Yusef Lateef: “Eastern Market” (Yusef Lateef’s Detroit: Latitude 42-30 Longitude 83, 1969)

One of my favorite jazz bandleaders died just before Christmas. Yusef Lateef was born William Emanuel Huddleston in Chattanooga in 1920, but grew up in Detroit and built the foundation of his career in the city’s underappreciated jazz scene (Milt Jackson, Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd, the three Jones brothers and Paul Chambers all came from that scene, and Miles Davis weathered one of the toughest parts of his career there). 

Lateef was an expressive and imaginative tenor sax player, but unlike most jazz musicians, who really work on mastering their voice on a single instrument, Lateef built an identity as a multi-instrumentalist, playing flute, oboe, and over a half-dozen non-Western reed instruments. Those non-Western instruments figured prominently in his adventurous and pioneering experiments in early world music on albums like Eastern Sounds, Prayer to the East and Into Something

Coltrane was among the many who listened to those albums and took notes—the two never played together that I know of, but I would’ve liked to hear that. Lateef did play with many others, though, appearing as a sideman even long after establishing himself as an influential and capable bandleader. He played for both Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Donald Byrd, Curtis Fuller, Grant Green, Olatunji, Art Blakey, and Les McCann, among many others; he’s not a household name by any means, but he’s thoroughly woven into the fabric of jazz made from the 50s through the 80s. 

Over that span, he evolved capably, as did all the best leaders. His 1969 LP Yusef Lateef’s Detroit, looked back to his formative years playing in that city when it was at the peak of its might, with tracks named for the neighborhoods he spent his time in and the streets that defined his travels. “Eastern Market” is named for the huge farmer’s market just northeast of downtown (before I-375 was built and ripped their guts out, some of the city’s most thriving black neighborhoods were just south of this area).

I buy vegetables at Eastern Market a few times a year, and it still has the bustling, free-for-all feeling suggested by the shouted vocals at the end of this track (the guy who runs it, Dan Carmody, is an insightful thinker about the relationship between food and community). Really, listening to the whole LP as a Detroiter conjures the city, and even if it looks back to a time when the city’s fortunes were much different, it still isolates the feelings that make the city special. 

Lateef’s arrangements reflect the rhythmic, psychedelic music that the city had become famous for producing. The band includes a 19-year-old Chuck Rainey on bass, with a cameo by Cecil McBee, Ray Barretto on congas, Bernard Purdie on drums, and guitarist Eric Gale. Lateef gets funky on the flute and throws in some inventively arranged strings, too; it’s soul jazz where the combination doesn’t neuter either one. 

This was the kind of synthesis Lateef could pull off. He knew how to pick a band and shape the music around it. Listen to the space he gives Purdie here. Everything is loose-limbed and grooving. The album ends with Lateef on tenor, playing through the standard “That Lucky Old Sun” with incredible depth of feeling, almost as if to remind that he was a hell of a straight jazz player as well as an experimentalist. 

Lateef spent a lot of his later career teaching jazz at universities. He died at his home near Amherst, Massachusetts, where he taught as UMASS and Hampshire College. He was 93. If you care at all about jazz, give this guy a few thousand moments of your time. It will be worth every one of them.

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everygreatsongever:

Donald Byrd: I’ve Longed And Searched For My Mother (I’m Tryin’ To Get Home, 1964)

For an album called I’m Tryin’ To Get Home, Donald Byrd’s tenth LP as a bandleader is for the most part remarkably celebratory. Like its predecessor, A New Perspective, it combines threads of cool jazz and gospel to create a seamless and singular sound. A few years later, Quincy Jones took this same kind of sound, dragged it further out of church and shot it into orbit on his great Walking In Space LP, but here it still has a strongly organic feel.

In the middle of all this joyous, wordless singing and upbeat jamming, though, is this song, “I’ve Longed And Searched For My Mother,” which is… I don’t know what you’d call it. A cosmic funeral march, perhaps. It twists the ebullience of the rest of the LP inside out, and for all its very intentional drama, it’s really a devastating piece of music.

