Legendary jazz producer Orrin Keepnews started his career in the jazz music industry as a writer. A graduate of Columbia University in NYC, he wrote for the publication The Record Changer, writing the first national profile of then little-known pianist and composer Thelonious Monk.Continue reading Orrin Keepnews and the Keepnews Collection
In 1959, when In San Francisco was recorded, Cannonball Adderley was riding very high, having reformed his quintet with brother Nat following a stint with Miles Davis (performing on the classic Kind of Blue sessions) and the release of his classic ’58 album Somethin’ Else.
Orrin Keepnews decided to record Adderley’s group live at a small club in San Francisco, the Jazz Workshop. The recording process was a challenge, partly because of the speed needed to set up and record the date properly and partly because of the challenge of recording in a small, packed, noisy club atmosphere. Shortly before this, Keepnews had been recording sessions with guitar phenom Wes Montgomery, who Julian and Nat Adderley had discovered playing in an Indianapolis club, and a scant three months later he would record Nat Adderley’s classic album Work Song, featuring Montgomery.
Work Song also featured the same rhythm section heard on this live outing—Bobby Timmons at the piano, Sam Jones on bass, and Louis Hayes on drums. They are solid on the studio set, but on this live recording, they are propulsive and full of energy that seems to bounce off the walls. Add to that Cannonball’s alto sax, darting here and there, uniting bebop and funky blues-drenched music in a manner that came to be known as ‘soul jazz’, and Nat Adderley’s acerbic, punchy cornet work that is consistently underrated by most listeners today, and you have a performance that is simply essential to any jazz lover’s music collection.
In San Francisco set the standard for live jazz recordings done in clubs, making no attempt to cut out audience sounds and leaving in Adderley’s comments between songs in. This was a wise choice, because Adderley had the ability to educate his audiences about his audience without talking down to them, and the sheer pleasure that he took in playing music comes across loud and clear. This approach to live recording was continued on both subsequent Riverside releases such as Sextet In New York and later work for Capitol like the classic Mercy Mercy Mercy.
Adderley and company showed up loaded for bear on this date, and the performances are nothing short of fantastic. Cannonball was the alto saxophonist who took the bop language of the instrument, as invented by Charlie Parker, and applied it to a funky, blues-drenched music that was first known as hard bop and then evolved into soul jazz. Nat Adderley is one of the great overlooked trumpet talents from this time period, and his playing here demonstrates why he was so valuable to his brother’s small combos. Bobby Timmons is smokin’, particularly on his solos on “Spontaneous Combustion” and Oscar Pettiford’s full speed ahead masterpiece “Bohemia After Dark.”
There are two alternate takes here, of “This Here” and “You Got It!”, both of which are as strong as the version originally included on the album and both of which demonstrate the inventiveness and originality of this essential group. No jazz collection worthy of the name will be lacking Cannonball Adderley’s In San Francisco, and for those who don’t yet have it, now is the time to pick it up, as the newly remastered recording sounds fantastic.
Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers was one of the longest-running, self-renewing ensembles in the history of jazz music. Beginning (sort of) in 1955 with the group Horace Silver, Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Doug Watkins, and Blakey, the group remained an ever-changing quintet until 1961, at which time the sextet heard on Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers’ Caravan came into being.
The addition of a third horn brought new textures to the group’s sound and new complexity to its arrangements. Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, and Wayne Shorter were all considered strong rising stars at the time of this album’s recording (1962). Shorter, as the only holdover from Blakey’s previous edition of the Messengers, was the de facto musical director and had become a composer of some note as well. In a short time, he would leave Blakey to become part of Miles Davis’ second great quintet, but as of the recording of this album, he was already a force to be reckoned with.
So impressive was this band, that Blakey himself is not nearly as strongly at the fore as on some previous recordings. Of course, Blakey was a great drummer precisely because he could make himself felt even when the listener might not be overly aware of hearing him, but there seems to be a sense that he let these new kids drive, content to provide a bit of direction here and there, perhaps enjoying the band’s momentum as much as we, as listeners, do. That’s not to say that Blakey lacks force here when needed. His opening drum riffs set the scene on “Caravan” and drive the piece forward as surely as a camel driver urging his charge through a desert sandstorm.
Shorter and Hubbard contribute pieces to the recording, and both distinguish themselves well in this regard. Shorter’s pieces include “Sweet ‘n’ Sour,” a jazz waltz that is a study in contrast, and “This Is for Albert,” a harmonically interesting piece that is dedicated to Bud Powell. Hubbard contributes the minor-key “Thermo,” an energetic piece that points the way towards the young trumpet phenom’s reputation as ‘the new Miles.’ Hubbard’s playing also bears some comparison to Davis, although his clear push into the instrument’s upper register on his interpretation of “Skylark” is rather unlike Miles. Though Fuller was actively writing for the band at this time, none of his compositions are feature here. He acquits himself well, though, on his feature ballad, “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” with his warm tone and all-round beautiful playing.
