MilesBeyond

JMA Jazz Reviewer ·
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Favorite Jazz Artists

All Reviews/Ratings

17 reviews/ratings
JOHN COLTRANE - Giant Steps Hard Bop | review permalink
MILES DAVIS - Bitches Brew Fusion | review permalink
WES MONTGOMERY - The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery Hard Bop | review permalink
JOHN COLTRANE - Blue Train Hard Bop
THE QUINTET - Jazz at Massey Hall (aka The Quintet of the Year) Bop | review permalink
MILES DAVIS - Kind of Blue Cool Jazz
MILES DAVIS - Sketches of Spain Third Stream
MILES DAVIS - In a Silent Way Fusion
JOHN COLTRANE - A Love Supreme Post Bop
JOHN COLTRANE - Soultrane Hard Bop
WES MONTGOMERY - Smokin' At The Half Note (with Wynton Kelly Trio) Hard Bop
WES MONTGOMERY - Full House Hard Bop
MILES DAVIS - Birth of the Cool Cool Jazz
MILES DAVIS - Milestones Hard Bop
MILES DAVIS - A Tribute to Jack Johnson Fusion
JOHN COLTRANE - Dakar Hard Bop
DIZZY GILLESPIE - Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac World Fusion | review permalink

Jazz Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Hard Bop 8 4.75
2 Fusion 3 4.67
3 Cool Jazz 2 4.50
4 Bop 1 5.00
5 Post Bop 1 5.00
6 Third Stream 1 5.00
7 World Fusion 1 2.50

Latest Albums Reviews

THE QUINTET Jazz at Massey Hall (aka The Quintet of the Year)

Boxset / Compilation · 1956 · Bop
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This is the sort of album that's an instant-purchase for any jazz fan as soon as they catch a glimpse of the roster: Charlie Parker playing alto, unsurprisingly, and with him he's got Bud Powell on piano, Mingus on bass, Max Roach on drums, and, of course, his partner in crime, the yin to his yang, Dizzy Gillespie on the trumpet - especially notable as it's the last known recording of Bird and Diz playing together.

While such an amazing line-up would suggest possibly the greatest recording in the history of live music, it is not without its flaws. The show itself was a nightmare, with everything falling apart - to start with, it was poorly attended, as it coincided with a major boxing match, which drew much more attention - including Diz, who kept rushing backstage during the performance to see if he could catch some of the TV broadcast. Meanwhile, Bird and Bud were both heavily intoxicated, and the show was completely unrehearsed - complicated even more by the fact that this was some time after Bird and Diz had their falling out, having hardly even spoken to each other, let alone played together, since. The recording itself was allegedly set up by Mingus, however due to some grounding issues the quality is quite low and Mingus' own bass playing is at times even inaudible. Some pressings feature Mingus dubbing over the tracks at a later date, but fans seem divided on whether they prefer this over the original bass.

But don't let all this deter you - despite all the issues, the band knocked it out of the park and there's some fantastic music to be heard on this album. The album can essentially be divided into three parts, depending on which version you have: Part 1, three cuts with the full band; Part 2, a twenty-five minute set of just the rhythm section, and Part 3, in which the horns rejoin for a few closing numbers.

Part 1 is possibly the highlight of the album. It opens up with two bop tours-de-force; Perdido and Salt Peanuts, which feature fiery trumpet work from Diz and such laid-back virtuosity from Bird that perhaps the greater miracle than him even playing it is the way he does so with such an easy, relaxed feel. Bud Powell is no slouch, either, delivering both unbelievable solos and tasteful accompaniment, while Mingus and Roach are in the back, guarding the beat with their lives, giving the band a rock-solid foundation to build on - and Roach's solo on Salt Peanuts is a wild display of his skill. These two are followed by All The Things You Are - and this particular recording of this well known standard has come to be known as the definitive version. The band takes the blazing fury that it brought to the first two tracks and swaps it out for a delicate soulfulness. Its electrifying conclusion segues immediately into a brief rendition of the 52nd Street Theme - the symbol of all things be-bop, and the perfect anthem for such a night.

As said above, Part 2 (which is only on some versions) features only Bud, Mingus and Roach. While it is a stellar showcase for the rhythm section and excellent listening for anyone who prefers piano-driven jazz, the quintet is obviously the highlight of the album. As enjoyable as this section is, the listener still awaits the return of Bird and Diz with anticipation.

And return they do, for Part 3, with Wee, the bop classic Hot House, and, of course, the quintessential Gillespie piece A Night in Tunisia - quite fitting, as its a Diz composition popularized by Bird. These tracks are three more blazing bop standards, and even by the end of the night the band is still in top form. The final cut, in particular, is an excellent rendition of the tune and features some fine playing from all involved.

All in all, despite all the drama, the lack or preparation, and the poor sound quality, this nonetheless stands out as one of the greatest live jazz recordings of all time.

DIZZY GILLESPIE Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac

Live album · 1967 · World Fusion
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Understand that Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac, a live album from the mid 60s, is not bad music, by any means. But it's not Dizzy's best album, either.