Byrd takes the sound he’d developed and pulls it apart, strand by strand, isolating one female voice and setting her away from the background singers. The others may be there, cooing at the fringes, but she is alone. He has the saxes playing at the very bottom of their range, where the tone is naturally rougher and less even, and he keeps his own trumpet muted at the outset, calling out from the distance. When he finally takes a solo, he doesn’t sing out—he sings inward. His trumpet sounds exhausted but determined.

It’s a modern tone poem. It doesn’t tell a story with a concrete beginning, middle and end, but it does nevertheless tell a complete story, taking you on a journey of ache.

Albums like this make me wonder why I don’t hear more about Byrd as a bandleader. He’s widely respected as a trumpeter, but the LPs he made under his own name aren’t usually considered must-hear entries in the jazz canon unless you’re already in deep. I suspect some hardcore jazz heads never forgave him for the records he made in the 70s with the Blackbyrds, a fusion group he assembled from among his best students as he was teaching music at the university level. It’s also awfully hard to make a dent in jazz’s front line when it’s populated by guys like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans and Dizzy Gillespie.

Regardless, the guy was a fantastic leader with lots of great, creative ideas, and exploring his catalog reveals some amazing stuff, from his hard bop days in the 50s all the way through the Blackbyrds. His roughest fusion record, 1971’s Ethiopian Knights, is a favorite of mine.

I’ve loved this song for years, but there’s a reason I chose to write about it today.

Byrd was born Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II in 1932. He grew up in Detroit, was a music major at Wayne State University, and went on to a brilliant and prolific career leading his own bands and playing with Coltrane, Art Blakey, Lionel Hampton (while he was still in high school!), Herbie Hancock, Paul Chambers, Horace Silver, Red Garland, Jackie McLean, Sonny Rollins and others. He was one of the last people to play with Eric Dolphy before the woodwind player’s untimely death from insulin shock.

And he taught his craft generously, to students at Oberlin, Rutgers, Howard and half a dozen other schools. He’s still going today at 77, living in New Jersey.

And as for me, I just moved to the Detroit area so my wife could teach at Wayne State. And there is something about this piece of music that matches the journey of Byrd’s home city over the last five decades. Detroit’s population peaked in 1950. Things were already changing by the time Byrd recorded this fourteen years later—the ‘67 riots weren’t the beginning of the end like we’re often told. They were a step along the way.

And of course, you’ve seen the photos of abandoned homes and factories, and the vacant lots, and you’ve heard about the white flight and the hollowing of the city’s core. But I’ve been around this place a little now, and I can tell you it’s not all bad. The suburbs and the city still have their backs turned to each other, and there’s a lot to be done, but the thought of doing it makes Detroit an uncommonly exciting place to be these days.

And that’s the bit I left out of my description of the song above—the edge of hope. It has the ring of a long, exhausting journey that hasn’t reached its destination yet. You don’t know where else it will take you, but the future just might carry you home. And that’s something to look forward to.

Donald Byrd passed away last week, and I’ve been wanting to do a proper remembrance post. Re-sharing this will have to do for the moment.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet: “The Golden Horn” (Jazz Impressions of Eurasia, 1958)

Yesterday, we lost Dave Brubeck, a day shy of his 92nd birthday. Pitchfork’s obituary headline today refers to him as a “jazz titan,” which is perfectly apt. The man’s influence was huge, and he made a few of my very favorite albums with his excellent quartet from the late 50s into the early 60s.

The thing that triggered that run of greatness was a world tour organized by the State Department in 1958. The classic quintet lineup of Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on sax, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums was cemented on this tour, and the music they heard as they traversed Asia and Europe deeply affected the band’s music.

Brubeck and Desmond began to build their compositions in a wide variety of unusual time signatures, and they expanded their harmonic concepts, already indebted to modernism and neo-classical music, to reference the music of other parts of the world.

Brubeck’s open-armed embrace of music that challenged his existing notions and constant desire to push the boundaries of his own music are two of the things that most endear me to him. He was among the first jazz musicians whose music I warmed to, in part because the transition from progressive rock to his odd time signatures and complex harmonic ideas was a fairly smooth one. My love of Brubeck’s music helped kick down the door to a broader love of jazz. I owe him for that.