It’s pretty pointless to compare the various editions of the Jazz Messengers, a group that continued to exist in various forms and with various musicians until 1990, but one doesn’t have to look far to see that this edition of the band was something special. In a discography full of great albums with nary a poor or commonplace one among them, Art Blakey’s Caravan is a standout—which is high praise indeed.
Tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath’s second Riverside album, Really Big! is truly a gem, and for many it will be a previously undiscovered one. The personnel here is, as Keepnews mentions in his new set of liner notes, highly significant. Certainly, it was a feather in the cap of Keepnews and Riverside to be able to field a group that included Heath and his brothers, Percy (bass) and Albert (drums) as well as Clark Terry, Nat Adderley, Tom McIntosh, Dick Berg, Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, Pat Patrick and, on separate tracks, Cedar Walton and Tommy Flanagan. But it also speaks to the tremendous respect that Jimmy Heath has always commanded from fellow musicians.
It might not sound like a radical idea now to record Jimmy Heath with a ten piece orchestra playing mostly his own compositions and arrangements, but back in 1960, when this recording was made, jazz was the purview of the small group—generally sextet or smaller. Count Basie was still leading a successful big band, as was Duke Ellington. A number of other stalwarts from the big band era were still playing and recording, but the milieu generally belonged to small ensembles. But the larger ensemble never really died out, even if it did go underground for awhile.
Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and a few other stalwarts continued to record and tour with their large bands, and talented arranger/composers like Charles Mingus, Thad Jones, Gil Evans, and others found ways to combine the power of the big ensemble sound with the excitement of the smaller, improvisational combo.
The opener, “Big P” is a tribute to brother Percy, and he introduces the track, getting it off to a swinging start. Heath’s tenor work on this album serves to remind what an excellent player he has always been. “Old Fashioned Fun” is a similarly swinging tune, with trombonist McInstosh and Flanagan soloing as well as Heath. With three saxes, two trumpets, trombone and French horn, Heath is able to make the group sound similar to a big band of eighteen pieces. Admittedly, there may be slightly less ‘punch’ at times, but the shadings and nuances are often filled in by the listener’s ear, a trick well-learned by Mingus and clearly by Heath as well.
Cannonball and Nat Adderley played on some really interesting albums featuring arrangements for bigger groups, including a couple by Gil Evans, at this time. Most listeners likely think of Adderley as a small group player and as a soloist, but he’s able to fit well into a sax section also. He does some great soloing as well, though, particularly on the Heath original “Nails” and the arrangement of “Green Dolphin Street.”
The mood is swinging throughout, although Heath does offer the gorgeous ballad tribute to his wife, “Mona’s Mood.” Really Big! is a Jimmy Heath album I was not familiar with, but it will certainly remain a favorite listen for years to come. I had the pleasure of seeing Jimmy Heath perform a few years ago at the Chicago Jazz Festival, and I was struck by the way his playing seemed both natural and yet well-thought-out at the same time. So it is with Really Big!, an album that delights on both an emotional and intellectual level.
Power to the People is a typical high-quality Joe Henderson affair. It’s a well-known truism that Joe Henderson was, for years, one of the most consistently underrated tenor saxophonists on the jazz scene. True, he was known and discussed, but never seemed to be placed in the company of greats like Coltrane and Rollins.
Similarly to Dexter Gordon (who he was greatly influenced by), Henderson was well-respected in jazz circles but didn’t have a mainstream breakthrough until much later in his career. In Henderson’s case, it was the 1992 recording Lush Life. However, there is ample recorded evidence of Henderson’s vitality throughout his long career, with distinct phases. From 1963-68, Henderson appeared on somewhere around thirty albums for Blue Note. While many of these were as a leader, he was a sideman on some heavy projects, including Horace Silver’s Song for My Father, Herbie Hancock’s Prisoner, and Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch.
In 1970 Henderson signed with Orrin Keepnews’ fledgling Milestone label, where he became an equally prolific leader and sideman. His Milestone recordings rank among Joe Henderson’s best and most interesting work, with the newly reissued Power to the People of particular interest due to its stellar supporting cast: Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, and trumpeter Mike Lawrence on two tracks. With the exception of Carter’s “Opus One-Point-Five” and the standard “Lazy Afternoon,” all the compositions here are Henderson’s.
