JAZZ REVIEW, NO. 1: RANDY WESTON TRIO plus CECIL PAYNE, with AHMED ABDUL-MALIK, WILBERT HOGAN, WILLIE JONES & AL DREARES: “With These Hands”, “The Modern Art of Jazz”, “Jazz À La Bohemia”, Fresh Sounds Records FSRCD716_2, 2012 (2CD reissue of 3 1956 LPs on Riverside and Dawn).
This is the first of what, with luck, will be a regular series of reviews of new CD re-releases and original/reissued vinyl editions of classic and obscure modern jazz recordings from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s (and beyond!) for all those modernists who are passionate about (almost definitely) the first form of music to be enjoyed and studied by the earliest Mods, namely modern (post be-bop) jazz. The aim here is to share enthusiasm, knowledge and appreciation of this rich and varied area of music and so I welcome others to offer their thoughts, contribute their own favourite jazz tracks/LPs and, indeed, get writing about any aspect of the subject that you deem fit! Sometimes, modern jazz can scare or bemuse some people, even within the Mod movement, unless it is directly aimed at the dance floor. I love danceable jazz and this, of course, should be a space for our appreciation of soul-jazz, latin, funk and blues/jazz. However, as I get older, I thank heartily those early Soho and East End modernists for adopting a form of music that also gives much scope for sheer listening pleasure, whether that be while reading, walking, chatting, drinking that morning coffee, impressing a lady or gent, meditating (!), sipping a glass of fine wine, downing a jug of ale (the folk-trad-mod, or ‘frod’, if there is such a hybrid, should not be excluded) or simply contemplating the important responsibility of being a modernist in a post-modern world. Personally, I am more than glad that Charlie Mingus, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis were part of the mod narrative.
So, onto my choice for this week (or should I say fortnight? or month?: I don’t want to get ahead of myself yet), a new double CD from Spanish-based label Fresh Sound Records of three excellent, but lesser-known 1956 LPs by Brooklyn-born pianist, Down Beat “New Star” pianist of 1955 and friend of piano genius Thelonius Monk: Randy Weston (1926-). Fresh Sound (http://www.freshsoundrecords.com), based it seems in Barcelona, have the admirable objective of producing attractive and professional CD re-editions of what George W. Harris (www.jazzweekly.com/October 25, 2012) identifies as “important but obscure material by important but obscure artists” (they also release LPs by contemporary jazz musicians). Now, I’ve been an admirer of Randy Weston for some time, not least for his wonderful North African-inspired ‘Little Niles’, a track adapted for the guitar by folk legend John Renbourn. So, it was with some excitement that I spotted this 2-CD edition of three Randy Weston dates from 1956 and noticed it included the first recorded version of the tune on Weston’s With These Hands LP.
This date, plus The Modern Art of Jazz and the live Jazz à La Bohemia have been my near-constant aural companions for the last three days, such is the quality and emotional appeal of this music. Each session features baritone sax player Cecil Payne (1922-2007), known also for his work with Dizzy Gillespie and composer, arranger and pianist Tadd Dameron (1917-1965), and bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik (1927-1993), previously known as Jonathan Timm, Jr. Like Weston, both these musicians were from Brooklyn and played alongside Thelonious Monk during the ’50s. Abdul-Malik, a friend of Weston’s since childhood, was an early bass experimenter, who incorporated North African scales into jazz; (in his excellent biography of Monk, Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (Free Press, 2009), Robin D. G. Kelley describes how he and Weston would listen to and try to emulate North African musicians who played on Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue: ‘“For this we were called rebels”, Weston recalled. “We used to catch hell. They thought we were far out.” (Kelley, page 236). Malik also played the oud (a pear-shaped string instrument from Western Asia and North Africa, similar to the lute) and his piece ‘Nadusilma’ was covered by the late, English-born Guyanese-Scot guitar genius Davy Graham on his Godington Boundry LP with Holly (1970).
The two studio dates and live date feature different drummers (Wilbert Hogan, Willie Jones and Al Dreares) but are each united by Weston, Payne and Abdul-Malik and a musical policy of Weston original and standards/covers. With These Hands (Riverside 12-214), recorded at the famous Van Gelder Studio, New Jersey, in March 1956, is the stronger of the studio dates, featuring in addition to the classic ‘Little Niles’, a second Weston original, the Rollins-like ‘Lifetime’ and several inspired and tasteful covers of standards such as George and Ira Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’ and Duke Ellington and Bob Russell’s ‘Do Nothin’ till You Hear from Me’ (also covered by Mose Allison). Perhaps the standout of the covers is a lovely rendition of Ira Gershwin and Vernon Duke’s ‘I Can’t Get Started’. Weston’s piano style is heavily influenced by the percussive styles of Duke Ellington, Art Tatum and his friend Monk and yet there is a lighter touch that seems to anticipate the lyrical style of Bill Evans, also soon to record for Riverside.