The run of albums that sprang from Brubeck and his band’s overseas awakening is among my favorite bodies of work by anyone: Jazz Impressions of Eurasia, Time Out, Time Further Out, Countdown—Time in Outer Space, Time Changes, Jazz Impressions of Japan, and Time In are all wonderful records. His piano style on these records is distinctive and spry, and his penchant for patterns dovetails with his rhythmic experimentation to lend the music exquisite math.

Brubeck impressed me as a person, too. He was embarrassed when TIME put him on the cover in 1954, because he thought it should have been Duke Ellington instead (he understood racial politics humbly enough to recognize, even at the time, the likely reasons TIME had favored him for the cover). He managed a feat rare for jazz musicians when he landed “Take Five” (a Paul Desmond composition) in the Top 40, and his music’s accessibility made him enduringly popular, but I’ve read interviews with the guy from near the end of his life, and it didn’t seem to go to his head. He was still kind of taking it all in, in the way he did.

I know who I’ll be listening to all day.

Freddie Hubbard & İlhan Mimaroğlu: “Monodrama” (Sing Me a Song of Songmy, 1971)

İlhan Mimaroğlu is not a widely known name in electronic music and modern composition, but he was a musician of singular vision who managed to carve out a distinctive niche for himself. Born in Istanbul, he was the son of architect Mimar Kemaleddin Bey, the architect that helped define the building style of the early Turkish republic in the immediate post-Ottoman years. 

Mimaroğlu left Turkey in his twenties to study music in New York and became part of the early wave of composers to experiment openly with tape manipulation, working with Edgard Varèse and studying under Vladimir Ussachevsky. Recordings of his work are available, often on CDs where one of his pieces is compiled with work by other composers, and tracing his career reveals quickly how interested he was in making politically tinged statements with his work.

His greatest statement may have been Sing Me a Song of Songmy, the powerful anti-war document he made with the late jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard in 1971. Mimaroğlu was the composer and producer on the project (he produced a fair number of jazz dates, actually, including a couple of Charles Mingus LPs), and was responsible for all the synthesizer and tape manipulations. It’s an incredibly forward thinking album, and I struggle to think of another jazz album from its era that sounds like it. 

"Monodrama" is the moment of contemplative calm at the center of the album, which otherwise reflects the fury and sorrow inspired by the Vietnam War. If you like this, I encourage you to seek out the whole album (it’s available on CD paired with Hubbard’s Echoes album), and also to explore some of his longer electronic works, such as 1974’s To Kill a Sunrise, or 1975’s Tract: An Agitprop Composition for Electromagnetic Tape.  

Mimaroğlu passed away on Tuesday. He was 86.

First Five on the Shuffle 3

The first two shuffle features I did for this blog each brought up stuff from deep in my amassment of mp3s that I wasn’t much familiar with; this one’s a little different—it’s all music I’ve spent time with in one way or another. Download these five songs here

Les Baxter: “Rain” (African Jazz, 1959)

Les Baxter was one of the exotica masters, and his African Jazz LP, while badly mistitled, is very entertaining. It takes most of its rhythmic cues from Cuban music, but it’s the crazy arrangements that I really love about this music. Baxter has strings, flutes and marimbas playing short, catchy melodies over cycling clave beats, but he also adds thunderstorm sound effects, chimes and bells, and toward the end, pounding kettle drums, used as a lead instrument. This music is on some levels easy to write off as kitschy, maybe even exploitative, but I think there’s far too much creativity in it for that. Kitsch can be strangely innovative. 

Abdel Halim Hafez: “Samra” (live recording, probably 1976 or 1977)

This is a 23-minute live recording made somewhere near the end of Abdel Halim Hafez’s life. These long, labyrinthine performances of single songs were actually somewhat common among the big Egyptian performers of the mid-20th Century, and Hafez was among the biggest, rivaled only by Um Kalthoum in popularity. “Samra,” in its many different transliterated spellings, was paired with “Qariat al Fingan” (which also has a multitude of spellings) on his final LP, though I’m honestly not sure if this is the same version—writing on the subject in English is light on details, and I got this years ago off of a sort of clearinghouse server full of classic Arabic music mp3s. It had no album tag.