Power to the People leads off with “Black Narcissus,” one of Henderson’s best-loved compositions. In the album’s original liner notes Alan Heinman marvels: “Dig on ‘Black Narcissus,’ for instance, where Joe floats like a butterfly with a tone so airy he might in spots be blowing alto. That a man could participate in the moods of both ‘Power to the People’ and ‘Black Narcissus’ is not astonishing; that he can be wholly convincing in both worlds and others besides, is.”
Amazingly, Henderson eschews neither Coltrane nor Rollins (what tenor player could?), but he occupies a territory somewhere between the two, which is wholly his own. Similarly, his take on soul and rock-influenced jazz here is different than most of what was being labeled ‘fusion’ at the time. Even though the rhythm section is all-electric on this track, the interaction between the players is really no different from any post-bop jazz small group recording.
Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter, both former members of Miles Davis’ second great quintet and veterans of Davis’ transition from straight jazz to electric rock/funk-oriented music provide a solid basis for Henderson and the largely unknown Lawrence (on two tracks), while drummer Jack DeJohnette (who also worked with Davis on the seminal Bitches Brew) is, as always, near-perfect.
For fans of modern jazz, Power to the People is something of an undiscovered classic, offering a fine performance that endures repeated listening from one of the music’s most creative and often under-recognized improvisers.
Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington was designed to get people who thought of Monk and his music as ‘difficult’ and ‘weird’ (and there were already plenty of them in 1955), to give him a listen from a different perspective. Many years and recordings later, we are perhaps more used to listening to and thinking of Monk as a pianist of considerable talent, although I would argue that there are still far too many who consider him to be a somewhat limited pianist. This 24-bit remastered reissue of a unique and stunning album from the Monk discography should go a long way towards fixing that perception.
Monk seems very relaxed and affable at the keyboard here, swinging fiercely and demonstrating an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz piano styles. Accompanied by bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Kenny Clarke, he moves with ease through Ellington’s compositions. His work is spare, devoid of unnecessary ornamentation, but there are flashes of technical ebullience and the typical Monk humor. While he’s very lyrical on most of this album, he does find some harmonically interesting ways of dressing up some of the familiar compositions—two examples being “Mood Indigo” and “Caravan.”
Keepnews and his partner, Bill Grauer, wanted to get people to hear Monk as a pianist and as a jazz musician whose place in the long line of jazz history was clear from listening to him play. They felt that, in order to do this, it would be best to present him, initially, in a trio setting, with no horns and no original compositions. Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington and its followup, The Unique Thelonious Monk certainly gave Keepnews valuable experience in working and dealing with a musician as unique as Monk, and by the time Brilliant Corners, Monk’s third Riverside release, was recorded, the relationship (which proved to be a long one) was already on solid ground.
No period in Monk’s recorded history was more amazing and showed greater development than his time with Riverside. By comparison, his work for Blue Note is a mere warm-up, and his Columbia years, while often rewarding, have the feel of an established musician honing his work to obtain the best possible performances to bequeath to future generations. Thelonious Monk Play Duke Ellington, then, stands as one of Monk’s (admittedly many) best recordings, and its latest incarnation in the Keepnews Collection ensures that it will continue to be heard by an avid and interested audience in the digital age.
The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery is considered by many to be the peak of Montgomery’s recorded work. Stuck firmly between his organ-driven works and his later, more popular/R&B-style recordings, this album finds Montgomery paired with a first-rate jazz rhythm section comprised of Tommy Flannagan, Percy Heath, and Albert Heath, and the guitarist is more than up to the challenge.
Basically this is a hard bop album, with the group swinging out hard on “Airegin, Montgomery’s “Four on Six,” and “West Coast Blues.” “Mr. Walker” suggests a relaxed Brazilian samba, but Montgomery’s fingers are all over the fretboard, playing fast while keeping each note clear and distinct. His trademark thumb-picking style and extensive use of octaves are both in full bloom, even at this early stage. Listening to this, his second Riverside release, no one could have doubted that the most important jazz guitarist since Charlie Christian had arrived.
The two ballads here, “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” and Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” are given gorgeous, sensitive readings. Montgomery was much more than a major technician on his instrument, and his tone and emotional ability on electrically amplified guitar were equally important to his legacy. Tommy Flanagan’s piano work is the perfect complement to Montgomery’s guitar: understated and elegant, yet capable of commanding its own attention when thrust into the foreground.
