Give the Drummer Some

Milford Graves. Photo by Thomas King, 2008.

Milford Graves
Meditation Among Us
Kitty : 1977

MG, drums, piano, voice; Toshinori Kondo, trumpet; Kaoru Abe, alto & sopranino sax; Mototeru Takagi, tenor sax; Toshiyuki Tsuchitori, drums, percussion.

When Milford Graves was being honored with a special night at this year’s Vision Festival, back in June, we knew it was a must-see event. We also figured that Vision’s new home, the recently refurbished and relocated Roulette, in Brooklyn, would hold all comers, including us, and then some. No need to buy ahead! 

Well, as those of you who might’ve been following our anguished tweets of that night already know, the event was filled to capacity before we even got there. And, really, we should have known: any night that features Milford Graves on the bandstand is going to be an event, and you’d best get your tickets as early as possible. Lesson learned.

Sort of. Coming a day or two late is this birthday post — Milford turned 72 on Tuesday, 20 August. (We seem to keep very bad time when it comes to Prof. Graves.) Better late than never, here’s a favorite track from the under-heard Meditation Among Us. It features a remarkable assemblage of Japanese jazz figures — including Kaoru Abe and Toshinoro Kondo — led by Milford.

The group recorded two side-long cuts in 1977, at a time when Graves was not really actively recording or releasing LPs. He had, by the mid-1970s, already started his teaching tenure at Bennington, while also beginning his research into healing methods and rhythms in the human body. We’re fortunate this fertile collaboration was captured on wax at all.

“Response,” ranges widely, beginning as a percussion workout spurred by Graves’ gripping ululations. Graves then moves to the piano for an open, searching episode, suggesting echoes of Alice Coltrane’s spiritual pursuits. Not surprisingly, Graves has a highly percussive approach to the piano, and gradually leads the horns to moments of abandon, before the concluding cool down. This is exactly the sort of meditation we can get behind — one that finds beauty in quiet moments as well as the storms life throws at us all.

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Matthew Shipp on Jazz Teachers

Charles Demuth, Figure 5 in Gold (partial), 1927.

Ran Blake
Improvising Artists : 1976

RB, piano.

The Five Spot is our new feature where musicians, critics, and fans select five significant tunes or albums from a favorite artist. Pianist and composer MATTHEW SHIPP chooses FIVE TRACKS BY SIGNIFICANT JAZZ TEACHERS. 

Jazz history and mythology is populated by important teachers — usually a lone person with a charismatic personality who sets up camp in a particular geographical area and attracts a load of students, some of which go on a be names within the jazz universe. Often these teachers have zero or one album out — and their performance credentials are a part of legend; often they are not great performers but have a special genius for teaching. As a boxing fan, many of the great trainers had horrible records as boxers themselves but for whatever reasons could really train other boxers. In a few cases, these charismatic teachers also are know as jazz recording artists and performers of somewhat or extreme importance. — Matthew Shipp

1) Lennie Tristano, “Descent into the Maelstrom” (Descent into the Maelstrom, rec. 1953/rel. 1978)
Tristano is an eccentric who attracted a group of students that includes Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, and Sal Mosca, among others — but Lennie was in the vanguard of postbop piano experimentation also. This cut — an interpretation of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story — with its vortex structures and overdubbing set the way for a lot of things in the future.

2) Lennie Tristano, “Dream: Paris 1965″ (Descent into the Maelstrom, rec. 1965/rel. 1978)
This cut had a big impact on me — the dreamlike logic/illogic of the syntax makes it sound like it is rooted in Bop yet follows the dictates of some alien thought form. I once had a long conversation with Cecil Taylor about Lennie, and Cecil mentioned he did go to Lennie for what he called a consultation — but Cecil’s comment about that encounter was ”well, Lennie was wrong.” Marian McPartland also expressed to me once how difficult Lennie was with her the couple lessons she took with him — but every indication from his long-term students was that he was a caring and great mentor. Lennie definitely left behind a recorded body of work that has made a major impact on modern improvisation.

3) Dennis Sandole, “Threnody” (A Sandole Trilogy, rel. 1995)
In the past, I’ve done a piece on Dennis for this site – he is best known as John Coltrane’s major teacher — many other people have gone through his lessons, including me. Dennis was a studio and swing guitarist in his early days but then settled in Philadelphia and became known as a music thinker and teacher. This cut sounds very much like the literature he’d write out for his students on a weekly basis. I would, however, have no idea how to classify him as a guitarist.

4) Dennis Sandole, “Parody” (A Sandole Trilogy, rel. 1995)
Dennis at his most beautiful melodic figuration. Dennis also played on the CD Modern Music from Philadelphia with his brother Adolph Sandole — and other than that I think he might be on some Charlie Barnett CDs, but Dennis’ main gift to modern music was his unparalleled teaching methods.

