by Scott Yanow
Nutty is a completely original concept, and a very fun band to see play live. It is fronted by a very good singer (Sonny Moon) whose spontaneous talking between songs is reminiscent of a modernized Las Vegas comedian with hints of Dean Martin. He is joined by a three-horn septet that plays colorful and witty arrangements that often start out as jazz standards, but shift immediately to unrelated rock classics when Sonny Moon begins singing. Their charts are filled with unexpected song quotes and the music veers back and forth between excerpts of jazz tunes and rock, keeping everyone guessing and smiling at the outlandish nature of it all.
At a recent show at Feinstein’s at Vitello’s, Nutty was comprised of Mr. Moon and co-leader bassist Guy Wonder, tenor-saxophonist and flutist Edmund Velasco, baritonist-flutist Mike Reznick, pianist Dan Spector, drummer Dave Tull, Scott Breadman on percussion, and David Miller subbing on trumpet. One had the rare opportunity of hearing a swinging version of a Led Zeppelin song, Jethro Tull’s “The Impossible Task” interacting with the “Mission Impossible” theme, Nat Adderley’s “Jive Samba” meeting Heart’s “Barracuda,” Carole King’s “Another Pleasant Valley Sunday” joining in with “Straight No Chaser” and other Thelonious Monk songs, the Kinks (“Tired Of Waiting”) somehow being conjured up by Charles Mingus, and a medley of Queen (“This Thing Called Love”) and Cole Porter (“What Is This Thing Called Love”). That gives one an idea of what is store during a typical night of Nutty. Whether it was Ozzy Osbourne meeting Brazil ’66 and Jobim, Mingus co-existing with Deep Purple, Paul Simon and Gerry Mulligan somehow finding common ground with “Fever,” “My Little Red Book” alternating with “Intermission Riff,” or “Van Halen Cha Cha Cha” (with a bit of “Sway”), Nutty put on a performance that was, well, nutty. Velasco and Reznick took honors as soloists and Sonny Moon showed that he has become an expert scat-singer, but it was the unique arrangements and the humorous atmosphere that were most memorable.
Jon Hendricks (1921-2017) was the genius of vocalese, a master at writing lyrics based on the recorded solos of top jazz artists. He was also a very good scat-singer, wrote more conventional lyrics, was a constant hustler, and epitomized hipness. The many sides of Jon Hendricks are documented in Peter Jones’ highly recommended book This Is Bop (available from www.equinoxpub.com).
There was a great deal to Hendricks beyond his being one of the stars of the classic bebop vocal group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Peter Jones does a superior job of covering Hendricks’ long life (he made it to the age of 96) and adventures which include early lessons from Art Tatum in his native Toledo, Ohio, some remarkable episodes while serving in the military during World War II. (including going AWOL and running a thriving if slightly illegal business), periods of struggle and poverty, the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross years, his long solo career (which included leading a similar group called the Hendricks Family), and his many side projects. The book actually begins at the
end of his life when Hendricks dramatically left the hospital just in time so he could see the only performance of one of his lifelong dreams: a vocalese recreation of the Miles Davis/Gil Evans album Miles Ahead.
Hendricks is portrayed honestly throughout the book which does not skip over his many faults which include some questionable business practices with copyrights, an occasionally erratic personality, and his great wisdom tarnished a little by his belief in some fictional conspiracies. He still comes across as a musical genius who stubbornly refused to learn how to read music, and a performer joyfully stuck in the bebop era. There are three appendixes that have many quotes from Hendricks about music and philosophy along with a complete discography, rounding out a definitive portrait of one of jazz’s great characters.
When one reads a typical career recap of the masterful guitarist Pat Metheny, it usually only takes a sentence or two before one is learning about his first recordings in 1974 with Paul Bley and Jaco Pastorius, him becoming part of the Gary Burton Quartet, his recording debut as a leader with 1975’s Bright Size Life, and his formation of the Pat Metheny Group with Lyle Mays in 1977.
Beneath Missouri Skies by Carolyn Glenn Brewer (available from the University of North Texas Press at untpress.unt.edu) is something quite different. The unusual book traces the life of Metheny during his earliest period, from when he first started playing music up until the time that he left his native Lee’s Summit, Missouri (located near Kansas City) when he was 18 to attend the University Of Miami. Subtitled Pat Metheny In Kansas City 1964-1972, it was written with the cooperation of the guitarist and his many associates (musicians, family members and friends) from his early days, most of whom contribute stories and insight.
The author’s brother is trombonist Dave Glenn and she was married to drummer Brooks Wright, both of whom played regularly with Metheny during the era. Ms. Brewer had a ring side seat to many of the guitarist’s early performances and she writes about those and other club and concert dates with color and great detail. One learns not only about the early evolution and life of Pat Metheny (including his work with the New Sounds Trio, regular engagements at the Ramada Inn, and the band Four) but about the Kansas City jazz scene of the time, particularly as seen through the eyes of high school musicians. While many of the key figures in this story (including Herman Bell, Carol Comer, Kay Dennis, Russ Long, John McKee, Tommy Ruskin, Dave Scott, and Gary Sivils) were mostly only known locally, they were all talents who had an impact on Metheny. Pat’s older brother trumpeter Mike Metheny, Clark Terry (always an inspiring figure), Buddy DeFranco, Atilla Zoller, Lew Tabackin, and Marilyn Maye occasionally pop up and there is a memorable cameo by Herbie Hancock but the emphasis is on the local heroes. A bonus is an appendix that tells what happened to 28 important characters in the book after Pat Metheny left town.