Diz himself is in fine form on this recording, and perhaps the advantage of such a late live record is that the listener gets to appreciate his live playing with much better sound quality than examples from earlier in his career. The rest of the band is hit-and-miss. We once again find James Moody as Gillespie's partner in crime, and he as well is playing at his usual high calibre, demonstrating virtuosity on the alto saxophone while at the same time proving that he is no slouch on the flute, either. While the man is certainly no Charlie Parker, he is nonetheless a stellar musician who complements Dizzy well.

Mike Longo and Otis Finch Jr, on piano and drums respectively, are rather mediocre. While they don't ruin the performance by any means, they aren't going to make anyone sit up and take notice - especially those who play piano or drums themselves. Finch, however, is noteworthy for the way in which he keeps up with Dizzy's changing rhythmic styles - from swing to Latin to African.

Perhaps the album's greatest liability is the mysterious Frank Schifano on bass, a man who I admit to knowing nothing about and who I'm not able to find very much information on, either. His bass playing is limited and rudimentary; his walks are simple and lack creativity, and while it might just be my imagination he seems to find himself off the beat with uncomfortable frequency.

Understand, however, that aside from the occasional goof on the bass, the disappointing rhythm section is still able to get the job done - the problem is simply that they are no match for the stellar horn section they seek to be supporting - one of whom is listed amongst the great legends of American music, no less.

As far as the music itself goes, the highlights are easily tracks 2 and 5. Track 2 is Mas Que Nada, a Brazilian pop song. Featuring explosive trumpet work from Diz and a combination of lilting flute and blazing sax from Moody over a Latin vibe that commands rather than invites the audience dance, this track is best summed up by the enthusiastic word heard from the audience: "Beautiful!"

Track 5, Kush, is a Gillespie original, and part of his Afro-Cuban jazz ideal. It opens with a breathtaking introduction, combining exotic percussion with soaring, exploratory flute work that does, in fact, evoke the jungles of Africa. This transitions into the head, which begins with a subdued trumpet lead before the entire band enters with an explosion. The bulk of the track is devoted to one solo each by Diz and Moody (on sax); however, while good, neither solo is the most interesting thing either musician has done.

The first song, the title track, is perhaps a bit of a novelty piece, but is nevertheless a good introduction to the Dizzy live experience. Experimenting with African beats, and good-natured interaction between Diz, Moody, and sometimes the audience as well, the song is fun without being obnoxious. The lyrics themselves are a tongue-in-cheek take on a famous African-American spiritual. There is a brief instrumental section (with a solo by Dizzy), but it's mostly vocals backed by drums.

This leaves tracks 3 and 4, both of which are far too short to be worth much attention. The former is a blues-y number, the latter is a ballad with Dizzy singing. While he's a mediocre singer at best, he at least seems to be aware of it and sounds like he is almost playing with the audience a bit.

All in all, this album is worth the price of admission, but not by much. It's a good example of Dizzy's playing, but really any prospective fan is much better off digging into some of his earlier albums (Live at Newport, for instance).

WES MONTGOMERY The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery

Album · 1960 · Hard Bop
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This album's title is no idle boast, no mere braggadocio. Wes Montgomery is quite possibly the greatest talent to have ever graced the guitar, and this recording is what would both introduce him to the jazz world at large, including his unique and quintessential approach to the instrument, and establish his presence as a musical giant.

The album is evenly split between standards and original compositions. The standards open with the Sonny Rollins composition Airegin (Nigeria spelt backwards, for those who are wondering). This essentially serves as Montgomery's tour de force: At the time, it was one of the most difficult compositions to play over and to this day it remains a challenging piece. Nonetheless, Montgomery navigates the unforgiving changes with elegance and grace, his playing deceptive: The tasteful, understated lines neatly mask the incredible complexity of what is happening.

The next two standards are Polkadots and Moonbeams (track 3), and In Your Own Sweet Way (track 6). These two are the ballads of the album, and they demonstrate a completely different side of Wes' playing. Delicate and heart-wrenching, Montgomery uses his guitar to elicit emotions in a way that is usually reserved to horn players. Polkadots demonstrates his affinity for octaves, creating a delicate, floating sound which invites the listener to drift along with it. In contrast, Sweet Way begins with an aching chord melody that pushes the song's harmonies to their limits, followed by what would become one of the most influential guitar solos ever recorded.

Finally, the album closes with Gone With The Wind. A light, easy swinger, the song is the perfect vehicle to illustrate Wes' tasteful playing. , The original compositions include D Natural Blues (track 2), Four on Six (track 4), West Coast Blues (track 5), and Mr. Walker (Renie) (track 7). D Natural Blues offers Wes' slick take on this classic form of jazz, and while it can be subject to cliché it's nonetheless a great opportunity to hear the band grooving.

Four on Six, however, is the centrepiece of the album. The only Wes original from here that would go on to become a standard, it begins with a driving bass ostinato outlining the chord changes. The guitar solo on this song is quintessential Wes, and anyone looking to understand what he was all about should look no further. It shows off his idiosyncratic style of beginning with single note lines, building to octaves, and finally culminating in block chords, and it does so to great effect. If you're a musician in general and a guitarist in particular, this solo is essential listening. However, be sure to check out the ultimate recording of this song on his album Smokin' At The Half Note, which takes what's done here, builds on it, and tops it in a way one would never have thought possible.

