Off the Record: Twice Upon a Time (Part 1)

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The lure of jazz is as much a matter of its great stories as its rich history. So much so that all jazz heads, including those wired into the latest trends, yield to the pleasure of listening to recordings of distant times. Not only do vintage albums enable us to appreciate music in an authentic way, they allow us to assess their value. If some do not age well, others hold up to the test, the best of them speaking to us now with as much power and conviction as in their own day. Here are two good examples, the first appearing for the first time on disc, the second reissued after years of unavailability.

On Nov. 1, 1970, a quintet under the leadership of drummer Roy Brooks performed in Baltimore, with a live feed to a local radio station. The tape of this broadcast has now surfaced on record, just a little over a half a century after the fact, courtesy of a Vancouver-based label (Understanding, Roy Brooks Quintet, Reel to Real Records RTRCD-007). Before inserting the first of this two-disc set into the player, you might have an idea that something unusual is in the offing. For starters, the band played but five numbers over two hourlong sets. Just title cut, that opens the gig, spans a whopping 40 minutes, the theme appearing only midway, before which four of the five members play fast and furious, most notably Woody Shaw, who just tears up the place in the first 10-minutes. No less potent in the mix are the recently departed pianist Harold Mabern, tenorman Carlos Garnett, bassist Cecil McBee and, lest we forget, the leader who stokes the fires from his whole kit, even a musical saw in one spot. A journeyman of the era, and Motown jazz legend, Brooks held the drum chair for five years in Horace Silver’s band from 1959 to 1964, playing on the hit number Song for my Father. Short-lived, the quintet of this album combined the hard swinging drive of hard bop with the go-for-broke attitude of the brainstorming free jazzers. If the musicians tested their wits in this marathon performance, the passion and commitment with which they play make this album a must-hear. A definite pick for music writers’ lists this year.

Listen to soundbytes of this recording here.

This sense of abandon also applies to the following reissue of trio pieces by one of our city’s most famous sons, Paul Bley (Touching & Blood Revisited – ezz-thetics 1108). Recorded during a European tour in the Fall of 1965, these sides reveal a pianist who had cast aside his early bebop proclivities to wholeheartedly embrace more open forms and harmonies. The final cut (Blood) is an arresting 18-minute-plus tour de force of group improvisation, a veritable stream of consciousness engulfing both the leader and his sidemen, bassist Mark Levinson and drummer Barry Altschul. The preceding seven cuts, all in the five-to-eight-minute range, are just as exploratory, albeit more subdued in tone. To our ears, the music remains as potent now as it once was. It also demonstrates that Bley back then was several steps ahead of his more famous contemporary Bill Evans, who was getting all the credit as the innovator of the jazz piano trio. (More reviews on this topic in next issue.)

Listen to soundbytes of this recording here.

Go here for the jazz feature article of this issue.

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


About Author

Marc Chénard is a Montreal-based multilingual music journalist specialized in jazz and improvised music. In a career now spanning some 30 years, he has published a wide array of articles and essays, mainly in Canada, some in the United States and several in Europe (France, Belgium, Germany and Austria). He has travelled extensively to cover major festivals in cities as varied as Vancouver and Chicago, Paris and Berlin, Vienna and Copenhagen. He has been the jazz editor and a special features writer for La Scena Musicale since 2002; currently, he also contributes to Point of Departure, an American online journal devoted to creative musics. / / Marc Chénard est un journaliste multilingue de métier de Montréal spécialisé en jazz et en musiques improvisées. En plus de 30 ans de carrière, ses reportages, critiques et essais ont été publiés principalement au Canada, parfois aux États-Unis mais également dans plusieurs pays européens (France, Belgique, Allemagne, Autriche). De plus, il a été invité à couvrir plusieurs festivals étrangers de renom, tant en Amérique (Vancouver, Chicago) que Outre-Atlantique (Paris, Berlin, Vienne et Copenhangue). Depuis 2012, il agit comme rédacteur atitré de la section jazz de La Scena Musicale; en 2013, il entame une collabortion auprès de la publication américaine Point of Departure, celle-ci dédiée aux musiques créatives de notre temps.

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