The Atomic Truth Grenade
"Wow, Aaron, this is sudden!" Well, for a Jazz Composition class I am taking this fall I am required to listen to and blog about two Jazz CD's per week for the whole semester. This is not a complaint, I was kind of looking for an excuse to listen to more jazz anyway. If it's a requirement for school (uh, it is) I'm vastly more likely to get around to it... and I am. This covers both the first and second weeks of the syllabus. These reviews are mostly impressions and observations. So without further ado:
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studio, New York City, NY (October 1962)
Art Blakey- drums
Wayne Shorter- tenor saxophone
Freddie Hubbard- trumpet
Curtis Fuller- trombone
Cedar Walton- piano
Reggie Workman- bass
Right off the bat, Caravan opens with its title track "Caravan," home of one of the longest drum solos I've heard ever. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as Blakey is able, through his use of dynamics and his own percussive talents and insticts, able to keep some interest during it. After the first minute-and-a-half I did begin to realize that "oh wait... this drum solo... is still going." He is not starving anyone of attention however as his colleagues also have their own respective solos on that track. The melody of this track has some definite urban underlyings, but also has a hint of some exoticism in some inexplicable way.
The first track was really the drum feature, as the drums stayed mostly under the radar for most of the rest of the album, emphasizing certain contours of the melody with cymbal hits but never really coming back to center stage as it had in the first track. The opening bassline of "Sweet 'n' Sour" was quite catchy, as was the opening motive of the ensemble melody.
Texturally and in terms of music form, I noticed that this album is probably about 85% solos and 15% ensemble playing (that's an estimate, not a factual statement, but you get the picture), which given the nature of jazz is not surprising, but somehow it felt much more apparent on this recording than some other jazz albums I've heard (perhaps some of the accompaniments were rather bare or non-existant, but in that sense, it is a musical device which can bring soloists to the foreground, a likely explanation for this album).
Recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ (March 1965)
Herbie Hancock- piano
Freddie Hubbard- trumpet
George Coleman- tenor saxophone
Ron Carter- bass
Tony Williams- drums
From what I've read about this album, I've come to understand that Maiden Voyage is essentially a concept album which aimed to create an "oceanic" atmosphere. Aside from the obviously marine-oriented song titles, some of the musical gestures make clear reference to this, such as part of the trumpet solo in "Maiden Voyage" which ascends and descends in a rapid scalar passage, imitating the rising and falling of waves.
This combo is one trombone short of being the same setup as Art Blakey's in the above recording (in instrumentation, not in players), and definitely has some similarities between different pieces, however this album feels more "afloat" in ambience, and feels in general more laid back (even in more intense sections).
The two-voice unisons and harmonies between the trumpet and tenor sax are a very pleasant timbre which nicely compliments many of Hancock's chordal harmonies in the piano, in fact, the harmonies in general were very relaxing despite some of their very dissonant natures, likely due to the way they are voiced and how the notes are articulated on the piano.
I would like in the future to listen to this album again at sea and see if I can envision some of the things that Hancock had conceived for this album.
Recorded at Radio Recorders, Hollywood, CA (February 1958)
Bill Holman- tenor saxophone
Herb Geller- alto saxophone
Charlie Mariano- alto saxophone
Richie Kamuca- tenor saxophone
Charlie Kennedy- tenor saxophone
Bill Hood- baritone saxophone
Conte Candoli- trumpet
Jack Sheldon- trumpet
Al Porcino- trumpet
Stu Williamson- trumpet
Ed Leddy- trumpet
Frank Rosolino- trombone
Ray Sims- trombone
Carl Fontana- trombone
Victor Feldman- piano
Mel Lewis- drums
I'm going to start off by saying that I really enjoyed this album. Call me a big band fan (that would be a justified claim) but this was an overall pleasure to listen to. Enough kvelling from me.
Something I particularly enjoyed about this album were the solo accompaniments from the rest of the band, they really seemed to compliment the solos in an attention-grabbing way. In general the fairly prominent call-and-response-like lines and counter-melodies kept the music always feeling very "alive" and constantly diverted attention between any of the great performers in this band. In addition to the voice interplay, there were a number of very dense, very effective block chords in ensemble and soli parts that further thickened the sound of the ensemble.
The rhythms all felt very natural smooth. In many ways, this really sounds very "Hollywood," and was appropriately recorded there. The sound is, well, "big," and that's what Hollywood is and was really all about. Big. The pyramid-like builds in texture contribute to this feeling, as well as the very bright quality of the trumpets (and there're 5 of them to boot). The downward glissando endings of many brass soli phrases similarly seems to project this style. If you don't understand what I'm saying about this, go watch the opening of "Family Guy" (crude reference, but more widespread demographic).
Recorded at Edison Recording Studios, New York City, NY (May 1999)
Thad Jones- arranger
Billy Drewes- soprano & alto saxophones, flute, clarinet
Dick Oats- soprano & alto saxophones, flute
Ralph LaLama- tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet
Rich Perry- tenor saxophone, flute
Gary Smulyan- baritone saxophone
Earl Gardner- trumpet
Joe Mosello- trumpet
Glenn Drewes- trumpet
Scott Wendholt- trumpet
John Mosca- trombone
Ed Neumeister- trombone
Jason Jackson- trombone
Douglas Purviance- bass trombone
Jim McNeely- piano
Dennis Irwin- bass
John Riley- drums
If the above hasn't tipped you off, it's a big band. What struck me most about this album was just how in-sync all of the players evidently were with one another, not just in rhythm but in tone and style as well. The wide variety of well-executed styles played on this album are a testament to the aforementioned qualities and the talents of the musicians both individually and as an ensemble.
My favorite orchestration of this album was the instrumental arrangement in "Fingers" (Track 6), being very permeated by high woodwind sounds (the flute and muted trumpet stand out, but in a good way). There were also solos for just about every instrument (drums included), as well as extremely well-coordinated solis. The piece moves extremely quickly, yet due to the finesse of the performers manages to avoid sounding muddy or sloppy as many fast pieces tend to lean.
It's not all about the fast and loud on this album. Tracks like "Yours and Mine" and "All My Yesterdays" stay generally on the quieter and slower side. The solo musicians on these tracks effortlessly float above the swells of their accompaniment. The climactic moments where the accompaniment crescendoes into focus give a dramatic edge that is often lost in the "meandering" kinds of slow pieces.
Having mastery over technical precision, many styles and many emotional affects, the Thad Jones Legacy album is definitely recommended. As a side note, this is great music to cook to (I happened to be cooking while I listened to this). It kept the kitchen more exciting, and I have a suspicion it influenced the taste of the food in a positive way (but I digress, I'm not a crazy person).