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THE 70’S JAZZ PIONEERS- AT TOWN HALL
SEA BRIGHT, NJ, April, 1999 — Jazz was in ferment two or three decades ago. Innovators such as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman (to name just three) were pushing the music in a dozen directions at once, while the rest of us scrambled to keep up. It was maddening, confusing and fun, not least because we got to meet a new generation of gifted young lions, many barely in their twenties, who taught the masters a thing or two and contributed hugely to the creative excitement.
Six of those artists gathered in New York City’s Town Hall last year to celebrate the jazz of the 1970s. You’re holding the result. The occasion, part of Town Hall’s Century of Change concert series, was the brainchild of trumpeter/producer Mark Morganelli. The idea, he says, was to bring together very accomplished artists who were prominent in the 1970s and continue to be masters today. I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen when they delved into this older material. They’re incredibly creative individuals, so when they play a tune like All Blues it goes to unpredictable places.
Indeed it does and so does every other song in the set. One of the joys of this CD is its richness. It reveals its beauties slowly. Each playing discloses new felicities, new subtleties you didn’t notice before. That is especially noteworthy because although these artists have known each other for years, they rarely play together, and they had only one rehearsal before the concert. The symbiosis they achieve here comes from a rare level of mastery. Their collective resumes include an endless list of awards and honors, countless original compositions and work with virtually every great name in modern jazz. They have written large chapters of the music’s history over the past 30 years, so it’s worth pausing to introduce them individually:
Dave Liebman, soprano and tenor saxophones, first gained prominence with Miles in the early 1970s. But by then he had already worked with Elvin Jones, Chick Corea and Pete LaRoca Sims. Deeply influenced by the music of John Coltrane, Liebman has gone on to carve a wide niche all his own as a supreme master of the soprano sax as well as a widely respected author, composer and teacher.
Randy Brecker, trumpet, is perhaps best known as one half of the Brecker Brothers (with Michael on tenor sax), but that is just one line in a long and varied list of credits. Brecker was, for example, the original trumpet player with Blood, Sweat and Tears. As a first-call studio musician he has recorded with Frank Sinatra and Frank Zappa, among many others. His jazz credits include work with Charles Mingus, Horace Silver and Joe Henderson.
Pat Martino, guitar, has achieved almost mythic status on his instrument: the guitarist’s guitarist, the iron-willed virtuoso who taught himself to play all over again after a brain aneurysm erased his memory (and nearly killed him). Martino started out in rock, but he also absorbed the rich jazz influences available to a Philadelphia kid in the 1950’s and by the age of 20 had made the first of a long line of seminal jazz recordings that continues to this day.
JoAnne Brackeen, piano, should be a household name. Musicians certainly know her - musicians such as Art Blakey, Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Freddy Hubbard and Woody Shaw, all of whom employed her and praised her work. Composer, teacher and pianist of rare accomplishment, she is one of the most creative artists in jazz today.
Buster Williams, bass, has a resume as long as Paul Bunyans armwork with Dexter Gordon, McCoy Tyner, Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan, to name a few; more than 400 recordings; tours to every part of the globe. But one credit says it all: When bassist extraordinary Ron Carter wanted another bassist for his quartet (Carter played soprano bass), he chose Williams.
Al Foster, drums, was Miles Davis rhythm section for 13 years. Enough said although there is a lot more to Foster’s long, rich career. He has also worked with Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Sonny Stitt and many, many others. Foster is widely respected not only as a virtuoso drummer, but as one of the most versatile percussionists on the planet.
So what do you do with musicians of this caliber? Let them play, and play they did. Listen, for instance, to Williams impeccable bass lines and lyrical, witty solos. Or to Brackeen’s wonderful variety now funky and driving, now pensive, now lighter than air. To Martino’s fluid, quicksilver lines and sensitive responses to his colleagues. To Liebman’s singing tone and fearless logic - each solo an adventure to the beyond and back. To Brecker’s effortless, beautifully shaped solos, each a lesson in trumpet technique without being in the least technical. To Foster’s fluent, rock-solid drum support. (He was clearly enjoying himself; he had a grin on his face the whole evening.) Finally, listen to the group improvisations that close every number. No ego trips and no clams, just great playing by great players.
This is music for both the heart and the mind. As Morganelli puts it, “This was not a routine blowing session on a bunch of standards. These artists were trying to say something new. They’re master storytellers. Everything they play is meaningful.”
# # #
RECORDING: Recorded Live At The Town Hall, NYC, March 20, 1998
ARTISTS Randy Brecker
TRACKS (1) Cantaloupe Island (8.21)
(2) Sugar (7.39)
(3) 500 Miles High (6.04)
(4) Softly As In A Morning Sunrise (10.20)
(5) Red Clay (6.22)
(6) All Blues (12.06)