Archive for February, 2011

Birdfingers: The Soaring Heights of Coryell

February 26, 2011

The Eleventh House Introducing The Eleventh House With Larry Coryell. Vanguard VSD 79342. 1974
The Eleventh House
Level One. Arista AL 4052. 1975
Coryell Planet End. Vanguard VSD 23022. 1975

The mid-1970s found lightning fretman Larry Coryell soaring at the jazz/rock nexus. With an eclectic cast of veterans – including brass/rock trumpeter Randy Brecker (Blood Sweat & Tears; Dreams) and drumming extraordinaire Alphonse Mouzon (Weather Report) – Coryell aimed for the utmost in idiomatic latitude on Introducing The Eleventh House.

At the ignition of Mouzon, “Birdfingers” sends guitar/trumpet winds aflurry, with the hollow-bodied scales of Coryell running miles along the mountainous chordal arch of the tune. Velocities snowball on “Yin”, a six-minute race between the nimble blaze of Coryell and the cyber-emissions of keyboardist Mike Mandel’s ARP Odyssey. Syncopation serves up contrast in “Adam Smasher”, where funky basslines form the ground on which Brecker shines; at least until Coryell muscles his way to the fore. Brecker redoubles with his stately riff to “Right On Y’All”, a brass/rock parade which Mandel engulfs with intergalactic aplomb.

The crew drops a heavier load onto Level One, with the symphonic strides of the opening theme landing at a new musical crossroads. “Nyctaphobia” is their most frenzied racer yet, with Coryell, Mandel and Mouzon slinging neck-in-neck to the finish line. Lightning yields to thunder on “That’s the Joint”, where Coryell sets flame to the thickening slabs of newly-recruited bassman John Lee. (Could this be the dawn of metallic jazz?) Coryell grinds to a 4/4 foothold for the flanged-out funk of “Some Greasy Stuff”, replete with runs through Mandel’s sound library. Ambitions climax with “Suite: Entrance/Repose/Exit”, a lavish display of guitar/piano filigree spun through a modulated windmill; alternately becalmed and billowing.

Concurrently, Coryell kept his solo side alight with Planet End, a stripped engagement with numerous jazz/rock players. From the thunder of “Cover Girl” to the flash of “Rocks”, much of this album suggests a rockier twist to the Eleventh House sound. By contrast, the double-bass extensions of both “Tyrone” and the title-track serve as upright jazz, with the walking notes of Miroslav Vitouš setting ground for some light, legato fretwork from our star.

Decked in surreal cover art, these defining works of Coryell play like singular sonic excursions – a most spellbinding ride for the aurally adventurous.


Ray Russell: From Dragon to Cradle

February 19, 2011

Ray RussellDragon Hill. CBS Realm 52663, 1969
RussellRites and Rituals. Columbia 494436 2; 1971

English six-string journeyman Ray Russell arched the dawning 1970s with a pair of albums which bridged the gulf between rock and jazz. Augmented by a cast including saxman Lyn Dobson (Locomotive, Keef Hartley Band) and veteran trumpeter Harry Beckett, Russell unleashed his licks across five frenzied cuts on Dragon Hill.

Misty keys and chordal shards open the mammoth “Dragon Hill”, which ultimately veers between freeform guitar/piano solos and structural bebop/blues sketches; replete with the high-end, atonal strumming which becomes Russell’s signature. He turns to more fluid licks on “Something in the Sky”, a jitterbug swept into the brassy winds of Beckett and Dobson. Bassist Ron Mathewson funkifies “Can I Have My Paperback Back” for the interplay of Russell and pianist Roy Fry, who trades his Steinway for Rhodes on this number. Alternately, Russell takes a powder for most of “We Lie Naked in Winter Snow”, a candlelight exchange between Mathewson and Fry. The full-cast is summoned for “Mandala”, in which the lightning lines of Russell are squared by a brass theme of such aplomb it would smite Chicago or Colosseum.

That latter brass/rock congregate – whose core members had played with Russell under the tutelage of Graham Bond – paved ground which lured Russell on his next outing, Rites and Rituals. The low-end strum which opens “Sarana” is swiftly raised by the layering of trombone, trumpet and sax; an assemblage soon knocked aside by Russell’s newly-manicured wall-of-distortion. Furthermore, “Sarana” echoes the amplified strides of John McLaughlin – another Bond alumnus spanning the jazz/rock divide – with Russell torching thirteen minutes of freeform; lassoed fleetingly at brass/rock intervals. Matching lengths but not ideas, the title-piece meanders amidst muffled bleats and coy noodling; the solid tune at 9:10 being all too brief. Contrastingly front-loaded is the gargantuan “Abyss”, whose dissonance runs dry by the halfway mark. Redemption is served in the final number, “Cradle Hill”, where the clashing currents of guitar, trombone and cello careen through a heady five-minute run.

Erratic or not, these records displayed Russell’s skill with such authority that his employ was now secure across a vast spectrum of British musical talent.

Hubbard: Red as a Fox

February 12, 2011

Freddie HubbardRed Clay. CTI 6001, 1970
HubbardStraight Life. CTI 6007, 1970

Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard kicked off the 1970s with two of the earliest electrified jazz recordings from outside the stable of Miles. On Red Clay, he’s backed by the nimble chops of Joe Henderson (woodwinds), Herbie Hancock (keyboards), Ron Carter (bass) and Lenny White (drums) for a tuneful collection boasting four originals, plus an instrumental adaptation of “Cold Turkey” by John Lennon.