It’s well-documented lore that Montgomery was ‘discovered’ by Cannonball Adderley one night while playing in an Indianapolis club. Adderley’s brother, Nat, recorded his classic album Work Song, which also featured Montgomery (as well as Percy Heath), at the same time as these sessions, all completed within a few days. That’s how jazz sessions used to be recorded, and Orrin Keepnews offers plenty of reminiscences in the liner notes that will bring jazz fans new and old back into that time period. Work Song has recently also been reissued as part of the Keepnews Collection, and taken together with Incredible Jazz Guitar, offers an excellent snapshot of the incredible talent of Wes Montgomery.
In his new notes to accompany the Keepnews Collection reissue of Nat Adderley’s Work Song, producer Orrin Keepnews notes that there was a compressed time frame involved in recording guitarist Wes Montgomery’s second Riverside LP, flying out to San Francisco to record Cannonball Adderley’s quintet in live performance, and recording the Work Song sessions a couple of months later. It didn’t hurt, though, that Montgomery was going to appear on the Adderley album as well as his own, and that Bobby Timmons, Louis Haynes, and Sam Jones also appeared on Cannonball’s recording, along with Nat. To say that Riverside was up to its ears in talented young jazz musicians at this time is an understatement.
It has mystified many jazz fans and listeners that Nat Adderley did not become a bigger star in the jazz firmament than he did. Part of this is attributable to the shadow of his older brother, Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley. Nat contributed both his excellent playing and his compositions to his brother’s quintet, but the older Adderley brother had an uncanny way of being able to talk to and connect with audiences who were not always hardcore jazz aficionados.
Work Song is often considered to be Nat Adderley’s finest recording, and it’s hard to argue, given the excellent original compositions, the beautiful readings of a few standards and the level of performance by Adderley and Montgomery. Bobby Timmons also sounds great here, digging in with his soul and gospel-influenced piano. There are several tracks without Timmons, and we are reminded that he was suffering from substance abuse issues at the time, but listening to this album, you’d hardly know it.
Sam Jones plays pizzicato cello on several tracks, and while this might sound like a mere novelty, it is a very effective sound, particularly the way it’s paired with Montgomery’s guitar. On the title track and again on the very next track, Timmons’ composition “Pretty Memory” the cello and guitar are paired in the way a horn line would normally work, providing punchy exclamation points to what the soloist is playing.
Certainly, it is apparent here, as it must have been to those who listened to Wes Montgomery’s first two Riverside albums, that one is in the presence of greatness—in this case, a guitarist who completely set the standard for jazz guitarists for at least the next two decades. He solos frequently, and on those tunes where Timmons lays out—“Mean to Me,” “Violets for Your Furs,” “Mean to Me,” “My Heart Stood Still,” and “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” he proves to be an expert accompanist as well, supporting Adderley without stepping on him in any way.
Adderley’s playing is inspired throughout, and his cornet sounds simply gorgeous. One minute he’s producing the full, rich tone of Clark Terry, the next he’s reminding listeners of the melancholic tone and spacious playing of Miles Davis. In the sense that Adderley composed many of the best-known soul jazz numbers and could play as well as any trumpet or cornet player on the scene at the time, his career never hit the heights that Cannonball’s did. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it clearly was a source of frustration for Keepnews and other folks at Riverside as well.
Listening to the remastered version of this classic album, it is apparent that some kind of reappraisal of Nat’s work is in order because Work Song is one album that has stood the test of time, sounding just as fresh and immediate today as it did when it was released some four decades ago.
Flora Purim arrived on the American jazz scene in the late 1960s, around the time when Brazilian-influenced percussion and fusion were riding high. Not surprisingly, her discography is heavy on both sounds: percussion courtesy of her husband, Airto Moreira, and fusion via collaborators such as Chick Corea, Stanely Clarke, and George Duke. As vocalist in the original (1971-73) version of Corea’s band Return to Forever (which also featured Clarke and saxophonist Joe Farrell as well as Moreira), her light, airy vocals were in keeping with the group’s overall bright sound.
Purim cut a total of six albums for Orrin Keepnews’ Milestone label, all produced by Keepnews himself. Butterfly Dreams is generally acknowledged to be not only one of the best of her Milestone projects, but one of the best albums in her discography overall. There is a freshness to her voice here that is not always evident in later work, although she has remained a consistently interesting vocalist to listen to. It doesn’t hurt that her collaborators here are among her most sympathetic. Clarke and Moreira help keep the RTF vibe ever-present on this recording, while Joe Henderson and keyboard whiz George Duke fit right into the overall sound. David Amaro adds a little texture on both acoustic and electric guitar. Though he isn’t given all that much to do, he does manage a rock-star electric solo on Clarke’s “Dr. Jive (Part 2)” and “Light as a Feather”. Ernie Hood is credited on zither, but his contributions are rather minimal and kept far in the background, in Keepnews’ words, “basically because we were unable to properly integrate it.”