It is a really stunning performance, though. A huge string and percussion orchestra and choir essentially duel with the headline performer. Their job is to build bridges between his showcase verses, where he’s mostly alone, working through variations on the themes of the song, and their bridges have huge variety, some stabbing ferociously, others whirling like dust devils, and others responding more directly to his drawn-out lead vocal passages. It’s really something to hear.

Einsturzende Neubauten: “12305 (Te Nacht)” (Tabula Rasa, 1993) 

This is a pretty sharp shift in direction from the sumptuous orchestration and ornamentation of the Hafez track. “12305” is little more than buzzing bass, scraping percussion and Blixa Bargeld’s menacingly hushed vocal. Randomly placed and mostly understated concrete and electronic noise intrudes here and there, and a dark synthesizer theme slowly emerges from the cultivated wreckage as the song goes along, but this is never really a showcase for anything other than damage and rust. The genre tag is industrial, but the tone and sound of it more post-industrial, a soundtrack to a tumbling-down factory that hasn’t made a thing in years.

Radiohead: “So Surprises” (2001/04/06 Pinkpop Festival, Landgraaf, Netherlands, 2001) 

This is a live version of “No Surprises,” recorded, as my album tag implies in 2001 at a festival in the Netherlands. This is how I’ve taken to tagging all of my bootlegs, for whatever band: year/month/day, venue, city, county, and if the bootleg has a special, cutesy title, I usually add that too. This keeps things nicely organized in iTunes, as all the bootlegs line up in chronological order when I have things sorted by artist. this is a good version of “No Surprises” from a generally strong show, and the audience is clearly happy to hear it, clapping along at the beginning, even though this isn’t really the kind of song you clap along to. 

Michel Legrand: “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (Legrand Jazz, 1958)

Legrand Jazz is the all-star jazz LP to beat all other all-star jazz LPs. Seriously. Michel Legrand was (and still is) a French composer—his most famous work is probably the score from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, or perhaps “Windmills of Your Mind” from the original Thomas Crown Affair. His foray into jazz was much more natural than a lot of other composers’ attempts to engage with the music—he really felt this stuff, and he assembled an truly astounding array of guys to play it for him. Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Ben Webster, John Coltrane, Hank Jones, Donald Byrd, Herbie Mann, Jimmy Cleveland, Art Farmer, Phil Woods, Barney Wilen, Paul Chambers, Milt Hinton, and bunch of others (31 musicians in all) all played on this album. Admittedly, it would’ve been hard for Legrand to put a foot down wrong with all that firepower at his disposal, but does much better than simply get by with his inventive arrangements. 

"Don’t Get Around Much Anymore" features bassist Chambers and flutist Mann as its standout performers, and they are in top form, Chambers especially. The song was originally written and recorded by Duke Ellington as an instrumental called "Never No Lament" in 1940, but it was retitled two years later after Bob Russell wrote lyrics for it and new title stuck, even for new instrumental versions. I love Chambers’ long intro and outro solos on this; soloing on string bass is tough, and he phrases everything so beautifully. Also notable is the unusual horn arrangement, which is all trombones, with no trumpet.

There are some things you’ll never be ready for. Our elderly cat, Jazz, had been sick for a long, long time. His long, slow decline was tough on him and us, but we all got through it okay. He was so good-natured and friendly that it made all the pills and vet visits a little easier on everyone else, even if we hated seeing such a sweet cat being put through the tests and car trips.
He was happy. He was alert and content, even though he was losing strength and had to take pills twice a day. Then last week he stopped eating, and he’d reached his limit. We stopped the pill regimen, created as many pools of sunlight as we could, opened some windows to let in this beautiful early spring, and let him do whatever he wanted. Which wasn’t a lot, but I think he needed that time before the end.
He went to sleep for the final time this morning. The people at Berkley Animal Clinic were amazing, coming to our house to give him his final shot even though they don’t usually do house calls. It saved him the stress of a final trip in the carrier and the car. I can’t thank them enough.
We’re not urn-on-the-mantle people. His ashes will be scattered, and we’ll put up a photo of him, and we’ll miss him until we die ourselves. He won’t be gone completely as long as we remember him, as the fat, jolly cat we brought home back in 2003, the little guy who won over our cranky old cat Abby with his shear affability, and as the old, sick boy who lost all that weight but never lost his affectionate side. He was game for a lap right to the end.
 We knew this was coming for a long time. I think we know it implicitly every time we bring an animal into our homes. They don’t live as long as we do. But they make our lives so much richer while they’re here.  

