Playlist – 30 May 2013

This week Neil has requested tracks that feature the pianist Mulgrew Miller who has tragically died at the age of 57. The tunes selected were Beyond The Wall by Kenny Garrett and Medley: Serenade to a Cuckoo/Bright Moments from Steve Turre. Art Blakey was selected as a bandleader that Mulgrew Miller played with and Kenny Barron as a pianist who influenced him.

For our Take Three feature this week, I felt like some Hammond organ. There’s not been much of that lately on CJ, so I featured three tunes from Charles Earland. There was remarkable variety in the selections as Earland was not just a fast-pumping Hammond groove merchant. There was much you can dance to, but Earland was also a subtle player (maybe because he started out on baritone sax) and something of a synthesizer pioneer. Another early loss in jazz, Earland died in 1999 at the age of just 58.

Babatunde Lea was one of those CDs I found on my shelves and thought I feel like playing that. Finally, there was an airing for a classic Miles Davis track. Born on 26 May, Miles would have been 87 had he lived.

Neil notes: Here’s an intriguing thought: given a lifetime of revolution in music, would DavisA+Tribute+to+Jack+Johnson+jack+johnson still have been making waves in 2013? Whatever the answer, he was on fire for his tribute to the world’s first black boxing champion, Jack Johnson. In a review of the album followings its reissue, John Fordham of The Guardian remarked on the transition in Davis’s playing from a “whispering electric sound to some of the most trenchantly responsive straight-horn improvising he ever put on disc”. According to Fordham:

Considering that it began as a jam between three bored Miles Davis sidemen, and that the eventual 1971 release was stitched together from a variety of takes, it’s a miracle that this album turned out to be one of the most remarkable jazz-rock discs of the era. Columbia didn’t even realise what it had with these sessions, and the mid-decade Miles albums that followed – angled toward the pop audience – were far more aggressively marketed than the Jack Johnson set … Of course, it’s a much starker, less subtly textured setting than Bitches Brew, but in the early jazz-rock hall of fame, it’s up there on the top pedestal.

Other reviewers have commented on the pure electricity in the music and the superb solos taken by John McLaughlin on guitar and Davis’ raw unmuted trumpet. Often jazz rock is a kind of compromise between the two forms – but here Davis blurs the edges between the two musics and – as Thom Jurek has noted –

Jack Johnson is the purest electric jazz record ever made because of the feeling of spontaneity and freedom it evokes in the listener…. and for the tireless perfection of the studio assemblage by Miles and producer [Teo] Macero.

Equally important, I think is that Jack Johnson was the first studio appearance in Davis’s band of the prodigiously talented bass player Michael Henderson. Davis had seen him performing with Stevie Wonder and had immediately asked him to join the band. Henderson brought a fat, weighty, ‘on the one’ bass style into jazz – a style more like that of his idol, Motown’s James Jamerson than any jazz player. Listen to how Henderson opens Right Off with Michael Henderson – it’s a triumph of the power of the groove. Henderson played a key role in Davis’ plan by remaining the rock steady anchor in the musical melee around him, the deeply-rooted fulcrum upon which everything pivoted. His deep-toned ostinatos and vamps provided a kind of hypnotic glue that brought all the parts — no matter how turbulent and potentially chaotic they might become — together into a cohesive yet kinetic whole. “That’s what he hired me for,” said Henderson in an interview. “To come in and take control and to keep it there. In fact, that was my job with everybody I worked with before Miles, just to come in and keep it solid. Miles definitely knew what he wanted, always.” True. I was lucky enough to meet and talk with Henderson when he briefly toured the UK with Normal Connors – and his basslines were as rock steady then as they were throughout this landmark recording.

  1. Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers – Free For All  from Free For All
  2. Kenny Barron – Mythology from Other Places
  3. Kenny Garrett – Beyond The Wall from Beyond The Wall
  4. Steve Turre – Medley: Serenade To A Cuckoo/Bright Moments from The Spirits Up Above
  5. Babatunde Lea – Back On Track from March of the Jazz Guerillas
  6. Charles Earland – Black Talk from Black Talk (also Charles Earland – Anthology)
  7. Charles Earland – Leaving This Planet from Leaving This Planet (and Anthology)
  8. Charles Earland – Marcia’s Waltz from Earland’s Jam (and Anthology)
  9. Miles Davis – Right Off from A Tribute to Jack Johnson

I needed no excuse to have Miles Davis on our video choice – here he is with his 1973 band in concert in Vienna. The line up includes Michael Henderson on bass. Here they perform Ife, another classic Henderson groove-based track: