by Scott Yanow
Chick Corea, who is now 78, has lost none of his brilliance, enthusiasm or musical curiosity through the years. The pianist-keyboardist-composer, unlike most of his contemporaries, continues to stretch himself. He seems to form a new band every few months while never breaking up the older ones, leading to him constantly touring with stimulating and surprising groups.
In 2013, Corea teamed up with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade as an acoustic trio, touring the world as Trilogy and recording a three-CD set with the same name. This year, the group reunited, had another extensive tour, and recorded Trilogy 2, a two-CD set. They appeared at UCLA’s Royce Hall in a show that delighted the audience.
Corea, who always displays a laidback and down-home personality onstage, started the night by inspiring the crowd to sing along to some of his phrases on the piano. That enjoyable beginning led into a spirited version of “500 Miles High.” Along the way one heard tributes to Bill Evans (“Alice In Wonderland”), Duke Ellington (“In A Sentimental Mood”) and Thelonious Monk (a medley of “Crepuscule With Nellie” and “Work”). Corea improvised freely on a Demenico Scarlatti sonata from the 1700s which segued into his own “A Spanish Song.” He also performed “Fingerprints” (his answer to Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”) and ended the night with “Blue Monk” as an encore.
While McBride contributed solid swing and some virtuosic solos of his own and Blade played colorfully in a mostly supportive role, Chick Corea was the main star. When one adds up all of his accomplishments in a career dating back to the early 1960s, and the fact that he is still in his creative prime, a strong argument can be made that Corea is still the most significant jazz musician on the scene today. See him whenever he comes to town, no matter what group he is leading!
Fremeaux & Associates (www.fremeaux.com) is one of the top jazz labels from France. While Fremeaux is a wide-ranging company that also releases other kinds of music, it has several jazz series that are quite notable including previously unreleased live sessions of American greats in Europe, career retrospectives, and a complete Django Reinhardt series.
Horace Silver’s Live In Paris 14 Fevrier 1959 releases for the initial time the pianist-composer’s first Paris concert. With trumpeter Blue Mitchell, tenor-saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor, and drummer Louis Hayes, Silver is heard leading the most famous version of his quintet, one that had just recorded Finger Poppin’ for Blue Note. Their Paris set features the group on lengthy versions of “The Preacher,” the uptempo “Room 608,” “Doodlin’” (which is 18 minutes long), “Senor Blues” and the obscure piano feature “Sweet Stuff.” The performances are more bop and less funk-oriented than they would become with Cook (a new member of the group) taking lengthy solos that inspired the other musicians. Silver, who by the early 1950s had developed a distinctive solo style that was different from that of his contemporaries (most of whom owed large debts to Bud Powell), is in excellent form, peppering his improvisations with unexpected song quotes.
Barney Wilen’s 1954-1961 is a three-CD set that covers the first period of the excellent French saxophonist’s career. Wilen (1937-96) played soprano-sax early in his career (inspired originally by Sidney Bechet) but became best known as a strong hard bop-oriented tenor-saxophonist who at times in the 1950s could remind one of Sonny Rollins. He had many opportunities starting in 1954 to play with visiting American jazz greats, making his recording debut that year with drummer Roy Haynes’ group. In the Fremeaux compilation, one hears quite a few of the highpoints of Wilen’s first seven years on record. Along the way he holds his own with such notables as Haynes, pianists Henri Renaud, John Lewis, Duke Jordan, Toshiko Akiyoshi and George Gruntz, guitarist Jimmy Gourley, tenor-saxophonists Bobby Jaspar and Wayne Shorter, altoist Hubert Fol, trumpeters Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan and Dizzy Gillespie, and flugelhornist Clark Terry, not to mention Miles Davis (both on two songs from the soundtrack of Elevator To The Gallows and in a live concert). In addition, Wilen fares well on a jam session version of “Indiana” next to fellow tenors Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas and Guy Lafitte.
Wilen, whose playing of soprano-sax by the late 1950s in a modern jazz setting has been overlooked (it parallels that of Lucky Thompson), continued to evolve through the years, becoming a bit obscure after 1962 but spending periods playing free jazz, rock and African music before returning to straight ahead jazz in the 1980s. 1954-1961 gives one a very good overview of his early career and whets one appetite to acquire his complete sessions in the future.
Integrale Django Reinhardt is a series of 20 two-CD sets that include every recording by the great gypsy guitarist, not just the studio sides but also the surviving radio broadcasts. There have been several “complete” Django reissue series but this seems to be the most comprehensive one. Two of the twofers were available for me to review.
Integrale Django Reinhardt 5 (Mystery Pacific) dates from May 4, 1936 to May 29, 1937. In addition to the studio sides of the period by the Quintet of the Hot Club of France (featuring violinist Stephane Grappelli and Reinhardt accompanied by two rhythm guitars and bass), there are vocal sides by Jean Tranchant and Nane Cholet, two Grappelli-Reinhardt duets, a pair of unaccompanied guitar solos, and four numbers in which Django and Grappelli (on piano) play with an all-star band featuring tenor-saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and altoist Benny Carter. The rarest performances are 12 ½ minutes of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France taken from a BBC radio broadcast although the recording quality is quite erratic. The overall highlights of this reissue include “Limehouse Blues,” “Shine,” “Exactly Like You,” “Tears,” “Hot Lips,” “When Day Is Done,” “Running Wild,” “Mystery Pacific,” “I Found A New Baby” “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Crazy Rhythm.”