The Modern Art of Jazz (Dawn DLP 1116), recorded in New York in November the same year with trumpeter Ray Copeland (1926-1984), is interesting for three more Weston originals: ‘Loose Wig’, ‘A Theme for Teddy’ and ‘J.K. Blues’. The first, very ‘Monkian’ in style, uses, in Michael Cuscuna’s words, “a chromatic progression to create the weird effect of someone with a loose wig (in other words, someone who is somewhat insane)” (http://www.randyweston.info/randy-weston-discography-pages/1956howh...). In the original liner notes’ interview with Paulette Girard, Weston himself defines the term as “a nice way of saying someone’s insane”. ‘A Theme for Teddy’ is more lyrical, with gentle interplay between piano and bass: ‘J.K. Blues, featuring a strong Copeland solo and crisp playing from Payne, is early hard bop and reminds this listener of Clifford Brown and Sonny Rollins. The covers include a sprightly rendition of Monk’s ‘Well You Needn’t’ and the calypso-inspired ‘Run Joe’, evocative of Rollins’ ‘St. Thomas’ from Saxophone Colossus (also previously recorded by Weston in 1955).
The live date, Jazz a La Bohemia (Riverside 12-232), recorded in October in New York’s Cafe Bohemia and highly-praised by Allmusic: (http://www.allmusic.com/album/jazz-%C3%A1-la-bohemia-mw0000316705), features only one Weston original, the upbeat and pulsating ‘Chessman’s Delight’. Otherwise, it is a collection of popular tunes and standards: ‘You Go to My Head (J. Fred Coots/Haven Gillespie), Cole Porter’s ‘It’s All Right With Me’ and swing drummer Big Sid Catlett’s ‘Just a Riff’, alongside warm renditions of the traditional calypso piece ‘Hold ‘Em Joe’ (with Latin-tinged intro) and, my personal highlight, the Michael Edwards/Bud Green ballad, ‘Once in a While’, with a lovely solo from Payne. Throughout, Weston’s piano is assured and clear in the mix, vying well with Payne’s rich, breathy baritone and Abdul-Malik’s thoughtful and probing bass work. The sound on this recording is generally pretty good and balanced, with the contrasts in Al Dreares’s drum work and the interplay between piano and bass captured particularly clearly. This is definitely one for a Sunday evening, nice and mellow before the start of a new week.
All in all, this new double CD is an excellent introduction to the early music of the prolific and inventive Randy Weston and, with good quality reproductions of its original liner notes and colour photos of original sleeves in the accompanying booklet, it provides a fascinating glimpse into an ‘important but obscure’ episode in American Jazz. It sells for around 15-17 pounds/Euros, well-worth the price if you like your jazz in the Monk/Rollins vein (I would guess that to get original vinyl copies of all three discs might cost closer to 100 pounds). If you’re already a fan of Weston and don’t have these records on vinyl or previous CDs, I’d say this is a great addition to the collection. Stylists should also appreciate the photos of Weston, particularly the cover of The Modern Art of Jazz (see, for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Modern_Art_of_Jazz). Weston (now 86) is/was a very tall man, around six feet-eight. I certainly think his 1956 look could be one inspiration for the taller mod! Enjoy!
Hi James, Great read sir. Jazz is sadly an area of the Mod scene that should be enjoyed by more folk but other than Mary Boogaloo and a few other DJ's myself included that drop the odd more dancefloor freindly material it's often overlooked for the more danceable R&B and Soul sounds. Used to love the GRITS & GRAVY night I done with Nick Hudson ten years ago playing Mod Jazz. Eventually the night diversified and played the above sounds as well to garner enough interest and keep the club owner happy with bar sales.
Thank you very much Rob. I appreciate your comments. Shame I wasn't around in London ten years ago (I was attending a lot of live jazz in Bristol back then). I enjoyed the days back in the 90s when jazz got played quite a lot. Do you remember the Jack McDuff gig at Camden around 1995?
I still plan to write some more stuff on this thread, but I've been a bit busy lately. Hope to get something done soon.
I'd be interested to read further reviews of this kind if you're still planning to submit them (I know it was a long time ago that you wrote this) As someone whose main interest on the mod scene is psych, but who grew up loving jazz thanks to his Modernist/bebopper father and his trad/beatnik mother, I am always keen to hear from other jazzers. I also bemoan the lack of a decent mod-based jazz club anywhere in the Southern UK at the moment....
Hello there. Thanks v. much for the comment and, yes, I do plan to write something new, perhaps in February. I was planning to write a review of Stan Tracey's 1965 classic 'Under Milk Wood', in view of his late demise. An interesting example of how modernist music engaged with a literary text by Dylan Thomas that could broadly be described as modernist or at least a reaction to classicism.
Good to hear about your jazz background; I too have long yearned for a mod-jazz club; when Acid Jazz was big around 1993, I used to go to mod clubs in London and ask for more 60s jazz (and, at Acid jazz nights, I'd ask for more 60s soul and old r'n'b!); perhaps there could be space for a jazz room at a mod club, the equivalent of a chill out room with some tracks for dancing and some for listening. Best wishes
Hi James, Happy New Year. Perhaps you would like to do some writing for the NUTsMAG http://www.newuntouchables.com/nutsmag/ best Rob
Morning Rob, thanks very much for the invitation. I'd be delighted to write for the NUTsMAG.
Will be in touch with ideas!
have a good weekend. James