the trio and two solo guitar pieces.
The album effectively covers a wide breadth of the harmonic and emotive possibilities available in the tonal jazz idiom. From the exuberant, bright Lydian theme of “Flight,” to the swaggering Mixolydian feel of “In A Misty Glow,” and the dark, serpentine Locrian orientation of “Diablo’s Dream,” the trio genuinely captures and communicates the nature of each tune. The variety provides a fine overview of Anderson the composer.
Despite the breadth of the album, the depth to which Anderson and Schreiber explore each tune, driven by Rick’s percussive backdrop, is the highlight. Though the trio possesses virtuosity in abundance, they never lose sight of the aesthetic sensibility that sets them apart from many other guitar trios. The nuanced communication between the players is clearly evident on tunes such as the blues-inflected “Double-Dippin’,” and a similar sensitivity to the musical material can be heard on the evocative waltz “The Enchanted Garden.”
The production only helps to convey the message; the guitar tone is clear and crisp, the bass vibrant, the percussion packs a punch, and the balance between all three is ideal.
Freefall is a unique conception, given a sense of unity and cohesion by the trio’s attention to each tune’s inherent musicality, the communication between players, and the successful integration and incorporation of all three instruments as essential elements in the greater musical tapestry.
Hindustani Slide: The Indian Classical Guitar (DVD), by Debashish Bhattacharya, 2006. Vestapol, 13031.
Hindustani Slide: The Indian Classical Guitar is a video recording of Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya and the tabla virtuoso Pandi Kumar Bose performing live in Calcutta in 1994. Bhattacharya is an accomplished Indian classical musician, having studied under Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty and Pandit Brij Bushan Kabra. He has also experimented with Western performers, most notably John McLaughlin and Bob Brozman. Bhattacharya independently developed the three and four string slide guitars of his teachers into an instrument with six melody strings, plus sympathetic and drone strings, much like that popularized by Vishwa Mohan Bhatt.
This DVD features performances of three ragas, one in full classical style, one in a light classical style, and one as a dhun based on the folk music of Rajasthan. The footage is high quality, providing revealing shots of Bhattacharya’s playing technique, as well as the interactions between the soloist and his tabla accompanist.
The actual order of the video is not as it appeared in concert. Traditionally, a long, full exposition of a raga is performed first, followed by lighter pieces. This DVD begins with the dhun in raga Kirwani, based on Rajasthani folk music. There is extensive use of guitaristic devices such as natural harmonics, open string trills, and double stops. Bhattacharya’s use of these techniques stands in strong contrast to the lyrical and glissando-based playing of Vishwa Mohan Bhatt.
The second raga performed is the morning raga Gujari Todi, associated with the emotions of tragic love. Bhattacharya performs a short alap before moving onto the gat, which is set to a twelve-beat tala.
The conclusion of the DVD is a 63-minute rendition of the romantic raga Charukeshi. Bhattacharya slowly explores the lower ranges of the raga, progressing one note at a time, examining each interval in turn. At 15:00, the jor begins, still emphasizing the lower ranges, and gradually giving way to the four-minute jhala that concludes the unaccompanied part of the performance. At 24:00, the vilambit gat is introduced and extensively explored through his improvisations. Any musician can appreciate Bhattacharya’s exquisite use of motivic development, rhythmic motifs, deft shifts between ranges, navigation of passages of wide intervals, and perfect timing in returning to the composition from his improvisatory explorations. At 46:00 a drut gat commences, in which the higher range of the instrument is thoroughly exploited. Finally, at 52:00, Bhattacharya begins an epic twelve-minute jhala, a showcase of his virtuosity and innovative techniques, including double stops, glissandi, and open string pedal points.
In addition to being an outstanding musical performance, Hindustani Slide: Indian Classical Guitar is accompanied by a fifteen-page booklet, written by Mark Humphrey. The booklet provides extensive background information on the evolution of the Indian classical guitar, the history of guitar in India, and the biography of Debashish Bhattacharya. There is also a very informative account of the performance, providing details about the ragas, talas, and guitar tunings.
Your Cheatin’ Heart and Other Works, by Jim Ridl, 2005. Dreambox Media, DMJ-1080.
Your Cheatin’ Heart is a collection of seven tunes from pianist Jim Ridl in a variety of settings from trio to sextet. Ridl is joined by soprano saxophonist Ron Kerber, vocalist JD Walter, bassist Steve Varner, drummer Jim Miller, with guitar and mandolin contributions from Jef Lee Johnson. Four of the seven tracks are Ridl originals.
The album begins with a trio rendition of the Hank Williams tune “My Cheatin’ Heart,” with Ridl’s playing transforming the tune in to a soulful, blues inflected jazz tune. This is the only trio piece on the album, but with Miller’s solid rhythm, Ridl and Varner shine throughout, fully realizing the possibilities of a trio instrumentation.
“Grazed By Light” augments the trio with JD Walter’s singing and Ron Kerber’s saxophone. The tune is introduced with a lovely solo piano statement, which gives way to the restatement of the melody by Kerber and Walter in unison. Varner provides a captivating bass line, over which the soloists extemporize in breathtaking fashion. This track is beautifully performed as well as being the best example of Ridl compositional skills on the album.
Jef Lee Johnson appears twice on the album, playing mandolin on the classic “Tennessee Waltz” and guitar on Juan Tizol’s “Caravan.” The mandolin adds a remarkable dimension to the former, perfectly complimenting the sounds of the bass glissandi and Walter’s vocalizations. “Caravan” is a chaotic, yet satisfying, tear through the old tune, highlighted by Johnson’s solos and riffing, and Ridl’s adept staccato playing.
With the unexpected folk tunes, variety of instrumentation, and sheer prowess of the performers, Your Cheatin’ Heart is a pleasure to listen to. The production quality is great, emphasizing the distinct, yet beautifully blended, timbres of the traditional jazz instruments with the mandolin, overdrive-laden guitar, and Walter’s smooth and subtle scat singing.
One More Cup of Coffee, by Kosi, 2013. Self Produced.
Akosua Gyebi Sorensen, or Kosi, as she identifies herself on the 2013 album One More Cup of Coffee, is a New York-based singer, songwriter and composer forging her own sound. The album consists solely of Kosi’s vocals accompanied by the guitar work of Aron Marchak (with the exception of the song “Marlene,” in which Kosi plays her own guitar accompaniment).
Despite the duo instrumentation, a diverse musical variety is successfully achieved. One More Cup of Coffee contains 11 tracks, ten of which are listed and credited. Of these ten, eight are originals, presented alongside Kosi’s interpretations of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” and Vernon Duke’s standard “Autumn in New York.” As a songwriter, Kosi embodies funk, soul, jazz, and other influences into her music.
Kosi’s voice is powerful, firmly rooted in jazz, drawing heavily on the blues, and especially well suited to the solo voice with guitar context. Marchak’s command of the guitar is impressive: his use of walking bass lines, arpeggiated and comped chords, and melodic runs constitute a rich orchestration from a single instrument. Each track has abundant space for extended improvisations from both Kosi and Marchak.
“Little Miss Generous” is one of Kosi’s originals, a powerful minor 6/8 tune, with lyrics reflecting on selfless desperation. Kosi’s phrasing capability is most apparent in the 5/4 time signature of “The Coldest Summer.” The lyrics fit in an unexpected, yet seemingly inevitable, way. In other words, it works.
“Marlene” features Kosi’s flamenco-influenced guitar playing on a steel string acoustic guitar, providing a timbral contrast with the rest of the album. Vocally, Kosi is at her rangiest on this tune. The vocals range from orations in the bottom of her range, to belting at the higher end, with everything including sobs, weeps, and growls in between.
“Once and Future” is the last titled track on the album, and nicely sums up everything heard to this point. Lyrics, vocals, and guitar accompaniment come together nicely on this straight ahead jazz original.
The Best of Mississippi John Hurt, by Mississippi John Hurt, 1990. Vanguard, 19/20.
This album is a live concert recording from Oberlin College, 1965, of one of the most influential and imitated guitarists of the 20th century. Though recorded near the end of his life, Mississippi John Hurt’s distinctive fingerstyle guitar playing and wonderful singing voice are in good form throughout.
The concert actually covers a variety of song genres, all subject to the John Hurt interpretation. Gospel tunes such as “I Shall Not be Moved” and “Nearer My God To Thee,” blues tunes including “Avalon, My Home Town,” and “Salty Dog Blues,” and the folk songs “Chicken” and “You Are My Sunshine” are representative of Hurt’s broad repertoire.
Many of the songs on this album have become standards in the playing of acoustic blues players. “Avalon,” “My Creole Belle,” and “Stagolee” are a few of the examples of the ubiquity of John Hurt tunes and arrangements in the finger picking guitar community.
Musically, the highlights of the album may be the gospel tunes for the beauty of the simplicity of the guitar accompaniment and the prominent attention given to John Hurt as a singer. Hurt’s instrumental prowess is evidenced on guitar breaks in tunes like “Avalon” and “Sliding Delta.” Finally, “Spanish Fandango” and “Talking Casey” feature open-tuning playing, with the latter exhibiting Hurt’s slide technique.
This album is a classic and a must-have for fans of blues, folk music, and guitarists. The song selection serves as a repository of American folk music and styles, and the restrained, but sophisticated, aesthetic sense of Mississippi John Hurt makes this album a pleasure to hear.
