CJ featured more of the new music we enjoyed this year – and you can listen to it all. Just look left and hit that play button to hear all of this week’s show.
Neil’s choices were a mixture of new releases and great reissues. The first two choices are from multi-CD reissue sets, both from Columbia Records. In September 1955, pianist Erroll Garner played a landmark concert at Carmel, California. The result was one of the most popular jazz records of the decade – the celebrated Concert by the Sea album in which Garner effortlessly worked his way through a programme of standards. Now, some 60 years later, the compete concert has been reissued. The sound hasn’t been tampered with very much but the real revelation is in some of the additional tracks – especially Ellington’s Caravan which we played. Unlike other pianists we like on CJ, Garner is different. For Ahmad Jamal, for example, less is often more. Not so with Garner. He doesn’t do anything new or challenging with the melodies, but the sheer unpredictability of his introductions and the sense of joy in his playing are still addictive. For more Garner, check out his 1964 in-studio performance here where you can hear some of his influences including stride piano players like Fats Waller (with whom he shares the habit of sometimes mugging to the camera!). It’s a bravura performance and it captures the sheer charm of Garner’s playing.
Next up was Weather Report and a 4CD set of what – for many – is their most creative (and popular) period. The years from 1978-81 saw the band settle into a core quartet – Joe Zawinul on keyboards, Wayne Shorter on tenor and soprano saxes, Jaco Pastorius on electric bass and Peter Erskine on drums. We featured the track Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz – often played at the time to end their set. I well remember hearing the band at this time and their inventive energy was astonishing. here augmented by percussionist Robert Thomas Jr, this track captures this feeling perfectly. Even if you have most of the band’s output already this package, beautifully sequenced by Peter Erskine and Zawinul’s son Tony is essential. Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz (always played together) captures the balance between composed through material and the high levels of improvisation which marked a Weather Report show. The train track sound effect at the end of this piece is typical of the subtle ways in which Zawinul and Pastorius integrated samples into their sets long before they became de riguer. To see what this looked like check out this Montreux Jazz Festival performance from 1976.
Both of these tracks made it into the Jazzwise best of 2015 lists – but not our next selection. Now, is this because new pianist Joey Alexander is something of a childhood prodigy? Of course, it’s good to be suspicious of mere technical fluency, but I think this 12 year old from Indonesia is the real jazz deal. Listen to what he does with Coltrane’s Giant Steps and decide for yourselves. Of course, it helps to have trio support from Larry Grenadier on bass and Ulysses Owen Jr. on drums but Alexander really thinks through the arrangements on this and all the other tracks on his Blue Note debut My Favorite Things. Have a look at this in-studio performance of the Coltrane classic.
Derek and I have both got into the unique soundworld of arranger and conductor Maria Schneider recently and next I featured a track from her new album The Thompson Fields. Like much of her work, this new release reflects her roots in the American midwest – specifically the Minnesota farmland that’s really a central character in this new album. Both the record and Donny McCaslin’s solo on our featured track are Grammy-nominated this year. We followed this with more orchestral music, this time from British composer Colin Towns. Improbably, once a member of Ian Gillan’s progressive rock band Towns is now a formidable jazz arranger with a string of excellent releases including the recent small group Blue Touch Paper. Here though with his Mask Orchestra he creates imaginative big band arrangements, all used to create widescreen arrangements linked to British theatre successes including Equus, Jayne Eyre and The Royal Hunt of the Sun. We chose the track Macbeth, full of sweeping drama and unpredictable twists and turns. To get an idea of his work as a film and TV composer, check out this interview where Towns talks about his work on the TV series Doc Martin.
We ended the show with a taste of two contemporary pianists – Robert Glasper and Brad Mehldau. Here Glasper is back with his trio but Mehldau is on his own in a 4CD set of solo piano performances from the last ten years. It’s a typically eclectic selection with music from Radiohead, the Beach Boys and Brahms. We featured one of two versions of Radiohead’s Knives Out.
The show ended with a CJ favourite – Sun Ra from Gilles Peterson’s new Strut compilation To Those of Earth and Other Worlds. We featured part of Sleeping Beauty, the title track from a 1979 album that captures Ra in a deceptively chilled mode, typical of other albums of the time including the essential Lanquidity and On Jupiter – all three now available on Art Yard Records. There’s more Sun Ra in our video clip this week, a typically spirited performance of Face the Music/Space is the Place.
- Erroll Garner – Caravan from The Complete Concert by the Sea
- Weather Report – Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz from the Legendary Live Tapes 1978-81
- Joey Alexander – Giant Steps from My Favorite Things
- The Maria Schneider Orchestra – Arbiters of Evolution from The Thompson Fields
- Colin Towns Mask Orchestra – Macbeth from Drama
- Robert Glasper Trio – So Beautiful from Covered
- Brad Mehldau – Knives Out from 10 Years Solo Live
- Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Myth Science Arkestra – Sleeping Beauty from To Those of Earth and Other Worlds