Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Don Ayler - In Florence 1981 (Railroad Town Music, 2022)

Back when I was collecting vinyl, this was one set I was always looking for, a "grail" in the parlance of the vinyl community. Each of the three vinyl records fetches $100 and up, so I was stuck with dodgy mp3 rips from the Internet. Now finally in digital format for hi-res downloading and streaming from the Qobuz platform, hopefully this will be the first step to getting this final album some much needed attention. Ayler leads on trumpet with Abdul Rahim Mustafa on saxophone and bass clarinet, F
rank Doblekar on tenor saxophone, Anthony “Tony” Smith on piano, John Davis on guitar, Richard “Radu” Williams on bass and Jerry Griffin on drums and percussion. You might expect a group led by an Ayler brother to come out blasting with four to the floor free jazz, but Donald is his own man, leading the group into the opener "The Bebop Song." And they play bebop quite well, developing a quick lead theme, and even though this seems to have been at least partly a pick up band (Ayler has to ask one of the guys his name to introduce him) their bop showcase is fleet and true. This is the case for the remainder of the album, Ayler will set up open, but not necessarily free, situations and the band will take off on a lengthy improvisation, most lasting the the equivalent of a side of a vinyl record. "The African Song" takes them on a multi-rhythmic journey that allows for some excellent bass and drum work. "Coltrane's Blues" allows the band to move into freer territory a bit, with some scalding saxophone playing from Mustafa and potent blowing from Ayler keeping the pace hot. "The Indian Song," The Eastern Song" and "The Japanese Song" really demonstrate Alyer's interests showed that a lot of his musical attention had turned to an exploration of the music of the far east, and that approach works well, offering differing tonalities and rhythms and delivering many opportunities for impressive ensemble and solo playing. It is great to have this rare album available again, perhaps it will gain wider recognition and eventually a studio release. Donald Ayler struggled with mental illness and the shadow cast by his famous brother, but this re-release shows that this album is not merely a curio, but the statement of a fine musician and stylist who deserves to be more widely heard. Liner notes, photos and discographical information can be found at the great Donald Ayler Discography website. In Florence 1981 - Qobuz

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Friday, August 05, 2022

Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk (Atlantic Records, 1958, 2022)

This is a great album from the 1950's which is given a respectful re-issue treatment in both analog and digital format. Drummer Art Blakey and pianist and composer Thelonious Monk were well acquainted with each other at this point, having played together in many formations over the past ten years. This album finds Monk joining Blakey's late 1950's Jazz Messengers unit, consisting of Bill Hardman on trumpet, Johnny Griffin on tenor saxophone and Spanky DeBrest on bass. They play a nearly all Monk program, and the pianist fits into the situation hand in glove, especially since he had just recorded some cracking live music with Griffin the recently. The tenor saxophonist plays just as vividly here as he did then, reveling in the idiosyncratic nature of Monk's compositions and approach to improvisation, blowing lustily as Monk powers them through a percussive joyous version of "In Walked Bud" dedicated to the great pianist Bud Powell. The whole band is just right on one of the most memorable Monk compositions, "Blue Monk," giving him plenty of room to express himself while Blakey grandly swings the band. "Rhythm-a-Ning" is another highlight of the session, featuring Monk's stellar angular theme and his unique manner of comping and soloing. Blakey's massive rolls and malleable rhythmic sensibility, along with DeBrest's anchoring bass are perfect foundation for brass and reed playing that completes the scene. This release is expanded to a double LP or CD set, with the first disc holding the original album, and the following one containing outtakes, and alternate versions of song, some of which are  previously released. All the but one track on disc two of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk is previously unreleased. More important than the outtakes, however, is the remastering of the original discs. The earlier Atlantic records CD has a muddy and constricted sound, whereas, this re-issue (Amazon Music ultra HD streaming, Schiit DAC and amp) is spacious and colorful, and it is a revelation. From what I have read and watched on YouTube, people seem happy with the vinyl version as well. Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk - amazon.com

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