Hiromi, blah blah blah

Hiromi_Move_5x5CMYK300dpiThe Japanese jazz piano virtuoso Hiromi Uehara, or just Hiromi, sounds like the awesomely-cool-yet-wildly-improbable type of Japanese jazz starlet (or “japazzlet” heretofore) that either Barry Eisler or Haruki Murakami would imagine, let alone write about– she’s a cute, whimsical robot– like Wall-E, if, over the years, he had been interpreting and realizing the MIDI files of some Ken Burns’ PBS special from 2012, specifically the “jazz” section of their “website.”

Whimsical, yes, that’s it… but only whimsical enough to be ever-so-slightly behind the beat, as if their celestial ProTools had quantized their soul a bit to the left:

It’s actually quite good, borderline ecstatic in parts, however brief… but the tiniest, smallest, weeist part of your subconscious ear just knows that the performance is just slightly…

…less than human.

…or more than; either way….

Alien, yet intriguing.


amazon link

On Booker Ervin

Booker Ervin 2He played with Charles Mingus a bunch; he’s got a very hard, brash tenor sax sound, coming from a setup that used a very narrow metal mouthpiece with a fairly pliant reed– he sounds like Don Byas 15 year later– and from Texas. Coltrane if he were more lyrical, a bit less sharp, and more traditional in his approach to melody and accompaniment. Again, basically Don Byas if he were younger.

I like his “books” series of records the best– they were called, chronologically, The Freedom Book (hard bop), The Song Book (standards), The Blues Book (I-IV-V), and The Space Book (the most “out there” of the four, but still “in,” see below). They were some very nice sessions, recorded through Prestige records from 1963 thru 1966.

There are also some early works that I really like, like “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” and “Well, well.” [See video, below.]

Want some late-period Ervin, like Tex Book Tenor? Getchu some “204,” if you want an introduction to that album– an album where the “new thing,” usually called “free jazz,” was coming into being, and you could tell that despite his background in Texas, blues-based, gutbucket, bartop-strutting indoctrination and love as a player, he really wanted to just lose it and get outer and outer as a player– you can practically feel his childlike enthusiasm for the new thing– but that Texas in him is still, somehow, stronger than that– and lets him flirt, over and over again, with free jazz, but still always sound like the Texas hard bop purveyor he is.

Booker ErvinPlus, I love the fact that he always looks like a blerd, and yet has this hard, aggressive, full tenor sound and manner of playing and making melodies. Texas sax nerds from hell, so to speak.

Ha! I’m funny. Anyway, if you need a single tune from Booker get “No Booze Blooze,” here on Amazon. If you need an embed of another good tune, but one on this very page, check this out:

Pharoah Sanders, Jewels of Thought

So. Some discussion. I actually researched this one, motherfucker. Dig, you bastard.

Here follows some points from one Ashley Kahn’s book:

Ed Michel: “The Jewels of Thought session was ‘a sort of a traveling gypsy orchestra complete with cooks and camp followers. The room [Plaza Sound’s studio] was huge, and they’d set up a table with lots of food, lots of incense. It was a party. This was the first time I’d recorded Pharoah. He was a guy who is not a talker [but] everybody knew what they were doing. Leon [Thomas] yodeled. There were two bass players: one of them was Richard Davis there was this other young guy I didn’t know. What an eye-opening experience that was: Cecil McBee! I was more stunned by Cecil McBee and Roy Haynes than anything else, and Pharoah was easy. The music would roll on.'”

“It was just a good band,” Michel continues, “and the only problem was that Pharoah’s tunes tended to run as long as they could run. I had to find a way to let him know when he had to bring it down and get out. He decided that just flashing the lights on and off would work fine, except that Pharoah frequently played with his eyes closed. But we worked it out.”

Jewels of Thought established the feel and flow of  Sanders’s releases of this period: lengthy jams filled with percussion and world-beat rhythms, spiritual titles referencing Eastern and Western religions.

For two simple reasons, Jewels of Thought remains Sanders’s personal favorite of his Impulse! recordings: the sidemen and the sound. “They were great musicians,” he says, “and the engineer brought the horn up [in the mix] on that one.”

“The band on Jewels of Thought is largely the same as on Deaf Dumb Blind and Karma, with a few changes. Idris Muhammad has, with the exception of “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah Hum Allah,” replaced Roy Haynes, and Richard Davis has permanently replaced Reggie Workman and Ron Carter, though Cecil McBee is still present for the extra bottom sound. Leon Thomas and his trademark holy warble are in the house, as is Lonnie Liston Smith.”

Tell me that does not sound fun as fuck.