Amongst the album’s highlights is the title-excursion “Red Clay”, marked by a memorable bass ostinato which drives the heady trade-offs between Hubbard, Henderson and Hancock. Gusty winds ensnarl “The Intrepid Fox”, where fleeting melodies are ransacked across great length by that hyperactive trio of soloists. A nightcap is served in the dusky Rhodes glimmer of “Suite Sioux”, which frames a truce between sax and trumpet – like harmony at last call.

The crimson-themed cover art of Red Clay is continued on the follow-up, Straight Life, despite a shift in musical concept. The focus here is on jam-based, conga-strewn improve, of which the mangled sax and glowing keys of “Mr. Clean” emerge most gloriously from this three-track set. The tingling Rhodes of Hancock are the saving grace to the sprawling title-piece, yet even he seems impassive here, as if his energies were now on reserve for his own, superior efforts. The allure of Red Clay was it’s melding of tunefulness and intrepidness, a balance sorely lacking this second time around.

Amplified instruments demand knowledge of their unique sonic character. Following the initial guidance of Hancock, the challenge now for Hubbard was to forge an electrified strategy – to stay the course of this new frontier in jazz.

The Intrepid Triad of Hancock

February 5, 2011

Herbie Hancock Mwandishi. Warner Bros; 1971
Hancock Crossings. Warner Bros; 1972
Hancock Sextant. Columbia; 1973

On his opening triad of albums from the 1970s, renaissance jazzman Herbie Hancock mined the dark sonic corridors which he’d first unveiled with Miles Davis on the latter’s 1969 landmark, In a Silent Way. With an arsenal of keyboards, Hancock enlisted the crew of Buster Williams (bass), Billy Hart (drums), Julian Priester (trombone), and the ambidextrous duo of Eddie Henderson and Bennie Maupin on an assortment of brass and woodwinds. Each platter is split between three lengthy sketches in the sidelong/divided format.

Mwandishi is launched by the rhythmic flurry of “Ostinato (Suite for Angela)”, in which Hancock bubbles around one sinister bass figure alternately manned by Williams, Priester and Maupin. “You’ll Know When You Get There” serves as a quiet release from the preceding tension, with the ambidextrous pair lacing flute and flugelhorn across the sedative breeze of Hancock’s Fender Rhodes. Overside, the mammoth “Wandering Spirit Song” drifts slowly into a cyclone, whereupon brass, drums and synthesizers collide like sharks against steamships for a most harrowing climax.

The sidelong action tops Crossings with the aptly-titled “Sleeping Giant”, whose quieter moments are mere respite to the percussive storms raging throughout. More enriching are the night-sky illuminations of “Quasar”, which drifts aglow in the Moog work of newly-enlisted synthesist Patrick Gleason. Rounding this set is “Water Torture”, an alarming misnomer for Hancock’s timely trip to the icy land of the Mellotron.

Hancock’s experiments in rhythm and sonority peaked with Sextant, a dizzying set which verged on freeform. “Rain Dance” shows the keyboard team besting their cosmic chemistry, with the ARP spurts of Gleason fizzing through the bubbly waters of Hancock. Pianos and Mellotron enmesh with the synthesizers on “Hidden Shadows”, a dark and frosty landscape beset by the hail of percussion. The endless bass-and-cymbal frame of “Hornets” gives pensive precision to the nimble swarm throughout; the woodwinds squeeze for time, but Hancock steamrolls with the smoke of the Rhodes and the fiery sizzle of the Hohner D-6 clavinet.

The evolution of Hancock across these last three albums drew the all-elusive future into the present tense of jazz.

Golden Rush: Trampled Under the Impulse of Hypergamy

February 1, 2011

Charlie Chaplin always played his iconic role of the ‘Tramp’ with a degree of self-deprecation. Whereas most Hollywood comedies have rewarded the central underdog both romantically and monetarily, the majority of Chaplin’s films – including The Circus and City Lights – depict the Tramp as a romantic outcast in the end. But in his 1925 rags-to-riches caper The Gold Rush, the Tramp actually gets the girl, Georgia, by appealing to a feminine impulse typically glossed over in cinema: female hypergamy.

Hypergamy is defined as the desire amongst women to pair up with men of superior strength, status, prowess and wealth, the last of which is finally attained by the Tramp at the climax of his Alaskan adventure. The romantic saga unleashed upon Georgia’s arrival embodies hypergamy at its most extreme. First we have the Tramp, a naive and awkward pantomime of man/boy traits, whose openheartedness makes him easy prey to the emotional clutches of womankind. Then there’s Georgia, the bob-haired beauty whose frontal charms mask an undercurrent of sadism. Lastly, there’s Jack, the burly lout who serves as Georgia’s suitor.

Initially, Georgia takes amusement in the Tramp’s infatuation with her, and leads him on by smugly accepting his New Years invitation. Her compunctions surface after a second twist in her schemes, where she calls for a belated drop-by to that snubbed New Years Eve party, only to discover the heartfelt efforts in which the Tramp had partaken in preparation for that evening. She’s further shaken when a love note she wrote for Jack is redistributed as means for a cruel, misleading prank against our lovelorn Tramp. There are some lines that even bad boys aren’t allowed to cross.

In a typical romantic comedy, the proverbial last straw for the heroine would prompt her final turnaround – away from the villainous ‘other guy’, and right into the arms of our leading man – but not in the world of Chaplin. Our Tramp doesn’t get the girl until the closing moment, and only because of his newfound wealth, which ultimately renders him a magnet for female hypergamy.