There are some things you’ll never be ready for. Our elderly cat, Jazz, had been sick for a long, long time. His long, slow decline was tough on him and us, but we all got through it okay. He was so good-natured and friendly that it made all the pills and vet visits a little easier on everyone else, even if we hated seeing such a sweet cat being put through the tests and car trips.

He was happy. He was alert and content, even though he was losing strength and had to take pills twice a day. Then last week he stopped eating, and he’d reached his limit. We stopped the pill regimen, created as many pools of sunlight as we could, opened some windows to let in this beautiful early spring, and let him do whatever he wanted. Which wasn’t a lot, but I think he needed that time before the end.

He went to sleep for the final time this morning. The people at Berkley Animal Clinic were amazing, coming to our house to give him his final shot even though they don’t usually do house calls. It saved him the stress of a final trip in the carrier and the car. I can’t thank them enough.

We’re not urn-on-the-mantle people. His ashes will be scattered, and we’ll put up a photo of him, and we’ll miss him until we die ourselves. He won’t be gone completely as long as we remember him, as the fat, jolly cat we brought home back in 2003, the little guy who won over our cranky old cat Abby with his shear affability, and as the old, sick boy who lost all that weight but never lost his affectionate side. He was game for a lap right to the end.

 We knew this was coming for a long time. I think we know it implicitly every time we bring an animal into our homes. They don’t live as long as we do. But they make our lives so much richer while they’re here.  

Rachel’s: “Water From The Same Source” (Systems/Layers, 2003)

Today, I bought Cheez Whiz for my cat. As much as I never imagined I would do such a thing ten years ago when we adopted him, I can’t say I was surprised to find myself doing it. My dealings with animals, the ones I’ve adopted and the ones I’ve looked after at rescues and shelters, have led me to do plenty of things I never would have predicted for myself.

I never had pets growing up. It wasn’t until I was 23 and married that cats ever entered my life in any meaningful way, when my wife’s childhood cat, Abby, came to live with us, and we brought Jazz, the cat I bought the Cheez Whiz for, into the family a month or so later.

Abby lived 18 years. She was a brown tabby and embodied a lot of the things that people talk about when they talk about cats generally. She was aloof and could be surly, didn’t like to be picked up or bossed around, slept a lot… She picked favorite people, and for some reason I was one of them.

At the end of her life, Abby’s kidneys started to go bad on her, and I found myself in the guest bathroom, giving her subcutaneous fluid treatments. I gave her shots. I tried to get her to eat. On one of the worst days of my life, Labor Day, 2008, we rushed her to an emergency vet when she grew weak and disoriented, and we ended her life as painlessly as possible as her organs began to shut down.

Now Jazz is 16. He’s been getting by with one functioning kidney for two and a half years. He was 20 pounds when we brought him home, and now he’s eight and a half. We keep a veritable buffet of cat foods around, and he goes from one to the next, getting tired of each one quickly. I’ve been giving him pills for years to manage his blood pressure and settle his stomach (his newest pill, a sort of turbo booster for his colon, had to be specially made at a compounding pharmacy because no one manufactures it anymore), and I’ve experienced something I think a lot of parents experience at some point or another. He’s started to resent me.

There is always necessarily a gap between your knowledge and abilities and the knowledge and abilities of those in your care. Without the gap, they wouldn’t need your care. I know Jazz needs these pills to manage his health, but he doesn’t know that. He just knows that I’m shoving something down his throat that tastes bad. And sometimes when I come near him, he flicks his tongue like he’s nauseous, which is what he also does when anticipating his pills. He’s started to associate me with his pills, which hurts, because I know I’m giving him medicine to help him, and he’ll never understand that.