While one might think that Beneath Missouri Skies is only for the most fanatical Pat Metheny fans, it holds one’s interest throughout, is filled with fresh information and, once one gets into the narrative, it proves to be a difficult book to stop reading.
THREE FROM THE RHYTHM AND BLUES LABEL
Despite its name, the Rhythm And Blues (R&B) label from England (www.rhythmandbluesrecords.co.uk) mostly documents modern jazz from the 1960s. R&B has quite a few rewarding sets in their catalog. Three recent releases contain rare music from broadcasts of the BBC.
The most consistently rewarding of the trio is the Rendell/Carr Quintet’s BBC Jazz Club II 1965-1966. The group, which was co-led by tenor-saxophonist Don Rendell (doubling on soprano) and trumpeter Ian Carr, was one of the finest British jazz bands of the time. They were originally based in hard bop while emphasizing group originals. The ensemble (which included bassist Dave Green and drummer Trevor Tonkims) added the adventurous pianist Michael Garrick in 1965. In fact, the earliest of the three broadcasts on their CD (which dates from Apr. 19 and Oct. 25, 1965, and Jan. 9, 1966) was the very first night that Garrick was in the group. While still mostly straight ahead in a hard bop style throughout this CD, the ensemble gradually incorporated aspects of freer playing in their music and, within a couple years, was also hinting at early fusion, an area of music that Ian Carr would be exploring in his solo career. BBC Jazz Club II. serves as an excellent introduction to a significant band that should be better known in the U.S.
The Michael Garrick Sextet’s A New Serious Music is the most unusual of these releases. While still a member of the Rendell/Carr Quintet, Garrick was also involved in other projects. This CD has two broadcasts. The July 17, 1967 session features the pianist leading a sextet that includes Henry Lowther on cornet and violin, and Jim Phillips and Art Themen on reeds (mostly tenor and flute).The music is mostly conventional and swinging although with a few left turns The Oct. 10, 1969 date is quite a bit different. Although it includes both Carr and Rendell in the sextet along with Themen, the intent is much more unusual with Garrick seeking to fuse together jazz with spoken word, Indian music and chorales. Some aspects of the performances are more interesting than others and this broadcast gives one an early opportunity to hear singer Norma Winstone.
Dick Morrissey became known as a tenor-saxophonist often heard in fusion and r&bish settings but, at the time of the two broadcasts included on There And Then And Sounding Great: At the BBC 1967, he was a hard bop soloist. Joined by pianist Harry South, bassist Phil Bates, and drummer Bill Eyden, Morrissey shows the influence of Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson at times on a mixture of standards and originals while already being far along to developing his own voice. The recording quality could be better but Morrissey’s fine playing makes this a set worth exploring.
EIGHT FROM THE MPS LABEL
The MPS label, which was founded in 1968 and was most active during the next 15 years, was the first German record label to exclusively release jazz recordings. Their large catalog, which has been in and out of print ever since, includes many rewarding sessions from American and European jazz artists. Recently they reissued a batch of former Lps on CDs and here are brief summaries of six of them:
Freddie Hubbard – The Hub Of Hubbard – This 1969 session, recorded just before the great trumpeter began making albums for CTI, is a bop-oriented quintet date with Eddie Daniels (sticking to tenor), pianist Roland Hanna, bassist Richard Davis, and
drummer Louis Hayes. A ridiculously rapid version of “Just One Of Those Things” is most memorable and joined by calmer versions of “Without A Song,” “Blues For Duane,” and “The Things We Did Last Summer.”
Oscar Peterson – Motions & Emotions – An easy-listening date from 1969 that teams the brilliant pianist and his trio with an orchestra arranged by Claus Ogerman, Motions & Emotions mostly has Peterson playing melodic versions of current pop tunes (such as “Sunny,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and “This Guy’s In Love With You”) that he manages as usual to swing.
George Duke – The Inner Source – Despite his obvious talents, Duke spent much of his life seeming to run away from jazz, successfully gaining fame as a funk/r&b/pop producer, keyboardist and even singer. Few of his recordings as a leader are of strong interest from the jazz standpoint but this double-CD from 1971 is a rare exception. Whether playing a few relatively straight ahead pieces that recall McCoy Tyner at times, some electronic explorations, originals that could work as meditation music, and a bit of funk, Duke is heard throughout at his most creative, making this arguably the most rewarding jazz recording of his career.
Bill Evans – Symbiosis – A change of pace for the influential pianist from 1975, Symbiosis has Evans (doubling on electric piano) and his trio with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell and a large orchestra performing a two-movement, five-section work by arranger Claus Ogerman. The successful and surprising music is symphonic yet also uses electronics along with the famous sound of the Evans Trio.
Monty Alexander – Live – Alexander is always a delightful pianist, blending together the inspiration of Oscar Peterson with his own creative and swinging ideas. Teamed with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton at the 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival, the music on this disc ranges from bluesy (“Nite Mist Blues”) and easy-listening (“Feelings” and “Satin Doll”) to an absolutely exhilarating version of “Battle Hymn Of The Republic.”
Joe Henderson – Mirror Mirror – It is no surprise that this matchup between tenor-saxophonist Joe Henderson, pianist Chick Corea, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Billy Higgins is as rewarding as one would expect for these were four of the most consistent of all jazz artists. They perform five originals (including “Joe’s Bolero” and the Corea’s title cut) and “What’s New” in 1980. These and other valuable MPS releases are available from www.mps-music.com and www.amazon.com.