Rant ‘n’ Roll: The Jazz Page

Good Vibes

Vibraphonist Behn Gillece resides in a Parallel Universe on his fourth Posi-Tone album. The 11 originals feature his good vibes alongside a tenor sax/trumpet frontline, complete with piano/bass/drums accompaniment as produced by Marc Free. Jersey boy Gillece has been a mainstay in the bustling New York City jazz scene for 11 years. Influenced by Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson, he also happens to be a college professor by day at New Jersey City University in Hudson County. Highlights include “Bossa for R.M.” (a nifty little Brazilian thing dedicated to samba pioneer Roberto Menescal), “Smoke Screen” (wherein the sound of Art Hirahara’s Rhodes keyboard slides up, under, and around Gillece’s vibes) and “Shadow Of The Flame” (a perfect Latin/Swing synthesis).

3 Cool Guys

ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons has long had his songs covered by a multitude of artists but how many of the songs he wrote when he was in his ‘60s psychedelic Moving Sidewalks band have been covered? I dare say: zero. That’s where the title track of You Don’t Know the Life (RareNoise Records)—an incredible piece of work—by Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow, and Bobby Previte comes from. Talk about deep cuts! In the hands of these three cool guys, the oddball track comes out as trance music. In reinventing the classic organ trio, Saft spills his Hammond B-3 all over the mix, except when he’s pummeling an electric harpsichord on Bill Evans’ 1974 “The Person I Know.” (Sure, the Beatles and Beach Boys made some great electric harpsichord sound but not like this!) Then there’s Roswell Rudd’s “Ode to A Green Frisbee.” (Rudd died just weeks before this was recorded.) Singer Margaret Whiting had a hit in 1944 with “Springtime in Vermont.” Here, it starts traditional but morphs into the outer limits of the avant-garde right quick. Ditto for the theme song for the 1966 movie Alfie. Swallow’s electric bass and Bobby Previte’s drums play peek-a-boo with Saft’s keyboards, keeping up a steady stream of hide-and-go-seek that results in the kind of mix where surprises abound and near-constant left turns take precedence. Saft is a true renaissance man, having played with a cast of characters in his 30-year career that includes Iggy Pop, Bad Brains, the B-52s, and the Beastie Boys. Feel free to throw away the concept of genre.

The Holy Grail

Kudos to Resonance Records for this, the first Major jazz box of 2019: Complete with 100-page book with rare photos, interviews, and essays, Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions is a three-disc bombshell from an artist whose name is still spoken in hushed tones of reverence. Eric Dolphy packed a lot of living and a lot of music into his mere 36 years of life. For the first official release of these previously unissued recordings in over 30 years (including 85 minutes of unreleased material), the original mono sessions have been cleaned up to sound spectacular. The original recordings were produced by Alan Douglas (who went on to famously produce Jimi Hendrix). When Dolphy accidently died while on tour in Germany after being taken to the hospital for an undiagnosed diabetic ailment and falling into a coma, his personal effects, including these tapes, were stored in an unopened suitcase for decades. Sonny Rollins likes to tell the story of how legendary drummer Max Roach used to enjoy torturing those young musicians brash enough to ask him if they could sit in with his band by starting extremely hard pieces at triple the usual tempo, thus, running them off the stage. Dolphy was one of those young cats but Dolphy—technically proficient approaching genius on flute, alto sax, and bass clarinet—not only kept up but brought down the house every time. He flirted with the avant-garde enough—and made it palpable to the uninitiated—to be thought of as an equal of Monk, Coltrane, Coleman, and Mingus. The only thing lacking, of course, was consistency over the decades which he never had a chance to fulfill. Here, though, his brilliance flowers forth on “Jitterbug Waltz,” “Music Matador,” “Iron Man,” “Mandrake,” “Burning Spear,” “Ode to Charlie Parker,” “Love Me,” “Alone Together,” “Muses for Richard Davis,” and the one that I did, admittedly, find unlistenable, “A Personal Statement” (14:59 of vocal caterwauling). Eleven musicians in all try to keep up with him, including Woody Shaw (trumpet), Clifford Jordan (soprano sax), Garvin Russell (bassoon), Bobby Hutcherson (xylophone), Richard Davis (bass), and Charles Moffett (drums). Wholeheartedly recommended for adventurous ears only.


The Newest Sound You Never Heard: European Recordings 1966/1967 (A-Side Records), by vocalist Jeanne Lee with pianist Ran Blake, is almost two solid hours on two discs of the most incredible interpretations ever of Monk, Duke, Bird, Dylan, Dizzy, Beatles, Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Ornette Coleman, Fats Waller, Cole Porter, West Side Story (“Something’s Coming”), and The Sound of Music (“My Favorite Things”). These previously unheard tapes languished in archives for 52 years. Lee’s husky, soulful, scatting, surprising, unsettling, and otherworldly vocals takes the stuffing out of each song before putting it back in wildly divergent ways to the point where each composition becomes like a doppelganger of the original. Blake’s accompaniment breaks all the rules. He strides ahead of her melody with clusters of notes, then falls back seemingly behind the rhythm that he had previously established within the same song. He plays peek-a-boo with her phrasing to the point where the pair playfully constructs an unerring chemistry that adds layers of complex circuitry to what started out as the singing of a simple song. (You will never hear “A Hard Day’s Night” done quite like this.) Cancer took Lee in 2000. Blake, 83, still teaches at the New England Conservatory.

Worldbeat Jazz

The Blue Nights (Laborie Records) of Brooklyn Israeli Itamar Borochov, 34, swing and sway in a worldbeat way. Influenced as much by North African and West Asian as he is by his own Jewish Ashkenazi and Mizrahi traditions, this far-reaching trumpeter-composer has put it all together to create a stunning synthesis of jazz and world music. The underpinnings of Arabic folkloric melodicism permeate his presentation to the point where the title track could be music played at a late-night hookah lounge somewhere deep within Saudi Arabia. Between his trumpet/piano/bass/drums quartet and the innovative contribution of Moroccan band Innov Gnawa on “Motherlands,” it’s all very atmospheric and enticing, leading one to wonder where this worldly idea-man will go next.