Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Complete Recordings" - Tyree Glenn/Hank Jones

(Originally published on AllAboutJazz.com on 9/25/2010)

In the history of jazz, few pianists have been as prolific as the recently deceased Hank Jones. His tasteful and subtle playing is documented on literally thousands of recordings. Many of them are today known as jazz classics—benchmarks to the greatness of this music—and Jones' playing and support on all of them were crucial in creating those historic, beautiful and legendary legacies.
For whatever reason, many of Jones' recordings have long been either forgotten, out of print, or very hard to find. One such recording, a rare gem, is the Hank Jones and Tyree Glenn Quintet/Sextet's Complete Recordings. The two- disc set—which features, among others, Jones, Tyree Glenn, Mary Osborne, Shorty Baker, Milt Hinton and Jo Jones—is a testament to groove, swing, melody, musicality—and doing all of it together, as a group.

Many of the set's thirty-five tracks barely pass the two-minute mark, often ending just after the melody is stated. While it surely would have been nice to hear these musicians play for a bit on these songs, the statement of only the melody is the ultimate statement. These guys don't need to solo to express who they are; it's possible to tell exactly who everybody is simply by listening to their version of, and their interaction with, the melody.

This recording is special for many reasons. It is a reminder of how exciting many simple ideas can be. For example, on "Mack The Knife," Jones is silent until the solos begin. The anticipation he creates when he not playing is quite possibly more exciting than anything that could have been played. His eventual entry, with a quick peck of the harmony, makes clear how fun this music can be, as does each accent on the bass drum, each song Glenn quotes, and each time the band re-enters after a break.

Jones was the perfect accompanist. While many horn players have, over the years, replaced piano with guitar (among other reasons, the guitar is a less harmonically imposing instrument) or removed harmony instruments altogether, Jones plays just enough to accent the rhythm—moving the song forward and, above all, letting the soloists move in any harmonic direction they choose without getting in the way.

Trombonist Glenn is reminiscent of Harry "Sweets" Edison. Each line really swings, possesses such direction, and is only made up of the necessary. The silence only adds to the swing; often Jo Jones' bass drum accents seem to finish Glenn's lines, adding to the humor of the music.

At a time when a disc of playing standards is often looked down upon—dismissed as a simple jam session, it is important to have recordings like this. These discs are a reminder of how hard it is to truly play tunes musically, to really swing continuously as a group—and of the subtlety and humor that makes up the jazz language—this is music that deserves to be heard.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"Jasmine" - Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden

(Originally published on AllAboutJazz.com on 9/11/2010)

Keith Jarrett, like Sonny Rollins, is quite hard to pin down. Like the iconic saxophonist, for many years now, the equally legendary pianist has been leaning towards the songs of his youth, and even earlier. Compared with their song choices of, say, twenty years ago, it would seem that these players have become more conservative over the years; that is, however, simply not true. Again, like Rollins, Jarrett's improvisations have evolved through the years, with an even greater searching and explorative quality. Quite uniquely, these master musicians use these older tunes as vehicles for their explorations; with these older songs as their guides, these artists continue to move themselves forward.
Jarrett's Jasmine, a duo outing with bassist Charlie Haden, is a wonderful—and simply beautiful—example. The session consists of mostly ballads. All beautiful melodies, the tunes themselves are timeless; the playing, very relaxed, yet deadly serious—extremely emotional, yet utterly focused.

Jarrett writes in the liner notes: "Call your wife or lover in late at night and sit down and listen. These are great love songs played by players who are trying, mostly, to keep that message intact." While many have dismissed these note as an excuse for selling out, the specific mindfulness with which Jarrett and Haden admit to playing only adds another layer of deep focus to the music.

The music speaks for itself; more than anything, it is the song itself that is made memorable by the duo's playing. At a time when recorded music almost always highlights the musician's ability, it is wonderfully refreshing to hear an album where the musicians' abilities are obvious, but are not the only focus. The focus of the album is the songs and melodies themselves, and the playing is serving the songs, rather than the other way around.

Jarrett's improvisations rarely ever go faster than 8th notes, but that yearning, explorative quality is still there—more than ever, almost. His tone, lines and melodies are searching—better described, perhaps, as yearning.

There have been many wonderful duo recordings over the years— Jimmy Rowles/Ray Brown, Hank Jones/Red Mitchell, the many Bill Evans duo sessions, and others from Charlie Haden. The quiet subtlety of such sessions has made each of them musical treasures, and Jasmine is sure to become a classic in the field of duo recordings.

There's something about it, however, that feels just a bit more special. For the casual music fan, a lover wanting to set a night's mood; for the serious musician, looking to find deep, new music; and for the music fan that says, "they just don't make albums like they used to," finally, they do. Jasmine encompasses all that music is about. For all those mentioned, this album is for you.