5) Ran Blake, “Tea for Two” (Breakthru, 1976) 
I’ve tried to stay away from teachers in colleges because I’m trying to deal with charismatic eccentrics who set up camp in one city like a guru. But Ran fits the bill as a charismatic eccentric — and the Third Stream department that he and Gunther Schuller started at New England Conservatory is/was the most innovative thing in jazz pedagogy on a college level. A lot of diverse people have gone through that department and been inspired by cuts like this that show Ran’s modernist approach to the jazz tradition. Ran has a whole body of work behind him as well as being a teacher and his persona as a teacher does interact with his persona as a performer/recording artist in a way that is hard to untangle.

Matthew Shipp is a pianist who lives in New York. His new solo album Piano Sutras will be released by Thirsty Ear on September 24th.

Discussion 2 Comments Category Dennis Sandole, Five Spot, Lennie Tristano, Matthew Shipp, Ran Blake

What We Talk About When We Talk About Melancholy

Richard Diebenkorn, Woman in Profile, 1958.

Mal Waldron & Marion Brown
Songs of Love and Regret
Free Lance : 1987

MB, alto sax; MW, piano.

One of the joys of what we call jazz is the mixing and matching of styles, personalities, and musical knowledge. If improvisation is the central creative motive, there is also an improvisational aspect to the grouping of individuals into some kind of cohesive whole. While there are notable, longstanding groups of great renown, there’s also tremendous anticipatory pleasure in simply noting the names on an album — perhaps a pairing you’d never considered before. “I wonder what these two sound like together?”

Songs of Love and Regret brings together two of our favorite musicians and the results sound so inevitable that it’s hard to imagine what took Marion Brown and Mal Waldron so long. Per the album title, they work their way through melodic tunes that positive ache with yearning and melancholy.

We primarily know “The Golden Lady,” a seldom-recorded Brown original, through Amina Claudine Myers version on her solo piano record of Marion’s tunes. Hushed and insistent, it’s quiet intensity ebbs and flows as effortlessly as drawn breath. “Contemplation” by McCoy Tyner is another spellbinding tune that invites you to get lost in its measured meditations, making its nuance and sophistication easy to miss — or maybe even beside the point.

At this point in his career, Brown had settled into a comfortable groove, revisiting on album a small group of tunes — including “La Placita” and “Hurry Sundown” — over and over again. Waldron, meanwhile, was enjoying a creative resurgence, recording winning duo records with Steve Lacy and robust live dates with his quintet on Soul Note/Black Saint. But career arcs have little to do with the vital common ground they establish in these performances — this aching beauty is a case of simple chemistry.

Discussion 4 Comments Category Mal Waldron, Marion Brown Tags ,


Dudu Pukwana
Diamond Express
Freedom : 1978

DP, alto sax; Mongezi Feza, trumpet; Lucky Ranku, guitar; Frank Roberts, keyboards; Ernest Mothole, bass; James Meine, drums. “Tete”: DP, alto sax; MF, trumpet; Nick Evans, trombone; Elton Dean, saxello, Keith Tippett, piano; Lucky Ranku, guitar; Victor Ntoni, bass; Louis Moholo, drums, percussion.

Let’s celebrate summer and what would’ve been Dudu Pukwana’s 75th birthday — with a couple of hot jams. Recorded in 1975 at two autumn sessions, Diamond Express (later re-released as Ubagile) is a typically upbeat album. It’s not the finest in Pukwana’s discography, but the high points make it more than worthwhile. The record is also notable as one of trumpeter Mongezi Feza’s last appearances on wax.

“Ubaquile” starts things off in funky highlife fashion, pulsating across the dance floor. It’s an exercise in sympathetic friction, each instrument locked into the groove while still generating its own particular brand of heat. Ask not for whom Dudu whistles: he whistles for you.

“Tete and Barbs” is an outlier on the record and the only cut to feature the exceptional cross-section of British and South African talent listed above. Unlike the rest of the album, it’s not really groove-based. It trades funk for furious-ness — supplied largely via the rhythm section — though the assembled horns do cast an eye (and ear) back to Soweto.

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5 Underdog Mingus Tunes

Charles Demuth, Figure 5 in Gold (partial), 1927.

Charles Mingus
Music Written for Monterey, 1965. Not Heard… Played in its Entirety at UCLA 
Sunnyside : 2005 (Rec. 1965)

CM, bass; Hobart Dotson, trumpet; Lonnie Hillyer, trumpet; Jimmy Owens, flugelhorn; Charles McPherson, alto sax; Julius Watkins, french horn; Howard Johnson, tuba; Danny Richmond, drums.

We’re proud to introduce a new feature where musicians, critics, and fans select five  significant tunes or albums from a favorite artist. Our first entry comes from bassist and composer DOAN BRIAN ROESSLER choosing FIVE UNDERAPPRECIATED TUNES BY CHARLES MINGUS.