Integrale Django Reinhardt 6 (Swinging With Django) covers June 13, 1937-Dec. 14, 1937, a particularly busy period for the guitarist. Every top jazz musician, whether they were from the U.S. or Europe, wanted to use the guitarist and he was eager to comply. In addition to the studio performances of the Quintette and a better recorded radio broadcast, Django is heard on sessions led by trombonist Dickie Wells, altoist Andre Ekyan, trumpeters Phillipe Brun and Bill Coleman, and violinists Eddie South, Michel Warlop and Stephane Grappelli. Classic versions of such songs as “Bugle Call Rag,” “Tiger Rag,” “Bouncing Around,” “Lady Be Good,” “Daphne,” “Swing Guitars,” “Bill Coleman Blues,” “Bolero” and “Minor Swing” are among the highpoints of this rewarding release.
Although recent recordings of 1920s jazz are largely absent from the review pages of most of the main jazz magazines (as if they did not exist), all eras of jazz are alive and artistically well these days. Due to the proliferation of recordings, there are young musicians all over the world exploring all styles of jazz while seeking to add to the evolution of the music. While the most modern improvisations and approaches deserve plenty of attention, so do the efforts of revivalists and interpreters of obscurities from the past. The three CDs covered in this article are all from the United Kingdom.
The Tenement Jazz Band was formed in Scotland in 2018 but, style-wise, they could be a New Orleans jazz band from the late 1920s/early ‘30s. Their debut EP, New Orleans Wiggle, features the sextet (trumpeter Charles Dearness, trombonist Paddy Darley, Tom Pickles on saxophones, banjoist-singer Mike Kearney, bassist Simon Toner, and drummer John Youngs) performing New Orleans music of the 1920s in a manner a little reminiscent of such bands as that of Papa Celestin and Armand J. Piron. Other than the closing “Mahogany Hall Stomp” and perhaps Lu Watters’ “Big Chief Battle Axe” (which is from the 1940s), none of the seven songs are standards but all are well worth reviving. It is a real pleasure to hear spirited versions of such numbers as “Bogalusa Strut,” “New Orleans Wiggle” and Clarence Williams’ “Cushion Foot Stomp.” Trumpeter Dearness is the strongest soloist but it is for the ensembles and joyful group spirit that this set is recommended. It is available from www.tenementjazzband.com.
The other two releases in this article have overlapping personnel and are available from www.lejazzetal.com. Lejazzetal has in recent years emerged as one of the top British vintage jazz labels. Their catalog is well worth exploring, starting with the Dime Notes, and the Horniblow’s Hot 3’s Steppin’ On The Gas.
The Dime Notes consists of pianist-leader Andrew Oliver, clarinetist Dave Horniblower, guitarist Dave Kelbie, and bassist Tom Wheatley. While each of the musicians has experience in other genres, in this group they sound very much like creative and forward-looking artists from the late 1920s. While having an eclectic style and he can sound like an early swing pianist, Oliver can also sound very close to Jelly Roll Morton as he shows on such Morton-associated songs as “Original Jelly Roll Blues” (which is given a Spanish tinge not heard on the original recording), “The Pearls,” “The Crave” and “Turtle Twist.” Clarinetist Horniblow is quite fluent and, while hinting at many predecessors, like Oliver he has his own sound and style within the tradition. Guitarist Kelbie has extensively played Gypsy Swing but in this setting is more of an early rhythm guitarist who takes occasional solo spots while bassist Wheatley is so solid that one never misses the drummer.
In addition to revivals of obscure tunes (including a hot version of Sidney Bechet’s “What A Dream”) and the inclusion of Oliver’s original “Otis Stomp,” it is particularly fun to hear the Dime Notes’ fresh treatments of more familiar material. Why merely recreate the past when one can stretch out and come up with new and inventive versions of classic jazz that keep one guessing?
Horniblower’s Hot 3, which is featured on Steppin’ On The Gas, consists of the clarinetist, pianist Oliver and drummer Nicholas D. Ball (who also plays washboard). There are guest appearances by cornetist Andy Schumm and singer Dee Settlemier on one song apiece and two by guitarist Martin Wheatley (bassist Tom Wheatley’s father), but otherwise the 15 songs are played by the trio. While the two main voices are the same as in the Dime Notes, the sound of the group is a bit different. Ball’s drumming (which sometimes relies a bit on the bass drum while at other times operating as more of a percussionist) hints at Baby Dodds and makes the group sound a bit more primitive and looser than the Dime Notes. There is more of a reliance on Oliver’s left hand since there are no other chordal instruments while Horniblow’s playing in this context reminds one at various times of Johnny Dodds, Jimmy O’Bryant and Jimmy Lytell. Other than “Careless Love” and “Memphis Blues,” the songs are all little-known and include rare revivals of such numbers as “Zulu Wail,” “My Little Dixie Home,” “Missouri Squabble,” “Imagination” (not the well-known swing song), and “Skoodlum Blues.” It sounds very much like a 1920s Chicago group, particularly when Ball is on washboard. While I would give the edge to the Dime Notes, Steppin’ On The Gas is quite fun and recommended to those who like Dodds’ freewheeling trios.
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