It makes me wanna light some incense and just jam out, metal-style, with these jazz guys who would almost certainly school me on jamming out.

Know what I mean? Yeah, you do.

I just wanna get down with my horn and/or guitar, you dig?

Yeah, you dig. You get me. You feel this record.

Jewels of Thought is, in total, only two tracks: “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah,” and “Sun in Aquarius.”

“Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah,” very much like “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” the perfect stoner jazz tune, opens with and mostly relies on, a recurrent 3 chord (tenor sax D#, C#, B or concert C#, B, A) melody that seems to pick the 3 least likely chords for anyone, let alone a tenor, Leon Thomas warbling, sounding not unlike Wayne Brady as a religiously/jazzish-ly zealous preacher… an extended semi-holy party of 15:10, three chords and everyone just streeeeeeetched out over them… overall, the religious stoner version of Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown soundtrack….

“Sun in Aquarius” starts with percussion, as is Sanders’ wont: gongs, many, many bells, rhythm in excelsis, no melody of any kind; string rakes at 3:20, still setting mood and tone, albeit dissonantly– the initial mantra/ party atmosphere suddenly rent by those string rakes…. then a rumbling piano, storms through the black and white keys (a Cage-ed Schoenberg?)… then the shrieking Sanders, shrieking through the horn (have you ever tried to growl like that through a tenor…? it shreds your voice… Pharoah must have vocal chords stronger than John Tardy….)… then comes Leon Thomas, then a bass solo at around 16:45… 21:00 and we’re in chaos’ed, shrieking land

Overall? Is it “rote” Sanders? Is he phoning it in…?

Yep, pretty much, yeah. But it’s still better than 95% of jazz out there.

Buy here

Begin to listen here:

Pharoah Sanders, Black Unity

Over ten minutes into this fucker, and we’ve got trumpet over organ over every freakin’ type of percussion reasonably imaginable… we start with bass lines like fingertips massaging you… then bells, then maybe a harp…?

Black Unity, all told, is one track, at 37:21… it’s an exercise in tribal rhythm: it builds, and it builds and it FUCKING BUILDS, repeating and repeating and reiterating and synonymizing and reflecting and recapitulating… (and during all this where the trumpeter’s still trying to out-scream and/or arpeggio Sanders… and he’s giving it a pretty good go…!)

Just a great photo.

Black Unity is the free-jazzish version of black metal and/or grindcore:

it’s a delighted, religious swoon of a ceremony, and this ceremony, this sonic invocation… about chaos: a celebration of the unknown, and of our relationship to it… swelling keyboards at 19:30, again….

Dig that xylophone at 19:00… bass plucked at random as though dictated by the Gods… strings plucked above their bridge at 28:00…

It waxes, it wanes… it’s sometimes a melody, sometimes a percussion, often both… it’s “music” deciding, however coyly, whether or not to make an appearance….

Black Unity shows the majesty of tenor sax, as, above all, a leader, a sonic Herald, a modernized tribal conch shell… it rarely plays, yet completes the scene when it does… and you can feel it, when it’s silent, dictating the action from behind the scenes, a leader in sound… but then THERE it is, with 2:55 left in the tune, swelling in and out over the pulsing organ, so much activity, saying such a simple thing… with 1:11 (left) we’re fading out… with Asian harpsichord…. fading out for over thirty seconds… dig that applause… dig that laaaaaast bell….

It’s chaos in hand, via reed, as is the way it is, and should forever be… all hail!

Consider, audially, for yourself at CDuniverse.com

[See? You can totally write about jazz as if it were for a metal band.]


Originally published in 1946, with music by Walter Gross and lyrics by Jack Lawrence, most notably recorded by Sarah Vaughn, this standard has been published in several striking colors and shapes: generally in Eb, and in either 4/4…

or 3/4 time:

Of the literally hundreds of recorded versions of this song, I in particular dig eleven– those of:

Chet Baker/ Miles Davis (trumpet);

James Carter (bari sax),

Don Byas, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins (with Lionel Hampton), Lester Young, David S. Ware and Dexter Gordon (tenor sax);

Eric Dolphy (solo bass clarinet);

and Billie Holiday & Amy Winehouse (vocal).

Particular Highlights?

Chet Baker: a familiar recitation of the minimal number of notes necessary to recognize the melody (C-D-F E on trumpet); this is my favorite version, probably, with hundreds of plays on iTunes… Chet establishes a familiar refrain (A, A#, E, F), this showing up several times during the piece, and one on which it ends.