Timeline, by Steve Giordano’s Spacetet, 2008. Dreambox Media, DMJ-1112
Timeline is the first album on Dreambox Media for guitarist Steve Giordano and his Spacetet. Joining Giordano are Peter Cobb on alto sax, Bob Meashey on trumpet and flugelhorn, and a rhythm section of acoustic bassist Brian Howell and drummer/percussionist John Mosemann. Giordano also plays piano on one piece, “With Love.” Five of the eight tracks are original compositions by Giordano.
The overall affect of the album is of wide-open space, arresting percussive timbres, and an understated aesthetic that urges the listener to simply enjoy the ride. Often, particularly with the guitar solos, there is an effect of the reverb-laden guitar ‘emerging’ from the musical textures.
Freddie Hubbard’s “Intrepid Fox” is one of the more driving tunes on the album, effectively displaying Giordano’s guitar playing, juxtaposing sustained chords, fast comping, and trills supporting the fine solos by Cobb and Meashey.
“Stella by Starlight” gradually builds from a solo guitar to the full band, with the texture continually thickening as each instrumental part becomes more involved. Mosemann’s cymbal work is especially notable, as is his utilization of the myriad timbral possibilities of the drumset.
Of the original composition, “Fantasia” and “Villino Anna” are particularly striking. Both are Latin-influenced, being a bossa and a samba, respectively. Giordano’s guitar style is especially well-suited to these styles, as is Mosemann’s drum and percussion sensibility. “Villino Anna” may be the best performance on the album, with rhythmic interest as a 6/4 samba, lovely horn arrangements interspersed between the solo sections, an evolution into an upbeat Latin theme, and some of the most inspired soloing on the album.
On Timeline, the Spacetet makes excellent use of space, texture, and timbre in creating a musical atmosphere conducive to the free exchange between the musicians. The percussive flavors, Giordano’s mastery of the guitar as the sole harmonic instrument, and particularly Cobb’s soloing are highlights throughout.
The Instrumental Artistry of Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (DVD), by Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, 2006. Vestapol, 13068.
The Instrumental Artistry of Vishwa Mohan Bhatt is a great introduction to Hindustani music and especially to the Indian classical guitar. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt made many of the modifications to the guitar that eventually became standard features of Indian classical guitar, hence the common reference to the instrument as the “Mohan Veena.” Bhatt is an accomplished classical musician, having studied under Pandit Ravi Shankar, but he is also known for his crossover and fusion albums with Western artists such as Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, and Bela Fleck.
This DVD features Bhatt playing four ragas in various genres of Hindustani classical music. The selections are interspersed with spoken sections providing background information on Hindustani classical music, Bhatt’s familial musical lineage, the development of the Indian classical guitar, and specific information about the ragas performed.
The first performance is a forty-minute rendition of the majestic night raga, Yaman. The first track is a twenty-minute selection featuring Bhatt unaccompanied. The first fifteen minutes is the alap, which he explores slowly, building the phrases from low to high, hinting at the characteristic phrases of the raga and exploring its contours with extraordinary meends (glissandi). At 15:40 there is the beginning of a pulsed section, the jod. Moving into the higher ranges, Bhatt concludes this unaccompanied section with a brief jhala, beginning at 19:00.
Continuing with raga Yaman, Bhatt is joined by the tabla player Sukhvinder Singh Namadhari. Bhatt introduces the melody of the gat, improvising extensively in his glissando-heavy style, interacting with Singh throughout. At 18:00 both performers begin their virtuosic and exciting jhala, concluding the performance of raga Yaman.
The remaining performances explore ragas Tilak Kamod, Sarang, and Kirwani in much briefer genres of light classical music. The performance of Raga Kirwani is a dhun based on a Rajasthani folk melody. Tilak Kamod and Sarang are shown through brief gats, with the requisite improvisation.
Bhatt reveals some very interesting facts about his personal style and the development of the instrument in his commentary. He speaks of the importance of maintaining a lyrical musical style based on vocal music traditions. He describes the sound he was aiming to achieve in his modifications to the guitar, ultimately to combine three Indian classical instruments — the sitar, the sarod, and the veena — into one. He also demonstrates his picking and slide technique, the tuning of his instrument, and the basic exercises he gives to his own students.
Origins of Guitar Music in Southern Congo and Northern Zambia 1950, ’51, ’52, ’57, ’58, by Various Artists, 2002. Sharp Wood Records, 9077068139.
Origins of Guitar Music is a collection of songs recorded by the field recordist Hugh Tracey in the 1950s in Zimbabwe, Congo, Malawi, and Zambia. The artists and songs collected represent some of the musical developments in central and southern Africa of the period. The music reflects the competing and complementary influences of indigenous African music, and pop music imported from the West, into unique styles of guitar music.
Most tracks feature one guitar, one or more singers, and sparse rhythmic accompaniment, such as bells and rasps.
There are many gems on this album that highlight inventive and virtuosic guitar playing, the circular time cycles and syncopated rhythms often associated with African music, and beautifully crafted musical textures. Click here to read the full review!