But I do it, and I make sure my wife doesn’t have to because I want him to have one person around the house he doesn’t associate with medication. Lately, his health has declined badly, and we’re in that awful zone pet owners inevitably inhabit where we begin to question how far and how hard we should push these creatures in our care, animals that have trusted us to do what’s best for them, even if they haven’t always understood why we do it. Jazz is the sweetest cat. He never bites or scratches. He loves belly rubs and laps, and in spite of everything, food, but I see his spirits waning and I feel terrible and a little helpless.

That’s what the Cheez Whiz is for. The plan is to coat all of his pills with it, to give him a good flavor for the brief trial he has to endure every day, to hide the bitter edge of benazapril and famotidine. I hope it works.

If it doesn’t, we’ll plug along as we have, doing our best, and at some point, we will have to weigh his quality of life and make the hard decisions. But not yet. He still has enough happiness in his life that I think the pills and vet visits are worth it. And a little resentment is a price I’m willing to pay for that.

The Bill Evans Trio: “When I Fall In Love” (Portrait In Jazz, 1959)

As the year ran out and I lost control of my personal time, three deaths occurred that I wanted to take time to mark, and now that 2011 is almost in the bag, I figured I’d give up on my scattershot attempt to catalog or make sense of the year and get down to the business of honoring three people I wanted to honor earlier.

The first is Paul Motian, who died on November 22nd, was one of the great jazz drummers. He led his own groups and played with a huge who’s who of other great musicians (for one odd example, he was in Arlo Guthrie’s band at Woodstock), and he was one of a handful of drummers who helped break the instrument free from just keeping time.

My favorite recordings of Motian’s—and this is not really all that unique—are the ones that brought him to prominence, with the Bill Evans Trio. He, Evans, and bassist Scott LaFaro (who died far too young in 1961) had the kind of simpatico you only hear a few times in a lifetime. They played together as one mind, and Motian, well, he painted with the drums, his playing as dappled and impressionistic as anything by Sisley, Morisot or Degas.

This year has drained the words right out of me—I don’t have much more to say about it than that. Paul Motian lived 80 years, and he gave us this before he turned 30, and if he’d never done another thing, it would have been generous enough.

Rudresh Mahanthappa: “Parakram #2” (Samdhi, 2011)

Back in the 1950s, Lennie Tristano made a few records where he overdubbed himself playing multiple piano parts. One of the best-known is “Descent Into The Maelstrom,” which also attempts to merge atonality with jazz but mostly just lives up to its title. This was groundbreaking work in some ways—it’s routine now, but overdubbing was a young recording technique back then.

A lot of Tristano’s colleagues in the jazz world, and a fair number of critics, thought it was more outrageous than progressive, though. This was, after all, music rooted in people playing together in the moment, responding to each other. This approach was alien. Tristano, I think, was one of the first jazz bandleaders to approach making a studio recording as a fundamentally different kind of project than playing a gig.

How times have changed. If there was any doubt about whether jazz could have a different kind of life in the studio, Miles Davis and Teo Macero erased it with Bitches Brew in 1970. But even there, it was edited live-in-studio performances. I think that no matter where jazz goes stylistically (and there no longer is any central style in jazz—it’s like rock in that way), that real-time collision of ideas will still be central to it.

Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Samdhi is full of real-time interaction—he leads a quintet with himself on alto sax, David Gilmore on electric guitar, Rich Brown on electric bass, Damion Reid on drums and Anantha Krishnan on mridangam and kanjira (Indian percussion instruments). But here, Mahanthappa also credits himself with “laptop,” and he manipulates some of the performances to twist them into something different. Sometimes it’s subtle, like when he places two of himself in the climax of “Ahhh.”

"Parakram #2" is the most extreme example, and that’s what I’m featuring here, even though it’s not the album’s best track. The manipulation is easiest to hear on this song because it takes over completely halfway through. It’s jazz-as-soundscape, and it’s bold and a little bit thrilling, intellectually if not viscerally.

Mahanthappa and his label, Act, snuck this out in the fourth quarter, and I wish they’d either released it sooner or waited until 2012, because I feel like it got lost in the annual year-end melee, and it’s really a very accomplished album. Mahanthappa doesn’t ever seem content unless he’s dismantling his approach to composing, playing and recording and building it back up (his brilliant albums Kinsmen and Apti attest to that), and this record finds him doing that in a very straightforward way.