West Coast Blues, with it's bouncing chord changes, 12/8 time signature and slippery, almost Monk-like melody lines, is a bit more of a modern take on the I-IV-V than the earlier D Natural Blues. Fantastic playing on this one as well, which has become a classic Wes cut and a must-learn for any jazz guitarist.

Finally, there's Mr. Walker. This is actually one of my personal favourite Wes compositions and I'm surprised it doesn't get more attention. It's the albums only latin-influenced cut (although Wes would get more into that later), and it's a breath of fresh air. It contrasts a mean, swaggering A section with an open, floating B section, and the playing is terrific, with Wes manipulating the (admittedly simple) changes to great advantage and pulling out all the stops on the second chorus with octaves galore. Tommy Flanagan also plays a wonderful solo on this one, with his soaring piano lines amplifying the effect of the B section.

It may seem odd that this is the first mention of the band but their playing is actually rather underwhelming on this album. While I'm usually a fan of Flanagan, his playing doesn't stand out on this album (which could quite likely be intentional, given the album's spotlight on Wes), and the brothers Heath get the job done, but that's it. The aforementioned Smokin' At The Half Note is a great example of Wes playing with other musicians who are truly of his calibre, and it is not to be missed.

Nonetheless, this recording is still a fantastic portrait of one of the greatest figures in the world of guitar. Any fan of jazz should hear it, any jazz musician should own it, and any jazz guitarist should know it by heart.

MILES DAVIS Bitches Brew

Album · 1970 · Fusion
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I can still remember where I was when I first "got" Bitches Brew. I'd gone to my parents' house for Christmas and was spending a quiet evening on my own listening to music, when the track Miles Runs the Voodoo Down came on. I'd tried giving the album a few listens before but never really enjoyed it - until now. Something inside me clicked. The music had a sort of raw, chaotic energy that spoke to me on a powerful level. It was the first music I'd heard in a long time that sounded truly alive.

When I first heard Bitches Brew, I was a little surprised: For such a popular album, I found it remarkably obtuse. Understand when you go into this album that this isn't Kind of Blue with guitar. This is a raw experiment in sonic energy; nothing like it has existed before or since. It took me a couple of listens, but after a while I could break things down into solos and interludes, and then I began to truly appreciate the beauty of it. This was Miles allowing musicians the freedom to express themselves however they desired, in loose compositions in a style unheard of, and it changed the face of jazz - and, to an extent, rock - forever.

I won't go through on a track-by-track basis because I feel as though that would be missing the point. The tracks aren't "songs" or even "compositions" in the traditional sense as much as they're platforms for ideas. A brief melodic or rhythmic fragment would be all that was given, then Miles would conduct the band as they expand on it and transform it into something else entirely. You really can't hope to understand it until you've heard it.

Bitches Brew is not an album for the faint-hearted. If you find yourself intimidated, I'd recommend starting with the shorter tracks on the second disk. John McLaughlin, Sanctuary, and the aforementioned Voodoo are good introductions before you tackle the longer jams. Regardless, it is an essential album for any jazz fan: Love it or hate it, it was the conquest of a new world, and something that needs to be listened to and digested by anyone who claims to be a listener of jazz music.

JOHN COLTRANE Giant Steps

Album · 1959 · Hard Bop
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Giant Steps was not the album that put John Coltrane on the map. No, that had already been accomplished some time ago, through his stint with Miles and his own seminal release, Blue Train. It was with this album, however, that Coltrane's status as jazz legend was to become indisputable - and with good reason. The album was a veritable tour de force, showing off different aspects of 'Trane's playing from the relentlessly virtuoistic (Giant Steps, Countdown) to the richly melodic (Naima, Syeeda's Song Flute), to the back-to-basics blues numbers (Cousin Mary, Mr. PC), and would yield several standards.

Giant Steps and Countdown both blaze along at unthinkable tempos (290 and 340 bpm, respectively), switching keys roughly every two beats. Throughout the vast and varied history of jazz there are few compositions that are more demanding upon the instrumentalist. To be able to play them at all is considered a significant rite of passage in any musician's life - to be able to play them like 'Trane does is a far off dream for all but a select few.

Lest anyone call this an exercise in souless virtuosity, however, Coltrane also delivers here one of the most breathtakingly beautiful ballads of all time - the haunting Naima. While Coltrane's playing is tender and ethereal, the real star of the show is Wynton Kelly, whose impeccably tasteful playing speaks to the very soul. Syeeda's Song Flute is another highlight, marrying a mild exoticness with a light, bouncy feel. Cousin Mary and Mr. PC both feature the band playing over blues progressions, the former at a mild swing and the latter at a blazingly fast tempo. Spiral doesn't really fit into any of the above categories, but is, as the name suggests, a chromatic descent. It's not the best cut on the album but enjoyable nonetheless.

No review of Giant Steps, however, would be complete without mentioning the band, and in particular the peerless bass work of Paul Chambers, which has to be heard to be believed.

In conclusion, if you don't own this album already, go out and get it!

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