Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmas at the Shrine

Went over to the New Africa Shrine last night to catch Femi Kuti and band one last time before the Holidays. It was one of the looser sets I've witnessed. Femi came out at about 8:00 PM without much fanfare and joined the band on trumpet. It was the first time I've seen any of the hornmen solo while Femi was on stage; he usually reserves all the solo space for himself and the horn section serves solely as backup. Both the baritone player and tenor man Dotun “Dotsax” Bankole took long solos last night while Femi climbed the riser at the back of the stage and played trumpet with the section. He then did some time on soprano sax but didn’t touch his alto at all, nor his rarely-heard tenor. The first half hour was more jazzy and improvisatory than usual but then segued into some of Femi's more recognizable tunes like Dem Bobo, which in Pidgin means something to the effect of “they deceive” (Dem bobo your mama, dem bobo your papa, in the name of democracy….). 

I did my Christmas shopping at the Shrine and picked up a nice Fela singlet. Won’t be finding one of those down at the local mall. I'm off for Penang via Dubai tonight.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Some Astounding Tenor Playing

I've been listening to the Mosaic 7-CD box set The Complete Blue Note Andrew Hill Sessions 1963-66 on my iTunes and have been astounded by the saxophone playing on these records. Not new to my ears, but hearing this all in one place has made me sit up wide-eyed and take notice. On these records, pianist Andrew Hill’s small groups featured three of the most astonishing tenor saxophonists ever – Joe Henderson, John Gilmore, and Sam Rivers – pretty much defining “Inside-Outside” playing. All the more astounding considering these recordings were made while John Coltrane was still alive, knowing that Coltrane’s sound and approach has so dominated post-60’s tenor saxophony. 

Rudy Van Gelder’s recordings, which set a high quality benchmark, bring the sound to life, sounding as fresh as if recorded this morning although going on fifty years old. It really says something about the level of Andrew Hill’s musicianship that he was able to attract these three as sidemen. It is nearly impossible to sustain this level of creative intensity and although Andrew played some superb music and was much recognized and awarded later in life, his subsequent recordings never again reached this pinnacle. 

Joe Henderson – the small, introverted man with a big sound – is the best known of the three saxophonists and by far the most widely heard. Personally I took his playing for granted when younger since he could be heard on so many mid-60’s Blue Notes, and I didn't really appreciate him until I saw him perform on the Grant Park main stage at the Chicago Jazz festival back in the mid-1990’s. Somehow seeing him live made me understand the connection between the man and the sound and I have listened to every note of his I can find since then. The paradigm of inside-outside playing. 

John Gilmore – Sun Ra’s tenor saxophonist for more than two decades – to the best of my knowledge never recorded a date as a leader (although he co-led 1957’s Blowin’ In From Chicago with Clifford Jordan). All the more surprising considering that he is someone that John Coltrane looked up to for inspiration and innovation during Trane’s spirit-searching days of the early 60’s. He can be found here and there as a sideman outside of his prolific recordings with Sun Ra’s groups – notably on Paul Bley’s Turning Point, McCoy Tyner’s Today and Tomorrow on Impulse and even on one Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers session. Here is a video of that session on YouTube – Gilmore in a conservative business suit and Lee Morgan sporting a really bad haircut. 

Sam Rivers – one year departed at this point and still under-recognized. Sam’s own mid-60’s Blue Note sessions are a peak of tenor saxophone playing on their own – the final CD in the Andrew Hill box was in the can when originally recorded and first released under Sam Rivers’ name in the 1970’s as part of a “two-fer” LP – Sam was at a peak of recognition at that time. Sam had played with Miles Davis for a short while prior to the Andrew Hill session, in Miles’ band after George Coleman and just before Wayne Shorter. Sam recorded on Miles in Tokyo and the more recently released Kyoto sessions from the same 1964 Japan tour. To me, these sessions sound better than Miles in Berlin from the next year with Shorter on tenor, but apparently Sam was too wild even for Miles! Maybe too advanced at the time. 

Get hold of the Andrew Hill box on Mosaic if you can, or any of the individual Blue Note CDs if you can’t find the box. The saxophone playing on these mid-1960’s sessions has never been surpassed.