1) “Jump Monk” – Mingus at the Bohemia (Debut, 1955)
Mingus sets the scene here and brings on the cast members one by one. A snare drum crack opens the gates and the band is off, displaying a group sound and interplay that will prove to be quintessential Mingus. His writing, leadership and vision are on full display.

2) “R &R” – Reincarnation of a Lovebird (Candid, 1960)
These Candid sessions are famous for the record Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus. This track, like much of the music, wasn’t released for decades due to Candid’s early demise. Mingus steers this tune with a deft touch, letting this strangely brilliant line-up do its thing (Eldridge, Knepper, Dolphy, Flanagan, and Jo Jones).

3) “Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Silk Blues” – Mingus Plays Piano (Impulse!, 1963)
It’s certainly not my original thought that Mingus could have been a pianist instead of a bassist if he had wanted to. This record makes the argument convincingly. Here we have a bluesy, sensitive take on a tune (with a slight title alteration in classic Mingus style) that we can hear his band tear up in live recordings from the next year.

4) “Meditation On Inner Peace” – Music Written for Monterey, 1965. Not Heard… Played in its Entirety at UCLA (Sunnyside, 2005) 
The music swells and recedes but builds inexorably over the course of its 18 minutes, featuring some of the finest arco bass playing we have on record from Mingus. This track comes out of a dark period in Mingus’s life and career. Not long after his struggle to bring this music to light, he was evicted from his home and took a several year hiatus from performing and recording.

5) “Hobo Ho”  - Let My Children Hear Music (Columbia, 1972)
Definitely not what it seems at first glance, which is one of Mingus’s great tricks. A bluesy quartet track with a locomotive bass riff until it gives way to kaleidoscopic, chaotic big band interjections. A great example of Mingus building an imposing edifice out of simple materials.

Doan Brian Roessler is a bassist, teacher, composer, and Zen Buddhist priest. He is most often heard playing in duo with Nathan Hanson and in the ensemble Fantastic Merlins.  

Discussion 1 Comment Category Charles Mingus, Five Spot, guest posts


Wolfgang Dauner
Free Action
SABA : 1967

WD, piano; Gerd Dudek, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Jean-Luc Ponty, violin; Jürgen Karg, bass; Eberhard Weber, cello; Fred Braceful, drums; Mani Neumeier, drums, tabla.

Wolfgang Dauner is a tough guy to pin daun. (Sorry.) Ping-ponging between Ramsey Lewis-like danceable soul jamz and bracing sonic experiments for ECM that influenced acts like Nurse with Wound, his 1960s and ’70s discography swerves all over the place.

Given his penchant for punning song and album titles, it would seem, at the very least, that entertaining the audience is high on Dauner’s to-do list. The cuts above support this notion. “Collage” is something of a proto-conduction effort, with Dauner orchestrating the improvisers (according to the liner notes). He invented a special sign language for this abstract composition.

As for “My Spanish Disguise,” it starts out with a fairly straightforward theme statement, before opening up into freer areas. Dauner again: “The composition is rather conventional, in order to create a foundation for the audience, from which it can follow us into the next range….” Each solo starts freely before coalescing with the band into a more rhythmically aligned section.

We’ll let you decide whether it all carries the requisite amount of “the Spanish tinge.”

Discussion 1 Comment Category Wolfgang Dauner

Light as a Feather

Yuji Imamura & Air
Three Blind Mice : 1977

Yuji Imamura, congas, tabla, percussion; Yasuo Shimura, flute, soprano sax, voice, synthesizer, percussion, electronics; Renkichi Hayashi, electric guitar, kalimba, electronics; Nobuyoshi Ino, electric bass, guitar, percussion, electronics; Hiroshi Murakami; drums, percussion.

Call it bliss-out psychedelic electric jazz, but really the sole recording from Yuji Imamura and Air is simply beyond category. It’s an effortless concoction of layered percussion, processed brass, burbling bass, flowing grooves, echoing ambiance, piercing flute, swelling windchimes, tape effects, and rumbling synths. The sort of adventurous sonic fusion that had vanished from the U.S. by this time.

The structure of this 18-minute track isn’t immediately evident. It morphs between various peaks and valleys, equally comfortable generating gorgeous stasis and propulsive grooves. But there’s an internal cohesion and intense pleasure principle at work here that should win over even hardcore skeptics.

The 1970s had its fill of bands named Air: The collective jazz trio featuring Henry Threadgill; the back-up band for Herbie Mann; the French electronic act whose sound hailed from that decade even if its members did not. But we think Yuji Imamura and his cohorts deserve ownership of the name for their elemental embodiment of lightness.

There’s nothing complicated about enjoying this music. Breath in, breath out. This is Air.

Discussion 2 Comments Category Yuji Imamura