Since Purim was, at the time, a member of Moreira’s Fourth World Band, she had no band of her own at the time this record was cut, and so we are treated to hearing Airto play not only percussion, but drums throughout. He’s an energetic drummer, with shades of Tony Williams. Moreira always leaves space for Clarke’s bass, Purim’s vocals, and his own percussion, percolating nicely without filling up every corner.
As for Purim, her voice is excellent here, and her wordless vocals, sometimes multi-tracked to produce near-orgiastic explosions of vocal-as-pure-sound, predate the similar work of vocalists such as Grazyna Auguscik. Stanley Clarke is everywhere on this disc, both as bassist and as composer/arranger. Clarke contributed or co-wrote half the tracks here: “Dr. Jive” (Parts one and two), “Butterfly Dreams,” and “Light as a Feather.” Purim’s native land is represented by Jobim’s “Dindi” and Gismonti’s “Moon Dreams.” There’s a standard, “Summer Night,” and a track co-written by George Duke and Purim, “Love Reborn.” George Duke is also omnipresent on this album, playing a variety of keyboards, including piano, electric piano, clavinet, and ARP synthesizer. He too was entering a highly fertile musical period which would find him collaborating simultaneously (though in different bands) with Cannonball Adderley and Frank Zappa.
For those who enjoy light-sounding (as opposed to light on musical ideas) fusion tinged with Latin elements and airy, roomy vocalization, Butterfly Dreams is the perfect ticket. Remastered in beautiful 24-bit sound, it’s easy to imagine this being popular with a lot of adult listeners if it were to be released today. Get it while it’s hot!
Strings can be a double-edged sword for jazz musicians. On the one hand, they can add texture and depth to musical arrangements, but they can also easily become overblown and even sappy, and they can rob a jazz ensemble of the freedom that is so essential to solid improvisation and group dynamics.
On 1976’s Fly With the Wind, McCoy Tyner rises to the challenge of working with a string section, partially because his muscular piano work can stand up to the arrangements.
Tyner has long deserved wider recognition as a composer, and on this disc one can easily see why. His compositions have an open, airy quality to them, even with the strings and the kinetic drum work of Billy Cobham.
Cobham was never busier than in the ‘70s, having come off his time with Miles and then with Mahavishnu Orchestra (as well as solo work with John McLaughlin). He was pretty much the house drummer at CTI Records (even as Ron Carter, who also appears here, was the house bassist), and was the kind of energetic drummer who could play fusion, rock, pop, and fairly straight-ahead jazz with equal energy and alacrity. If there was any drummer before Cobham with his intense approach to the drum kit, it was none other than Tony Williams. Cobham is a very physical presence on Fly With the Wind, always driving the arrangement or the soloist forward.
The selections here were all composed and arranged by Tyner, and there is a distinctly spiritual element to much of the music, supported somewhat by Galen Rowell’s breathtaking cover photo of a snow-covered mountain peak with clouds drifting lazily by its summit. It is searching music, and while it is fairly complex in its structure, it is still quite accessible to the listener, at least in part due to Cobham’s drumming and the guideposts provided by the string arrangements.
The title track, which opens the album, is majestic and powerful, like a mountain. At times it is a little like a big prog-rock opus, but without the pretension or complexity for complexity’s sake. One should scarcely be surprised by the spiritual element present in this music—after all, Tyner had spent many years working closely with John Coltrane, himself something of a spiritual seeker.
Hubert Laws is featured as the lone horn player in the core jazz group (along with Tyner, Cobham, and Ron Carter), and he bridges the gap between the jazz unit and the string/woodwind section nicely. There is another flute player, an oboe, and harp, all lending to the orchestral feel. Because Laws can improvise and plays solos he is an instrumental voice that seems to rise up out of the orchestral group rather than the jazz ensemble, yet his playing is completely in synch with the jazz section.
Then there’s McCoy Tyner himself. With his signature chord voicing, often utilizing fourths, his thunderous low left-hand bass patterns, and his triadic arpeggiated right-hand playing, his voice is highly distinctive. This time period was a fruitful one for Tyner, and his work for Orrin Keepnews’ Milestone label has proven extremely durable and influential through the years. One reason for this is that he fell into no camp that was around at the time—not fusion, not avant-garde, and not mainstream post-bop, either.
The remastering job done on this album is of great benefit as well, and there are two alternate takes included. Those who do not feel that vibrant, innovative jazz music was being recorded during the mid-1970s have either never heard Tyner’s Milestone or Fantasy albums or have forgotten about them. The reissue of McCoy Tyner’s Fly with the Wind should go a long way towards resolving that.