Miles Davis: impatiently blurts out the melody at 0:20 (from Miles Davis live at Birdland, 1951-53)…

Don Byas, also with a bitchin version (playing with Sir Charles Thompson, replete with a very cool cover)– Byas’ signature “could be crazy loud and brash because of the mechanics of his mouthpiece setup, yet rarely is, and is usually quite subtle” tenor sound, adding a bit of grit and pathos to what could become syrupy… Byas’ muscular playing (especially for the time), replete with his (at 6:45) restatement of the melody in three octaves, makes this a great version, and just behind Chet Baker’s. Ends at 7:00 with beautiful, quick and gentle “inverted U”-shaped runs runs through the melody, à la Coleman Hawkins….

James Carter’s starts with a very fragile trumpet with the melody, and his bari sax playfully in the background… a Loki to the Thorish trumpet…

David S. Ware’s version is Albert Ayler-ly awesome… but don’t take my word for it: read this and see what you think.

It’s a great, simply, emotionally-moving tune– no wonder so many greats had such fun re-reading it.

Interview: Chicago’s Pink Monkey

Pink Monkey (originally reviewed here); are three cheeky, expert musicians who love irreverance and the musical manifestations of said attitude toward reverence in the form of musicianjs like The Ramones or Frank Zappa. Fortunately, for music in general and me specifically, they also just happen to play jazz. What follows, as perhaps the above lede suggested, is the Sawtoothwave.com Interview.*

Sawtoothwave.com: If you yourselves could interview one musician, who would it be, and why?

[All] Frank Zappa, he was one of the original musical smart asses.

Your music seems dangerous, like jazz seemingly hasn’t been in decades (to most modern listeners, particularly kids)–  like Coltrane and Dolphy getting in shit with Downbeat magazine in 1961… do you ever consciously consider precedents like that? What do you think of more “extreme,” comparted to most jazz musicians anyway, musicians like John Zorn or Peter Brötzmann?

[TK– Tim Koelling, Saxophone] A big reason why Pink Monkey is so simple and out is kind of a rebuttal to the modern jazz scene. I love going to jazz clubs, but eventually I get bored – there is no reason “jazz” has to be accessible to only other musicians who understand what’s going on, or as background music. We all want to be rock stars!

[MK- Mike Koelling, Bass] Like Tim said, a lot of modern jazz gets boring. It’s just so cerebral that the common guy at the bar doesn’t get it. We would much rather be playing to a crowd of smiles than a few heads nodding in appreciation. We listen to a lot of John Zorn – We’ve even covered a few of his tunes. The Bad Plus is also a huge influence. Most importantly though we try to have a good time and keep things accessible and interesting.

Why “Pink Monkey”?

[MK] We had been playing for a few months and as a band bonding exercise we headed to mayfest in Chicago. After a lot of german beer, I ended up buying Tim a Pink Monkey and told him he had to wear it around his neck for the rest of the festival. A few steins deep I proclaimed “Let’s name our band Pink Monkey until we think of something better.” Five years later, we still haven’t come up with a better name.

For sax:
What type mouthpiece/ sax/ reed?

[TK] I play a Selmer series II alto, Otto link 7 mouthpiece, usually vandoren java 3’s with a vandoren optimum ligature

The sax work on Ink suggests a bit of Zorn with Jackie McLean (particularly the intro to “A little bit off”) and Rosco Mitchell… influences?

[TK] John Zorn is a big influence in my approach to pink monkey songs. Ne’eman from Masada was one of the first pink monkey “covers” I brought to the group. It’s funny you mention Jackie McLean, one of my jazz professors my freshman year of college noted the tone similarities, but I had never listened to him at that point.

Whom do you think you sound like, versus who you actually wanna sound like (besides yourself, I mean)?

[TK] My favorite player, who doesn’t really come out in the pink monkey project is Cannonball Adderley. The guts that are present in everything he plays, and sheer fluidity of all of his ideas are something that I continually strive towards. Other influences are Eric Dolphy, Andrew D’Angelo and all of the AACM guys. I want to sound like me though. My approach towards playing focuses more on melodic and sonic interpretation and manipulation rather than technical perfection or speed. It’s about more than the notes I play.

If just alto, why just that? Many current sax guys use many types….

[TK] I play alto because that’s my voice… It’s also the only horn I owned until buying my first tenor last year (I added a soprano to my lineup last month). I’ve tried playing tenor in the group, but I hear everything on alto, and tenor gets lost in the bass and drums. I don’t feel like the other horns speak the same language.

How does that growling through the alto hurt your throat, or does it? (I admire you, by the way, for that. I personally hate to growl.)

[TK] Growling doesn’t hurt… It comes from the back of my throat, and at first was the byproduct of playing really loud and overblowing. I started learning to growl when transcribing cannonball in college trying to get the same intensity of his inflections and aggressiveness of his playing.

