Saturday, 19 September 2009

Al Haig...

No time for shirking, time to get some more old reviews posted. There seems to be a bit of an Al Haig thing going on at another blog I've recently enjoyed visiting, and if you're curious I can offer a link to this very CD. Of course, such downloads should only be for research purposes. If you like what you hear you should always support the artists directly.

The services such blogs perform for avid and curious listeners can't be underestimated though. I for one have discovered lots of new music that I've later gone on to buy as a result of sampling other folk's libraries. I hope that this educational and close knit community ethos amongst jazz aficionados isn't stamped out by the record industry. We aren't interested in mainstream releases, and our holy grail consists of long out of print (almost unobtainable) music as rare as any antiquity.

Removing the opportunity for felicitous encounters which inspire listeners to go out and expand their collection seems counter-productive. Where a release is out of print and never likely to be re-issued ever again, the enthusiast's quest to hear the material seems to me to be entirely different to the consumer that is simply looking for a free copy of the latest Peter Andre CD to stick on their iPod. Thanks to blogs like the one I mention above, I now know about Tony Dagradi, and I'm off to Amazon right now to see what I can find...

Un Poco Loco

Confirmation; Naima; All Blues; Laura; Voices Deep Within Me; Never Let Me Go; How Deep Is The Ocean; Un Poco Loco; The Theme

Al Haig (p); Jamil Nasser (b); Tony Mann (d), (Recorded September 1978).

Although not a Be-bop pioneer, Al Haig kept a high profile during the music’s very earliest days, quickly assimilating and embracing the example of Bud Powell. His legacy includes historic recordings with Parker, Gillespie and Navarro, as well as tenures with Chet Baker and Stan Getz and immortality via Miles’ Birth of the Cool nonet sessions. Long periods of inactivity, including jobbing as a cocktail pianist, effectively divide his career into two phases separated by a twenty year gap.

British record label Spotlite was instrumental in helping Haig to attain recognition as a giant of bop, returning him to the studios late in 1973. An Indian Summer followed, before Haig passed away in 1982. Un Poco Loco, recorded in 1978, is further fruit from the Spotlite partnership, and a fine example of Haig at his peak. Accompanied by regular bass partner Jamil Nasser and British drummer Tony Mann, it’s good to see how much Haig had moved with the times and built on his roots. Although renditions of “Confirmation”, Un Poco Loco” and “The Theme” survive from the Be-bop book, there is a far more expansive side to Haig’s work in evidence. Happy to embrace Jamal, Cedar Walton and Chick Corea as influences, Haig’s style nevertheless remains personal. Readings of “Naima” and “All Blues” further indicate a musician open to change.

Although the trio never abandon progressions or probe as deeply into harmony as more interactive trios from the Bill Evans school, Haig works within the structures to turn in some thoughtfully impressive work. Nasser’s bass is a muscular backbone well at home in this environment. Aside from his long tenure with Ahmad Jamal, Nasser also worked with Phineas Newborn and Harold Mabern, and yes, this is the same man who also worked with Eric Dolphy and Booker Little. Standouts include an elegant “How Deep Is The Ocean”, a breakneck run through of Walton’s “Voices” (complete with “Salt Peanuts” quote) and a rhythmically hypnotic take of the Bud Powell composed title track. Although it won’t shake the earth or move mountains, Un Poco Loco is a rewarding way to spend an hour, and a reminder of a talent so nearly lost to the vagaries of jazz fashion.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, May 2006)

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

John Etheridge...

How can it be so long since I last blogged? The Horace Tapscott CD has arrived and been devoured, I've recently discovered a nice hidden Tommy Smith gem (Nomade by Loic Dequidt's Quartet, Kopasetic), and I've also got a new job!! Snow Leopard is installed on the Mac (and apart from a few glitches here and there it is a vast improvement), and I've been sneaking in some miles on my roadbike in the early hours of the morning, before leaving for work.

The new job is probably less interesting than the reviews, so let's just say I'm pleased to be making a change that gives me a bit of a promotion but keeps me in a more-or-less related field of work. Last Friday afternoon, to mark the occasion, we sat decadently in the garden drinking champagne at 4PM. Not the kind of thing we do every day, but nice anyway.

As for the musical offering, I'll go for a John Etheridge CD (only because guitar maestro Martin Taylor has started following me on Twitter, clear evidence that Afric Pepperbird has some intrinsic merit, if not also a sign that there's little jazz to be found on Twitter).

Hell, this review even gives Taylor a flattering reference. Not sure I've ever reviewed a Taylor disc, so if you're reading this Martin, it's high time I gave it a go...

I Didn’t Know
DYAD (DY 024)

Guitar Makossa; God Bless The Child; I’ll Take Les; Now’s The Time; Motherless Child; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy; Lullaby of Birdland; I Didn’t Know; My Romance; Outline; Come Sunday; Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man; Strange Comforts; With The Wind; Goodbye Porkpie Hat; Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

John Etheridge (g)
Recorded 2003-4

There’s something about the guitar that seems to produce irrational worship amongst its devotees. I know many amateur guitarists who wouldn’t dream of buying recordings or going to hear live music described as “jazz” unless their instrument of choice happened to be centre stage. John Etheridge has benefited from generous coverage over the years in specialist guitar magazines, and like Metheny or Scofield he’s a ‘jazzer’ who’s managed to penetrate the consciousness of bedroom pickers far and wide. In many ways, this recording is for them, consisting as it does of short solo pieces on a variety of guitars, all makes and models described in assiduous detail in the accompanying booklet.

The use of overdubbing may worry some, placing Etheridge a notch or two below Joe Pass or Martin Taylor in the blow-your-socks-off stakes, but you’d still struggle to be unimpressed by his speed and dexterity. The material allows for a variety of approaches, from the straght-ahead ‘Now’s The Time’ to a funky version of Scofield’s ‘I’ll Take Les’, and the fusion influences of his own 'Outline’. Stadium-rock pyrotechnics are strictly off limits, and the general restraint with which he plays could surprise those who haven’t heard him for some time.

Where ‘I Didn’t Know’ seems to fall down, however, is in the way that it so often resembles a pile of pages torn randomly from an artist’s sketchbook. Many selections are faded early or simply too short for any improvisational depth to be developed. Standouts tend to be the more fully realised pieces, and include a doom-laden ‘Motherless Child’ that recalls the barren beauty of prime Bill Frisell, the languid funk of Joe Zawinul’s ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’, and the lovingly deconstructed ‘Goodbye Porkpie Hat’ (with shades of Delta Blues). A long way from his roots with Soft Machine, and for that matter from recent acclaimed tribute projects to the music of Grappelli and Zappa, and although it may not be a release for the wider jazz community, it should certainly satisfy fans of the guitar as totemic icon.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, October 2004)