Monday, April 02, 2007

Otis Redding – In Person at the Whiskey a Go Go (Atlantic, 1968)

Soul singer Otis Redding already had a reputation as an incredible live performer before this dynamic album was recorded in Los Angeles in 1966. That reputation would be carved in granite when this incredible LP was released not long before his tragic death. Redding is backed by a super funky mini big band which riffs monstrously behind him on the high-speed opener “I Can't Turn You Loose” as well as blasting up-tempo covers of James Brown's “Papa's Got a Brand New Bag” and The Rolling Stones “Satisfaction.” The ballads are just as powerful, with “I've Been Loving You” building to an amazing vocal and musical crescendo and “Pain in My Heart” is a wrenching performance. Redding's vocals throughout the album are a joy to hear, always pushing the music forward but never straining. The band is first rate too, they are very tight and well rehearsed but they are also totally into the moment, not going through the motions. It's difficult to praise this album highly enough, and the only possible complaint is that at LP length, it's too brief. There is a second volume of recordings available and the music there is nearly as powerful as on this disc. A landmark recording.

Lee Konitz - Motion (Verve, 1961)

I was interested in this album because The Penguin Guide to Jazz gave it their “crown” as one of the finest jazz LPs, and I had also been curious about Konitz, whose music I had never explored before. This is a very open sounding trio disc with the leader playing alto saxophone, Sonny Dallas on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Konitz has a drier sound on alto than some of the saxophonists I am more familiar with like Ornette Coleman and Jackie McLean, and he makes the most of the open spaces here by playing very long and billowing passages of music. Elvin Jones sounds excellent, he holds himself back a little bit to keep from overwhelming the proceedings, but both he and the bassist Dallas make the most of both their roles as supporters and commentators. The short opening version of “Remember You” is an excellent example of the bands communication together, breaking down normal solo responsibilities and improvising together very well. According to the liner notes, there were no rehearsals for this album because Konitz wanted all three of them to come in fresh with no preconceived notions. It's a risky proposition, but his confidence is borne out with excellent performances, even at extended length, like on “You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To” where the familiar melody is dispensed with and the musicians make their own story from the modeling clay of the song form. This was a very interesting album and makes me want to check out some more of Konitz's vast discography. Suggestions are welcome.

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