For Bass:
What type of strings/bass? Influences?

[MK] I play an american P bass special with La Bella flatwounds that are about 5 years old. James Jamerson got a great tone out of it, so why can’t I? My biggest influence is hands down my first bass teacher, Sam Greene. Sadly, after a little over a year of taking lessons with him, he was in a motorcycle accident, and most likely will never play again. I noticed him as the stand out player in the Chicago blues scene at the time. I went up to him after a show and asked him who I could take lessons from to sound like him. He gave me his number and told me to come by on Tuesday afternoon with $20. Still to this day every few months or so, something I learned from him will sink in and I’ll have one of those ah ha moments where something he told me 4 years ago will finally make sense.

Whom do you think you sound like, versus who you actually wanna sound like (besides yourself, I mean)?

[MK] I’d love to play like Victor Wooten. Sure, technically the guy is amazing, but the thing I like the most is that with all of his skill, he always seems to be having a blast no matter what he is playing. I also absolutely love Mingus. Nobody can swing like Mingus! I suppose I’d like to be somewhere between the two of them, but there are so many great bass players that I discover every day. I’ve really been digging Nathan Navarro lately. That guy has been pushing the boundaries of what live bass is supposed to sound like. I end up playing a lot of rock in my other projects though, so I suppose I sound like Nate Mendel trying to sound like Nathan Watts.

For Drums:

What type of drums…?

[NK– Nick Kokonas, Drums] I play a Gretsch new classic four piece with zildjin new beat hi hats, a 20″ zildjin flat ride, my main ride is a Sabian 20″ artisan series, and a Ludwig speed demon bass pedal from the early 80’s at least.


[NK] All the jazz greats, I gravitate toward elvin, art blakey, tony williams (before he went into fusion), current Dave king, ?uestlove, Matt Wilson then billy cobham, Alphonse mouzon, and Peter Erskin.

Whom do you think you sound like, versus who you actually wanna sound like (besides yourself, I mean)?

[NK] I am really not sure who I sound like. I know I don’t have the clarity of some of those guys, I play a little bit sloppy for what i want but fell in love with Dave king’s playing and I’m constantly working on control and clarity in my playing. Rodney Holmes is always a strive with his tone. The thing that really inspired me was seeing Dave Brubeck at the Chicago symphony center. Hearing command of an instrument like that was an outstanding experience. (more…)

Pink Monkey, Ink

It’s Chicago’s Pink Monkey, using the Sonny Rollins trio setup from (in my opinion) his best album, Night at the Village Vanguard: bass, drums, sax.

Stripped and simple. Mistakes show through quickly, as does genuine musical ability.

First track, “Grouch (Good Lion),” starts with a slightly-stuffy acoustic bass run and quickly adds a Pharoah Sanders/ Miles Davis’ On the Corner-sounding sax screech….

“A Little Bit Off,” sounds much like Jackie MacLean, the intonation threatening to come undone, yet never doing so, adding a nice tension to the proceedings, like Lester Young without otherwise sounding like him….

Next, “10 Below”– at 1:03, there’s a great little downwards sax run, not unlike Hank Mobley’s great little run on “Smokin.'”

“Stars” starts with a solo alto sax, not unlike Eric Dolphy’s solo version of “Tenderly” (On Far Cry)… “Cool Beans” has a nice hook/chorus, one maudlin-yet-hopeful, not unlike something Terence Blanchard might score….

“It Was Yours” opens with a tragic three-note riff/head, then adds more sax over it to complement the mood (and does it well), reminds me a bit of Lucky Thompson’s “Minuet in Jazz”… this is probably the most interesting track so far; evocative, a bit startling (compared to what’s come before this), and while there’s not bass or drums, you don’t miss them until the end, and then only a bit (caveat: being a sax player myself, I tend to endorse the, uh… masturbatory aspects… regarding solo sax works)….

Closer “Smokin'” –not to be confused with the above-mentioned Hank Mobley tune– opens with saxed whale calls and eases back into a chaos that Ink seems to love.

Unlike most modern jazz, I wouldn’t necessarily known this wasn’t recorded at the 5-Spot or the Half Note in the late 60s.

Because I love oversimplification:  overall, Ink is Jackie Maclean covering Miles Davis’ On the Corner after touring with the Ramones (who’ve brought along John Zorn) for the last year.

It’s good stuff, and makes me hopeful for the future of jazz. Something I almost never say. Consider indulging.

Pink Monkey website

Pink Monkey bandcamp ($5 for the whole thing!)